Chapter 591: The Beautician’s Sorrow
The four ships docked on Skyfire’s public airfield. The pirate battleships hardly fit in with the other ships, but there was nowhere else to put them. Skyfire Avenue had called ahead to confirm their arrival so as to avoid any problems. When they touched down, the Star Division turned the ship over to Avenue representatives. They didn’t need them. Whatever treasures they pilfered from the pirates was divvied up among the Division and the Avenue.
The Division soldiers exited the ships in orderly lines. Each stuck with their Brigade and lined up to await further orders. After months in the trenches, they had developed an ironclad faith in their leaders, and it showed. Images of Commander Lan Jue destroying the alien carrier with one swipe had left a deep impression on them.
Lan Jue was surprised to find the Wine Master had come personally to meet them at the airfield.
“Why’d you come yourself?” Lan Jue asked when they got close.
The Wine Master’s face was ominously downcast. “It couldn’t
be helped. The Eastern parliament has demanded you meet with them immediately. I will go with you. The information you sent back has caused a firestorm through all of the Alliances. Are you sure what you saw?”
Lan Jue smirked dryly. “If only I wasn’t. Let me dismiss the troops and send them back then we’ll deal with it. We still have to go through what we brought back. I intend to arm my people to the teeth.”
The Wine Master gave a slight nod. “You don’t need to worry about that, I can arrange it. You just need to make sure you can verify these claims. It’s a service to your alliance. Although we didn’t independently confirm it, the East has already sent a Bastion ship to the border of the Starfields in preparation.”
Lan Jue heaved a sigh. “It’s no use. If the planets can transfer at will, they could show up anywhere in the three Alliances. They’ll be standing vigil over a pointless border.”
The Wine Master reacted with a resigned grin. “I know, but right now we have no other choice. At the very least the people will feel better knowing a Bastion is keeping watch. If we had Bastions orbiting inside our galaxies, what would people thing?”
Lan Jue’s brows furrowed as he thought. The sudden appearance of the aliens was a real problem.
“Hold on for a minute. Let me dismiss the men, then we can go.”
Star Division wasn’t a true military unit. After such a long period of hard work, they’d earned some good R&R.
Lan Jue walked to the head of the four Brigades, who were standing at attention nearby. “Everyone has worked hard these last few months. We have earned glory, and you have earned a well-deserved rest. Your exploits will be recorded, and your cut will be delivered as soon as possible. You’ve got a week, then we strap our uniforms back on and get back to work. Dismissed.”
A week off. They were ecstatic, but military training kept them in orderly rows. They exited the airfield by brigade, just as they’d exited the ships.
Then someone caught Lan Jue’s eye.
The Beautician, pretty as a picture, stood in place looking all
around. She was beginning to look frustrated in not finding her target, and so she trotted over to Lan Jue.
“Jewelry Master, where’s the Barber?”
Lan Jue was silent. The Driver, who stood at the commander’s side, also couldn’t find the words. The Barber had been in Lan Jue’s Brigade, not to mention a friend.
She had been smiling, but when she saw their expressions the smile melted away. “Where is Little Clippers?” She asked again.
Lan Jue took a breath. He tried, but found no words could come out. The Driver came to his rescue. “The Barber, he… sacrificed himself.”
The Beautician looked back at him, stunned, as the color drained from her pretty face. “No… no that’s impossible. Wasn’t he with you? Things were going so smoothly, and he was strong. What could have happened? How could he have died? You’re just playing with me, right? It’s not funny, have him come out this instant or I swear I’ll never speak with him again!”
Lan Jue’s eyes dropped to the ground, and the Driver had no more words for her. The Wine Master approached the small group, then. He’d learned of the Barber’s fate from Lan Jue earlier.
“We’re so sorry, Beautician. Unfortunately, the Barber –“
“No!” She screamed back at him. Tears streamed freely down her cheeks. “No, no, no, it’s not possible! He was so strong, how could a pirate kill him? It can’t be true, you’re lying! You’re all liars. Little Clippers, you bastard, get out here right now! Is this because I rejected your proposal? Is this how you treat me? Do you think this will make me change my mind? Stop dreaming! Get out here and I’ll tell you to your face! Do you hear me?!”
The other soldiers heard her choked cries and stopped to look back. They came back to see what was going on. None of them knew what had befallen the Barber, either.
Lan Jue placed a hand on the Beautician’s shoulder. “Please, get ahold of yourself.”
She slapped his hand away. “’Get ahold of myself’?! Why? You assholes are just lying to me, right? I won’t forgive you, I’ll
never forgive you! I won’t believe for a second that pirates killed him. Little Clippers, get out here! I’m telling you, mister sinister, if you don’t come out immediately you can forget about ever talking to me again!”
Su Xiaosu had been a few steps behind Lan Jue the whole time. The rims of her eyes were red.
“Commander, what’s going on?” One of the squad leaders couldn’t keep his curiosity silent any longer. Many of the other squads had also huddled close to see what was wrong. Even those that were first to leave wandered back when they saw the crowd.
Lan Jue allowed himself another sigh, then turned toward Xiaosu. “We’re back, it’s time to tell them.” He’d wanted to keep it quiet for a while and give his soldiers a chance to feel joy over their accomplishments. He couldn’t keep it a secret anymore.
“Jewelry Master,” the Wine Master interrupted, “this is a government secret.”
Lan Jue looked back at the Paragon with a resolute stare. “My
brothers and sisters have a right to know. How can I explain, if I don’t tell them everything? First Brigade, cordon off the area. Accountant, send the video to everyone’s communicator. Have it auto-delete after five minutes.”
“Aye,” the Accountant quietly replied.
It took no time for the area to be cleared. When it was everyone’s face dropped to watch their communicators. Projector screens lit up the soldiers’ faces. Gradually everyone’s eyes were wide, and their breathing was haggard.
When the order to retreat had been given, they wondered at the fervor of it. Now they understood why they’d been so desperate to flee. The Bartender and Coffee Master were no exception. Cold sweat broke out on every brow.
What was this new danger? If they had been even a moment slower, the wild space of the Starfields would have become their tomb.
The Wine Master made no further effort to get in Lan Jue’s way. He stood quietly to one side and waited.
The Beautician suddenly swayed dangerously. Su Xiaosu was immediately at her side, with a hand on her arm to keep her steady. Her painted red lips quivered, and an indescribable pain dimmed her eyes.
“Why? Why did this have to happen? Why did you rush in like that? Why? Do you know why I said no? Our age difference. I’m so much older than you! Your future was brighter than mine, I didn’t want to hold you back. But how could you do this, and leave me this way?”
Her desperate, wounded voice was like a stab to everyone’s heart. Tears glittered in the eyes of everyone within earshot. The Barber had been Star Division’s first casualty, but his loss scarred them deeply.
Aliens. The word was bitter and poisonous in their hearts.
They’d fought the aliens on Tempest. Though they were strong, Star Division had still walked away without a scratch. Afterwards most of the soldiers looked at them as little more than wild animals with a nasty bite.
The Barber’s death showed them how wrong they were. He
was almost fourth rank, and still he was put down in one strike. Meanwhile, a whole planet was devoured. Who could have anticipated enemies this strong? This vicious?
“We have to get vengeance for the Barber!” Lan Jue couldn’t tell who said it first, but the rest of the Division very quickly took up the call. Calls for revenge shook the airship hangar they were huddled in.
Lan Jue stood in front of the Beautician. “Don’t cry. Crying won’t bring him back. We have to turn our grief into strength. We have to give everything we’ve got to honor the Barber’s memory!”
The Beautician slowly lifted her head. Tears covered her face. But where her eyes had been lost and pained, he watched as murderous resolve took over. The Barber’s death had been a surprise punch to the gut, and the beautiful alien hadn’t shown any resignation in taking his life.
Chapter 592: Parliament
“Aliens!” The Beautician hissed the word through clenched teeth. She spun around and ran from the airfield.
“I’ll go keep an eye on her,” the seamstress said to the Gourmet. She hurried after the Beautician. What the bereaved woman needed most right now was comfort.
Lan Jue swept his eyes over the gathered soldiers. “The Barber’s was the first life given to Star Division. I hope he’s the last. Go rest.”
“Commander, I don’t need to rest. I’m ready to continue training.” An Adept stepped out from the crowd, followed by a second, then a third. They didn’t say anything, but the resolution in their eyes said enough.
The Barber’s death was painful motivation. These men and women were as smart as they were strong. They recognized that war with the aliens was inevitable. They saw the planets transfer, and knew it meant they had total control of the board. They could devour any planet, any time they wanted. If this was their enemy and a clash was fated, then they had to make themselves the strongest they could be. IT was the only way to
There were no tricks or shortcuts. The only thing you could truly rely on was your own strength.
Lan Jue saw the fervor in their gaze. He nodded. “Very well, you have two days to get things in order, then reassemble for training! Dismissed!”
Star Division dispersed, although the easy atmosphere had disappeared. The air felt ominous. The Accountant reminded everyone through their communicators to keep their mission a secret.
Lan Jue, the Gourmet, and Su Xiaosu followed the Wine Master toward the parliament building. Remaining members of the Division were free to return home.
The Eastern Parliament held their meetings in the center of Skyfire City. The building was in an old Chinese style, adherent to the old ways of feng-shui. It was very pleasing to the eye. By the time they arrived, a soldier with a Lieutenant’s insignia on his shoulder was already there to greet them. He gave the Wine Master a salute and led them inside.
The enormous rotunda where the Eastern government convened was a sea of people. In its center was a circular table around which sat leaders of government, headed by the speaker. Lan Jue and the others followed the Wine Master as he descended the steps into the rotunda and toward the middle. He stopped and sat in the first row, and they followed.
As Lan Jue took his seat, he spotted a familiar face nearby. It was the Chairman of the Eastern Alliance, Zhou Xue Guan. He spotted Lan Jue as well, and after a moment’s pause nodded in acknowledgement.
Lan Jue returned the regards. In reality, he wasn’t sure what his obligations were to the man. For all appearances he seemed to be the father of Hera and Zhou Qianlin, yet he knew the Clairvoyant had arranged that.
As the Skyfire Avenue delegation arrived, a hush fell over the chambers. Boisterous conversation became curious whispers. All eyes followed them to their seats.
Star Division’s commander remained calm and dignified, like a placid lake surface. Underneath, however, his mind swirled with images of the heartbroken Beautician. She looked like he did after Hera died. Hadn’t he been just as devastated? You
never appreciate what you have until it’s too late, and some things are lost forever.
His pain through those years, and hers in this moment. Where they not the same? How wonderful it would be if there were some cure for regret.
“Order!” A booming voice rang through the hall, followed by the sharp rap of a gavel. Silence quickly descended upon the congregation.
Lan Jue lifted his head to look.
The speaker of parliament was an elderly man with a head of grey hair. He looked to be in his seventies or eighties but his eyes were bright, and he looked well-kept with his slicked-back hair. A black Chinese-style tunic suite gave him a majestic and dignified air.
All eyes fell upon the speaker. His deep voice continued. “Two days ago, we received very startling news. It was decided immediately to convene this hearing. Due to the gravity of these findings, we’ve invited several leaders from Skyfire Avenue who participated in retrieving this data. It is our hope that they can
tell us, in detail, what transpired within the Shattered Starfields. We have dispatched probes to discover more, and can expect updated intelligence in the next three days. In the meantime, we would very much like to invite the Skyfire Avenue representatives to share their findings now.”
As he concluded, the speaker pressed a button. Lights flickered overhead as a holographic image of Moonfiend shimmered to life. It appeared as it had before the attack.
Lan Jue looked at the Wine Master a moment. The Paragon answered his unspoken question with a nod. Skyfire Avenue’s Jewelry Master then rose and nodded his acknowledgment of the speaker, who in turn motioned for him to approach the round table.
It was Lan Jue’s first time being in middle of such lofty government proceedings, but he wasn’t nervous. As former Mercenary King, he was accustomed to matters of life and death. Legislation was in the realm of normal men. It gave him no pause.
“Hello, Mr. Speaker.” Lan Jue politely offered the man a greeting more suited to his station.
The speaker seemed a congenial man. “Hello,” he returned, “how should I address you?” You couldn’t determine the status of an Adept by their age. As Lan Jue was here representing Skyfire Avenue, he must be strong. As far as these ungifted humans were concerned, he could be some reincarnation.
“I am the Jewelry Master of Skyfrie Avenue,” he announced. “I am also the one responsible for the Star Division. We were in the Shattered Starfields during the incident.”
The speaker passed the remote for the hologram to Lan Jue. “If you would please tell us what you found?”
Lan Jue nodded and took the controller. He then turned to face the gathered assembly.
“Ladies and gentlemen of government, hello. I am Skyfire Avenue’s Jewelry Master. This is how you may all address me. Our ships have just landed at the public air hangar. I came as soon as we got the summons.”
He continued, pointing to the planet suspended over his head. “I imagine you’ve all had a chance to see the video we sent. Yes, we are the ones who witnessed this and brought it back, and if I
had to describe the encounter I would say we were lucky. Before I saw it with my own eyes, I’m not sure I would have believed that entire planets could teleport. It goes against everything we know about physics and the energy requirements for moving something of their size. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s ludicrous. So believe me, I can understand that this may be a hurdle to overcome in gaining your confidence.
“However, I must assure you ladies and gentlemen, that everything in those videos is true. We paid for them with the blood of one of our own councilors. I must say before anything else, that these beasts are far more deadly than any of us thought.
“On the ride back I wracked my mind, trying to puzzle out how they could move entire planets. Having the capable to move even one is frightening enough, they could appear at will at any moment, in the heart of our most populated areas. If they can destroy Moonfiend, then no planet in the Alliances is safe.
“Skyfire Avenue’s late Clairvoyant was better known as the Eye of Tomorrow, one of the names on your Paragon List. He told me humanity would face a danger unlike any we’d encountered before. I always trusted what he said, but I couldn’t help but be skeptical. The achievements humans have made with our technology and tenacity are incredible. We have
the ability to destroy a planet if it came down to it. It is our destiny to dominate the universe. I know there are many of you in the audience who share a similar idea.
“But seeing those planets appear out of nothing, that changed my thinking. The Clairvoyant was right. If the aliens attacked tomorrow we couldn’t defend ourselves with twice the number of Bastion ships.”
Lan Jue pressed a button on the remote control, and the hologram changed.
The scenery changed to the streets of Moonfiend. It was their fight with the Violet Princess.
“What appears to be a beautiful young woman is the one called the Violet Princess, self-styled. We assumed she was human and had no evidence to the contrary. This was why one of our councilors known as the Barber approached her to offer aid. The planet was currently in chaos as we were training our soldiers by eliminating pirate clans. Such being the state of things, we worried for her safety. But…”
He trailed off when the video reached the final moments of
the Barber’s life. Everyone watched as the Violet Princess turned him into a cloud of blood.
“Presumably you’ve all seen this. The Barber made no hostile movements, the woman just struck him down. Judging by how easily he was defeating you might assume he was weak, but if you look into his records you will see that he was one of the representatives for Skyfire Avenue at the Great Adept Tournament. He was a ninth level, third rank Talent – a powerful man.
The chambers were a sea of hushed whispers once more. Few of the politicians were Adepts themselves, but they knew what an Adept that strong was capable of. Once Lan Jue mentioned the tournament, the audience also slowly began to recognize him. He had represented himself in the tournament as Zeus, but he’d won glory for the whole Eastern Alliance by being crowned champion.
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” the Speaker said, “but are you the Monarch, Zeus?”
Chapter 593: Lan Jue’s Suggestion
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” the Speaker said, “but are you the Monarch, Zeus?”
Lan Jue answered with a nod of his head.
Chatter immediately rippled through the chamber with his confirmation. Zeus was recognized as a hero for the East, for humanity! It added tremendous weight to his words, and underscored his own strength.
The Wine Master had considered this and thus insisted on him participating. The Jewelry Master’s exploits on behalf of the Avenue earned him glory and prestige. He was a fine example for the youth of Eastern Alliance. On the other hand it had been months since achieving victory in the tournament, where everyone saw his face. Some of the zeal around the revelation had dulled.
As he stood there now, Lan Jue reawakened the memory of his accomplishments in the minds of the representatives. Some of them remained skeptical despite the data and recordings. But when they saw the resolution in Zeus’ eyes, it was enough to convince them.
Lan Jue took a breath. “I regret that I lacked the ability to protect my companion. His girlfriend was devastated when she heard the news. Please continue to watch.”
The recording continued. It cut to scenes of himself, the Gourmet, the Driver, and the Pharmacist in combat. Each of them separately and all of them together couldn’t best the Violet Princess.
“You can see me here. I can categorically assure you that I am stronger now than I was during the tournament. Allow me to introduce the others. The Driver you likely remember from the tournament, as well as the Pharmacist. This gentlemen coming from above is one of Skyfire Avenue’s new Paragons. He is the Infernal Vanguard, known to us as the Gourmet. He has come with us today. I am confident that if you’d thrown the Terminator in there with us, we’d still have to retreat. We only narrowly escaped death.”
Judging only by the video, most of the non-Adepts in the audience weren’t completely sure what they were looking at. It was hard to compare when they had no frame of reference. However, Lan Jue’s explanations captured the scope of the Violet Princess’ overwhelming power.
The video stopped.
“You might find it strange that we fled when we did. In truth there’s more to it than what’s on the video. I would like to formally apply for recognition of confidentiality, since this involves Avenue secrets. At this time, all I can tell you is that a friend from the Avenue pulled us out of the fire. They managed to seal the Violet Princess long enough for us to escape, but not without sustaining injuries. We fled Moonfiend as fast as we could.”
“I can attest to all of this,” the speaker added.
The projection changed again. This time it was four separate feeds. Some were from the ships and their probes, and others were images from the surface of Moonfiend.
Lan Jue waited until the whole feed finished before talking. “Everything you witnessed is real. We’d hijacked the pirate defense systems during the raid to monitor the planets as they appeared. We’ve added the incident from our perspective as well as our probes in addition to the surface recordings. They tell the same – true – story. What we cannot know is whether the planets will remain in the Shattered Starfields, or when or where they might show up next. It’s the one piece of
information we desperately need.”
The chamber was dead silent. Many of the representatives already believed, and those they claimed not to, knew it deep in their hearts the moment they saw the recordings. They didn’t want to accept it. ‘Disaster’ couldn’t begin to describe what they were witnessing.
Lan Jue chuckled wryly. “In fact, I hope they don’t stay out there. The Starfields themselves are their greatest defense. With all the debris we can’t reliably bring any of our larger ships to bear. This goes double for Bastion ships. If we station those Bastions around the Starfields, there’s nothing to stop the aliens from transferring right into the center of an Alliance system. You all can imagine the scale of destruction they could cause.
“I have spent the last few days in careful thought. One thing I can confirm for you all, is that the aliens absolutely have a structure of leadership. They are led by intelligent entities who likely determined the Shattered Starfields was their best point of ingress into human space. I have encountered these beasts before on Taihua. Their singular interest is gathering energy. Any living thing fuels them. To phrase it as the Violet Princess had, we are food. Their growth, development, and evolution all depend on outside sources of energy. This gives us a reason to believe, then, that although we don’t know the full scope of the
alien’s strength, we at least can figure that they’ll need time between planetary transfers. The sheer amount of energy it requires is prohibitive.
“Hundreds of years ago, humanity discovered the law of conservation of energy. This law applies as much to us as it does to them. It stands to reason that they’ll need to gather energy before they make another transfer. Taking energy to move also limits the energy they would need for personal development. If this were not the case, and the aliens could transfer at will, then I fail to understand why we haven’t all been killed yet.”
Several of the representatives seated around the round table – including the speaker – were nodding in silent agreement.
Lan Jue went on. “There’s more. We can ascertain from their fighting style, patterns and the transference that they are organic. We don’t know about their history, whether they used to have the underhand if they’ve always been the strongest. Whatever the case, the fact that they consume energy for their own benefit is indisputable. Their appearance in the Shattered Starfields also gives us clues as to their motives. It prevents us from mounting an effective campaign against them. Starting with the three primary planets, it can move through the Starfields gobbling up whatever has signs of life and storing energy. Once they’re finished, that’s when they’ll turn on us.
After all, there are no more verdant planets than the ones in Alliance territory.”
Lan Jue’s explanation was a good one. His conclusions were reasonable and concise, and seemed to fit with what they knew of the aliens up to this point.
The speaker couldn’t help but press him. “What are your suggestions, Jewelry Master?”
Lan Jue’s low voice answered. “I have only suggestions with my limited understanding for your consideration. These aliens are interested in all life, not just humans. Plants, animals, anything that produces energy. Places like Taihua are precisely what they love. Now, if we want to protect everybody everywhere, it would be impossible. If you want to minimize casualties, then I suggest evacuating everyone to planets closer together. This will help our military protect as many as possible. We keep an eye on the other planets, and when the aliens arrive we hit them hard with a prepared military response. Since transferal takes time, they’ll be sitting ducks. The planets we leave behind have the energy they need, but they’ll need to risk fighting Bastion ships for them. We reduce our losses and punish them at the same time.”
As he listened to the commander, his face changed. He neither nodded nor shook his head. The Wine Master at Lan Jue’s side shot him a glance. “Watch your words, Jewelry Master,” he whispered.
Lan Jue smiled disarmingly. “This is a hypothesis, and I’m by no means advocating direct action. Everything needs to be carefully considered. This is all I have to say, thank you Mr. Speaker for giving me this opportunity to address the assembly.”
He excused himself from the podium, and returned to his seat beside the Wine Master.
Lan Jue was certain that his plan was the most effective way to face the alien menace. But abandoning whole planets? How many people would need to be moved? How many people would this affect? It would doubtlessly involve leaders from government and business.
Despite how impractical it seemed, Lan Jue still felt as though it needed to be said. If he didn’t, it would have stuck in his throat like a fishbone. The speaker and the other representatives would make the ultimate decision. That was outside of Lan Jue’ hands. His responsibility was to share his
The remainder of the meeting didn’t involve them. The speaker moved to vote on the veracity of the recordings. More than eighty percent agreed. As for Lan Jue’s plan of action, they did not vote to adopt it immediately.
Once the meeting was complete, the Wine Master gathered them around. Before the politicians had an opportunity to ask them anything further, a silver light swallowed them up and they were gone.
When the world reappeared around the Skyfire Delegation, they were in the old Gothic Winery.
“Don’t blame the speaker, Master. He’s got it hard as well,” the Wine Master said with a sigh.
Lan Jue quietly nodded his head. “I understand. Pull one’s hair and the head will follow. But I needed to get it off of my chest. I am not a politician, and we aren’t beholden to their determinations. I just had to share the best option, otherwise I couldn’t have lived with myself.
Chapter 594: The Return Of Zhou Qianlin
The Driver gave a bitter laugh. “Those politicians will never compromise. I guarantee they’re thinking just because the aliens have shown up in the Starfields, they may not show up in the East. They’re probably hoping they’ll show up in one of the other two Alliances and make it their problem. Why should we put our necks on the line if we aren’t really in danger? How much would it cost? I can almost hear it from here. I’m telling you, those are going to be their excuses. They won’t pay any attention to your proposal.”
The Gourmet nodded in agreement. “It’s the way of the world. Similar conversations are being had in the West and North, as well. Even if they all know it’s the right call, they won’t be the ones to make it.”
Lan Jue answered. “We just have to continue to do everything we can. At the very least, Skyfire and An Lun appear to be safe. Most soldiers will be stationed on these planets. It’s more important than ever that we make Star Division a powerful fighting force. You saw everything that happened, even railguns counted for nothing against those planets. While fighting her, I did notice that her species seem to be antithetical to Adepts. Put another way, our abilities seem particularly suited to harming them.”
“And yet to them we’re practically ants,” the Driver said with a fatalistic chuckle. “It looked like she could swallow up our whole division with that giant mouth of hers.”
“You shouldn’t underestimate your capabilities,” the Gourmet assured. “We simply need to improve ourselves. I, for one, intent to shut myself away in meditation for a while.”
The Wine Master nodded. “We live in troubled times. Star Division has ever mounting pressure to grow, but I believe they’ll rise to the occasion when they know what’s on the line. Now you all must be tired. Go back and rest, if you have anything to discuss it can wait until tomorrow. I’ll keep an eye on parliament and let you know if there’s any news.”
“Alright,” Lan Jue replied with a nod. He returned to his store with a heavy heart.
The Wine Master watched him go with an expression of gratitude. He muttered to himself, “Clairvoyant, I can’t deny you’re good judge of character. You chose well, he’s already set upon his path. Maybe you played with destiny, or maybe it was always supposed to be this way, but with him around I have hope.”
Zeus’ Jewelry Shop almost appeared deserted. When Lan Jue arrived, his four Amazons were busy tidying things up. Dust had managed to creep in during their extended absence.
That was inaccurate. There were now five Amazons. Su Xiaosu was there as well. For Star Division business, she kept the wheels turning as general commander of the force, but here she was the fifth Amazon. When she got to work she looked just like the other women.
When he got back the ladies straightened up and greeted him with a smile.
He managed a smile after a moment. “You all have worked so hard lately, take a break. We’ll deal with the cleaning later.”
Mika chuckled. “No problem, this is our home. You can’t rest well in a dirty home. Isn’t that right, Xiaosu.”
“Yeah,” she replied with a nod.
Lan Jue was pleased to see them all getting along. Their experiences in the Starfields had brought Su Xiaosu into the fold. The former Moonfiend Empress had shown herself to be more than skilled in the midst of battle, but she seemed just as comfortable here in the store. Lan Jue was the same, Zeus’ Jewelry Shop was safe harbor. Just coming back helped settle some of the turmoil in his heart, but it also brought to the fore how bone tired he was.
Suddenly, for no immediately apparent reason, Lan Jue felt a pulse of energy. As he watched, stunned, his body emitted an unfamiliar blue aura. The Amazons gaped at him and shied from the sharp waves of power radiating from him.
Lan Jue paused, then his face lit up with joy. He turned away from the women and raced toward his apartments in the back. “Don’t let anyone disturb me!” He said before disappearing into his room.
Zeus’ five Amazons looked at one another, confused. They had no idea what was going on.
“Is boss about to break through again? I’ve sensed him getting more and more powerful. We have to work hard, too.” Ke’er pumped her tiny fists.
Lin Guoguo nodded firmly. “I need to meditate myself. IF we aren’t strong, we won’t be able to protect the boss. Ke’er, you haven’t broken through to ninth level yet? Keep it up!”
“Soon, soon,” she assured, “should be any day. Ah, I’m the last one.”
Xiuxiu had also recently broken through, leaving the Baleful Tempest alone at the peak of eighth level. However, strictly in terms of Discipline the Morning Star beat them all. After her was Mika, and with her bloodline and battle experience, she wasn’t any less of a nightmare on the battlefield than Xiaosu.
Lin Guoguo, Xiuxiu, and Ke’er finished out the list.
Ke’er hadn’t reached ninth level yet, but her destructive capabilities were still overwhelming. She could release a punishing barrage in an instant. Once she broke through, her powers would make a dramatic leap in strength.
Lan Jue burst into his apartments and slipped into a meditative posture. He focused on the flows of energy pulsing in his body. There was a pale white light, when suddenly a figure appeared. Zhou Qianlin.
When he felt that ubiquitous aura of sharpness, he knew that Qianlin and Demortus had joined completely. Impatiently to see the results, he’d rushed back.
He hadn’t seen Qianlin in two months, and he missed her dearly. He tenderly covered her naked figure with a blanket before seeing if there was any change in her situation. She stood across from him, her big eyes staring blankly just as before. However, he could sense a change in her aura. A pale, almost translucent blue light hung over her skin and flickered. Her previously gentle waves of energy had become more robust.
“Is the joining successful?” Lan Jue couldn’t help but wonder aloud.
A pair of blue lights glinted in Qianlin’s eyes. A moment later, Xuanyuan Shishi’s voice filled his ears. “It is complete. She was as accepting and resilient as a rough diamond. There was no resistance in accepting my power. You had to use the thunder essence to assist you in accepting Yongye, but no such help was
needed for her. There is no one better suited to join with me. You must protect her. I have already seared my knowledge of the Ten Thousand Swords as One, but she will need your guidance. I have no power over her body, but I can tell you that she does appear to have recovered somewhat.”
His title, but also the name of the sword style
“Thank you.” Lan Jue looked dejected. He’d hoped that joining with Demortus would return Qianlin to consciousness. Now it appeared that was just wishful thinking.
“Qianlin.” Lan Jue softly called.
The blue light faded away from them, revealing big clear eyes. No hint of emotion came from them, though her pupils contracted slightly at the mention of her name.
Lan Jue sat beside her, and leaned her against his chest so he could take her into his arms. He didn’t want to ever let go. In these last few months if he wasn’t fighting, he was cultivating. But no matter how he kept himself busy, the pang of missing Qianlin never went away.
To see her again after so long, Lan Jue was filled with delight. But where there was joy, there was also sadness. All he could do was hold her this way, and listen quietly to her heartbeat. It was enough for now.
“You know Qianlin, I miss you. You need to wake up, I don’t care about what’s happened before. I will always love Hera – she taught me what love is. I love you the same. I’ll admit at first I took you as a replacement. Her shadow. But I learned how wrong that was. I love you. Please wake up. Let’s avenge Hera together, and hunt down the people that hurt her. It’s too much for me alone. I need you beside me.”
He laid them both down on the bed. He didn’t dare kiss her for fear that she would disappear and he wouldn’t get to see her anymore. They laid like that, separated by a blanket, with his head resting against hers. He closed his eyes. At last a sense of quiet came over his troubled soul, and he knew that she would come to him when he needed her the most.
His fingers gently ran through her hair. His eyes dimmed. Months in combat had drained Lan Jue to the point of exhaustion. At some point, despite his vigilance, Lan Jue fell asleep. Qianlin’s eyes twitched, and then shut as well. The room was plunged into silence.
When Lan Jue awoke, his first sensation was the warmth against his chest. Warm, soft, and with a faint fragrance. It was then he noticed his body’s natural response to the comfortable sensations.
When he looked down to get a grasp on the situation, his eyes were met with a waterfall of black hair. Somehow, he’d gotten wrapped in the blanket with Qianlin. Their bodies were pressed close together.
Lan Jue shuffled to try and extricate himself, but in his excited state maneuvering was difficult. He briefly pressed against her, but that was enough. The warm body dissolved into light and merged into his chest.
“Goddamn do I hate Bize!” Lan Jue whined. It’d been difficult just to get the chance to see her, but even the specter of affection was forbidden. What could be more tortuous than this?
Lan Jue lay atop the best, feeling his body surge to the peak of ninth rank. He didn’t find it pleasing, this time. He still didn’t
know how strong their Disciplines were separately.
Chapter 595: Ninth Level, Seventh Rank
Body’s mind and body were flooded Lan Jue hormones. Separating once again would be very difficult. He fumbled off the bed and into the bathroom where he got into a cold shower. The chilly water soothed the fires in his heart. Once he’d sufficiently calmed, he brought Qianlin back out and placed her atop the bed. He covered her in a sheet.
As Lan Jue came to accept Qianlin in his heart, he found her more and more difficult to resist. Just looking into her eyes stirred urges within him. The Monarch took several breaths and a few gulps of ice water to keep himself calm. He then shut his eyes, and focused his attention inward.
Ninth level, seventh rank?
Lan Jue was surprised to discover that his Discipline had once again increased. It was a significant leap, too. He was back to where he’d been before being bound to Qianlin. In fact he was stronger than ever. Re-cultivating purified his Discipline and strengthened his base.
Qianlin’s Discipline became Lan Jue’s next focus. Ninth level sixth rank! Lan Jue’s eyes popped open and he stared at his
lover with shock. Was she really so strong as that, now? Her improvement was almost frightening. Obviously, joining with the Banishing Blades had been a real leap in power for both of them.
Lan Jue felt something stir within him. There was a flicker of red light that hung around him like a blanket – Captus. However, there were pulses of energy coming from the sword. It was like a projection, like it wasn’t really there.
With Captus’ appearance there was a spark of blue in Zhou Qianlin’s eyes. Demortus’ image appeared in the air between them.
“Lan Jue, the two of you must begin to train your swordsmanship. Only once you’ve mastered the Harmonious Sword will you be strong enough to face your enemies. If you do not, then we fear that the next time you face a creature like the Violet Princess it will be our undoing.” Jun Yongye’s even voice floated through the air.
Lan Jue’s brows furrowed. “How can we learn the Harmonious Sword when Lan Jue is in this state? Besides, the two of you are so strong. Finding a suitable place to practice is a problem.”
Xuanyuan Shishi’s voice came from the direction of Qianlin. “This is not difficult. Qianlin has lost her consciousness and memory, but her body still functions just fine. I can transfer my knowledge of the style to her. It will come down to you to guider her in using the Harmonious Swords. As for a place to train, we also have a solution. You can practice in our realm.”
A moment after he spoke, there was a flash of blue and red. Reality shuffled around before his eyes, and a moment later Lan Jue found himself in another place entirely.
He was in a strange, misty dreamscape. It was almost like a mountain peak, piercing into the heavens. The ground was level, looking out over a sea of clouds. Zhou Qianlin was standing across from him.
“This is…” Lan Jue trailed off, looking all around.
The red and blue flashes of light returned. Lan Jue felt his arm grow heavy, and when he looked down Captus was resting in his grip. He looked across and saw that Demortus had also appeared and Qianlin held it fast. She flourished the blade in her right hand, while two fingers from her left jabbed forehead. She looked at Lan Jue.
“Be careful.” Xuanyuan Shishi’s voice cautioned.
Qianlin stepped forward, touching the ground with the tip of her toes before lifting weightlessly into the air. Demortus erupted, descending upon Lan Jue as ten thousand copies of itself. This extended to Qianlin as well, countless images of her filled the skies. Each one was saturated with the living intention of the Banishing Blade. He didn’t know where she stopped and the weapon began, much less which one of those images was the real Qianlin.
Lan Jue looked up in awe. Then, sweeping Captus through the air toward the encroaching hail of weapons, a bloom of red light issued from the blade. It surged like a tidal wave, and the two opposing forces were poised to collide.
Roaring waves of energy were expelled when the power of the two swords met. A great many of Demortus’ copies were blasted away, however there were many more still intent on skewering Lan Jue.
“Xuanyuan, what are you doing?” Lan Jue angrily asked. An aura of golden light sprang up around him to deflect Qianlin’s attack. Demortus’ terrible sharpness tore his protective shell to shreds. He weaved and dodged, swiping fervently with Captus.
He managed with some considerable effort to evade injury.
Xuanyuan Shishi’s voice was thick with nefarious intent. “Practicing, of course! Be careful, you don’t want tohurt Qianlin!”
In reality it was Lan Jue he had to be wary, it didn’t seem as though Qianlin was holding anything back. Not only had her last attack covered all means of escape, each blade was a deadly dervish in and of itself.
Jun Yongye had imparted the secrets of focused flow to him, but Lan Jue hadn’t had much experience using it in combat. Besides, he was facing Zhou Qianlin! The fact made it difficult to concentrate on form.
Lan Jue continued to swipe and cut. Fissures of collapsing reality ripped apart those swords that got too close. However Qianlin’s onslaught would not let us, and his defense was not perfect. The ten thousand blades probed for any opportunity, and sometimes found them. Lan Jue was already covered in several small wounds.
“Compose yourself, strike.” Jon Yungye’s dissatisfied voice
chastised him from the back of his mind.
Lan Jue suddenly felt his heart race. Almost subconsciously the sword lashed out, tracing out a circle in the air. The red aura around Captus was bright, but soft and inviting. It covered him from the rest of the hail.
“Ey?!” Xuanyuan Shishi’s surprised yelp met his ears. The force of Qianlin’s assault increased as she pummeled him with sapphire-blue copies of her blade. They cut and chopped and pierced, seeking ceaselessly for a hole in his defenses. They crashed against him like a chaotic wave, with every strike like being hit by a mountain. Xuanyuan’s signature sword style unfolded, ten thousand swords from ten thousand directions. Each one of those images was strong enough to do mortal damage.
Lan Jue appeared to have gotten his footing. One after the other, Lan Jue used Captus to carve circle through the air. The movements birthed orbs of red light that surrounded him on all sides. Strange, no matter how intense and ferocious Qianlin’s attacks became, they were swallowed into these orbs and spat out off target.
He’d found a settled point in his heart. With a soft smile, Lan
Jue continued to follow the flow of his own movements like running water. It was almost as though he was paying Qianlin’s attacks no mind. He was simply moving to the rhythm of his own style. Wave upon wave of Demortus’ fury rained upon him, but as they got close it was like crashing into the unyielding waves of a vast ocean.
It didn’t take Lan Jue long to achieve the upper hand. He was stronger than Qianlin to begin with, and Demortus was slowly being overcome with Captus’ dominance. Demortus couldn’t produce its full potential. Qianlin was like a bird that railed against its cage, but the more she struggled the smaller her prison became.
“Stop, stop, stop!” Xuanyuan Shishi entreated. Lan Jue answered with a final flourish that spun Qianlin around and nearly knocked her off her feet.
“What sword style is this?” Xuanyuan Shishi asked, perturbed.
Lan Jue smirked. “Taiji sword style.”
“And who told you to use it?” Shishi responded, irritated.
“What about focused flow?”
Lan Jue chuckled sheepishly. “Come on, I’m fighting my better half, here! What if I hurt her? Taiji sword is better suited for defense, it seemed more appropriate. It seems to work especially well to constrain the ten thousand blades style.”
Xuanyuan Shishi was silent for a moment. “You need to practice focused flow, and only then can you achieve the Harmonious Swords! No one told you to use Taiji, is it really so amazing?”
Jun Yongye’s voice interjected. “Enough, Xuanyuan. You’re still so competitive. Lan Jue’s decision was correct, and his Taiji style melds well with Captus. Why didn’t you use it during your conflict with the Violet Princess? It would have helped you avoid being caught in such a tight situation.”
Lan Jue smirked. “I… forgot. I’ve never actually used it in a fight.”
Jun Yongye went on. “This style of yours is unique. It calls for much introspection and cultivation. However, Xuanyuan is also correct. It is paramount that you excel in the use of focused flow
first. Taiji sword style was among the most potent styles in the ancient world – perhaps even more than focused flow. But if you can combine focused flow with the ten thousand blades, it could be the most effective weapons style known to man. You do not need to fear harming her during this training. Xuanyuan and I have sealed away the deadly power of the banishing blades. For all intents and purposes, they are average swords. Your natural defenses should be enough to handle them.”
“No one said anything…” Lan Jue protested weakly.
Xuanyuan Shishi harrumphed. “How can I keep the element of surprise if I tell you? Now hurry up, no more using that sword style.”
Lan Jue nodded. Now that there were no worries for Qianlin, he no longer had his hands tied. It was time to immerse himself in focused flow. Formerly he’d had no means to practice the skills Yongye had imparted. Now that he had a chance, he could begin to puzzle out the secrets of the style.
Jue Di’s instructions were still fresh from his time on Ziluo.
Lan Jue’s progress was quick.
Chapter 596: Sword Practice
Lan Jue slowly began to uncover the profound nature of focused flow. It sought victory through vigor. Each strike was as overpowering as though it had a roaring river behind it. His movements appeared slow, almost lazy, but each swipe of his word bore tremendous energy.
Qianlin’s thousand sword technique was the opposite. Demortus’ power wasn’t focused in one place, but spread out. Cunning manipulation of the energy flows is what gave her tide of weaponry its power.
The two were calm, stable, ethereal. Neither was inherently stronger than the other. However, as their training continued Lan Jue entered into a marvelous state. He realized that the two styles were mirrors of one another, like feeling one’s heart beat in someone else’s chest. Every move was answered by the other person with perfect synchronicity. Likewise, Lan Jue moved effortlessly with each attack from Qianlin, masterfully deflecting the danger away.
Gradually, Lan Jue came to understand the rules. He could only pierce her defenses with just the right move at just the right time. Similarly, Qianlin learned his tricks. He would find a way to overcome her, and she would just as quickly change up
The violent clashes of their styles became less intense with each meeting. Eventually, their interactions became almost friendly. They danced around each other like one was an integral piece of the other.
The more they trained, the more Lan Jue came to understand. Unknown hours passed before Jun Yongye interrupted them. “That’s enough for today.”
The two Adepts rested their sword arms. Lan Jue smiled as the light of their banishing blades played upon Qianlins’ face. She still had as much expression as dirt, but Lan Jue could sense the cooperation in their training. To him it meant she was there, somewhere.
“When can we begin to train the Harmonious Swords?” Lan Jue asked.
Xuanyuan Shishi was the one who answered. “You both have a long way to go. Right now you train without the swords’ powers. As you learn more, we can begin to unseal their potency and allow Captus and Demortus to intermingle. You will also
need to empower them with your own strength. Once you both can command the power without hurting one another, you will be ready to direct its tremendous power. Then you will know the Harmonious Swords. Did you think it was that easy?”
Lan Jue nodded ever so slightly. Xuanyuan Shishi was right. Clearly the Harmonious Sword style would need work. Having so much power at one’s fingertips, it was important that they were capable of handling it. What’s more, they had to be connected on a spiritual level.
He was starting to feel that already, after only the first day of training.
Lan Jue looked over Zhou Qianlin. She remained standing, peering sightlessly into the middle distance. “You’re tired,” he told her, “Let’s wash you up then get you some food.”
If the nine circles of hell were a real thing, Lan Jue wasn’t worries. There was no greater torture than giving Qianlin a bath. Three times they inadvertently joined before he could finished. He felt even more drained than he did after sword training.
With some effort, he get her dressed in Hera’s old clothes. He suddenly felt exhausted. Not physically, but deep down in his soul. Lan Je cooked up a simple meal and fed Zhou Qianlin before having some himself.
The ritual was interrupted when Lan Jue’s communicator began to ring. “Hey, what have you been up to all day? We’ve seen neither hide nor hair.” It was the Driver.
Lan Jue answered. “I’ve been cultivating, of course. What time is it?”
“It’s dark out,” he responded. “Asking what time it is… do you want to get a drink?”
He hesitated, taking a look at Qianlin sitting quietly nearby. “Alright, but I’ll be bringing someone.” When not cultivating he didn’t join with Qianlin. It had to be better for her to smell the fresh air and see the world around her.
“Come on over.”
Lan Jue changed his clothes, then guided Qianlin out into the
Zeus’ five Amazons where in the store. Each of their faces was different when they saw their boss leave his chambers, Zhou Qianlin in tow. None of them looked entirely pleased.
“I’m heading out, you all can head out.” Lan Jue’s greeting was brief. He gave the explanation, and was out the door.
Su Xiaosu couldn’t keep her thoughts to herself. “Little Mika,” she began, “what is going on with Qianlin and the boss?” She knew Qianlin, of course, but she was never told their whole story.
She called her ‘小米’, the same name Qianlin uses for Tang Mi.
It’s a very cutesy nickname, literally ‘little grain of rice.’
Mika glowered at her. “Don’t call me little Mika. Big Mika, if anything. Sounds better. Ai… it’s so annoying how single- minded men are.”
Ke’er whole-heartedly nodded her agreement. “No doubt. I don’t mind being a mistress.”
“Hey hey, restrain yourself! Have you no shame? You’re a woman!” Lin Guoguo couldn’t help but share her distress.
“So what if I’m a woman?” Ke’er huffed. “Women are also entitled to the pursuit of love. At any rate, I’m not entirely a woman, am I? I’m a manufactured woman.”
Su Xiaosu looked among the women helplessly. “I can’t stand men who are fickle in love. That’s one of the reasons I like the boss.” She had no qualms expressing her interest in their employer.
“Polyamorous or no, there’s no place in his heart for us.” Xiuxiu arose. Depression darkened her features, she moved to the back of the shop.
“Where are you going, Xiuxiu?” Ke’er asked.
She didn’t turn back. “I’m going to clean the boss’ room.”
Ke’er raced to her side. “You’re too virtuous, sister. So much better than little Ke’er. I think we should probably just be lesbians, what do you say?”
Lan Jue led Qianlin down Skyfire Avenue by the hand. The surface world was as quiet as ever, and their footsteps rang against the sturdy granite stones that comprised the street. For Lan Jue, it was the comforting feeling of home.
“It would be great is there weren’t aliens to worry about. I’d take you out for a walk along the Avenue every day. We’d swing by the Gothic Winery and have a drink with the Wine Master. Ah, to see his pained expression every time we open a new bottle… priceless. Then we could visit the Seamstress. She would make you beautiful new clothes. The woman had amazing skill. If the Gourmet doesn’t agree to us bothering his wife, then he can cook us a fine meal instead. We finish off our meal with a nice glass with the Coffee Master. Then when we get married, we can go to mom’s place and have her take our photos. What do you think?” Lan Jue lazily walked down the street with her hand in his. Their arms swung back and forth as they made their way.
Zhou Qianlin dutifully followed, but nothing more. It appeared she was moving on instinct – going where the stimulus
told her to. He didn’t know her heartbeat had sped up with his words.
Before long, they stood before the doors to the Seamstress’ shop. The Driver was already waiting for them. Today he was dressed in a sharp suit with dark vertical lines. He looked for ll the world like a reputable gentleman.
“Guests, please,” He pulled open the door with a welcoming smile.
The Seamstress stood inside, also smiling. She nodded to the two of them as they entered. “Welcome to the two of you.”
As Lan Jue and Qianlin made their way inside, they noticed that the table was already set up. There were dried fruits, a selection of chopped fruits, and a plate of fermented ham. Slowly moistening glasses of ice water and empty wine glasses were also on display.
Lan Jue led Qianlin to a chair and they both sat.
The Driver looked his way, then looked at Zhou Qianlin.
“How is she?”
“Better,” he answered with a smile. “She’ll recover with time.”
The Driver nodded. “Do you want something to drink?”
“I think I’d like something mild today,” was the Jewelry Master’s reply.
The Driver grunted. “That would be the Auchentoshan, then.”
Auchentoshan was a brand of whisky, with a mild taste that contained hints of cream. It was smooth as silk.
Once it was poured Lan Jue swirled the golden contents in his glass and watched. With a smile, he commented, “We’ve only been apart a day and already you miss me, eh?”
The Driver picked a slice of ham from the plate and stuffed it in his mouth. “You wish. I want the alcohol you promised.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “I knew you didn’t call me over here for a drink out of the goodness of your heart. You’ll get it, don’t worry. You think I can still screw you over?”
The question was met with a teasing chuckle. “Hard to say.” He lifted the glass and knocked it gently against Lan Jue’s. The two men drank their glasses dry.
A lull crept into the conversation as the Driver poured them another glass. Lan Jue took the opportunity to address the Seamstress. “The Beautician…?”
Her eyes grew gloomy and she sighed. “She’s a little better. Strong. Right now she’s propped up by the prospect of vengeance. You don’t need to worry about her.”
“Alright.” Lan Jue gently nodded his head. He completely understood how it felt to have a loved one taken from you.
The Seamstress sighed again. “She regrets not accepting his
This made the Driver grunt. “Life is really too short to not be happy. Right, Jewelry Master, I must say I’ve got quite a fancy for Su Xiaosu. You think you can put in a good word for me?”
Lan Jue stared at him blankly for a moment, but eventually nodded. “Alright. Just, I think it’d be better if you spoke to her yourself. She’s got a powerful personality and a lot of experience. Steel up your courage, man.”
The Driver stared at him, wide-eyed. “You’re joking! You think I’m a wuss? Where is she now? I’ll go this instant, invite her over here.”
Lan Jue looked at him curiously. “Are you serious?”
The Driver thrust out his barrel chest, and straightened his fine suit. “Of course I am.”
His friend nodded once he saw how serious he was. “She should be back in my shop.”
He said nothing. The Driver got up to his feet, turned around, and walked out of the Seamstress’ shop like a man on a mission.
Chapter 597: The Rejected Driver
The Seamstress shot Lan Jue a surprised look. “Is he serious?
You think he’s got a shot?”
To this, Lan Jue shrugged. “I have no idea. Not as good as he hopes, I’m sure.” As he spoke, he stabbed a small piece of fruit on a fork. He delivered the piece to Qianlin and pressed it gently to her lips. She opened and accepted the morsel.
All the while the Seamstress watched his tender care. “Even now she’s a lucky girl.”
Lan Jue politely chuckled. “How could this be considered lucky? When she wakes up, then we’ll be blessed.”
But the Seamstress shook her head. “Sometimes it’s dangerous to think on what it is to be ‘really blessed.’ Take yourself, for example. You’re better now than ever before, is this not because of hardships? The Wine Master and the others pile tremendous pressure on your shoulders. Do you think they don’t worry about you, how you’ll hold up?”
Lan Jue smirked and rubbed his upper arm. “Well, that’s
because in their eyes I can handle it. It’s fine, don’t worry. I can definitely manage what’s going on. There’s just so much outside of our control. Even if we do know the right decision now, there are so many elements that could completely change the trend of events.
“The Gourmet told me what happened with Parliament,” she replied, changing the subject. “Did they really dismiss your suggestion?”
Lan Jue shrugged. “I hope they come up with something better. I’ve been thinking, but up to this point I can’t figure any other way to face to the alien threat. They’re too strong.”
The Seamstress nodded, fear evident in her gaze. “We’ve yet to experience the full might of these invaders. Your determinations seem sound; they absorb energy to make themselves stronger. It’s a terrifying prospect.”
Lan Jue nodded slightly. “None of this matters now, our only option is to face what comes our way. “Where is the Gourmet? You didn’t invite him?”
She replied through a smile. “He also feels the impending
crisis, and has sequestered himself for meditation. He said he needs to firm up his cultivation.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “Here I only thought we young’uns got that ominous sense. The Gourmet feels it, too! That’s good. I need to do the same. Right now there’s nothing more important than strength. When humanity really starts to feel the aggression of our alien enemy, the only one you can rely on for protection is yourself.”
“Not just him, we all feel it,” the Seamstress assured. “You know I’ve never been much for cultivating, but I’ve put more effort into it myself. I was speaking with the Driver today about closing the shop and participating in the Division training full time. What’s your plan for the troops in the future?”
Star Division’s commander shook his head. “Right now I have no plan. I have to see how the situation plays out. We were out for a while as well, and learned a lot. We’ll need time to process and decide on our next move. We’ll use the resources we acquired to strengthen the Division, while the troops use this time of peace to prepare their minds and bodies for the next task. Originally I’d thought about going to An Lun and joining the process there, but it seems like staying close by is a better decision. We have no idea when – or where – those aliens are going to show up.”
No one need to worry about An Lun. With Jue Di there, the Violet Princess herself wouldn’t be able to take it.
The Seamstress rejoined. “I think that’s the right call. Step by step, assessing the situation as we go along. A better decision can be made when we learn more from the Shattered Starfields.”
The sounds of footsteps outside caught their attention. The Driver’s gloomy face was revealed when he pulled the door open. He shot Lan Jue a loathsome look, then pulled off his jacket and poured himself a drink. The Driver promptly empties the glass.
No one needed to ask, the answer was written clear on his face. He’d been turned down. The Seamstress was no fool and recognized it right away. She opened a fresh thermos of hot water and poured each of them a glass.
“I don’t get it. What the hell is so good about you? Pretty, capable women just flock around you. Meanwhile, I can’t find one for myself. Someone tell me, what the hell is going on! You have a woman, stop hogging all the others, alright?” The Driver bitterly complained.
Lan Jue sighed. “You think I don’t worry about that? I don’t want to steal their youths, either, but if I even bring it up they threaten to commit suicide or some nonsense. What am I supposed to do? All I can do is let it be, and hope they find someone for themselves.”
The Driver scowled. “Oh come on. How much time have they spent with you? How are they supposed to find a replacement?”
This made the Jewelry Master smirk. “So you’re saying you can’t match up?”
The Driver sniffed derisively. “Bullshit. I’m a hell of a lot manlier than you.”
Lan Jue rapped his knuckles against his whisky glass. “Last I checked your Discipline was yin-based. I dunno how manly that is.”
The Driver describes himself as 阳刚, or ‘manly.’ It shared the same 阳 character as 阴阳. Lan Jue asked ‘where’s the yang?’
The Driver gaped at him for a long moment before coming up
with a response. “Well, every cloud has a silver lining, right?”
“So Su Xiaosu outright rejected you,” Lan Jue said, shifting gears. “What did you say to her?”
“I walked in, and I said to her ‘I like you.’ Then I asked if she’d be my girlfriend.” The Driver was to the point.
The Seamstress smiled at her friend. “Just like your soldiers – you only know the blunt method. Try a little finesse, won’t you?”
The Driver sat straight. “Adepts at our level have hearts like mirrors. What’s the point of ‘finesse’? Would you rather relationships were like the normal folk, all those games and nonsense? I’m not interested in any of that. If we’re good, we’re good. IF we’re not, we’re not. Simple and direct is my style. If I’m rejected, I won’t give it another thought.”
Here, he swung his eyes over to Lan Jue. “She told me she’s only interested in staying in the jewelry shop. She said she wasn’t interested in taking a partner, ever. She only wanted to be your assistant and serve at your side.”
Lan Jue slapped his forehead, screwing tight his eyes. So be it, another one.
“What’s your plan for these women? Keep them as slaves? Continue to order them about?” The Driver asked, ill-tempered.
“They are not slaves,” Lan Jue protested. “They’re employees, and in fact they have more stock in the store than I do. Can you call that slavery? As for what I’m going to do, I have no idea. They’re married to this idea of paying me back and that’s why they stick around. Plus, everyone one of them has complicated backstories. Skyfire Avenue is the best fit for what they need, I can’t just turn them away. If I did, I’d have to go with them.”
“There’s nothing pleasant about drinking with you!” The Driver murmured into his glass. “I could do great things and still never find a girl.”
Lan Jue frowned at him. “It doesn’t help that you don’t take good care of your appearance. Charitable deeds also bring good karma.”
The Driver changed the subject. “Ah, right. There’s something I need to talk with you about. Should we continue to
try and join the yin and yang forms of lightning, like we did? If it succeeds we’ll both benefit a lot. It’ll make cultivating faster too, I’m sure.”
“You’ve got that ominous feeling too, eh?” Lan Jue asked.
“You’re damn right,” he said. “You don’t have a sour outlook after almost dying to that thing? We clearly don’t have what it takes to face the aliens as we are now. IF we don’t work hard to get better, what hope do we have?”
Lan Jue hesitated. “Right now Qianlin and I are cultivating together. This is why I haven’t sought you out to cultivate. I don’t know if we can join the two kinds of lightning while I’m joined with her. It would be a dangerous thing to attempt.”
The Driver shrugged. “Why don’t we go to the Wine Master’s Reaper Arena? We can give it a try. If it helps, great. Otherwise we’ve lost nothing.”
Lan Jue pondered for a moment. “Alright, but the Reaper Arena isn’t guaranteed to be safe. His pocket dimensions can’t handle protogenia, and if we succeed you can bet there will be a lot of that flying around. Wherever we go has to be capable of
handling protogenic current. I’ll ask my mother, she should be able to find a place with no risk at all.”
The Driver slapped the table. “Excellent. Drink!”
The two of them ate fruit and ham, talking as they worked their way through the whisky bottle. It was gone in no time. The Driver was eager to open another but Lan Jue stopped him by shaking his head. “No more for me, one should know when to stop. Tomorrow morning I’ll come and get you, we’ll give it a shot.”
“Alright,” he replied.
He bid farewell to the Seamstress, then Lan Jue and Zhou Qianlin stepped out of the tailor shop.
He had neglected the special relationship between his and the Drivers’ Disciplines. His speed and quality of cultivation had been tremendous after joining with Qianlin. Then, with the addition of the Banishing Blades he had more than he could handle, much less explore other avenues.
The Driver’s insistence reminded him of something his father said once. That yin and yang lightning joined could create an incredibly potent – and dangerous – thunderbolt. Jue Di’s hope had been that Lan Jue would find a wife with a yin-skewed Thunderbolt Discipline. That would have been best.
Now that was not an option, he already found Zhou Qianlin. What he was interested in discovering most of all, was whether or not he and Qianlin could successfully cultivate with another while already joined.
It wasn’t like he could just dump her either, and practice with the Driver alone. Lan Jue wanted to cross the threshold of Paragon with her together. Working separately would only increase the gap between them.
He would ask dad!
Lan Jue returned to the shop and turned on the holographic projection system in his quarters. He attempted to connect with Lan Qing. After a few moment, the projector’s lights flickered and Lan Qing appeared in full military regalia.
“It’s so late, what is it?” Lan Qing asked in his simple fashion.
“Brother,” Lan Jue began. “I’m looking for dad. Is he around?”
Chapter 598: Jue Di’s Discomfort
“He’s here,” Lan Qing affirmed. “Wait a moment.” He turned to look for him, but then stopped like he’d remembered something. Lan Qing turned back to the camera. “I heard about the business with the parliament. Your suggestion was good, but it isn’t feasible. At least not right now. The Parliament has their own plans as well. Don’t be contrary.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “I’m not a child, why would I be contrary? I’m a single person, and the best I can do is try to protect those who are important to me. Relax, I’m not upset. What about you? How have you been lately? Have you had any time to cultivate with all this going on? Don’t let me overtake you.”
Lan Qing actually managed a stiff smile. “If you didn’t get in touch with me I would have called you. You should make a trip to An Lun.”
Lan Jue’s heart felt tighter in his chest. “What is it? What’s going on?”
“It’s nothing,” Lan Qing confessed. “Nothing bad. You’ll understand when you come.”
Lan Jue relaxed. His worst fear was the alien planets appearing suddenly near An Lun. That would be a nightmare scenario. The forces stationed there were strong, but were they strong enough to defend against a universe-traversing alien planet that could eat other planets? It was hard to say.
“Wait a minute, I’ll get father,” Lan Qing said.
After a few moments, Jue Di appeared. He had a cigar clipped between two fingers. “It should be night on Skyfire about now. What do you need so late?”
The first thing Lan Jue noticed was that his father didn’t look quite himself.
“Dad, are you alright?” Lan Jue asked, concern evident in his voice.
The old Paragon grunted. “Of course I’m alright, what could possibly be bothering me? I’m just surprised you remembered you have a father! You have a mom now, I guess dad don’t count for shit.”
Suddenly it became clear to Lan Jue the source of his father’s irritation. It was the fact that he’d accepted Luo Xianni as his mother. Lan Jue choked down a fit of laughter. “Dad, in theory there could be no child without father, nor could there be a mother. So, if I have a father I must thereby have a mother! Look, she’s a good woman. Without her you might not have ever seen me again. At your age what are you trying to hide? You need company in old age!”
Jue Di narrowed his eyes. “Watch your mouth. I don’t need to be told how to handle by business by some uppity asshole. Now just tell me what the hell you want or leave me the hell alone.”
Lan Jue could see his father fuming, barely choking back the urge to wring the life out of him. He smirked. “That’s the dad I remember.”
Jue Di’s face froze, then suddenly the fury melted away like snow before the sun. His voice came thick with shame. “Was I terrible when you were children?”
Lan Jue shook his head. “Not terrible. You used to say, ‘spare the rod spoil the child. Success through hardships.’”
Jue Di perked up proudly. “And I was right! Now what is it.”
Lan Jue obliged. “Do you remember when I told you I found an adept with a taiyin thunderbolt Discipline…”
Lan Jue went on to describe the conundrum, explaining their wish to join their opposed Disciplines with Qianlin involved.
The corner of Jue Di’s eyes crinkled as he thought. “In theory, it shouldn’t be a major issue. Just make sure that you extract and employ the purest form of your thunderbolt Discipline when joining with his. The joining of yin and yang is the way of heaven and earth. It is the beginning of the universe and all the myriad beasts within it. The natural way. Within it you will discover things of great benefit to your protogenia. The advantages would apply to all of you. This should apply especially to you and the girl. The Clairvoyant was clever – the jerk. People thought Queen of Heaven Discipline was extinct, but he found it one in a million. She can’t really use it to attack, but it’s the universal support. Her abilities are compatible with anyone’s. Because of this restriction, Adepts like her have to learn other ways to be useful in a fight. For instance, by learning martial arts like I taught you. It doesn’t matter how much energy is used, she should be fine. In addition, when you’re joined her power enters and empowers yours. When you join your thunderbolt with his, on an energy level her Discipline
will be involved too. You don’t need to worry about her, but you do need to worry about getting it right.
The phrase he uses means more than this when considering the theory of yin and yang. The Huang Di Nei Jing was one of the first books on Chinese yin-yang theory, and the first to collate the whole collected knowledge up to that point. In it, the combination of yin and yang is described as ‘the guiding principle of all living things; the bearer of change; the beginning and the end; the palace of the immortals; all treatments must take this into account.’ It is a central guiding precept in a lot of Chinese thought, especially medicine, along with the five elements.
“According to what you’ve told me, it sounds like your Discipline is stronger than the other guy’s. You’ll have to guide the cultivation process, use your knowledge of Taiji to manipulate the flow and bring them together. You mustn’t be impatient. Gradually guide the powers, adapt to them, and then apply what I’ve taught you to control the flow of yin and yang within you. From there, it’s all up to your level of control.”
Lan Jue was hesitant. “But father, for this to work I may need to teach the Driver the ways of Taiji. Otherwise, I’m afraid he won’t be able to work with me.”
Jue Di frowned. “Fine, teach him. I have no pedigree to protect. But teach him only the methods necessary for moving power.”
When he heard this, Lan Jue was very pleasantly surprised. Truth be told, he wasn’t wholly convinced Jue Di would let him teach the secrets of Taiji to the Driver. It was treasured family knowledge! Even in the old days, there was typically only a few families who knew the mysteries of Taiji.
“Alright, so it I,” Jue Di decided. “Oh, A-Jue’s told you I’m sure. Hurry to An Luo, and bring your little girlfriend. Ah, and that guy the Driver.”
“Alright, thank you father.” Jue Di hadn’t be straightforward, but of course Lan Jue understood his instruction. With his father’s help, the product of their experience was sure to produce great results.
The conversation concluded and the holographic projector was turned off. Lan Jue turned to Qianlin, and pressed his lips to hers. The beautiful young woman became white light and permeated into his chest.
In his mind’s eye, Lan Jue saw the aliens as a lofty mountain. The weight of impending extinction grew heavier by the day. He couldn’t delay getting stronger.
Planet Luo. Chu Family home.
“Father, A-Cheng’s been in there for days and doesn’t seem to have any interest of coming out. I went in to check on him and he was like a statue. I couldn’t even feel an aura from him. Do you think there’s a problem?” The Chu family monarch, Chu Dong, seemed uneasy.
Chu Yun huffed. “You good for nothing. I can’t tell you how happy I am A-Cheng has locked himself away for so long. Why would you go in and disturb him? He has immersed himself in the ghostly realm, the domain of our ancestors. It is a sign of his great chances to become a Paragon. No one can disturb him. He must be allowed to cultivate on his own. When he has achieved what he set out to gain, he will come out on his own. Who knows, it may be possible that he emerges as the new Hades.”
“That must be unlikely,” Chu Dong said incredulously.
“Before locking himself away he was seventh rank. Still a long way to go.”
Chu Yun challenged his assertion. “Why should it be impossible? He is my grandson. A moment’s insight can bring more growth than ten years of laborious cultivation. It’s clear that the pendant he was given by His Majesty the Clairvoyant is of great benefit to him. So far it’s been a few months. If he remains like this for a year, then he has a chance.”
A fervent fire lit behind the old patriarch’s eyes when he thought of the possibility. For his grandson to break through so young, they really did have a chance to retake the Dark Citadel within his lifetime. Who could say, their young prodigy could grow to be as strong as the likes of Jue Di!
Hua Xu stood silently beside the dark blue column of light.
Within was Hua Li, suspended in air. He slowly raised his
head, his arms outstretched to his sides. By now the singer’s signature blue hair went all the way down to his feet. The man looked like a crystal reflection of the light, otherwise.
Shimmering golden runes would appear occasionally on his forehead. They would shine and lift, only to face and disappear. Then they would show up somewhere else. They appeared to follow pathways like blood vessels. So far they extended down to his mid torso and back, creeping towards his waist.
Hua Li’s eyes were closed, he was the picture of serenity. Like a sleeping child. His long eyelashes seemed to undulate with unseen waves.
Mo Xiao stood behind Hua Xu. She was clad in a long white dress with embroidered gold runes that made her look holy and pure. Her big eyes were filled with fervor as she watched the change overcome Hua Li.
“When the script of Poseidon covers him from head to toe, that is when he is ready to accept the seed of the ocean. Perhaps another half a month. You should prepare yourself, there can be no mistakes.” Hua Xu warned.
“Yes,” Mo Xiao respectfully replied.
A smile crept into Hua Xu’s lips. “Once you have joined with the seed of the ocean, I will announce on behalf of the Poseidon group that you are man and wife.”
Mo Xiao hesitated. “This news will affect his business reputation.”
Hua Xu’s smile widened. “When has the Poseidon Group fretted over such things? This is your due title.”
Mo Xiao offered up no further protest, only nodding. On the contrary, she looked excited.
His wife? Although it’ll be in name only, I’m still happy. A-Li, will you see me for how much I love you, one day?
“Sorry for troubling you, mom,” Lan Jue said to Luo Xianni with a winning smile.
She waved him off. “Progress is always a good thing. No trouble at all. Oh, right, then you said you wanted to make a trip to An Lun to see that old pile of refuse, right? He didn’t say anything about me staying behind, did he?”
Lan Jue shook his head. “He did not, of course not. You know I see that he cares for you. I don’t know what his hang up is, but I called him out on it.”
Luo Xianni scowled, looking like a petulant young girl. “What does he have to be hung up about? The man’s practically bipolar. Life has value, but love is priceless. If it were free people would just throw it around, but he’s terrified of commitment. Does he think I’ll tie him down? Hmph! He’s an old fogey, it’s not like I have to worry about him picking up young women. Whatever, forget about it. You two get to it. I’ll watch over you and help. We’ll make sure you succeed before you head out. We have to make sure that old bastard knows what you’re worth!”
Chapter 599: Lightning Of Yin And Yang
They stood within the center of the Wine Master’s Reaper Arena. He looked displeased with the situation, but he couldn’t say anything to the Photographer. The surge of power that resulted from their last attempt was at the front of everyone’s memory. If not for his aunt’s intervention, he would never have allowed them to attempt their experiments here.
Lan Jue and the Driver walked together to the center of the ring. There, the Star Division commander turned to face his subordinate. “I’ll lead,” he announced.
“Be careful,” the Driver cautioned. “We don’t want a repeat of last time.”
“Relax, I know my limits,” Lan Jue assured.
Over the last few days he had, in fact, experienced a great epiphany in his control of Taiji. Precise control over his body was becoming easier. Moreover, as he continued to absorb the thunder essence his Discipline was changing. It was becoming purer, and little by little shedding the wild nature of lightning. More exactly, he was subduing its reckless character.
Lan Jue lifted his hands. They were brought together before him in a circle, and as they connected a golden orb of light appeared. It extended forward from his hands and peacefully hung in the air. To the Driver it was a poignant display of his friend’s superior abilities. His eyes lit up in appreciation.
The larger man followed his friend’s example and brought his hands together. When the circuit was complete, a flickering orb of bright silver was birthed. Errant bolts of lightning writhed over its surface continuously. Lan Jue’s golden electric orb seemed an entity in and of itself. There were no fluctuations – perfect control.
This expression of their Discipline was small to begin with. Lan Jue’s hands flowed through the air and both golden and silver lightning alike danced along. After they traced out a sphere, the familiar glow of black and white appeared. The opposed flows of energy rotated around each other. They looked thick as milk. Likewise the gold and silver thunderbolt energy swirled toward the center.
The Driver continued to carefully watch Lan Jue, vigilant for any sign of distress. He was careful, because he still remembered the enormous explosion that cut their attempts short the last time. Now their thunderbolt powers were purer and stronger. He shuddered to think of what would happen if they got it
wrong this time.
Lan Jue calmly watched. Under his careful direction, the taiyin and taiyang thunderbolt Disciplines drew ever closer.
The true meaning of Taiji energy work was to strive for balance of yin and yang – to join the two in perfect harmony. The closer they came to achieving this perfection, the stranger the scene became.
Lan Jue noticed that as the Driver’s taiyin powers met his taiyang equivalent, they didn’t repulse one another. There was very little resistance from the taiyin, and the taiyang opened up to embrace it. It was entirely the opposite of their first attempt.
Recollections of conflict lingered in Lan Jue’s memory from last time. It’d seemed neither Discipline had been fully ready to submit to the other, to give up superiority. Although they’d succeeded temporarily, in the process their Disciplines’ explosive temper was agitated.
Strangely, those violent tendencies were entirely absent this time. Lan Jue struggled to understand.
Why would it be so different this time? He wracked his brain but could think of nothing. But as he looked on, he continued to witness changes.
Gold and silver began to meld into each other. A sublime corona of light radiated around them. The vortex of black and white that he’d summoned was like a black hole, drawing everything into its all-consuming nexus.
The Driver looked up and gaped when he saw Lan Jue again. He bore another orb of light, this one three times the size. It shone with dazzling blue – not the same lightning blue they were accustomed to, but a blue as clear and sharp as crystal. Flickers of energy were refracted endlessly inside. If he didn’t know better, the Adept could have mistaken the orb for an enormous cut gemstone.
The light lit up the whole field in ethereal blue luminance.
Luo Xianni’s eyes twinkled along with it. “So pretty!”
Pretty? Lan Jue didn’t think so. He could it, that even one slip could unleash a torrent of energy that could evaporate them. The waves of power that radiated from it were as vigorous as they were threatening.
Life and death… there only ever existed a thin line between them. Something clicked in Lan Jue’s mind. The thunder essence situated above his Core also sensed something and began to quiver in anticipation.
Lan Jue called over to the Driver. “I’m going to start trying to disseminate the essence into our bodies. Remember what I taught you, we can’t afford even the smallest mistake. We have to be as careful as possible.”
“Got it.” Sweat had begun to appear on the Driver’s brow, but resolve was clear on his face. The arrow was loosed from the string – there was no going back.
Lan Jue flowed forward a step, gently pushing his hands forward. The Driver replied with a deep breath, the silver light in his eyes flickering as he mirrored Lan Jue’s movements.
The glittering and translucent globe of lightning reacted like water. It twined up Lan Jue’s hands and stuck to the Driver.
Four palms joined. The Driver shook as he felt a surge of magnificent power race through his meridians. For a moment every cell in his body went numb. For years he’d known only
taiyin power, and had never experienced the balance of Taiji. He steeled himself and accepted the energy throughout his body, joined it with his own, then returned the flow to Lan Jue.
In this way they became a circuit, passing the energy between them over and over. However, so far all they’d managed was a small amount.
The Driver was amazing by even this. He continued to infuse the power into his own Discipline, feeling it empowered. With just this small experiment he could sense he was three times more potent than normal. It was swallowed up and absorbed without effort.
For Lan Jue, the process was even easier. When the power entered him, it seemed to flow naturally toward his Core. The center of his Discipline almost appeared to drink it in. When it reached the thunder essence, the mythical substance flickered like it was coming to life. As he continued to search within himself, Lan Jue sensed a surge of thunderbolt energy purer than any he’d experienced. It drained down from the essence into his Core.
In the next moment Lan Jue found himself shaking uncontrollably. His Discipline surged in power, even going so
far as to affect his Core.
Every day since joining with the thunder essence, Lan Jue allotted time in during his cultivation to try and absorb it. It looked soft and malleable, but the power it contained was dense. In the weeks that had transpired he’d only absorbed a small amount. Still, even the small amount had had marvelous results.
However, what they achieved in this moment was more rewarding than ten days of contemplation.
The violent transformation his body had gone under as a result of Captus and the thunder essence made him tenacious, even compared to the Driver. Much to Lan Jue’s benefit, any lightning-type energy that entered him was overcome and absorbed the thunder essence.
As a result, Lan Jue quickly soaked up a large portion of the yin-yang lightning. Once the Driver finished taking in his own piece, there was little of the joined essence left.
“This…” The Driver stared in shock at Lan Jue. “How did you absorb it so quickly? Aren’t you afraid on an adverse reaction?”
But Lan Jue smiled. “Clearly you don’t recognize a prodigy when you see one. Besides, Qianlin and I are joined to cultivate which helps. Naturally we’d be faster. How do you feel?”
The Driver shook his head helplessly. “It really is a bad idea to make comparisons! It feels wonderful. Even just that little bit had tremendous benefit to my Discipline. Cultivation feels faster, and I can sense a change in my lightning. My comprehension of protogenia has also improved a little. It looks like we’re on the right track.”
His drinking buddy nodded back. “I also feel great, so we might as well continue. But still be careful, we don’t want to rush into disaster.”
“No doubt,” the Driver replied.
As they prepared to go on, the pocket dimension they were in rippled.
Lan Jue’s eyes snapped to his training partner. “What was that?”
This, like several other parts of the arena, was a dimension that’d be created by the Wine Master himself. If there were interruptions in stability, it certainly wasn’t a failing from the maker. It meant there was something going on outside. Neither of them were thinking of training anymore. Their eyes snapped to the Wine Master.
The Paragon’s face had changed suddenly. In a flash his astrum appeared in his grip. The Cosmagus waved it through the air, and a silvery light enveloped them like a blanket. When it receded they were standing outside of the arena. Back in the Avenue, their improved senses immediately kicked in.
Lan Jue was stunned for half a moment, mirrored by the Driver, the Wine Master and the Photographer. One by one their faces lit up with joy.
“Quick! Call all your soldiers to the Avenue. I’ll try and buy you some time.” The Wine Master left no room for discussion. With his orders given, he was gone in a flash of silver.
Lan Jue quickly reacted, bringing up his communicator and dialing in a number. “Xiaosu, did you feel it? Spread the word quick as you can. The whole Division needs to gather on Skyfire Avenue. Right away!”
“Yes, boss.” Su Xiaosu’s voice was brimming with excitement.
The Driver turned to look questioningly at Lan Jue. “Who?”
A smile spread across the Jewelry Master’s face. The air continue to change around him, growing thick with protogenia. “Guess.”
Chapter 600: Taming Dragon Arhat
What sort of thing could make Lan Jue, the Driver, the Wine Master and even the Photographer joyous? What was so important as to call together the whole Star Division?
What they’d felt the moment they exited the arena was strong. It was protogenia, wild and untamed.
Only Paragons were capable of using protogenia directly, aside from the rare, exceptionally talented Adept like Lan Jue and his brothers. Put another way, the felt the residue of a Paragon’s power. It was wild, uncontrolled, but not dangerous. Its range was limited.
Lan Jue had experienced this before. It was just the same when the Bookworm broke through to Paragon and took the name Karmic Scholar. The Jewelry Master knew the instant he felt it; another Adept was about to ascend to Paragon.
The Bookworm’s ascension had been of great aid to many hundreds of Adepts, but they were exceedingly rare to encounter. After all, there were only a handful of times Adepts have become Paragons. Each event, when they happened around a populace at all, was a special event. Flooded with
sudden insight, it was easy for Adepts to come to profound understandings of themselves and their powers. How could they give up an opportunity like that?
With such a boon eminent, of course he’d want to gather his troops and give them the chance for an epiphany. Even if only a handful came to see some truth it would be a quantitative leap for Division as a whole.
Skyfire Avenue was about to greet it’s second Paragon in under a year, a rare happening in all the history of humanity. Even the Clairvoyant and the Wine Master, and others of their generation couldn’t remember the last time it happened.
It went without saying how good this was for the Avenue, to have so many Paragons arriving in succession. They were fast becoming a beacon of excellent throughout the Adept world. Who didn’t want to make themselves stronger? Who didn’t want a chance to one day be a Paragon?
Easier said than done, certainly. However, the path was at least made a little smoother if you had the opportunity to be around a Paragon when they broke through. It was as true for young Adepts as it was for those like Lan Jue. Proximity had real appeal.
The Chinese go through tremendous pains to take advantage of proximity. For instance, it isn’t uncommon for people to spend hundreds of thousands of yuan to purchase properties they don’t need near favorable school districts. This is even before the students are accepted to these schools, since proximity is a prerequisite. My first thought when I was translating the earlier chapters was ‘damn, when I have a kid I’m moving to Skyfire.
The Gourmet’s ascension had been different. Due to restrictions of his Hades bloodline, he had sequestered himself away in the process. The shockwave of his breakthrough was dangerous, its dark nature wasn’t suitable for many. What sprang from the Karmic Scholar was a wave of inspiration that took everyone by surprise. Lan Jue had been lucky enough to have the A.R.C. students with him at the time.
One Paragon was a lucky break. But two in one year? What did that mean? It meant Skyfire Avenue knew something no one else did. Lan Jue and the Pharmacist had proven their abilities during the Great Adept tournament, too. No one doubted they would one day soon be Paragons themselves.
Without question, Skyfire Avenue was becoming a mecca for Adepts.
Star Division’s soldiers were members of Avenue as well. Although many didn’t live on site, they all were close by. By the time Su Xiaosu spread the news, many of the stronger members had already sensed the change in the air. They had been on their way before she’d pressed send.
Before long, the area around the Avenue was a bustling scene. Adepts tried to get as close as they could, but only members were allowed in. Everyone else had to remain outside.
How close one was to the new Paragon when they broke through made a difference. Now was when An Liu and her security forces were most needed. They were the first line of defense to make sure only the people meant to be on the Avenue got in.
The Star Division commander became the soldiers’ focal point. Everyone gathered on him.
“Arrange yourselves in brigades by rank and find a place to sit down. Meditate, and prepare to accept whatever you experience.” Lan Jue’s instruction was calm and firm. A year before this sort of organization would have been a real shock. No one would have listened to the Jewelry Master’s commands!
Now, things were different. They’d been trained and seen combat. Individual Adepts had come together under a single banner. As quickly as they could, these soldiers found their places and silently waited.
Lan Jue and the Driver exchanged glances, then each took a seat. Opportunities likes this were important to them as much as anyone else. Both of them were close to Paragon and every chance for insight brought them closer.
His soldiers’ training was impeccable. In the blink of an eye, eight hundred men and women were silently arrayed up and down the street. The Adept shops and markets underground were cleared out. Patrons would have to wait outside like everyone else.
It was a reaction to be expected. Members of Skyfire Avenue were overjoyed, and took pride in the accomplishments of their organization. Meanwhile, those who weren’t had to stew in their jealousy. Not that they had much time for regrets, the waves of protogenia had already begun to be felt. Faint though they were, it was better than nothing. All of the Adepts settled an turned their focus inward.
Before long, the thunderous and clear roar of dragons arose.
Rolling clouds converged over the Avenue. As darkness hung over them, the overcast skies seemed to press down on them. Waves of protogenic energy were gaining in vigor and coming faster.
It felt like being in the midst of a hurricane. Energies raged through the skies, and yet within it was an alluring, perfect calm. That calm teased at the profound secrets of the universe. An extraordinary sense of peace descended upon everyone.
It was nothing like anything Lan Jue or the Driver had felt before. Both of them opened their eyes and peered toward the heavens. While the Driver didn’t know who was on the verge of breaking through, Lan Jue did. Or rather, he had a guess.
Dragons’ cries resonated throughout the whole city. Dense, dark clouds still roiled overhead, but as they looked on a single golden beam of light broke through. It blazed bright against the overcast backdrop.
In the same instant they witnessed a figure arise from one of the buildings of the Avenue. When it first appeared it was in the shape of a man, but quickly grew into the image of an enormous arhat.
Something peaked through the dark clouds above. An enormous golden dragon slithered in and out of view. It had five claws, with swiped at the air as the beast belched a plume of golden dragons breath onto the arhat.
The figure was immediately covered in an opaque golden shell, dazzling to behold. The golden light from above even seemed drawn to him, heavy with the sacred dharma.
A genial smile spread the arhat’s lips. He nodded toward the gathered Adepts seated cross-legged below. His image flickered, and in the next instant he was seated in the skies above them.
Ethereal, mystical singing resonated from him. His voice seemed to beckon runes of deep Buddhist significance from the air. The fluttered around him, onto him, then joined with the arhat’s body.
The great golden dragon came down from the cloud cover. As it approached it coiled into itself below the seated wise man, and transformed into a lotus flower.
A repeat performance of the singing heralded a silence that settled over every heart, stilled every thought. No matter how
enticing, frightening, or nagging the thought it would not break their single-minded calm. It was absolute quietude.
Outsiders saw it as well. To the normal folk it was nothing short of a miracle, and to Adepts it was a rare opportunity! For the Avenue as well – they were about to be blessed with another Paragon. The Clairvoyant had moved on, but Skyfire Avenue was possibly stronger than ever.
Suddenly another figured joined him in a flash of silver light. He waved the scepter in his hand, which caused flickering light to dance over his body.
“Ah! Look, that’s the Cosmagus.” Several cries rang throughout the Adepts outside of the Avenue.
Two flashes of white light followed, and two more silhouettes appeared on the arhat’s other side.
“Those are… the Keeper, and the Karmic Scholar!”
A polychromatic orb rose into the sky, distributing the Epochrion among them. With a conflicted look in her eye, she sighed and made her way to the Wine Master’s side to silently watch the golden arhat. Her apprehension could be understood. Over the course of a couple years, Skyfire Avenue had displayed a meteoric rise. Even without the Clairvoyant they still put the Citadels and the Great Conclave to shame.
The other Adept organizations had assumed – perhaps hoped – that Skyfire Avenue’s power would be reduced greatly after the Clairvoyant’s death. Who could have known that instead, the Avenue was getting stronger by the day.
The Karmic scholar and the Infernal Vanguard together couldn’t match the deficit of losing the Clairvoyant. However, the Epochrion knew that Luo Xianni had come back. She’d once been known as the single most potent Adept of her time! In a fight she far outstripped what the Clairvoyant could do.
The Epochrion ruminated over Luo Xianni’s return, conspicuously following the Clairvoyant’s departure. It was so much different from her own reasons, she thought.