Chapter 40:

The Vandelay III - "Festival Triangle"

Destiny Marine

Isaac’s stomach rumbled. Chocolate seemed to fill the stomach the first, but wasn’t actually all that filling. And then the thought of beef and cheese packed lovingly between two slices of rye bread made his stomach rumble even harder.

“Let’s do it," Isaac agreed. "We should try to make it back for the second movie, at least.”

Kieran nodded. “That can be arranged.” He looked over at the girls, extending the offer to them.

Looking green in the face, Babs just shook her head. “I think I should go sit down for the next few hours. I need to relax and marinate for a while.”

“I will escort her back to the cinema so she may marinate,” Oksana informed them. She then gave Kieran a long gaze. “When you return to the cinema, will you sit next to me?”

Passing headlights from cars rumbling down the main avenue even reached this far down the side streets. After a brief moment of illumination, Kieran understood. “Sure. I can do that.”

Before tonight, Isaac had never heard Kieran laugh. He had never seen Oksana smile before, either.

The two women departed, leaving the two men to their grilled sandwiches. “There’s a hilltop park a little ways ahead,” Kieran informed Isaac as they started walking in the opposite direction. “On the other side of that, I know of a sandwich shop.”

After navigating the maze of side streets, the two found themselves back on another major avenue. They weren’t opposed to jaywalking, but the traffic forced them to wait at an intersection for the light to change.

“I didn’t take you for someone to remember where sandwich shops are,” Isaac supposed. “I figured you would’ve had a butler.”

“We have several, including Mackenzie’s monkey butler,” Kieran answered plainly. But then he looked up at the green glow of the traffic light and smiled. “My mother used to take me to the shop. Just me and her, we’d leave the castle in the sky and just be ourselves down here. If only I could relive those days.”

After a brief display of orange, the lights changed and red replaced the green. As the traffic came to a halt, Isaac and Kieran crossed the street. As autumn marched on, the temperature continued to drop; every so often, Isaac could see his breath condense in front of him. When they made it to the other side, Kieran led them down the sidewalk for a bit.

“What was your mother like?” Isaac asked.

“Like any other mother,” he answered, looking off into the distance. And then he smiled. “The best.”

Warm nights of being tucked into bed flooded Isaac’s mind. Who would’ve guessed that one of those times would be the last time ever? “Yeah…I know what you mean.”

Kieran then took a left, arriving at the bottom of the hilltop park. White lampposts led by the way up a small, winding stone path towards the top of the hill. Trees covered in caramel-colored leaves swayed in the breeze, while empty benches watched the two ascend.

“Your mother…is she still here?” Isaac asked.

Kieran didn’t look back. “No.”

“I see…mine too.”

“Then I guess we have more in common than we thought.” The walk up the hill continued. For the first time since he left Patuxet, Isaac heard the welcoming sound of crickets at night. Kieran seemed to pay them no mind, instead looking as though he was lost in thought. “Your mother, though…she was married to your father, right?”

With an uncomfortable pit in his stomach, Isaac realized where this was going. “Yeah.”

“Mine wasn’t. My mother was merely my father’s mistress. A mere servant he became fond of. Mackenzie is my half-sister. She’s only six months older than me.”

God, I'm a fucking genius. But then Isaac pushed down the alcohol-clouded thoughts in his mind and collected himself - he could celebrate being a brain expert a different day.

“So that’s why you wanted to prove yourself.”

“I’m just a half-Cartwright, so they treated me like one. They treated my mother even worse though…so why have I spent so much time trying to prove that I’m one of them? None of you treat me badly. Why am I trying to be a Cartwright, when I should instead try to be one of you?”

They passed beneath the white glow of a lamp. “You should try being yourself,” Isaac suggested.

A chuckle floated away into the empty park. “You’re not wrong. But who am I? My entire life has been dedicated to impressing a family who never really wanted me there in the first place. What’s supposed to replace that?”

“You replace it with whoever you are.”

“Have you ever met someone who had no idea what they wanted?”

Images of a small girl in her greatcoat kicking her legs in the movie theater entered Isaac’s mind. He smiled. “Yeah. I know someone. But they’re getting better at it.”

“You’ll have to introduce me someday. I think it would be great to work together on ourselves.”

A new image entered Isaac’s mind - that of the nine cultivators in Squads 1, 2, and 3 in the movie theater, all eating candy, all cheering and gasping about kung fu and lava beams. “That would be great.”

Considering how quiet everything was, the sound of blood slowly dripping on the ground stuck out like a sore thumb. Tiny drops of red fell from Kieran’s fist every so often, remnants of the bar fight that already seemed so long ago.

“You want to get that bandaged?” Isaac asked. “Or at least wrapped up?”

“It’s just a flesh wound, and a minor one at that.”

Isaac thought of the massive collision between the two fists back in the bar. “But doesn’t your hand hurt?”

“It does. But I don’t hate pain.”

Isaac raised an eyebrow. “What? That’s kind of hot.”


Isaac chuckled - as much as he liked hanging out with his two squadmates, it did feel nice to have another guy to joke around with. The two continued on, arriving at the top of the hill. Kieran gestured with his head, and then Isaac saw. The rolling field of green continued back down toward street level, but beyond it, beyond the streets that lined the park, Narragansett was displayed for all the world to see. A display of colors seemed to exist right there, and Isaac only needed to reach his hand out and grasp it. And then, just barely through the darkness, Isaac could make out a hint of the ocean, and where the sky met water beyond it. The world had never seemed so large nor so in reach at the same time. It all existed in the palm of his hand.

“My mother loved this view,” Kieran simply said, looking at the city next to Isaac.

“I can see why.”

For some amount of time - it could’ve been a few minutes, it could’ve been a few hours - the world melted away. Isaac wasn’t even cultivating - he was just taking in the view, taking in the sights. A visual feast for the eyes was right there before him, and he forgot how quiet life could be. He would have to bring the whole group of nine up here sometime.

Just as Isaac was about to close his eyes, feeling utterly immersed in the peacefulness of the world, he heard rustling behind him. This wasn’t trees swaying in the breezes - this was man-made rustling, sharp sounds that felt out of place in the serenity of the park. Kieran must have heard, too, since they both looked back at the source of the sound.

Despite the prior emptiness of the park, a man now emerged from the darkness. He wore a straw, conical hat, but then went a step further by wearing a white undershirt, black gi, and a black hakama skirt. To complete the look, he kept a sword in its scabbard at his side. He approached them casually, even silently - he only made the rustling sounds because he wanted to draw their attention.

Isaac and Kieran gave each other uneasy looks, but then the man stopped. Following the pattern of previous fights, the straw hat gave away his identity as a Restorationist. But as to what he wanted, he would answer that himself.

“You there,” the man said in a deep voice. Though his hat covered his eyes, Isaac knew he was talking to him specifically. “You were one of the Navy cultivators on the Melusine. Panama and Jackson died at the hands of you and your comrades.”

The park went quiet again, the chirps of crickets filling the silence. “And what about it?”

“My name is Sam,” the man introduced himself. “Panama and Jackson were comrades of my own. Their deaths require vengeance.”

Sam nodded at Isaac. “You shall come with me.”

Sam nodded at Kieran. “You shall be disposed of.”

The sudden rush of adrenaline disposed of the lingering effects of alcohol, at least the ones on the surface. Isaac’s mind cleared up as he focused. This wasn’t going to be a mere bar fight, or even a mere cultivation bar fight. A defeat here would be a loss he couldn’t come back from.

And this time, Kieran didn’t have any one-liners to spout. Instead, his eyes just widened as he let out a gasp. "Isaac, look out-"

Kieran lunged toward Isaac, pushing him out of the way. Right as he did, Sam disappeared. Isaac landed on the ground and felt the rustling move past him, and then Sam reappeared behind the duo. A wave of red splashed across the green grass below; Isaac's stomach dropped. Kieran had extended his arm to push Isaac out of the way; that arm had been cleanly cut straight through at the elbow. The bloody arm rested in a serene field of flowers; Kieran stood under the white glow of nearby lamps, giving his stump a dumbfounded look.

What the hell? Did Sam teleport? No, I felt the rustling move past me. It must be some sort of super speed.

That meant that this Sam possessed a power to similar to Lynn's. Reed had enough time to wind up and take Lynn out; Sam moved far faster and, with that sword of his, was a far more deadly opponent.

Kieran let out a muffled cry as he gritted his teeth and stumbled to his knees. Isaac jumped into action, red lights erupting through his body as he activated his cultivation powers. He stepped in between the struggling Kieran and Sam, who merely watched in observation. “That’s enough out of you. We beat Panama and Jackson and we'll kick your ass, too."

“You can’t defeat me," Sam merely answered. He flicked the blood off his sword. “That was both revenge and a warning. I only took an arm, so I do not consider my revenge complete, but I value the Restorationist cause far more than my own feelings. The arm will have to be enough. As for the warning, I'll only stop this bloodshed if you give the documents from your brother.”

Isaac nearly took a step back. "The Restorationists know about my brother's research?"

"Our sympathizers helped him with it," Sam said. "Unfortunately, before he could share what he knew with us, the State Police got to him first. Your brother owed a debt. That debt is yours now. The time for collection has come."

His words made sense - no doubt, the Restorationists would want to stop a State Police-government conspiracy, too. So why was Isaac fighting them? Didn't they have a common cause? In fact, the group that benefited the most from the fighting between Isaac and the Restorationists would be the State Police. While they fought, they could continue to plan and come closer to the fruition of their plans. Should Isaac just now work with Sam and the Restorationists now?

But the revolutionaries killed all those marines, the Restorationists mutilated both Reed and now Kieran, and were involved in a conspiracy of their own - one involving Zhanghai and the splitting of the atom. Isaac and the Restorationists chose their paths and could now only follow them to their respective ends.

So, the answer to Sam's proposal was obvious. Isaac raised his fists. “You know I can’t do that.”

“Then your friend dies, and you come with me.”

Sam disappeared once again. Isaac felt the wind rush toward him, and instinctively brought his powered fists across his stomach and chest and ducked out of the way. When Sam reappeared on the other side of him, hot pain seared through Isaac’s back. Had Isaac been any slower, Sam might've cut him right in half.

Blood dripped around his feet, but Isaac defiantly remained standing.

“Isaac,” Kieran croaked out as he struggled back to his own feet. “He’s right. We can’t win this. This is Eight-Steps Killer Sam.”

Sam remained quiet, just flicking the blood off his sword once again, staining the gray concrete of the path below him.

“He’s a famed mercenary, half-Zhanghai, half-Arcadian,” Kieran explained in a hushed tone. “My family…has done business with him in the past.”

“Your blood money will do you now favors here,” Sam warned. “For your family, I worked for wealth. But once they betrayed me, I saw the truth. For the Restorationists, I work for utopia, the modern-day Kallipolis that will one day cover the entire globe.”

Kieran ignored the esotericism, instead placing a hand over his stump to stymie the bleeding. “He uses a Wind Art known as Eight Heavenly Steps of Kenjutsu. Eight sword slashes, faster than the wind, are used to whittle an opponent down like a predator playing with its food. Even if a person survives the first seven, nobody has ever survived the eighth and final step.”

The mercenary remained quiet, enjoying the fear on his preys’ faces.

“Well,” Isaac said, raising his fist. “There’s a first time for everything.”