Chapter 39:

The Vandelay II - "Maple Leaf Rag"

Destiny Marine

Well, that wasn’t quite right, either. The alcohol got Isaac’s mind all mixed up and confused; it seemed like no time at all had passed before the Army cultivators approached them, but Isaac and Kieran actually had a whole conversation. The memories of five minutes ago flashed through Isaac’s mind.

After Oksana had brought Babs outside, Isaac and Kieran remained at the bar. Isaac wasn’t sure what to say, or if he even needed to say anything. He and Kieran had only ever talked in the context of training; now that they were somewhere else, conversation was hard to come by. Amid the noise of the pub, from all the drunkards, both regulars and first-times and one-offs, Kieran set his empty drink down. “You ever been somewhere like here before?” He had a slight slur to his words.

The golden liquid (not that kind) disappeared from Isaac’s mug as he emptied it to match Kieran. “We had a saloon down in Patuxet. Probably even more rowdy than it is here. There’s a distinct lack of fights.”

Kieran chuckled; Isaac was pretty sure he had never heard him laugh before. “Sounds about right. This is my first time. My family and I only ever drank around the mansion or at galas and restaurants. Never at a pub…never at a bar, never with people we didn’t know ahead of time.”

The bartender slid Kieran another beer. He drank it in one fell swoop, then wiped his mouth. A few days ago, it would’ve been with a napkin, but this time, it was with the back of his hand. “I guess it’s easy to look down on people when you’ve never lived with them yourself. I feel like…I’ve lived in a castle in the sky my whole life. It wasn’t a place where I belonged, but I found myself living there, so I had to prove myself so I could stay. The castle was so important to me that I forgot about the villages around it, about the normal people living normal lives who don’t care about prestige and power. Well, maybe normal people do care a little, too, but at the end of the day, they just go about their lives. Maybe I ought to do the same. Maybe I should care more about myself rather than fixate entirely on that castle.”

Isaac chuckled. “Damn, that’s crazy.”

“Thank you, Isaac,” Kieran said, tapping his fingers on the bar counter. “For inviting me to the normal world even after I looked down upon it for so long.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Isaac said with a shrug. “I just taught you how to punch.”

“Then thank you for putting me in a position to change. And I'm sorry about the way I treated you before this.”

The two went quiet, because going from enemies to rivals to even acquaintances, if not friends, in the span of a week felt like a bit of a rollercoaster, and the alcohol settling in their stomachs didn’t do them any favors. The only thing you can do in a situation like that is to get a round of shots and down them together. Hard liquor goes down tough. Isaac had to beat his chest a couple of times; his throat and stomach briefly felt like they were on fire. Kieran gave his head a slight shake. But then the two were right as rain, or just right enough for the situation at hand. That's when the two Army cultivators appeared behind them, their arms crossed, smug looks on their faces.

“This here’s an Army pub, fellas,” one of the cultivators with a mop of black hair said. “Think you two might’ve gotten lost.”

The other one had a scar on his cheek. He punched his fist into an open palm. “How about we escort you back home? There’s a nice river nearby we can dump you in, since you Navy cultivators love water so much.”

Both of the Army cultivator’s faces featured a red tint, with their words heavily slurred. Between that and a pair of nurses watching them from their table, the two doughboys must’ve been trying to look tough and blow off some steam. Ironically enough, it was just about time for Isaac and Kieran to leave anyway, but once someone tells you to leave, it’s not like you can.

“Get lost,” Isaac warned. “We’re not here to start trouble.”

The messy-haired cultivator suddenly gripped him by the collars. “You being here is what started trouble!”

There was a slight tapping on the cultivator’s shoulder. Kieran rested his face on his palm, propped up by the bar counter. “If I don’t beat the crap out of you now, it just means you took a huge shit yesterday.”


A cracking sound echoed through the bar as Kieran punched the cultivator across the face. He stumbled back into the arms of his friend; both of the men snarled and rolled up their sleeves. In the span of time it took to roll up their sleeves, however, Isaac and Kieran had delivered another round of punches in unison. This second round knocked the cultivators back into a table of fellow Army soldiers, knocking them all to the ground.

A group of five now stood in opposition to Isaac and Kieran. This time, someone tapped Isaac on the shoulder; when he tilted his head, one of the nurses slapped him across the face. Isaac touched his cheek, then punched her into a dart board hanging from a wall; as she slid down to the floor, the board fell on top of her.

All hell broke loose after that. A soldier tried to smash his mug onto Isaac, but Isaac sidestepped it and delivered a strong punch to his gut. As he keeled over, another soldier stepped up, this one with a knife. The dim lights of the bar reflected off the steel, but compared to the fights with Panama and Jackson, this was almost too easy. Isaac deflected the thrust of the knife, then caught him in an arm bar and pulled until the knife clattered to the floor. Isaac then flung the soldier into the second nurse as she approached; both of them fell to the ground.

Amazing, Isaac thought. Compared to the pace of a Rddhi fight, this is so slow. He wasn’t even breathing that hard. Kieran wasn’t having any difficulties either; he tossed a soldier over the bar counter, the soldier disappearing on the other side and not getting back up.

The two Army cultivators, who had conveniently not done any fighting since they both got punched in the face at the start, looked at each other with grim expressions. The sudden flash of red lights illuminated the bar, red energy crackling and flaring as they both activated their powers. Isaac tensed, because this had gone from a bar fight to a cultivation fight, the latter being far more deadly than the former.

With no choice, the two Navy cultivators activated their own powers in response. Just in time, too, since the scarred cultivator had raised a hand. All the liquor and beer and water in the bar flickered with red energy then flowed out of their mugs and cups, as if magnetized by his hand. He then swiped the air; the liquid lashed out, threatening to tear right through Isaac. A swift superpowered backhand, however, knocked the liquid away, but the cultivator kept manipulating his hand and sending liquid slashes at Isaac.

The pressure felt overwhelming, so Isaac tried to sidestep it, but the cultivator was fast. A slash of water struck him across the stomach; while his clothes didn’t tear, he felt something drop in his insides from the impact. He fell to the ground, rolling behind a fallen table to shield himself from the next slash.

“Not so tough now, are ya?” the scarred cultivator taunted, gathering more liquid for a final slash to end things. Isaac merely wiped the blood off his mouth and tossed a bottle from behind the table. The slash immediately went after the sudden motion, giving Isaac an opening to surge from behind the table towards his opponent.

All that training with Kieran this past week did Isaac some good. The full power of the |Fists of Anji| - Rank I flowed into his right fist, red lights strobing. He cocked his fist then fired. The air seemed to drain from the pub as the electric charge thundered right into the scarred cultivator’s torso, lifting him into the air and sending him crashing into a wall. He slid down with his eyes closed, the red energy circulating through his body dying and disappearing. The stream of liquid returned to normal and fell back to the ground, leaving a trail of blood and liquor across the pub floor.

That only left the doughboy with black hair. He and Kieran exchanged fierce blows reminiscent of a boxing match, Kieran with his iron brass knuckles and the other guy with a flaming fist. One close strike seared Kieran’s coat, forcing him to separate himself to regroup. The cultivator wasn’t about to give him any time, however, and immediately threw a haymaker. With no choice, Kieran threw one right back.

And then it happened. All that training culminated in a high-pressure situation, and Kieran wasn’t going to back down. The two punches flew toward one another, and there was a tremendous crash as knuckle struck knuckle. Red energy surged from Kieran’s fist into the doughboy’s arm, which suddenly exploded as iron shrapnel exploded into the air through the skin. The fire went out as the cultivator collapsed, cradling his shredded arm until finally collapsing face down.

Quiet descended over the bar. Isaac and Kieran stood still among the carnage, calmly catching their breath. When Kieran looked down at his fist then back at Isaac, he received a nod of approval. By then, however, the bartender had retrieved his shotgun, the thick metal barrel pointing menacingly at the two victorious cultivators. The bartender didn’t say anything, but the message was clear.

“Sorry about the mess,” Isaac offered. He gestured at the fallen Army men. “Put everything on their tab.”

With that, Isaac and Kieran headed out into the night. A gust of cold air immediately hit them, as well as the smell of vomit. Oksana rubbed Babs’ back as she tossed her cookies into a thin alleyway next to the pub.

“I heard commotion from inside,” Oksana merely said as Isaac and Kieran approached. She stared mutely at the streaks of blood and scratches on their faces for a moment. “Sorry for not providing assistance. But I take it you two won.”

A pair of cracked grins answered her. “You should see the other guys,” Isaac said. He then looked at his kneeling friend. “How’s she doing?”

“Better,” Babs croaked out. She stumbled back to her feet and gave him a pained grin. “I’m past the puking stage. Now I’m on the rally stage.” She gave a hoarse chuckle. “But I can’t believe I missed a good old-fashioned bar fight.”

“If the squads keep going out on weekends, I’m sure they’ll be a lot more,” Kieran offered.

The group chuckled, and Babs put her hands on her hips. “Once again, I guess Kieran has jokes.”

Oksana looked up at the power lines running through the alleyway, their black color nearly hidden by the night sky. “It’s time to head back. The evening marathon is about to start.”

As the girls started down the alleyway, Kieran held Isaac back on the shoulder. He had a proposition.

“After all that fighting, how about we go get those reubens first?”