Skyfire Avenue Chapter 141-150

Chapter 141: Divine Salvation

Now, he was Zeus. Mighty, all-powerful Zeus. By virtue of the Fantascia Genetica Decoction he was stronger than he’d ever been, a power that coursed through him like fire.  It  didn’t matter how many ninth level beasts appeared before him now, none could raise a hand against him.

Lest one forget, he was a being of two converging powers – thunderbolt and lightning intertwined. He was destined to be unbeatable.

Thor tore through the sky, leaving a grey contrail in it’s wake. In seconds, it was leaving the stratosphere. As it did it’s chest glowed blue. A golden figure appeared in the space before Thor.

Zeus’ cold eyes were cast down at the grey planet below. Bolts of lightning raced across his eyes, behind his lids. Golden lightning bolts.

“These creatures couldn’t have arrived for no reason. When the East took over this place, they must have sent probe after probe through the planet to prevent just this sort of thing. Taihua was a suitable place for human life, though without any significant resources. And certainly without massive poisonous

monsters hiding in it’s depths. They must have come from elsewhere. Where precisely who knows, but they can’t be endless. Their vitality was drawn from Taihua itself, Something must have drawn them here, and the only way to end an infestation is to obliterate the nest.”

“Thor, await me here,” Zeus commanded after his quiet murmuring.

He dissolved in to a golden beam of light and pierced the atmosphere once more. Around five thousand meters from the ground he reappeared.

“Hear me! Clouds, come!” Zeus’ powerful voice reverberated far and wide. It started small, but increased until it filled the air like rolling thunder.

Ascension! Godly Decrees!

At his command the sky grew dark, heavy with black clouds.

“Bring me thunder!”

Thrummmmmm! Tremendous blasts roared back at him, echoing far in to the distance. Snaking licks of lightning danced among the clouds overhead, lighting the skies from here to the far horizons.

“Gather!” Zeus’ imperatorial voice crashed among the thunder, overpowering it.

Lightning split the skies, hundreds upon thousands of errant bolts lancing in all directions. The clouds overhead shined brighter than the sun, becoming an ocean of lightning that filled one’s entire vision. The clouds and mists thickened, the lightning crashed down faster. And Zeus was their point of impact. Countless bolts of electricity struck him, again and again and again, until his golden aura filled the sky like a supernova.

ζ

Skyfire Avenue

“What is it, Clairvoyant?” The Wine Master furrowed his brows at the old man as he asked.

Skyfire Avenue’s leaders replied hesitantly. “I just got an ominous sense. We knew when I read his fortunes before that he’d be facing danger, but that he’d eventually overcome his tribulations. Why is it, then, I’m suddenly unable to see what will become of him?”

The Wine Master looked at him in anxiety and confusion. “What does it mean?”

“Only two things could result in me losing the sight,” he said. “The first, that he’s met his end. But that is a very unlikely possibility. If he had the sensations I’m feeling would be much stronger. The second, is his powers have increased to a level comparable to our own. I cannot predict what is to come for him. Are you sure he’s on Taihua?”

The Wine Master nodded. “I am. On a trip, supposedly…”

The Clairoyant’s voice was deep, troubled. “Head over there.
It’s not too far, it shouldn’t be much trouble.”

“Alright.”

The Wine Master turned as if to leave, but the Clairvoyant raised a hand, stopping him in place. “Wait a moment. When you go, bring the Doctor. He returned a few days ago.”

“The Doctor’s back? Very well.” The Wine Master turned again, and left.

For the first time in a long while, the Clairvoyant felt helpless. “This kid! He never gives anyone a break. He’ll end up being the death of me.”

ζ

National Eastern University.

Zhou Qianlin was busying herself with an equation, alone at her desk. She was studiously at work far past when she’d ordinarily be leaving. The equation itself was difficult, and far past what she’d already learned. Still she felt like she’d made great progress, both in her research and personal knowledge.

“Qianlin!” The sound startled her, and she jumped in her seat. Her train of thought was lost. She shot an irritated gaze at the

door.

Tang Mi raced in to the class as though she were being chased. “Did you hear,” she said breathlessly. “Qianlin, something’s happened on Taihua. Tons of unknown beasts suddenly appeared all over the place.”

Qianlin calmly plucked her cup of water from the desk and took a sip. “Some unimportant business of Taihua had you running in here screaming, ruining my train of thought? How many beasts are we talking?”

“Countless,” she replied. “Spreading all over the planet, I heard. And they’re really strong – if you don’t believe me ask your father.”

Suddenly, Zhou Qianlin’s body became still. Taihua… Taihua.
Didn’t he say…?

Her voice took on an urgent tone. “Xiao Mi, didn’t our school just send a bunch of teachers to Taihua?”

Her friend nodded gravely. “Yeah! Why do you think I came

running in here? Your class leader Tan Lingyun is with them.”

Crash! The ceramic cup shattered in to countless pieces, forgotten as Zhou Qianlin shot suddenly to her feet. Her fingers flew over the buttons of her communicator.

It was only a short moment before the call connected. “Qianlin, I’m busy in a meeting – I can’t speak right now.”

With that, her father hung up.

She sucked in a breath, and tried to keep herself calm. It worked, at least on the surface, for her usually gentle eyes took on a sort of disconnected calm. She tapped another number in to her com. Her will reached out through the spirit caller gem in the same instant.

“The number you’ve dialed it out of service.” The uncaring female voice recording on the other end was like a punch to the gut.

There was no response from the gem.

“What is it,” Tang Mi asked, surprised by her reaction. She hardly recognized her now.

Qianlin shook her head. “Xiao Mi, head on home. I have something I have to do.” She raced out of the classroom before her words had a chance to dissipate.

Tang Mi watched her go, utterly confused. “When did she get so fast?”

Qianlin raced through the halls at top speed, once again jabbing at her communicator.

“Miss.” A pleasant female voice answered.

“Give me the most recent news from Taihua.” Her voice was commanding. “I need the latest satellite imagery, and the fasted ship we have to get me there.”

“I’m afraid the lanes to Taihua have already been closed, Miss. Apparently something’s happened.” The woman’s voice was still smooth and slow, but it was clear there was surprise in it at Qianlin’s demands.

“No matter the cost! I’m leaving for the civil airstrip right now.” She cut the connection before giving the woman any further opportunity for argument.

She looked up just in time to see a figure blocking her path.

“Qianlin, what are you racing off to?” Richard blinked at her.

She skidded to a halt. “Is your verti-car parked here?”

“Yeah! Over in the parking lot.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder.

“Give me the keys.”

“Oh…” He fished an electronic key from his pocket and put it in her waiting hand.

“Thanks, I’ll get it back to you.” She was off again, disappearing from Richard’s view as quickly as she’d come.

“Qianlin… Qianlin! What are you doing?! I’ll go with you!” He called after her.

“I got it!”

Half a minute later, a verti-car was lifting off from the campus parking lot. It grew bright, flashed, then vanished.

Richard had given chase but was unable to catch up with the girl. His face fell, dark with depression. His communicator rang, interrupting his gloom.

“Mr. Austin, you have been found in violation of the university’s traffic rules. Please return immediately and present yourself to the student affairs office for disciplinary action.”

“Mother-“ Richard only just kept himself from smashing his communicator to pieces.

ζ

A blinding light flashed in the heavens. Zeus was at it’s center,

shining as though he were cast in gold. The light radiated out from him in all directions. His body had begun to grow, to swell. He’d already stretched to ten meters tall. Towering, golden, suspended in air, he truly was like an avatar of the gods.

The tearing bolts of lightning dancing over head began to recede. Zeus stood in their flashing midsts, turning to view his domain. Two great beams of golden light issued from his eyes, bathing the ground below in resplendent light as he tore through the skies five thousand meters overhead.

Thor was on the move as well, five thousand meters above it’s master. The mecha’s radar was set to its highest frequency, and swept over the planet as it launched in another direction.

“Zeus, all satellite imagery over Taihua is being intercepted. No sign of your presence will be permitted.” Thor’s mechanized rumble echoed through his mind.

“Good.” He sped up.

His body was feeling the full effects of the Fantascia Genetica decoction. Thankfully It was the decoction’s ability to strengthen his discipline that allowed him to take control,

keeping himself from being torn apart.

At this moment, with the power at his fingertips, he was no more a ninth level talent. He was a Paragon. With this level of control, he felt like the master of the universe. Wherever he looked, he could see all, sense all.

A shimmering cocoon of golden energy surrounded Zeus as he raced through the sky. Scores of golden lightning bolts fired out in all directions with his passage. Any creature that crossed his path, regardless of size or strength, was instantly and ruthlessly wiped from reality. In the eyes of a Paragon, they were no more threatening than scraps of paper.

His communicator was gone. It had been destroyed long ago in his mad assault on the monsters. There was no Lan Jue, only Zeus. All that remained of the man before was the spirit caller gem, and Thor’s Promise.

Chapter 142: The God And The Goliath

“Zeus, satellite anomalies have been discovered by the Eastern Alliance. Judging from the communications I’ve uncovered, the first set of Eastern reconnaissance troops should arrive in three hours. By my estimates, the East will attempt to maintain planetary integrity, and thus will not bring it’s warships to bear.” Thor continued to pass on whatever information is uncovered to Zeus.

“Zeus, what is your current physical state?” Thor’s voice arose anew. Surprisingly, this time the mechanical voice sounded almost concerned.

“I’m fine. The decoction has already catalyzed my abilities. For the time being I’ll have no trouble supporting the power. I’m using it to enhance the potency of my Ascension. For as long as the decoction’s effects remain, there wont be any problems.”

“What about when it’s spent?”

Zeus was silent for a moment.

“I don’t know.”

Honestly, he didn’t know. When he imbibed the decoction he only knew that it would empower his abilities, and the risks that might entail. He feared that, had he not immediately resorted to his Ascension and the power it required, he’d have succumbed to destruction already. But what was to come, he couldn’t say. He only knew the power that was coursing through him in this moment.

“Zeus. I believe I’ve found it. Coordinates.“

A flickering thread of information wormed through his mind.
It was somewhere in the sea.

It was unfortunate Hua Li wasn’t here. The thought fought it’s way through the flooding power. The sea, it was Poseidon’s home court. Any watery area promoted his abilities to their strongest levels.

None of the former ‘Poseidons’ were ever Paragons. But on the oceans, cultivated to their higher levels, they were more frightening than many of the lower ranked masters.

Zeus turned midflight, and blazed through the sky to where Thor was headed.

ζ

The blimp-like ship was milky white, and small. It only had room enough to accommodate ten passengers. Next to a battleship it was hardly worth noticing. Next to Zeus-1 no one would pay it any mind at all. It’s only advantage was speed, and that’s what give it it’s nickname; the Cosmic Hummingbird. It’s speed was without equal, and it could reach light speed in no time at all.

Unfortunately distance was not among it’s defining traits. It’s energy reserves were limited.

Zhou Qianlin sat behind the controls of the Cosmis Hummingbird, her hands running over the buttons and levers. The ship was slowly gaining velocity and then, in a flash, was reduced to a beam of light boring in to the darkness of space.

ζ

Skyfire Avenue, Reaper’s Arena.

A hexagonal area spread out in all directions. The ground had

been etched with golden lines which splayed in fantastical designs. The central areas of the golden veins were inlaid with countless shimmering gems.

Two figures occupied the central area of the special arena. The first was the Wine Master. He looked as well kept as ever, with his hair combed and wearing gentlemanly suit. Across from his was another man, tall and thin, and quite handsome. He looked to be in his twenties, with long black hair that fell to his shoulders. His expression bore a calm detachment. Unlike his elderly counterpart, he was garbed in a clean doctor’s coat, his hands stuffed in the pockets.

“Wine Master, is it absolutely essential I go? I’ve got quite a lot to do. I’ve got an appointment with the Beautician, and then tomorrow I’ve got to see the Barber about a haircut. The Gourmet said something about a choice bit of mutton as well, a stew we’re to share tomorrow. Just let me off the hook here, it’s been so long since I’ve enjoyed the Gourmet’s fare. Ah, and I have to see the Mechanic about a job for him.”

“Shut up! You’re as despicable as the Accountant!” The Wine Master’s growling voice cut through the Doctor’s complaints.

“’Cuz I don’t wanna go,” the Doctor whined helplessly. “Ever

since that guy’s shown up I’ve been getting markedly less attention from our female shop owners as well. Who’d agree to helping such stiff competition!”

The Wine Master’s response was soft and measured. “Doctor, are you aware of the consequences if you keep disturbing me during this transfer?”

“No idea,” the young man said flippantly. “Hey, can you really move this whole planet through space? Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Oh it is dangerous.” The Wine Master glared daggers at the man. “Originally there’s about a ninety percent chance it’s fine, though if you keep causing problems we’re looking at fifty percent. I’ll be able to send, oh, about a corner of the planet to where we need to go. As for you, you’ll be sliced to ribbons by interdimensional space, like the result of a hundred thousand swipes of the scalpel. I’m fairly sure your pretty ladies wouldn’t want anything to do with you after that, don’t you?”

“I’m sure!” The Doctor had suddenly decided to be serious. His lazy demeanor had grown sharp and calm. He wasted no more time with pointless drivel.

The Wine Master nodded with a grunt. He motioned in the air with a finger, and almost immediately the world around them began to warp. The countless energy crystals inlaid in the lines at their feet flared to life.

With the money they were spending on this guy, he was sure to come along despite his protests.

ζ

The large oceans of Taihua should have been a sky blue, but the presence of unwanted pollutants had changed it. An enormous vortex swirled within, red as blood and a thousand kilometers across. A pale purple beam launched out from within, hanging in the air for just a moment before vanishing. Were one able to see within the depths of the see, they’d discovered nearly all the sea life devoured by the vicious whirlpool.

In a soundless golden flash Zeus appeared ten thousand meters above it. “Here it is,” he exclaimed. The god-like Adept shut his eyes, focusing on the pulses of energy radiating from the vortex.

In fact the radiating energies were not overtly powerful. Instead there was the sense of… extinction. He could sense countless cells constituting the vortex, each of which were devouring the world around it at an alarming rate. They grew to maturity, were expelled, and spat out over great distances.

It was the hideous monsters’ nest!

Right now it didn’t matter how the nest got here. The primary objective was it’s destruction. It was the only way to stop the endless march of the beasts. If not, the vortex would just continue devouring all life in the oceans, churning out monsters until the entire place was overrun.

But what the hell was it? There were scores of strange things in the universe, but the thing Zeus hovered over known was a complete unknown. He’d neither seen nor heard anything like it before.

Zeus’ eyes flashed, and with a motion of his finger the godly aura around him diffused outward. Once again the skies grew dark and thick with clouds. It was an easy thing to produce clouds over the ocean, with the air so full of moisture.

Flashes of lightning lit the sky. Thunder rolled. And the air was full of an intense electric charge. Gradually it grew dark as pitch, to where only those brief and violent bursts of golden lightning lit the world.

Zeus floated in their midst, his eyes closed. He quietly drank it all in, feeling and knowing everything that occurred around him. He was calm, his mind empty.

Zeus’ Ascension granted him control over the laws of nature. Of course, such ultimate power was temporary. But now, he was as the Paragons. The power he wielded, under the influence of the Fantascia Genetica, was absolute.

But was this indeed bending the rules of nature? Every terrible arc of golden lightning seemed like it was born of his own powers, not a product of the world around him. Every dark cloud was like a part of him.

No wonder it was said that mechas weren’t an important aspect of a Paragon’s life. There were no mechas available with today’s technology that could match their sheer destructive ability.

For a moment it seemed even the vortex had become aware of the mountain pressure in the world around it. The seas rolled and heaved. Flashes of red and purple fluttered in it’s depths, and a roar rose from within like a challenge.

In truth those roiling waters, that tumultuous sea, almost looked like a massive face. It was a face not unlike the behemoth Lan Jue had destroyed in his first moments after drinking the decoction.

Zeus pressed his right hand down towards the water.

Boom…!

A thick, twisting bolt of golden lightning flashed down from on high. It pierced deep in to the belly of the vortex. The heart of the whirlpool glowed gold, and then spat a pillar of water thousands of meters in to the air. Great spurts of violet fluid hung in the sky before being swept away by the wind.

Steam hung low over the water, and the surface roiled as though it were boiling, or quivering with rage. Geysers fired high towards the heavy clouds as that familiar magenta mist began to congeal over the waves.

Zeus lifted his arms high. The clouds brightened overhead in response like heaven was opening at his command. The entire horizon glowed bright gold. Slowly at first, but quicker with time, scores of shimmering lightning orbs fell to earth like roiling golden stars. They struck that towering sprout of living water again and again, a bombardment of heavenly artillery.

Boom, bang, crack, boom! Blast after deafening blast gave sonance to the devastating attacks as they exploded over the ocean. The tornado couldn’t stand the assault for long, and dissipated in to nothing.

Once more Zeus lifted his right hand high over head. In a flash, a crackling spear of writhing lightning appeared where there was nothing. It burned with a golden fire that swirled behind it as it crashed down in to the raging seas. It didn’t stop until it pierced the hidden heart of the vortex.

The crashing waves grew still, as though time had stopped. The surface of the water for a great distance around him shined with light.

Boooommmmm! A thousand meter tall spray of water reached out like the final desperate grasp of a dying man. A tsunami was birthed where the bolt had struck and rippled out in all

directions. A golden halo hung over the scene.

“Aaaaagghooooo!” A great and piteous howl was heard, the scream of some enraged creature. From the depths of the ocean arose bubbles of purple fluid that broke the surface and burst, sending spouts of that caustic liquid spewing high in to the air. With them appeared the body of a titanic beast.

Chapter 143: The Cosmagus

It was little more than a giant, fleshy orb, a thousand meters in diameter. It’s bulging form was composed of numerous folds and wrinkles. It was similar in form to an enormous brain. Dimples and scars dotted it’s surface, leading to a single hideous mouth at it’s apex.

As it rose over the waves the wrinkles stretched and flapped, smacking sickeningly against each other. With each fleshy smack more of the magenta mist was expelled.

Aaaaggghhhooo!

The monstrous maw twisted as it’s angry roars filled the air. The fleshy orb lurched, and began to rise towards Zeus. It’s fleshy flaps had stretched and become wings, which beat furiously at the air and water.

As more of it’s body was revealed, it was shown that the left half of it had been burned black. Evidently Zeus’ bolts had found their mark. He took it as affirmation of his strategy, and the sky lit up anew as scores of lightning bolts crashed towards the monster.

But this time the beast knew what to expect. The thick purplish mist surrounding it congealed and hardened in to an impenetrable membrane. It’s twisted mouth opened wide, stretching a hundred meters in all directions. Peering in to the depths of that maw brought a palpable sensation of despair. The air changed, as everything above it began to get sucked down towards it. The skies roiled as the clouds started to descend. Even Zeus was caught in the vacuum.

The inhalation force was strong enough to devour anything caught within it. The monstrous thing seemed poised to swallow the whole world to achieve it’s goal. It’s already bulbous girth was expanding larger still.

Zeus glared at it, his face dignified and imposing. He struggled against the vacuum to keep himself from begin drawn in. However, the sudden force of this vacuum was indeed powerful, and unexpected. Not to mention it’s new plating, which appeared capable of enduring a blast from a warship.

Punching through that armor would be difficult, even for a Paragon. And Lan Jue wasn’t even a real Paragon – he didn’t know how to wield this level of power.

His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar deep voice, that

hung in the air around him.

“Jewelry Master, you must remember that you’re part of a team.”

A single column of silver light appeared without warning. It stretched tall and wide, but beside the swelling titan it seemed miniscule. Further, it didn’t appear to do anything to  the monster. It flickered and stretched until it was like a curtain of light.

Pssshhhttt! An earsplitting noise burst forth. It sounded like reality was tearing at the seams. Zeus felt the terrible drag of the monster’s suction inexplicably cease. The monster froze as though lapsing in to a cataleptic state.

A slash of pitch darkness, black as ink, appeared before Zeus. A powerful vacuum began again, but this one was not from the beast. Instead it came from the fissure, but stranger still it’s undeniable suction did not effect Lan Jue’s side.

The two mighty absorption forces were at odds, one drawing the other. Whichever was more powerful would come out the victor. In the end, though the monster was powerful, it couldn’t

match up to the dimensional tear before it.

Phsssup! A spout of purplish-black fluid erupted from the monster. The thick fluid, strangely, acted like a sort of adhesive as it sprinkled over the fissure. Little by little the fluid began to clog the tear.

“Eh?!” A surprised shout called Lan Jue’s attention to his side. There was suddenly two more people in the air a short distance from him.

As ever the Wine Master was the very picture of nobility; well dressed, finely kept. He was also, at this time, surrounded by a faint silver glow. A doctor was with him, with a face like spoiled milk. Fortunately he, too, was covered by the Wine Master’s protective light or he’d really have something to scowl about.

“What in the hell is this thing?!” The Doctor exclaimed.

“No idea,” Lan Jue responded. “But what I can tell you is that all the beasts on Taihua have some connection to it. We kill the root of this hideous weed, and the ugly leaves will follow.”

The Doctor looked at the writhing thing below them, a strange glint in his eye. “When we’re done, make sure to leave a little bit for me to do an autopsy.”

“The Wine Master shot Lan Jue a look, changing the subject. “How are you suddenly able to control the laws like this?”

Lan Jue’s smile was bitter. “Fantascia Genetica Decoction.
Otherwise too many people would have died.”

“What?” The Doctor’s eyes nearly bulged from his head. “Angry alpacas riding antelopes, you really will eat anything won’t you! Eat something unclean and you’ll get diarrhea. What you ate is far beyond dirty. Are you trying to kill yourself?” In a flash the Doctor appeared before the Jewelry Master’s side. With a flick of his wrist, a syringe appeared in his hand. He unceremoniously jabbed it at Lan Jue’s arm.

Gzzt! A jolt of lightning flicked the syringe away. A Paragon’s skin wasn’t so easily broken.

A look of profound displeasure washed over the Doctor’s face. “It’s imperative you finish this fight as soon as possible. Otherwise there wont be enough of him to fit in a shoe box.”

At this point the monster had figured out the fissure. The beast didn’t appear to have suffered any damage, but it had stopped it’s slow ascent. It’s mouth had closed, and hovering now as it was it’s body began to shift again. A strange, deep indentation appeared near it’s center.

The Wine Master, his eyes stern, beckoned in the air with his right hand. A flash of silver light, and a scepter appeared from nowhere, now clutched in his palm. The whole length of the weapon shone brilliantly, and at it’s crest was a shining gem the size of a human skull. Black and white flashed in the stone’s interior.

The elderly gentleman swept his scepter through the air. Where it passed, the air turned silver. The light fanned out, then surrounded him and his two companions. Anything that drew near to them vanished as it touched the screen of light.

Brraaaahhp! In that same instant the beast’s mouth cracked open and belched at them. Plumes of violet mist issued forth like a geyser. The monster – having swollen to perhaps three thousand meters at this point – shriveled appreciably with the attack. In the blink of an eye it withered down to around five hundred meters.

The purple gusts of air spread out over a distance of three hundred meters. In the center were Lan Jue, the Wine Master and the Doctor, lost in the toxic mist. The blast of air rose higher and higher until it swept passed the atmosphere. Only once it struck space did it begin to dissipate.

A silvery flash, and the three human challengers appeared outside the creature’s area of attack. Both Zeus and the Doctor looked uncomfortable, but the Wine Master proceeded unabated. With brows knitted, he swung his scepter again. This time, an ornate and complicated rune appeared, floating in the air before them.

The old man shut his eyes. The silver aura that surrounded him suddenly flashed bright and powerful. The rune rippled, and suddenly there appeared a shadow, as dark as the depths of space.

The Wine Master pointed his staff at the beast. His aura flashed. The rune disappeared.

The monstrous creature was not unaware of the danger. Perhaps it felt something coming, for it quickly began to turn in mid-air. It’s multitude of fleshy wings flapped disgustingly from the effort. However it could not escape, for in the next instant

the rune cast by the Wine Master appeared plastered on it’s wrinkled body.

The beast replied with an earth-shaking roar. It’s entire, hideous form writhed and shook. It’s outer layers of fleshy appendages fell away as it tried to shed the rune from it’s skin.

However compared to it’s enormous girth the rune was only a very small thing. It remained where it was, like it had been branded in to the monster’s hide.

The Wine Master lifted his scepter high. “Singularity!”

As the Wine Master’s hoary voice filled the air, the silvery rune on the beast’s body flashed with power. Once again it began to shrivel and contract. But this time, it’s mouth was not the source. Instead the monster was slowly being devoured in to itself, through that silver rune tattooed to it’s side.

“Aaghhh! Rgghaaaaooo!” Hideous, pained cries reached them. Struggle as it may, nothing the monster did could free itself from the rune and it’s destructiveness. Plumes of caustic mist continued to pump from it’s fleshy body in vain attempts to shed it.

It was like the rune didn’t really exist here, that it was a ghost of another dimension. It bore through the beast unceasingly, rotating as it did. Intertwining bands of black and white followed in it’s wake. It circled again and again, over and under, out and in, leaving devastation where it passed.

It’s flesh parted, it’s blood flowed. The monster’s whole body twisted grotesquely as it was carved up. All of it happened in the space of a few moments. The silver light that assailed it continued to move, continued to grow until it was ten meters in diameter. It moved without care for the monster’s gradually weakening cries of pain.

It was clear this black hole, called by the Cosmagus, was slowly devouring their enemy. Zeus and the Doctor looked on in utter shock.

This was the power of a Paragon. The terrifying strength of a true Paragon.

The old man they knew as Skyfire Avenue’s Wine Master was gone in that moment. Right now, commanding the power of space and time with his shining scepter, he was the Cosmagus – one of the three Alliance’s master Paragons.

Finally, there was hardly anything left of the monster for the Cosmagus’ black hole to obliterate. The roiling violet seas below had begun to grow lighter. The shuddering waves of energy had started to fade away.

“Leave some for me!” The Doctor was suddenly shaken from his stupor, and shouted his plea towards the Wine Master.

In response the old man lifted his scepter and drew a circle in the air before them. A cut of wriggling flesh the size of a man’s head appeared.

The Doctor hurriedly employed his own interspacial equipment to pull a silver box from nothing. He carefully plucked the squirming remains from the sky and put them inside. As the box shut, it’s edges spat a chilling mist. The remains of the giant alien monstrosity was inside, frozen solid.

“What is this?” The Doctor stared at the box, his eyes full of wonder.

Chapter 144: Phylactery Stone

The Wine Master shook his head in response to the Doctor’s query. “I’m not sure. What is clear was that the power radiating from it was intense. Even under strain from my Singularity, it was raising shields to protect itself. Keep an eye on that bit – even the small piece feels like it’s full of life. Jewelry Master, tell us what happened here.”

Lan Jue’s voice was deep and thoughtful. “From what I’ve gathered after these few hours, I don’t believe these beasts are from Taihua. They must have come from elsewhere. How they got here I can’t say. The mist they release is destructive, but it doesn’t destroy life – it devours it. They use the life force they steal to replenish themselves. The key to their enormous power and size was Taihua itself, and the sheer amount of animals and plants they could sap for strength. The one we just killed was likely their maker. It somehow released eggs across the planet, then used the surrounding life force to keep producing.”

“Your most pressing concern should be yourself,” the Doctor interjected. “How much longer do you suspect your body can hold out?”

Lan Jue plucked the golden mask from his face. “I have no idea,” he said through a tight smile. “I can’t tell you the state of

my body. Before now I wasn’t recovered from an injury. I was at perhaps forty percent of my capabilities. After only a few hours of combat, I was nearly spent. I also hadn’t brought  any recovery gems. I just had to keep going. Later I used the forbidden art [1] to temper and control the power the decoction granted me. The higher levels of energy needed to maintain it are staving off the decoction’s effects.

[tl: [1] = This mean his Ascension. I’m not sure this is necessarily ‘forbidden’ but that’s how he describes it. Michael’s Adventus is another example.]

The Wine Master addressed the Doctor. “Just tell us what needs to be done.”

“Well, first we need to get back to ground,” he said. “Right now we’re all in danger. His powers could spiral out of control at any moment. You keep him in check.” The Doctor’s face was hard and serious. The undulating electric powers that raced through Lan Jue prevented him from doing any sort of examination.

“Wait a moment.” An azure light flashed from above, depositing Thor directly behind Lan Jue. The mecha was swallowed in to Thor’s Promise. Only then did Lan Jue indicate

to the Wine Master that he was ready.

The old man waved his scepter. In the next instant, they vanished without a trace.

The world flashed around them several times  before  they were deposited to ground. Lan Jue’s body had still not reverted from his Ascension. As before he was still towering over the others, and emitting a dazzling golden light. Erratic bolts of lightning snaked over his body.

“How are you feeling,” the Doctor asked.

“Pretty crappy.” Lan Jue smirked. “It feels like my body’s energies will slip out of control at any moment.”

“Yup, that’s about right.”

“One of the Fantascia Genetica Decoction’s frightening aspects is it’s variability. It effects people differently, and the stronger the adept the stronger the reaction. The potency of the energies it stimulates are also enhanced. You already possess a ninth level Talent, and so the decoction has granted you powers

equivalent to a Paragon. However your body can’t sustain that amount of power. Not even close. If you’re going to survive this, we need to drain this excess energy immediately. But this method is extremely dangerous – by it’s nature it’s very difficult to control an entire energy dump. It could end up totally consuming you. Right down to your life force. Hell, even if you make it I can’t say what kind of damage your body will have sustained.” Hesitation was clear in the Doctor’s eyes as he finished.

Lan Jue didn’t appear interested in discussing consequences. He just smiled. “I knew what I was getting in to when I took the decoction. If I live through this it’s already better than I anticipated. Alright, just tell me what I need to do.”

The Doctor stared fixedly at the enormous Lan Jue. “I really don’t like you. You know that, right?”

Lan Jue cracked a grin. “Is it because I’m more handsome than you are?”

“Bullshit,” the Doctor spat. “Handsome as a pig’s butt-crack. If you hadn’t shown up, then management of the Avenue’s power gems undoubtedly would have fallen to me. I’d be Skyfire Avenue’s Jewelry Master. Worse, after you showed up the

Beautician stopped calling me so much. Said you had more class than I did. You can’t understand how infuriating that is. Only now, seeing you like this, all I can say is the Clairvoyant made the right decision. I’ll get no relief for my sense of justice, but I’ll do right by my sense of duty. Now lie down.”

Lan Jue rubbed his nose and laid down on the ground. “Why does it feel like you’re giving me the ‘friendzone’ speech.” [2]

[tl: [2] = In Chinese this is called ‘playing the good guy card’ – equivalent to my generation’s ‘dear john’ letter. Oh, you’re a good guy and all, but why don’t we just be friends. Lan Jue aint got no chill. or the idiom , applying butter to someone]

“Shut the hell up,” the Doctor ordered. “At this point you’re lucky to be alive. I expect ten percent off all future power gem purchases just coming to this hellish housecall.”

Lan Jue broke in to laughter. “You got it.”

“And a bottle of Romanee-Conti if you live,” he finished, walking to Lan Jue’s side.

“And when will you expect payment?”

“Immediately. Suffering that damned interspacial transfer has it’s price. Bottle of conti, no arguments.”

“How am I supposed to get you one?”

“Not my problem,” the Wine Master piped up. “So you better live. You also have yet to go with me for that bottle we discussed. Some gentleman you are.”

“I’ll need your help,” the Doctor said, speaking to the Wine Master. “I can’t get past his body’s defenses. Once an opening is established to drain the energy, it’ll also need to be controlled. We’ll need to guide it, then at the precisely right moment stem the flow. We need to get it just right – too little and the power will kill him. Too much and we’ll drain his vital force.”

“Alright, just let me know what needs doing when.”

The Doctor hesitated, then fumbled at his collar. He pulled out a necklace, and removed it from around his neck. The swinging pendant strung on it was a purple gemstone that

twinkled with a gentle inner light.

Lan Jue’s business was power gems, so his eyes lit up in interest as they fell upon the pendant. “Is that a phylactery stone?”

The Doctor frowned. “Of course it is, stop wasting your breath. You better pay me back for it, too! Any equivalent level power gem will do. But another phylactery would be nice.”

Lan Jue looked the young man in the eye and nodded.

Phylactery stones were c-ranked gems. Of all the known gems, their energy storage capacity was the greatest. Their energy stores were enough to power a command ship for an entire year. It wasn’t the rarest or most precious of the c-ranked gems, but it certainly was one of the most useful. Were a mecha’s core gem a phylactery, it could keep up constant battle status for one or two years nonstop.

Of course it’s raritywas in line with what one would expect for a c-ranked gem. They were only found on a small planet in the Northern Alliance. It took a hundred tones of the raw mineral to produce a single gem. The small planet only really had about

a million tons available for refinement, so once all was said and done there would only be around ten thousand of these gemstones in circulation. A total of ten kilograms. But those ten kilos of gems could run a star bastion – though none would dare, it was far too extravagant and wasteful. The North carefully regulated their sale and use.

The one clutched in the Doctor’s hand was perhaps thirty grams. It’s price couldn’t be measured in simple cash.

“Left hand, in the palm. Cut a cross.” The Doctor was stern and serious as he spoke to the Wine Master.

Lan Jue opened his hand, and the Wine Master’s  scepter shined as it shrunk in to the form of a glimmering silver knife. The blade was only seven inches long, with a brilliantly shining surface. However if one were to look closely, they’d see threads of black interwoven with the silver. The opposing colors spun around one another, drawing the eye with their mesmerizing dance.

Lan Jue was keeping the tumultuous powers within him at bay, but he couldn’t hold out for much longer. Already the edges of his vision were growing dark. Soon, only the Doctor remained in a world of darkness.

The Wine Master’s hand moved with a quick flick of the wrist.
A silver cross appeared, stark against Lan Jue’s golden palm.

The Doctor sucked in his breath. A bluish-green light flooded out and around him, filling the area  with  vitality.  His  right hand fiddled with the phylactery stone, then carefully pressed it against the cross-shaped slice. He turned his head and nodded at the Wine Master.

“Tear.” The old man’s voice was clear, but quiet. Lan Jue’s left hand suddenly shook and the silver cross vanished, replaced with a sudden and violent burst of energy.

The Doctor pressed the gem against Lan Jue’s palm with all his strength. Golden blood flowed from around the gem’s corners, splattering against the Doctor’s whit coat. Where the droplets landed, they quickly began to fire off bolts of electricity. The Doctor began to shake and convulse from the shocks.

The Wine Master was at his side in an instant. He clapped a hand down on the young man’s shoulder, and a pale silver light wrapped around him like a protective membrane. The slithering arcs of electricity danced over the surface but did no further damage. Still the Doctor trembled, recovering after a

few moments.

As he did, the gemstone pressed against Lan Jue’s hand had started to undergo a strange change of it’s own. It’s faint light had expanded in to a glimmering halo that radiated out from it. By virtue of the stone, the spurts of golden blood quickly slowed and stopped. It was acting as a sort of cork to stop up the wound.

The stone began to flicker, casting off sparks of light that appeared and vanished around them. It thrummed and flashed like it had a life of it’s own. As they watched, it began to fill with a golden light.

The Doctor released a sigh, no longer shaking from his shock. “Jewelry Master, right now you and the gem have established a link. Phylacteries are strange stones, with the ability to join with almost any form of life. It fuses with anything that possesses a genetic make up. Once it’s fused with the host, it’ll begin to absorb any energy released by it and release anything else. As a result every gem can only ever have one master. It’s for this reason they’re rarely directly used with machinery. They are not alive, and thus can’t make a link.”

Chapter 145: Treatment

All S-ranked gemstones were, by their nature, mysterious. Only those with a talent in understanding them were ever able to glimpse their true capabilities. Lan Jue lay upon the ground, and though able to move remained still and listened to the Doctor’s explanation.

As his blood flowed from the open wound, he felt his body begin to relax. The Phylactery’s stones pulsing energies were gentle and soothing, and in fact he felt no discomfort with the process.

Gradually, the internal light of the stone changed to a shimmering gold. It had begun with flecks of gold, and they melded together as the stone drank up Lan Jue’s flooding energies.

“Alright, good. Now just focus your discipline in to the stone. Infuse as much as you possible can. Eventually it’ll become as part of your body. When you’ve recovered, the energies inside will begin to be absorbed back in to you.” The Doctor spoke over his patient as the process continued.

Lan Jue just nodded. He focused his efforts of moving the

unstable energies of his discipline in to the phylactery.

In the beginning he was hesitant to release too much in to the stone too quickly for fear it couldn’t support it. However soon he discovered he’d underestimated the power gem’s capabilities. No matter how much of his excess powers he flooded in to it, it vanished like salt in sea waves. The gem swallowed as much as he gave, insatiable. He likened it like the vast emptiness of space.

This caused Lan Jue to breathe a sigh of relief. He let his constraints slip, his control relax, so that his power could flow at it’s own pace. His body shone with a fierce golden light that brightened as his power flared.

The Wine Master looked a little apprehensive as he spoke to the Doctor. “How will you know when his power is sufficiently drained in to the stone? How much experience do you have with this?”

The Doctor shook his head. “I only know how to keep him from dying. The effect all of this will have on his body, we’ll only know when the process is done. We’ll need to do another examination then to know the full extent of the damage. A ninth level Talent, the Genetica, a sudden catapult to Paragon,

not to mention his previous injuries… it doesn’t look good. Thunderbolt Disciplines are among the fiercest of abilities. It would be best to mentally prepare yourself for the worst.

The Cosmagus sighed. “Do what you can. The Jewelry Master suffered this while saving Taihua and it’s tourists. It was damn heroic, so we’ll do whatever it takes.”

The Doctor responded with a sigh of his own. “I must say he’s earned my admiration. I can’t say I’d have done the same if our roles were reversed. I guess my strengths lie in self preservation instead of blind bravery. I certainly wouldn’t have had the stupidity and courage to effectively commit suicide and take Genetica to do it.”

Lan Jue’s weak voice wafted up towards them. “Even your compliments sound like curses.”

The Doctor smirked. “No one ever said anything about compliments. Tell me with a straight face you’re not a total moron. Didn’t you give any thought to the consequences?”

Lan Jue laughed quietly. “Actually if our roles were reversed I’m not sure you’d have run like you claim. If you’d have been

here to see that monster shooting down airships, to see our compatriots slaughtered, used as food for the creatures, you’d see differently. Something like that really opens your eyes!”

The Doctor stuck a big thumbs up under Lan Jue’s nose. “You win. Now shut up and concentrate. Later you wont be laughing.”

Lan Jue’s expression changed as the Doctor’s words were confirmed. His expanded body began to shrink back down as the power racing through him was drained away.

The Wine Master’s body shook as he looked on. He knew this meant Lan Jue no longer had the necessary power to sustain Paragon status. But he couldn’t stop now, he had to keep draining the explosive power of his discipline otherwise he would be destroyed by it.

“Draw back just a bit,” the Doctor ordered. He knelt again at Lan Jue’s side and held him down with both hands. Once more that gentle green light flowed through him to the Jewelry Master until he glowed as well.

With each passing moment that his powers were draining,

Lan Jue felt that danger receding. He felt as though he were stepping back from a precipice. There wasn’t any pain anymore, just… emptiness. Like he was just a shell, like he didn’t exist.

Lan Jue’s smile was forced, for the situation he faced was even worse than he’d anticipated. Sometimes, it wasn’t pain that was to be feared. Sometimes the absence of pain was the most frightening thing.

The phylactery continued to flash, though now sparks of electricity danced on it’s faceted surface. As Lan Jue’s powers waned, he felt his control slipping as well. He was finding it more difficult to direct the flow outward. But the process continued, and after half an hour his body returned to it’s normal size. The golden tint to his skin had vanished somewhat earlier.

Lan Jue’s vitality was weakening. Lying on the ground, he felt it. His face was pale. Not like a mans, but like frost over a statue. His eyes rolled shut when he no longer possessed the strength to keep them open.

Yet the Phylactery Stone did not dim or weaken. On the contrary, it was growing brighter, more vibrant. The stone had buried itself in Lan Jue’s palm almost entirely. Only a small part

of it remained visible, twinkling furiously. With as much energy as it was drinking from Lan Jue, their connection was powerful.

The Doctor looked on, his face dark. The purgative and healing energies released by his hands had changed. It was no longer a simple green ray, and was instead now an exuberant jadeite. Steam arose from the top of his head, and he was covered in sweat. He didn’t look too good, himself.

The Wine Master just stood at the Doctor’s side. In this situation, he couldn’t help. All he could do was watch and wait. Only Disciplines that lay in a similar vein could support another.

The Doctor’s face was hard, a chiseled mask of concentration. “His condition is worse than I anticipated. The Genetica triggered the very core of his abilities, and it’s more potent than I’ve ever encountered. It was evaporating his blood. Any later and I’m afraid he’d have been boiled from the inside. We’re not out of the woods yet, either. His organs are still in danger of being burnt and torn apart. His meridians are bordering on total fracture. Only his bones are managing, leaving about a hundred and sixty three unscathed. The damage he’s endured from this is incredible!”

“Is there anything we can do,” the Wine Master asked.

“All I can do now is employ my greatest healing abilities. Perhaps they will be enough to help keep his organs and meridians from being completely obliterated. At the same time I can instigate hematopoietic functions and try to bring it back to homeostasis. Bone fractures will be the easiest to handle. But meridians… there are simply too many in the body and as they break they’re like a bowl of noodles in there. Trying to connect them all together again is too difficult. The best I can do is ensure the most important meridians remain intact. Even if he
lives, I’m afraid he’ll likely end up disabled…”

Not really. There are twelve normal meridians, eight extra meridians, and some divergent meridians. Doctor needs to bone up on his Traditional Chinese Medicine!

The Wine Master was well aware of the Doctor’s healing capabilities. Hearing the prognosis, his face was bleak.

Ah Clairvoyant… surely it doesn’t mean your Visions were wrong? Or maybe someone changed fate. This is already past the point of just appearing dire. If the Doctor really is unable to cure him, then he…

Two aquamarine gemstones had appeared in the Doctor’s hands. He placed one in the center of Lan Jue’s chest, and the other in his own mouth. Almost instantly the gems began to glow.

An hour passed. The Doctor sat beside his patient, legs crossed, recovering his own powers as he meditated. Lan Jue remained where he was, his skin still pale as snow. The gem on his chest pulsed slowly with his heartbeat.

After an hour of rest, the Doctor stirred and continued the treatment. To him, the man laid out on the floor looked like a human-shaped jigsaw puzzle. It was as though everything within him was fractured and shifted. He would have to be practically rebuilt. It was an enormously difficult process and, had he not immediately employed vast amounts of bioenergy to support the Jewelry Master, he’d likely already be dead.

As they toiled below, the skies over Taihua were gradually clearing. The grey fog that concealed them was dissipating before the sun.

ζ

With a moan, a massive ship broke through Taihua’s atmosphere and barreled towards the ground. The East’s first contingent of relief troops were inbound.

The ship descended until it was a thousand meters over land, then stopped to hover. The doors opened and several figures issued forth. They fell to earth like dark petals. Or perhaps more accurately, like a dredging net.

They were mechas, and they towered a frightening fifty meters. Each one pulsed with powerful energies. Mechas were separated in to many sorts, with different systems. Ten mechas constituted one unit, and the way they fell to earth in perfect formation gave testament to their high battle prowess. The moment they made landfall, they spread out and got to work.

Shrill cries and plumes of purple smoke dotted Taihua. Once the sea creature had been dealt with, the monsters had stopped multiplying. They were being eradicated. Their fate was sealed once their nest was destroyed.

Mo Yu piloted his own mecha, a Mammoth III Suit, racing at the front of his unit. The Mammoth III was the Eastern Alliance’s National Defense mecha system, and every unit had one as the heart of their team.

They were the core defensive unit, the best the East had to offer. They were the pinnacle of mecha research and possessed every weapon they could bolt on to it. They wereinfantry dreadnaughts, and everything that stood in their way was annihilated.

Chapter 146:Gold 3rd Grade

Two V-Class Swordsmen mechas followed the Mammoth III. These were the melee arm of the unit. Six V-class gunner suits and a white Aegis III were in tow.

Together they comprised an average assault force. A recon unit would likely have replaced their more combat-oriented mechas for other sorts. At present there were ten or so common mecha unit configurations, and the mechas for each alliance didn’t differ terribly from one alliance to another.

“Captain, according to satellite imagery the two kilometers thirty degrees to our left are experiencing energy fluctuations. Moreover, the map captures are hazy.”

Mo Yu confirmed the information. “Forward, battle formation,” he ordered. As the present Emperor-Class pilot, he was the unit’s leader. He also bore all the responsibility for their success or failure, and the lives of those in his team. The two V- Class Swordsmen mechas followed behind him in an inverted wing. The others remained a few steps back, the gunners surrounding the Aegis III. As they moved forward, the mechas scanned in all directions, on alert for foes.

They moved inexorably further through the tree cover. For a mecha unit, two kilometers amounted to nothing. As they barreled through the jungle, the trees suddenly parted. Mo Yu didn’t need radar to see the two – no, three – people by the water’s edge.

What was that green light? They weren’t monsters, certainly, so the light must be a result of a Discipline.

“Citizens, immediately identify yourselves. Do it now.” Mo Yu’s voice boomed at them through the Mammoth III’s speakers.

The air rung with the sound of metal as the swordsmen drew their titanium alloy blades. They took up positions on either side of the small group. The gunners hoisted their laser rifles and pointed them at the strangers. The appearance of the ten towering mechas made the scene at the water’s edge far more tense.

“We’re from Skyfire Avenue.” The deep voice rang in the ears of each soldier, as though someone were speaking directly to them in their cockpits. They each were taken aback  by  the voice, Mo Yu included. Two of the gunners were  startled enough to almost accidentally discharge their weapons.

Skyfire Avenue? Mo Yu was of course aware of the place. He was about to continue his line of questioning when a silver light blinded him, cutting him off. The Mammoth II had an impressively thick alloy hull, and yet  despite  this  there appeared in his cockpit a floating emblem that shone before his eyes.

Mo Yu had done his time, he’d been around the proverbial block. He knew what he was looking at. “Interdimensional Discipline.”

The oval medallion was a deep maroon, but as it dropped in to Mo Yu’s hand ten threads of golden light snaked out from within it. They were bright, powerful, but held no danger. The signal fluctuations were striking.

The master control unit of the Mammoth III sparked to life, delivering its report. “Identity verified: Gold 3rd Grade Military Official.”

Gold 3rd Grade?

Mo Yu was nearly struck dumb by the realization. Like any military organization, the East had their own internal military

ranking system. The lowest ranking military officers were designated ‘Iron’. Acting Second Lieutenants were Iron 1st Grade, First Lieutenants Iron 2nd Grade, and Captains were 3rd Grade. Copper Grade came next, then Silver. Only upper level commanders were Gold.

Single-Planet Generals were Gold 1st Grade. Fleet Admirals were Gold 2nd Grade. Defense Secretaries and the highest generals were Gold 3rd Grade! And this, this was the mark of the Blood-Iron Marshal.

Mecha pilots were the most numerous military personnel in all the three Alliances. Mo Yu himself was only a junior Captain, but had fought his way up to lead his own squadron. He was only a Copper 1st Grade. An infinitely vast difference from Gold 3rd.

Wait, he thought, his heart racing suddenly. Skyfire Avenue!
Gold 3rd Grade!

But what did it mean, to have these two together? Denizens of Skyfire Avenue certainly weren’t capable of acting as commanders in the armed forces, or Defense Ministers. They weren’t even able to work in any higher office. And yet they acted as protectors and defenders of the Alliance.

A Paragon!

This… this must mean one of them in a Paragon! As realization washed over him, the emblem in his grip flashed again, and was gone.

Skyfire. Paragon. Interdimensional power. With those three together, the man’s identity became clear.

Mo Yu swallowed hard. His voice rang clear and loud of their dedicated internal channel. “Identity acknowledged, secure our rear. Rescind red alert issued for these three.”

The other nine mechas retreated hastily. They turned, almost as one, and directed their murderous focus outward.

The chest plate of the Mammoth II hissed and split open. A simple metal ladder spilled out to get it’s pilot to the ground. Mo Yu nimbly slid down the ladder and trotted towards the flashing green light.

“No need to come over,” the deep voice curtly commanded.

“Yes, sir!” Mo Yu stopped dead in his tracks. He snapped to attention.

“Eastern Alliance Pilot 34, Captain of the Third Infantry Company’s Thirteenth Mechanized Combat Squadron. Squad Leader Mo Yu, reporting for duty!” Mo Yu was rushed, excited. His chest rose and fell with his speedy breath, his cheeks were ruddy.

How could he not be excited? This was a Paragon! As an emperor-class pilot he was naturally an adept himself.  Fifth level, to be precise.

He’d learned of the existence of Skyfire Avenue when he was small. The Adept’s playground. Home to three Paragons, who protected the Avenue from harm.

Even the Northern Alliance, as powerful as it was, dare not harass the East largely due to these three powerhouses. They were better deterrents than Bastion ships.

A single Paragon’s destructive capabilities certainly couldn’t match up to a Bastion, however one had to consider the bulk and make-up of a Bastion. Compared to a man? If a Paragon

made up their mind to kill someone, their target’s only hope was to be a Paragon themselves. It was for this that the presence of Paragons was considered when judging an Alliance’s strength.

There were ten known Paragons currently. Seven of them were officially accepted as members of an Alliance – or, rather, there were seven who allowed an Alliance to claim them. They focused their efforts to the betterment of their people, if they so desired.

The North and West boasted two each. But the East, it had three.

Chapter 147: I Can Save Him!

“I must ask you all to clear the area as quickly as possible, don’t allow anyone to come near. One of our companions has suffered grievous injury.” The Wine Master’s voice was calm, deep.

“Absolutely,” Mo Yu responded. “Do you need any further assistance, commander?”

“Make this a restricted area.”

“As you command.”

Mo Yu cast his eyes to the mysterious trio, silently watching them for a moment before running back to his mecha.

His brief glance at the party revealed that there were indeed three of them, but the green light made any further distinguishing characteristics difficult to reveal. Considering the rank of the man he encountered, he didn’t dare press for more information, much less try to spy what they were about. To your average Adept, the Paragons were like living gods. – and the three Masters of the Eastern Alliance were their godly

protectors. How could he dream of disobeying?

Three hours later.

“The bone fractures are healed. The damage to his aorta and inferior vena cava has also been reversed. I need to rest for a minute, then I’ll get started on reestablishing capillary channels. From this point on we’ll start seeing some decent recovery. Thankfully the damage from the decoction was centered in his torso and core. The injuries don’t appear to spread to the limbs or head. If it had, it would take powers far beyond my own to bring him around.”

The Doctor’s face was drawn and pale. He was drenched in sweat, as though he’d been fished from the nearby ocean. Wisps of steam emanated from him. With his diagnosis delivered, he immediately settled down to meditate and recover.

Lan Jue remained where he was on the floor. His breath was coming more ragged than it had before, but looking at him no one would guess his life was in danger.

The Wine Master sighed. After all, even though it looked as though they’d be able to pull Zeus from the brink of disaster,

total recovery of his health and Talent would be exceedingly difficult. The destructive power of the Fantascia Genetica decoction had mangled him severely, and total recovery wasn’t a sure thing. The worst of the damage was to his meridians, which had been fractured and thrown in to chaos. The Doctor had no means of fixing all of those, and putting them right. His energy was flowing now in to the purple phylactery affixed to his palm, and it was the only thing ensuring his explosive Thunderbolt discipline didn’t snap back to obliterate the Jewelry Master.

Right now, their greatest hope was that he’d at least recover to the point where he could live a normal, average life. That he wouldn’t awaken an invalid.

The Doctor continued his meditations for the space of a couple hours, then continued with his healing regimen.

“And what about you? Are you holding up?” The Wine Master’s deep voice wafted towards the Doctor.

The younger man laughed wryly. “Our Jewelry Master sure did a number on himself with that decoction. But if I wasn’t able to handle this, how could I ever hope to be a committee member? Look here!” As he spoke, revitalizing tendrils of green

light stretched from all ten of his fingers. They buried themselves in his patient’s body.

ζ

“A-Li! Heh heh, a fine brother indeed, here to come and greet me. Where’s that kid A-Jue?” Chu Cheng’s fiery red hair was easily spotted as he made his way from the entrance of the public air hangar. He chuckled mirthfully as he spied Hua Li, all bundled up like a dumpling. He snapped the pretty boy up in a bear hug.

Hua Li shoved the brash young man away with a scowl. “Oh he’s just grand, off vacationing on Taihua. He’ll be back in a few days.”

“Planet Taihua?” Chu Cheng’s face blanched.

Hua Li saw the change in expression, shooting his companion a questioning glance. “What is it?”

Chu Cheng’s flippant smile melted away. “I heard it on a newscast on my way here. Something happened on Taihua. But

come on, A-Jue’s strong enough, even injured, to hold his own or even escape if he has to.”

“What?” Hua Li’s wide eyes were revealed as he snatched the thick sunglasses off his nose. “But he hasn’t even halfway recovered!”

“Its fine, I’m sure,” Chu Cheng said, though his face still betrayed concern. “He always brings Thor along with him.”

Hua Li was already furiously jabbing numbers in to his communicator. His face grew sullen, and he shook his head wordlessly at Chu Cheng before tapping out another number.

“A-Li! Where are you. You know you’re supposed to be here rehearsing and readying your voice. Your concert’s in a week. This absolutely must be a success.” The rough sounds of an angry female voice burst from the instrument on Hua Li’s wrist.

“Mo Xiao, listen to me carefully.” The singer’s voice was tense and constrained, like a volcano about to erupt.

Mo Xiao fell silent, taken aback by his tone. “What is it?

What’s wrong?”

“I need all the latest information about Taihua,” he  said. “Also, get Poseidon 1 here as soon as you can. This needs to be done at all costs. A-Jue’s stuck out there.”

“Got it,” she said without hesitation.

Hua LI turned his face to look at Chu Cheng. His red haired compatriot’s eyes were narrowed, and a cold hard light lived in them. “I’m going with you.”

ζ

Seven hours. Seven tense hours where Death loomed close overhead. Finally the Doctor could bear no more and collapsed. The Wine Master was beside him, and grabbed him before he hit the floor. The younger man looked at him with a smile through half-lidded eyes.

“He won’t die. He may not live a happy comfortable life, but at least he’ll live.” He panted small, shallow breaths as he lay against the Wine Master’s chest. The Doctor was too weak at

this point to even lift a pinky.

“Thank you.”

This brought a chuckle from the exhausted Doctor. “That’s all well and good, but I’m going to need to hear it from him when he comes around. But there will always be some issues. There were… so many breaks, fractures through his body. I joined them where I could – bones, joints, vessels, meridians – but he may never fully recover. I’ve connected together fractured meridians but their energies are routed. I don’t have the ability necessary to help him get things back on the right track. We can only wait, see how his healing progresses, then take it from there.”

This brought a light to the Wine Master’s eyes. “Are you saying there’s a chance he could recover his Discipline?”

The Doctor’s smile was a bitter one. “There’s a chance. A one percent chance, but there it is. In reality, we’re hoping for a miracle.”

The Wine Master was about to speak further when he was interrupted. He spied the yellow soulcaller gem on Lan Jue’s

chest flicker. Something flashed through the old man’s eyes before he shot his head skyward.

“Come out!” He groped out with his right hand. Suddenly the air split with the sound of broken glass. A thirty-meter long blimp hung in the air where moments before there was nothing.

“Please stay your hand, Chronomagus. I’m here to help Lan Jue.” The voice that accosted them was pleasing to the ear, feminine. The Wine Master, angry and ready for a fight, stopped as requested.

Mo Yu and his team of crack pilots were almost instantly aware of the breach. They raced forward to intercept. However, their advance was halted when the Wine Master shot an arm out towards them.

The newly arrived ship slowly made landfall. The doors hissed as they opened, revealing a young woman. Her features were hidden behind a silver mask., but her lithe and elegant figure was clear to all. Her long dark hair hung free at her back, framing a pair of blue eyes. Anxiety glimmered within them. She paid no mind to the gathering crowd around her. She raced to the Wine Master, Doctor and Lan Jue as though the others didn’t exist.

The Wine Master placed the weakened Doctor on the floor.
His bright eyes watched her come.

Having a Paragon’s full attention was not a comfortable situation to find oneself in. And yet this young woman didn’t seem the least bit put off. She squatted by the Jewelry Master’s side and felt for a pulse. Afterward, her sky-blue eyes showed relief. She looked directly at the Paragon.

“I can save him.”

Chapter 148: Open Your Core

“I can save him!” They were four simple words, but the resolution with which the masked woman said them was comforting. There was even a hint of relaxation behind the words.

The Wine Master was a fine judge of people, and immediately picked up on her easy mood. “Who are you,” he asked in a tepid voice.

In lieu of an answer, the girl arose to her feet and plucked a necklace from around her neck. It was simple, with a  pale yellow crystal pendant that gently glowed in her palm. She wordlessly pressed it in to the Wine Master’s hand. She did the same for the identical gemstone around Lan Jue’s neck.

The evidence she provided him required no further explanation. Still, questions rumbled in the old man’s mind and his eyes adopted a curious silver light. He dropped them towards the soulcaller gem, which reacted with a strong and sudden golden flare.

“Why the mask?” He handed the necklaces back to the girl.

She clasped one gem around her neck before replacing Lan Jue’s. “Because I don’t want him to know it was I who saved him. If I am going to heal your Jewelry Master, my one condition is you keep this a secret. It’s like you’ve never seen me before. Once I’ve done what I can, I’ll leave immediately.”

Her voice was strange, deep. It appeared she had some means of modulating the sound, but it made her tone no less melodious.

The amazement in the Wine Master’s eyes only grew. However, before he could continue his line of questioning the Doctor had come around and begun to make his own commentary.

“I find it curious you have the self-confidence to claim you can heal him all by yourself. I find it hard to believe there’s anyone better than me at what I do.”

The masked woman slowly shook her head. “I’m no doctor, nor can I heal illnesses. My abilities and my healing methods can only be used with this man alone. I don’t know what happened that caused him to end up like this – he shattered like a pane of glass – but I’m confident I can heal him.”

The Doctor’s brows furrowed. “I don’t believe it. We can’t reasonably hand him over to this woman. Even with this ‘proof’ you showed, anything short of him waking up and personally telling us about your relationship I won’t accept. Until then his treatment is up to me. Our first priority is his safety.”

She was silent for a moment, but soon shot back with a response. “His current prognosis is grim, as you know. If we waste time the situation will only get worse. We need to begin right now. I’m asking you not to get in my way.”

Finally the Wine Master joined the exchange. “If you can do what you claim than do so, but first you have to tell us the method you’ll be using. We must also be sure you don’t mean any harm.”

This set the young woman to pondering for a moment. “I’ll lower my defenses. Your Excellency can scan my thoughts and Core for any sign of malice. If you do, I’ll be at your mercy, and you can end me in the space of an instant. As for my treatment method, there’s no point in putting it in to words. When you see me do it, you’ll understand.”

“You’ll open up your Core?” The Doctor was shocked at her preposition, and looked at her with considerably less suspicion.

It was clear what opening one’s Core to an outsider meant – you were placing your life, everything you were, at the mercy of another person.

An Adept’s Core was the most important part of them, the center of their being. It was through the power of their Core that they were able to control the force and instability of their Discipline. It was like she said, if any ill will towards Lan Jue was discovered, it would be she who would suffer first.

“Fine. Get to it.” The Wine Master had no time for hesitation.
The decision was made quickly.

She turned slightly away from him then, and gently tapped her forehead with her right hand. The small motion set her eyes to changing. The depths of her sky-blue eyes suddenly looked as though they housed a pale mist. What started small, however, quickly grew until it filled her eyes. In an instant they were white a snow, clear as diamond, with no pupil. Just a field of white.

Gradually a glimmering image like a snowflake appeared on her forehead where she’d touched. Gentle waves of energy pulsed from her.

“Energy concealment!” The Doctor whispered in astonishment as he looked on.

It was a surprise indeed, for even at his level of cultivation the Doctor hadn’t thought this girl was anything other than average. And yet here she was, veritably pouring with power. This really only had one explanation; she had learned and was employing some method of hiding her Discipline, to make her appear as though she was a normal person.

The snowflake image emblazoned on her head slowly began to rotate. It swirled until it became a milky vortex, and from it’s depths began to exude a powerful chill. It was a cold that transcended the body, threatening to freeze one’s spirit.

The sudden cold set the Doctor’s whole body to shivering. The cold went to his very bones, and yet his sense of exhaustion seemed eased.

What sort of power was this… ?

As the image on her head continue to twist and undulate, a crystalline object slowly revealed itself. It shone behind the snowflake like a star. It wasn’t white, but instead was entirely

translucent like a shard of ice. It was a Core, and though not large was spotlessly clear – entirely pure.

“Such a chaste Core.” The Wine Master hummed to himself in consideration. His silver eyes flashed, and the tiniest spear of shimmering light shot from them to bore in to the woman’s Core. It was visible in the immaculately clear depths of the Core, swirling about within as it searched.

The young woman’s body shuddered. After a moment she recovered, and her Core vanished once again within her forehead.

She wasted no further time with speech. Immediately she was at Lan Jue’s side once more, kneeling beside his supine form. She glanced over him briefly, then blanketed his form with her own.

This close, she could see the contours of his face, how pale and bloodless his skin was. “You hateful bastard!”

She dropped her head to gently kiss his pale lips. Pale lines of light once more began to exude from between her eyebrows. They traced the lines of that strange snowflake.

The small threads of light reached out and hung in the air for a time before turning back in on one another. They pressed close and congealed until they became a single thread of silvery yarn that connected her to Lan Jue.

The Doctor looked on in silence, carefully watching her every move. He knew once she’d agreed to open her Core that she wouldn’t dare cause Lan Jue harm, however he refused  to believe she had some sort of ability that could do more than he already had. His confidence had surely ballooned since earning the title of Doctor on Skyfire Avenue, and for good reason, so it was his interest and pride that had him burning to discover just what sort of powers this young girl claimed to possess.

The Wine Master’s eyes continued to flash with silvery energy. He was able to sense every pulse, ever flutter of the young woman’s core, opened as it was to him. Even the quiet, almost invisible pulses of her spirit weren’t hidden from him. However, he was careful not to disturb her in the midst of Lan Jue’s healing. He watched her, still as stone.

He was a Paragon, almost a god among men, and with that came a great deal of power. Power enough to react the instant this woman had an untoward thought. By virtue of his absolute power over space, he could cut her apart or send her to another solar system.

The mech suits that had been pressing around them at the arrival of the girl, began their withdrawal at Mo Yu’s command. They spread out and continued their vigilant guard. That old man was a Paragon, and his orders were to be followed. They awaited further instruction.

Mo Yu remained, and through the information updates in his army mecha’s monitor he was kept appraised of the situation. In just a few short hours most of the beasts found on Taihua had been annihilated. Those that remained were few, and scattered. Soon they’ll all have been swept from the planet.

The screen flashed as recent statistics came through. It was a calamity, compounded by the fact the planet was near saturated.

In order to protect the ecosystem, Taihua had stipulations as to how many tourists were permitted at any one time. That number was around a million souls. When a planet is considered saturated, that means it’s total population of tourists, security and service workers are near to or have met the occupancy limit.

The result of so many bodies and such horrible creatures was no surprise: a slaughter. Recent numbers put the missing at one

hundred and fifty thousand. Another three thousand and sixty soldiers would also call this their last, eternal tour. However, headcounts at evacuation showed only about half of their saturated total were accounted for.

One hundred and fifty thousand was a high number, a frightening sum. But half a million…

The satellites surrounding Taihua had been blocked from spying the situation down on the ground. That thick grey mist had covered everything, until in the final moments a blast of air had revealed something. The satellites had caught the final moments of that battle over the sea. It caught only a glimpse, but in those moments the satellite caught three figures battling a colossal monster. The energy reading from below neared the blast power of an expeditionary cruiser.

Mo Yu watched the information filter past his screen, and instantly recognized it. The place he stood now was were the satellites caught their break. That burst of startling power was just a few meters from where he stood.

Without question, it must have been the Cosmagus himself who saved those that made it out. He was Taihua’s great protector, guarding against the invaders to keep losses to a

minimum. Mo Yu felt his blood racing. He had the honor of guarding a man such as this, a great Paragon and guardian. It was likely the greatest mission of his life.

The countless silken threads of white energy lowly intertwined. As time went on it became an undulating cocoon around both Lan Jue and the young woman. It grew stronger and thickened. As the others looked on, the two figures within became more and more indistinct.

From beginning to end, that young woman didn’t move one hair. The Wine Master could feel her through their link, and knew that she was using the best and most gentle method available. She was channeling her own restorative powers to him through their kiss.

Chapter 149: The Power Of The Silkworm And The Mystic Raiment

The great silken cocoon pulsed with power, and eventually their figures vanished from view. Stranger still, there seemed to be no energy fluctuations coming from within – at least, none that the Doctor or Wine Master could distinguish.

The Doctor looked on as well, resting as the strange scene unfolded before him. He watched in silence, absorbed in thought. At the onset he’d watched the young woman work with a distinct light of scorn in his eyes. However, as that cocoon developed and surrounded the two, that light changed to something more dignified. But anxiety and doubt could still be seen. It was as if he’d figured something out only, not entirely. There was still something he couldn’t put his finger on.

He wasn’t alone in his ruminations. The Wine Master, too, looked consumed by thought. In all the worlds there were only a very few Disciplines he wasn’t familiar with. This woman’s was one of them.

The energy he’d felt exuding from the girl was infinitely gentle, abnormally pure and far beyond the ken of your average Adept. By his estimation, she possessed a ninth level Talent. It was a great power, despite her weak appearance.

Naturally a ninth ranked healer would have enormously powerful healing abilities, precisely like the Doctor. But there was something strange, and though he didn’t know why he suspected her healing abilities weren’t so simple as they appeared. She may even be more powerful than the Doctor, for all his training and ability.

Hmmmmnnnnn

Before them the cocoon began to hum and vibrate. The silken tendrils began to quietly break apart and the air around it shimmered with a white aura.

“Hm?” Mo Yu and his team shuffled uncomfortably in their mechas and watched. Each and every one of them were Adepts themselves – you had to be to pilot a mecha – yet none so powerful as the group they stood guard over. They would fight tooth and nail for even a tenth of the power they witnessed.

The sky darkened, suddenly, for reasons unknown to those gathered. Mo Yu’s band of armored soldiers flashed as their integrated lighting systems came online. They were shocked, but not simply from the sudden change of light. This was no normal darkness, they concluded. It was a dark that swallowed light up, devoured it. The blazing lamps affixed to the mechas

did nothing to dispel the gloom, becoming little more than dim specs in a sea of black. The only thing that pierced it was that white cocoon.

“Changing the laws of nature… ,” the Doctor whispered to himself. He quickly scrambled to his feet. With the help of the cocoon’s gentle light, he was able to see the Wine Master’s face. What he saw mirrored his own shock and confusion.

Yet the Wine Master lifted a hand, silently assuring the Doctor that as was well. After all, he was still monitoring the state of the woman’s Core. Without their interruption the shell continued to brighten, making everything around it look blacker still.

Mo Yu sat still as stone in his towering Mammoth III mecha. He linked to the satellites overhead to check their imaging status, to see what they saw. What he found was nothing – the scene looked normal from overhead. It looked like it always had, clear and with no anomalies. The dark could be seen up close, but not from afar. Like some kind of illusion.

This…

A pale fog or steam seeped from the cocoon, white like the light that surrounded it. It was stark and clear against the inky backdrop. As it continued to smoke the plumes congealed until they formed another shell, identical to the one beneath it.

Lights flashed within, beams of it peaking through the cracks. Where the light shone, strange flowery lines appeared upon the shell’s surface.

A rapid burst of energy pulsed outward from the cocoon. It washed over the others leaving no trace, causing no harm. But the Doctor and Wine Master, close as they were, felt it keenly when the power washed over them. They could feel their spirit embrace it, filled to brim with it. They sense the pulsing energies enhancing their inner being.

The Doctor swallowed hard. His stunned voice broke the relative silence as he muttered to himself. “I think I know what this is… It means that story must be true, that there really are people with the Silkworm Discipline. Damn… who’d have thought today we’d witness a miracle.”

“Crack – crrrack!” The sound was clear and crisp. Fissures had begun to appear on the cocoon’s surface. They started at the top and snaked their way down in shimmering golden lines. The

emanating metallic light was dim at first, but their intensity increased as the cracks spread further.

The light tore through the pitch black world like a towering golden spear, a pillar of heaven. It rose unimpeded towards the heavens where it split the sky in half. From above the golden light shone down like rays of the sun, bathing the white cocoon in warmth and light.

The golden luminescence sent the darkness running. Everything came under that glow, shimmering in it’s embrace. Even the Wine Master, with all his power and ability, was cast away by the force of the golden light. The Doctor was thrown like a ragdoll just behind him.

At last the silvery cocoon split. From within, a wriggling golden form slunk from the ruins of it’s protective shell. It was no more than a meter tall, chubby, and covered in intertwining golden lines. It’s flesh, however, was white as fresh snow. Almost immediately after escaping from the cocoon it began to grow taller and wider. A second series of cracks could be heard afterward.

A soothing white light began to emanate from the creature, contrasting with the golden glow that bathed everything else

around it. It continued to wriggle and change. First were the wings, pure white and powerful. The writhing figure shifted and evolved in to a golden white-jade humanoid.

It was an angelic figure, beautiful, and covered in white light like it was made from it. It was so pure that onlookers couldn’t make out any details. Still, the sensation they got simply by looking on was one of great purity and beauty.

The silvery light in the Wine Master’s eyes vanished. He felt it clearly now, there was no more question. The small piece of his power he’d left in her core extricated itself, and returned to him. There was no further need for it.

Protomorphism. Indeed, it was a power not unlike his own. Whoever she was, she was already peaking in to the realm of the Paragons.

Such a puny looking thing, capable of wielding a Paragon’s Talent. It was nearly inconceivable, but for the fact it was happening before his very eyes. There was no malice in her art, and the Wine Master could sense Lan Jue’s condition improve far beyond where he was before she began.

“Rectitude!” The emotional voice thundered around them. The words were simple, but they filled the air like a chorus. As the words faded, the ruins of the cocoon near the white figure vanished without a trace.

It rose to it’s feet. Before it was the second cocoon, still housing the woman and Lan Jue in it’s protective enclosure. Then, she began to dance. It’s movements were gentle, care- free, like a sprite sailing through golden sunlight. The pale white light around it continued to glow soothingly.

As the creature’s dance continued, the cocoon adopted a more golden hue. The protomorphic energies at play began to worm their way inside.

“What in the hell is this?” The Wine Master could no longer hold his piece. The Doctor turned his head to look back at the aging Paragon.

“Unless I’m mistaken, this is that Discipline of legend, told to us before even the great Stellar Migration. Pure altruism… Regination.”

“Regination?” The Wine Master looked back upon the

dancing figure in surprise. “You’re telling me this is the Savior, the Queen of the Silkworms?”

The Doctor nodded emphatically. “That’s right. The power of the Silkworm and the Mystic Raiment.”

The power of the Silkworm and the Mystic Raiment! Nine simple words, but they were enough to cause the Cosmagus to retreat a step. Shock was written clear on his face.

“I was certain this mystical power was lost ages ago. But here it is, before us!”

The Doctor explained: “The legends state that this Discipline, Regination, is passed on only to one member of the family per generation. In actuality it’s called the Silkworm Discipline, but they call it Regination because the bearer holds the purist, most altruistic Discipline in the known universe. As  one  might expect, the Queen of the Silkworms holds no great combat proficiency, but their speed of cultivation is far greater than your average Adept. The power comes with extended  life, greater vitality and an almost inhuman physique – but that’s it. No forceful attacks or great combat ability come standard. And yet, when the conditions are right, Regination can be the single greatest ability in the history of mankind.”

“When possessors of Regination approach a ninth level Talent
– quickly, usually, by virtue of their Discipline – they are able to make connections with others. With these connections they are able to transfer their own powers to others. Like this, so long as the person is alive, they can sustain inhuman amounts of harm and come right back. This is what’s called ‘the Silkworm’s Power.’”

“In fact, the more damage someone has sustained, the more benefit they receive from the Silkworm’s ‘Mystic Raiment’, namely that cocoon. The foundation of this healing is the nourishment of marrow and tendons, but the healing seeps way down in to the person’s very spirit. Even their Core can be remade, cleared of impurities. They adopt the Silkworm’s purity.”

“But there are limits. Applying the Mystic Raiment obliterates the Queen of Silkworm’s abilities. Afterwards they must start all over, from the beginning, cultivating themselves back to their former power. In the tales it is said a Queen can only use the Mystic Raiment three times in their entire life. After all, this sort of protomorphism has the ability to complete change a person’s fate – to upend the laws of nature! Who’d have thought that today, when it was needed, we’d actually witness this power with our own eyes. No wonder she was so sure she could heal him. If even the Mystic Raiment couldn’t heal him, he’s as good as dead. It looks like our Jewelry Master had a great deal of

luck or the grace of God on his side.”

As they conversed the dancing figure appeared to grow tired. Her body sagged and her wings extended until they draped over the second cocoon like a blanket. As they looked on  the gorgeous creature began to change, becoming liquid. Quietly, the power of the Queen of Silkworms was absorbed in to the shell.

Chapter 150: Hera?

“What is this place?” Lan Jue blinked, and looked all around.

It was a world of white. Wisps of cool white mist covered the floor below him. The sky overhead was a soothing eggshell hue. Everything… everything around him was that same pure white.

As he peered all around, he was struck with a rather unsettling sensation – he couldn’t feel himself. He was here, but at the same time he wasn’t. Like he didn’t truly exist. His heart sank, for he knew that he was dead. The spirit was capable of living in the place between time and space. A man with enough power of will could stop his soul from escaping to other realms. Was this death? Was he to remain here for eternity?

Just as he begun to sink in to depression the mists around him began to congeal. Not far from himself, a figure appeared through the haze and approached. Each step brought clarity.

A pure, white dress. Long, dark hair and shimmering blue eyes. A face so beautiful it almost hurt.

“Hera!” Lan Jue called out to her, and before he knew it he

was pulling her in to his embrace.

The young woman hesitated, but soon acquiesced and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“As long as I get to see you again, I don’t care what comes.” Lan Jue’s voice was soft, almost a murmur. A small contented smile spread across his face. “Had I known all I had to do to be with you again was die, I’d have done so a long time ago. How are you? What happened that day? What did you encounter? Was it really just some disaster, like they claim? Why was it the whole thing left me with a strange feeling?”

Lan Jue did not move, did not react. There was no outward sign, but inside he felt himself fill with joy. His spirit soared with a sense of good fortune.

Nothing else meant anything anymore. Finally he was together with his Hera, and that’s all he cared about. Living or dead, he didn’t care – so long as they were together. Through the years they were apart, he never put her out of his heart. In his soul, Hera was the only one for him, and here she was.

“And if I hadn’t died, would you still have made this choice?”

Her voice was soft.

Lan Jue was taken aback. He loosened his grip and placed his strong hands on her shoulders. He looked at her carefully.

“Would you?” She looked back, her question genuine. Those dazzling blue eyes held his own.

Lan Jue took a moment to consider her question carefully. “If there was a one in a million shot at survival, I’d take it. But if there was no choice, no chance, I’d still do it. All just to tell you one thing; your man is no coward. Even if we were to be parted forever, saving these families from the pain I felt would be worth it.”

She looked surprised. “So,” she said, “in your heart duty is more important than love?”

This brought a grin to Lan Jue’s lips. “No,” he responded. “This isn’t about duty. It’s humanity. If I didn’t do at least this, how could I call myself a noble?”

The young woman smiled, and drew nearer. She took him in

to her gentle embrace. “If there ever comes a second chance, I do hope we can be together. I don’t need to know your glory, what honors you’ve achieved. I just want to be with you. Where you go, I go – my greatest wish is just to see your face.”

“Hera,” Lan Jue murmured. “My queen. I love you darling.”

A strange fog seeped around them, covering the world and bringing a muted silence with it. The mists surrounded the two of them, until everything vanished.

In the rapidly shrinking reality around them, she gently placed her forehead against his own. Two crystalline tears appeared at the corner of her eyes, and traced a line along her cheek. Upon reaching her chin they fell, and landed cold upon his face.

Her breathing had become arduous, and a golden light began to fill her up. Motes of golden light floated through her, from her, in all directions.

“You’re sleeping, darling, and that’s the good news.” She gently lifted her face, and placed a kiss against his lips. She drew back, the shimmering snowflake emblazoned on her head also

vanishing in to nothing.

She wrapped him in a hug. It was strange, for instead of feeling empty for her loss, her heart was full. The one she held was her love, her pride. This was her glory, right here in her arms.

The sky above became blue, bright with the light of day. It appeared as though things were returning to normal. Little by little the pale white light from the cocoon dimmed until it was barely visible. The shell, originally definitely a construct of the woman’s energy, was a solid thing now. It looked almost like plaster, despite the gentle pulses of vital energy that surrounded it. However, as the others looked on, the cocoon changed once more. This time, it seemed to turn to stone, and it no longer moved.

Then, the sound of tearing.

The Wine Master’s eyes hardened at the sonance, and he immediately turned to find the source of the noise. What he saw made his brows furrow.

Mo Yu, too, turned to see. Surprise was clear in his eyes as he

saw it approaching. The commands from on high were clear: no one was to approach. What, then, was all this?

It started as a simple blue light, but that lasted only the space of a blink. Before long the light had grown enormous, shining against their gathered faces.

The ship was a hundred and fifty meters long, with a streamlined hull shaped like a dolphin. It slowly drew up to their location, leaving behind a metallic blue contrail. The dazzling tail began to vanish from view even as the ship was stopping.

The side of the ship sported a strange design, lines of gold wrapping around itself. It was circular, with the image of a cresting wave in it’s center. The very middle of the complicated design housed a rhomboid blue gemstone.

It was after seeing the design that the Wine Master relaxed somewhat. His brows eased, and his frown dissipated for he knew who it was that joined them.

The door to the ship opened as it docked, and two figured emerged, lit against the ship’s bright interior.

Just as Mo Yu was preparing to give his snipers the order, the Wine Master’s voice rung clear in his ears: “Don’t impede them. They’re one of us.”

As if on cue, the two figures began to move towards the group.
It took them no time to arrive at the aged Paragon’s side.

“Cosmagus!” Though Hua Li’s eyes were certainly revealing signs of anxiety, the young man still made sure to show the Wine Master his proper respect with a bow. The fiery red haired youth at his shoulder followed suit.

“You’re here for the Jewelry Master I assume?” The Wine Master asked.

Hua Li nodded his head.

Their conversation was interrupted when the Wine Master’s ears picked up a sound.

“Cosmagus, don’t let them see me. The treatment is almost complete. Get them out of here – they can see Lan Jue when I’ve finished.”

The voice was soft, but clear. The Wine Master, in response, raised his hand and motioned in the air. Much to Hua Li and Chu Cheng’s surprise, the world warped around them as they were swallowed in to the void.

They found themselves in some interspacial reality, composed of flickering silver light. Clearly this place was unstable, but remained safe so long as the Wine Master was present and exuding his power.

“C-cosmagus, what’s the meaning of this?” Chu Cheng piped up, a scowl on his face.

“The Jewelry Master is currently undergoing his treatment,” the old man responded. “It should be complete soon. It is important that you don’t interrupt the process. I must ask you to wait patiently until it’s complete.”

Hua Li did not take the request happily. “What’s wrong with us watching A-Jue get treated?”

The Wine Master tried to reassure them. “Please, you two, be at ease. The Jewelry Master is a member of Skyfire’s Council, a very important friend to us. My own care and attention is no

less than your own. Unfortunately, how we treat him is a Skyfire secret. I can tell you that he’ll be fine, however.”

It worked, and both Hua Li and Chu Cheng breathed a sigh of relief. A Paragon’s assurances were more than enough for them. On top of that, both the Cosmagus and the Clairvoyant of Skyfire were well known for their trustworthiness.

“We saw what happened on the way to Taihua,” Chu Cheng said. “Those monsters that showed up so suddenly, they had to have come from off planet, am I right?”

The Wine Master explained. “As far as we know, yes. But where precisely they come from we haven’t determined. We’ll need to do more research. The monsters themselves were not weak, and appeared quickly from nowhere. We did discover that they have a powerful phagocytic ability that devours all life around them, which they use to nourish themselves. Just moments ago we took out their progenitor, some sort of living nest out there in the sea. It appears the others monsters we’ve encountered here originated from that beast’s body. Afterwards they spread out and began absorbing the planet’s vitality, which made them stronger. The stronger they became, the higher the demand for life energy, and so they just kept killing everything they came across. As for their purpose or goal, we haven’t been able to discover anything as of yet. Your companion the Jewelry

Master showed great courage and nobility, taking out as many as he could. He waded in to the densest areas of the fight to save the tourists trapped there. It was largely due to him that the death count here is as low as it is. Things could have been much, much worse.”

Chu Cheng couldn’t help himself, and pressed for more information. “You’re sure A-Jue will come out ok, Cosmagus? He was hurt before all this happened. According to what we’ve been able to discover, he was fighting for a long time out here. If the creatures were as strong as you say, then he…”

The Doctor rose to his feet at cut the Divine Monarch off. “He’ll be fine. The treatment being employed will work so long as he still has breath in his body.”

Hua Li swept his eyes to the young physician. “I’m sorry, we haven’t met. You are…?”

The Doctor’s heart was in chaos. On the one hand he was intensely excited to have witnessed such a miracle as the Queen of the Silkworms, saving a Talent who by all known medical science should be dead. Of course his pride wasn’t in such fine spirits.

“You may call me Doctor. I’m also a member of the Avenue.”

“Greetings, then,” the two mercenaries hailed. Knowing the man was a Doctor, and was present for A-Jue also brought them some measure of peace.

A short time passed, then the Wine Master once again raised his hand. The world twisted uncomfortably, shifting until Chu Cheng and Hua Li once more felt solid ground beneath their feet.

“Huh?” Almost immediately Hua Li noticed changes. The stone-like object that was before them when they arrived was cracked, revealing a large fissure. The small ship set not far off when they arrived was also missing.

Chu Cheng, impatient as he was, was gone in a flash and appeared before the stone. It didn’t take him long to spy Lan Jue within, naked as the day he was born.

His face was ruddy and flush. His chest rose and fell with even breaths. Golden light still danced on the surface of his skin, the last evidence of his struggled. He looked better than new.

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