Skyfire Avenue Chapter 361-370

Chapter 361: A God’s Tale

The Wine Master smiled softly. “I’m already quite pleasantly surprised. A new Romanee-Conti for a new era! It will certainly be an amazing vintage once it’s finished aging. Aubert de Villaine is absolutely deserving of his status as a god of wine. Although it doesn’t surpass a Cros Parantoux, it’s certainly a lot more accessible. Henri Jayer was a harsh and rigorous vintner, and only produced a limited number of his masterpieces a year. Meanwhile, five thousand bottles of Romanee-Conti were produced in the same time period. That’s several times more than his competitor.”

Gates, who had been listening to their exchanged, frowned. “If the gentlemen would follow me, we’ll return to master de Villaine.”

The three nodded. It wasn’t long before the group stood once more before the talking vine. However, Aubert did not immediately question them on their tasting. When the elderly voice did reappear, it was weaker than the last time.

“You know, I should have died centuries ago. Two hundred years, in fact. I couldn’t accept it then, I wasn’t ready to leave.”

“Now, I’m conflicted. When I was young, my only dream was to become the greatest vintner the world had ever seen. All of my instructors said I was a great talent. However, as I grew to make better wines, I found a strange contradiction. The better the wine, the worse my winery fared. The reason for this was my methodology – everything did and still does take a great deal of time and effort. Even just picking the grapes takes two months. If there is no full moon, then you must wait for the grapes to ripen and fall of their own accord. But you don’t use those to make wine. These stringent practices ensure the best possible quality. However, the other chateaus with their bargain wines were doing much better financially. They made up for lower quality with higher selling volume. The largest Burgundy chateau at the time could produce eight hundred thousand bottles in a year.

“It was then my world view came  under  scrutiny.  Why should the greatest wines continually be so expensive? So, I began my research. It took me thirty years to strike a balance between price and quality. The result was the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. However, at some point I lost it.  Money clouded my mind, and my keen perception of the process was lost.”

“I never saw Henri Jayer as competition. He was a simple farmer, and I the successor of the storied de Villaine family. Fifty percent of the DRC belonged to me. It wasn’t until I was

named the greatest vintner in Burgundy that I discovered, I could not follow in his foot steps.”

“Gradually I came to my senses. I had never been a match for Jayer, but my true love had never changed. Making wine. I redoubled my efforts, me and Lalou. We studied biodynamics and learned to apply it to wine making. We put our sweat, blood and tears in to it, and made the DRC something special. We were pioneers, blazing trails and revolutionizing the wine industry along the way. We gave our lives to wine, forsaking everything else, but those were the greatest days of my very long life. Once I felt the wines were good enough, we sent for the farmer Henri Jayer.”

“When he arrived, I took him on a personal tour of the Chateau. I wanted him to see the grandeur of the DRC. I wanted him to know how great our biodynamics system worked.”

“But, then he said to me, that the vines were like his own life. He and the crop were partners. When they were sick, they were carefully tended to with the proper fertilizer. Whatever they needed, he gave them. He didn’t need to follow some scientific theory.”

“I must admit, I was an awful host. I ask him quite arrogantly

if he felt his wines could match up with my precious Romanee- Conti. At the time, the vintage he would later dub Cros Parantoux wasn’t ready. The vines were still too young. After tasting my creation, he said he could help me make it better if I gifted him some of my grapes.”

“In my pride I agreed. Lalou and I continued our valiant toils, carefully following our prescribed plan to make the greatest Romanee-Conti ever tasted. Jayer, meanwhile, would come every day to look over the vines we’d separated out for him. He’d wander around doing god knows what.”

“Two years passed quickly. Eventually our product was ready for bottling. Lalou and I had created twenty barrels,  which would eventually become six thousand bottles of Romanee- Conti. Henri, meanwhile, managed not even a full cask – enough for a hundred and fifty bottles. We had expected something closer to five hundred, considering the acreage he’d been working with. Originally I’d thought he was doing something shady with the grapes. However, he said this was simply the result of his work. That cask was the only one up to his standard.”

“Once all was said and done, we placed two bottles of Romanee-Conti on the tasting table. From the outside they looked identical, but for the name of the vintner printed on the

bottle. Bize and I were confident our wine would reveal itself as the superior vintage.

Potentially Important: The name for Lalou Bize-Leroy in Chinese is (as TJSS writes it anyway, he seems to like to change around characters for real names) 拉罗贝丝 which is kinda weird because that’s just ‘Lalou Bize’ which I not her full name. Anyway, 贝丝 is important… because I translated that as Bess! Now, I don’t know if that means anything, necessarily, but the Chinese characters are the same. Let the conspiracy theories begin.

Aubert paused, continuing after a moment of reflection. “”It wasn’t until those two glasses of wine were placed before me, did I realize how wrong I was. Henri picked up the glass with Bize and I’s wine, and took a sip. He then stood up and said to me, “Thank you for the opportunity to work in your lovely vineyard.” He insisted we keep the wine he’d made, then left.”

At first, I took that as a sign of his surrender, but then I tasted his wine. I experienced the incredible tannins through the rich, fragrant liquid. The flavor was incredible. I knew then that Bize and I had lost – not not just lost, but we had never even been in his league. Henri Jayer had committed two years of his time and effort, using his own methods to instruct us on how wine should really taste.

It was a deadly blow to my pride. For a while, I didn’t eat. Worst, though, was when Bize left. She went to work with Jayer on his vineyard. I knew she sought him out for no other reason than his masterful skill… but the jealousy, and the resentment were still there. I sacrificed my health for the pursuit of perfection. I tried to kill myself, just to be better than Henri Jayer. I slaved in the vineyards, and picked only the very choicest of grapes from my countless hours of toil. But by then, Jayer’s vintages were ready. Jayer was not a man concerned with riches, and his output was small, so the DRC had nothing to fret over financially. However, from that day forward, I was no ‘god of wine.’ There was only ever one man on that altar.”

“Eventually he died… heh, yes, he died. I went to find Bize in the hopes she’d return to my vineyard, but she refused. She told me that she loved Jayer, and even though he was dead she would remain his forever. She gave up her portion of the DRC, and returned to her family establishment to produce Leroy wines.”

“Rumors circulated that I had her removed from the business. None of them knew my hurt. She was the only woman I had ever loved in my entire life. But she loved a man I had no way to defeat.”

“I fought on, and recovered my health. My one motivation

was to be better than Jayer! The man was dead, but his wines were still in circulation. I purchased as many as I could get my hands on. Every year I struggled, and every year the result was the same. As the world’s environment failed I moved to more and more remote places. I refused to admit defeat. I had to keep trying. I couldn’t let myself die. Eventually I found a way to merge myself with the oldest grape vine I possessed. To live longer, I became a vine. I figured this may help me better understand my goal, so that I could ultimately create the perfect bottle of wine. There will be a day my Romanee-Conti would be superior to the Cros Parantoux! And what a fine day that will be!”

Aubert’s voice became shrill, reaching a crescendo as his story came to a close. Clearly, he was having difficulty keeping his emotions in check.

As he listened to the master’s resentment of a contemporary, Lan Jue’s brows furrowed. He sniffed.

“What are you sniffing about?” Aubert asked. His tone was cold and daring.

“Because,” Lan Jue began, “If you keep up this attitude, you’ll never be better than Jayer.”

Aubert was furious, and the vines ripped rattan fencing away to brandish dangerously before the Jewelry Master. “Why?! What makes you qualified to make such a statement?”

Lan Jue shrugged. “Of course I can’t pretend to compare to you or Henri. However, I do feel that a vintner’s most important quality is the love of wine. It isn’t about being better. You said it before, you have an excellent talent. Jayer likely didn’t have the same talent you do, but in your heart there’s only victory and defeat. That is what’s preventing you from truly understanding grapes or wine. At least compared to Master Jayer, that’s your problem.”

Chapter 362: Fall Of Divinity

The sentient grape vine went silent for a time. Aubert de Villaine pondered on the past, and only later did his deep voice return. “I did whatever I could, employed whatever methods possible, to beat Jayer. Have you seen the fruit of my vine? These are the product of my life’s work – three hundred years of study, of trying to understand. Every grape is already fermented in to a self-contained dollop of wine. You have tasted Jayer’s Cros Parantoux, so I invite you to try my own creations. Tell me if I’ve finally surpassed the man.”

Lan Jue was surprised by the sudden shift in topic. He looked on as three vines, thick as a man’s arm, stretched towards them.

The grapes situated on these vines were different from normal grapes. Those came in bunches, while de Villain’s fruit came only one per bud. Each twinkling, amethyst-hued grape was about as large as an infant’s fist. They looked delectable.

Three dropped from the vine, and fell directly in to the hands of the vineyard’s visitors. Immediately, the heady scent of wine filled the air. The savory, mellow fragrances alone were enough to make them feel drunk. Tentatively, grapes were brought to mouths, but when they took a bite they did not find fruit. Instead, a gush of fluid burst forth and down their gullets. It

was wine, a big gulp of wine in every grape.

Their taste buds were in overdrive. The intense flavors filled their mouths, stimulating every cell. It felt like the taste was invaded one’s whole body. Thankfully, all three of the Skyfire Adepts were…. practiced enough in the art of drinking that they needn’t fear getting drunk.

The Wine Master was the first to sense something amiss. But where Lan Jue and the Pauper’s faces had changed from the wine’s flavors, the Wine Master’s expression shifted for a different reason. As he watched, his companion’s flesh darkened until they were purple – the same tint as the grapes they’d imbibed.

“There’s a problem with the grapes!” The Wine Master flourished with his right hand and, in a flash of silvery light, his astrum truncheon appeared in his grip.

“No. I have used my own condensed life force and protogenic powers to create these perfect grapes. They are absolutely the pinnacle of grape farming. But grapes, you see, require fine fertilizer. After years of research I’ve found the best kind, and it may surprise you to find that there is no better fertilizer than human remains. Now that you’re here, and you’ve seen all of

this, perhaps we’ll just have you stay. The wine didn’t get you drunk, as was my hope, but you still don’t have the power to face me.” Aubert de Villaine’s voice had grown murderously cold.

A thick purple light hung over the hillside. The massive vine waves erratically, pulling in all directions until it’s buried roots were exhumed. The sentient plants jerks and twisted until it assumed the shape of a man, made of bark and grapes.

By now, the Wine Master’s skin had also begun to darken. He heaved a long grunt. “Lan Jue was right, you aren’t even in the same class as Jayer. Your heart is poisoned – only interested in instant gratification and quick success. Your spirit was only ever interested in money, and that is why you were never able to understand the art of making wine. Even with all your talent, you will never be the greatest god of wine.”

A silvery bubble of energy surrounded the Wine Master and his companions. In response, dozens of slithering grape vines exploded from the earth all around them. They were a deep purple in color, and wrapped together to form a hideous face, frozen in an expression of rage. More appeared, and struck out at the protective bubble surrounding the intrepid travelers from all directions. There were so many that they blotted out the sky, turning everything purple.

“I have already used my protogenic powers to close this place. Even with your interspacial capabilities, you’re stuck here. The fruit of a god of wine is special, you see. It would kill a normal man – he would drink himself to oblivion. For Adepts, it reduces your Talent. One grape, diluted in water, can make a thousand bottles of the best Romanee-Conti the universe has ever known. But you – you are great lovers of wine, are you not? Wouldn’t contributing your bodies to create such a splendid wine be a fitting end? You dare to look down upon my creation, to claim it inferior to that farmer’s Cros Parantoux, so consider this death my gift.” Aubert’s voice was haughty, and full of venom.

The Wine Master fixed the vine-man’s ‘face’ with a glare. “Indeed, you are inferior. The fruit of a god of wine is fine, but it cannot compare to the true love and devotion a vintner has for his harvest. These grapes have no love, just rage and greed. You can sense it in the aftertaste – it’s fetid. You said it true before – there is no way for you to ever surpass the late Henri Jayer.”

“You’re clearly not qualified to make such assumptions. We will see the truth of it once you’ve come to fertilize my fruit. My creation will sweep the universe, and all those who drink it will be drawn in. From them, I will chose the best to serve as nutrients for the next harvest. I refuse to believe that, with the addition of so many wine lovers, that I will not surpass Jayer! There will be more love for wine than that old man could ever

muster. I can finally rid myself of his specter. You three are lucky – my first crop, I’ll remember you always.”

The skies darkened until it was a reach, deep purple – almost black. The vines, hundreds now, wiped ceaselessly at the silvery shell. Each vine shattered as it thrust itself against the Wine Master’s defenses, but with each strike the strain on the Cosmagus became more evident.

The Wine Master’s skin became increasingly darker in hue. It crept up his body, slowly overtaking the hand holding his scepter. He gave a bitter smirk. Never would he have thought that the greatest love of his life would be his undoing.

As for Aubert de Villaine, the great vintner, clearly his rage and jealousy had driven him to madness. A Paragon lost to anger was terrifying, for who knew how many innocents would lose their lives. This place had become a Babylonian purgatory.

In regards to cultivation, the Wine Master and Aubert were not equal. However, the difference was not enormous. In part, the Wine Master’s understanding of protogenic energies was deeper due to his experience with interstellar migration – something Aubert clearly had avoided. None of that power or knowledge could be taken from him.

But this place, everything around them, was under the complete control of Aubert de Villaine. He had created it from nothing, using the skills and knowledge of the Former Era. He even turned himself in to an enormous grape vine so that his connection to the land was deeper. It was largely for this reason that the Wine Master found himself at such a disadvantage.

Evidently, the new Paragon’s abilities were plant-based. In regards to combat, this couldn’t hold a flame to interdimensional Talent. Here, however, those specific attributes were cut off – interspacial powers were suppressed because the entirety of this place was under Aubert’s control. The grape’s fluids seemed to permeate down to their souls, and the Wine Master already at a distinct disadvantage, there wasn’t much in the way of resistance that they could offer.

In addition, Aubert was one of, if not the single oldest Paragon in the universe. By virtue of his age and experience alone, he had an advantage and he wasn’t the least bit interested in holding back. The Wine Master knew very well what sort of destruction a Paragon was capable of. The three of them were like meat on a cutting board. All de Villaine had to do was wear him down.

Over and over again, the protogenic-infused vines lashed at them. With each strike, the Wine Master’s shield dimmed. Once

it failed, there would be nothing to protect them from Aubert’s murderous thirst. Not even the Wine Master.

Lan Jue looked on as the Cosmagus fell to one knee. His scepter dug in to the dirt, the only thing stopping the Avenue’s interim leader from falling to the ground. Tendrils of silvery light spread out from the butt of the scepter then. They were small at first, but quickly bloomed across the earth until it created a blinding lotus of glimmering light. It was dazzling, burning, and they could not look away. Each petal was its own self-contained universe, and they crashed and melded among one another.

Aubert’s precious pocket of reality began to disintegrate, unable to sustain itself against the Cosmagus frightening power. The flower blazed like a sun until, suddenly, it shifted black. It became an impossible black, that drank up everything around it
– a black hole, perhaps a meter wide. Almost instantaneously, all of the vines assaulting them were atomized.

There was a flux of energy, and that one meter black hole surged to devour a thousand meters.

Aubert de Villaine, standing at two meters, found himself directly in the center. As the insatiable hunger of the black hole

came crashing down upon him, his viney figure ceased to be.

However, then a violet light congealed around the edges of the anomaly, keeping it from growing further.

This was the Wine Master’s single most powerful skill. At the peak of his power, he was capable of devouring entire planets in it’s scope. It’s confinement at any level was a stupendous achievement, much less to this small size.

“Your resistance is pointless. This place belongs to me. Did you think this would be enough to destroy me? My roots spread all throughout this place. I am everywhere.” Aubert’s figured re-emerged from the dirt as more grape vines twisted to form a mirror image of the previous body.

The compressing power surrounding the terrible black hole strengthened. Gradually, the last-ditch effort of the Cosmagus was shrinking.

“All of your power merely makes things worse for you. The more you employ your Discipline, the faster my grape’s power permeates through you. There is nothing that can  save  you. With that wine in your veins, you’re demise is assured.” Aubert

De Villaine’s voice was full of dark mirth.

Chapter 363: Calamity And Revival

The Wine Master’s face had turned purple. He swayed on one knee, threatening to topple. The most terrifying aspect of these grapes was the fact that they were the product of pure protogenic energy. This wasn’t any normal toxin they’d eaten, he’d have known right away if it was. It’s properties were insidious, invasive. The victim slowly succumbed to exhaustion until they fell in to a deep, coma-like sleep. In a situation like this, when one needed to be at their sharpest, this was disastrous.

Just as the Wine Master was on the verge of collapse, Lan Jue
– who had long since fallen limp – began to move. A stream of bright red blood began to seep from between his brows. However, it didn’t drop down his face as blood should. Instead it coalesced in to something akin to a ruby, set within the flesh of his forehead. As a faint red glow surrounded Lan Jue’s head like a halo, the faint scent of grape filled the air. It was the smell of wine, of the best wine the world had ever seen. The purple tint to Lan Jue’s skin quickly melted away. When his eyes opened from the unnatural slumber, a flash of blood red raced across them.

Lan Jue shot to his feet, and his aura blasted out in all directions like an explosions. Gold replaced purple. There was a stuttering flash of energy, and Lan Jue vanished. He reappeared

behind the Wine Master, with his right hand pressed against the ruby. A shimmering red orb of light swirled around them.

Under the strange energies, the purple covering the Wine Master began to recede as well. It rose like a mist from his pours, and when the poisoned hue was gone from his face the Wine Master’s eyes flashed a dangerous silver.

“No! This is impossible! How are you able to counter the fruit’s effects?!” Aubert de Villaine howled in shrill tones.

The Wine Master slowly rose to his feet. As the steamed remains of the poisons flowed around him, he lifted his astrum high overhead. Crackling ominously, the constrained black hole begun to shrink further. For half a moment there was absolute silence, before the Wine Master’s star-swallowing black hole swelled to a phenomenal size.

Silk-thin tendrils of silver light slithered through the fabric of reality around them. Where it met with the deep-purple halo of constraining energy, it created an interdimensional tempest. These hairline fractures in existence fused with the black hole, allowing it to expand even farther and grow even stronger like a flood following the course of a river.

This was the unbridled power of a Paragon. Unconstrained, and unaffected, the Wine Master had more tricks up his sleeve to turn the battle in their favor. Aubert’s figure writhed in the distance, with each vine of it’s body lashing out wildly in rage. In response, every single vine across the stretch this quaint French-style village began to slither like they had a mind of their own.

That purple energy thickened, blotting out the sky and casting everything in a hazy light. Pressure, as though the weight of a mountain were upon them, pressed in upon the hole and the three Avenue Adepts. With the Wine Master back to full strength, Aubert would have to rely on his own direct protogenic powers diffused throughout the whole city. He was no longer caught in the grips of his mania, and was frightened by the power of this old man. He was much stronger than he’d anticipated. Ultimately Aubert was confident he could win in a straight fight – but at what cost? At the very least, he’d be unable to protect Beaune from destruction.

More important to the god of wine, however, was how Lan Jue was able to expel the grape’s powers. Not just that, but he was able to remove it from the old Paragon as well. All of that should have been well beyond his capabilities.

Lan Jue would not give him answers. Largely, though, this

was because he didn’t know what was going on either. The flood from his forehead was his, but why did it form the way it did? Why does it seem to possess these powers? He couldn’t say.

With his hand on the Wine Master’s back supporting his abilities, they weren’t in any immediate danger. Lan Jue looked around for the Pauper, to help him as well. When he found him, though, the Pauper was surrounded by a hazy golden aura. It seemed to radiate out from him, making his entire body gold as well.

Slowly, he pulled himself in to a seated position. His legs were folded beneath him, and his hands were pressed together level with his chest. The dirty, homeless man sat awash in light in grandeur and solemnity like a buddha. A halo of shimmering light revolved behind his head to the sound of a thousand chanting monks.

Protogenic power!

Lan Jue could feel the pulsing waves of primordial energy rippling out from him. He was fine, too? And able to use protogenic abilities?

After a moment of surprise, Lan Jue things were not as he imagined. The power surrounding the Pauper was protogenic in nature, but was internally derived. The power flowed through him, but he didn’t move. He remained stuck to the floor like a buddhist statue.

Lan Jue understood. He wasn’t trying to help directly with the Wine Master. His was a last ditch effort, using the swirling powers around them to help him find his Path.

The Pauper would not be launched in to Paragon status so easily, but by immersing himself in the understanding of protogenic powers, he would unlock the ability to use it – just like Lan Jue’s Ascension. It would invariable help him break through to Paragon, assuming they lived through this moment. With time and further understanding, his route would grow smooth and his path short.

Lan Jue couldn’t help but betray the surprise he felt. After all, witnessing a top-level Adept discover his Path was a rare and beautiful thing. Many ninth ranked Adepts went their whole lives without having this chance. It was unlikely the pressure of the situation was the impetus. He had been asleep from the effects of the grapes. There was only one explanation, and that was the grapes themselves.

Thinking back to that day they shared the Cros Parantoux, Lan Jue remembered what the Pauper had said. An epiphany, and that was the very reason he’d come with them on this journey. Now, it looked like his goal was achieved. Aubert’s poisoned grapes weren’t expelled, but rather absorbed. That was the push he needed to find his way forward.

The Wine Master must have sensed something as well, for he looked over toward the meditating beggar. He allowed the briefest flash of joy to appear in his eyes, before it quickly passed. If they made it out, then having another powerful Adept with protogenic powers would be a great boon for the Avenue. What’s more, he was younger – about as old as the Gourmet. With luck there would be another Paragon in the Avenue’s future.

Aubert de Villaine didn’t care for their happiness, and continued his murderous assault. The skies overhead were like a thick sea of fluid, and it started to swirl like an angry vortex. It was quickly devoured by the encroaching black hole.

Lan Jue’s keen eyes watched, and spotted the vortex swirling amidst the near perfect darkness. It was like a glue, sticking to the black hole and gradually pulling it shut.

The Wine Master’s black hole was a manifestation of his protogenic powers. It was birthed in to reality through his will. This was different from Lan Jue’s Ascension, which was simply a sort of coat of protogenic energy. It was not true power – enough to amplify his abilities, perhaps, but not real control.

The battle between them now was a primeval war of pure energy. Aubert’s insidious powers sought to clog and close the Wine Master’s black hole. It came down to who could persevere.

Aubert’s abilities were not as combat oriented as the Wine Master’s. However, he did have the whole of this place under his command. With the energies of this place amplifying his own, Aubert was a terrifying force to reckon with. His attacks did not let up, coming as swift and ruthless as the Paragon’s poisoned rage.

The Wine Master remained still, with his scepter held aloft. The war going on overhead between his black hole and the purple vortex loudly went on, but he was still. His eyes narrowed as he peered in to the middle distance, as though thinking.

Escape would not be terribly difficult. With his powers fully restored, they would make it out alive. It would, however,

consume a great deal of energy to have all three of them transported to safety.

But what next? Aubert would undoubtedly try to hunt them down. He’d lived here for who knows how long, and his intimate connection with the land made finding an upper hand difficult. With his connection to the Western Alliance, it would be difficult for him to lock up the airspace around the planet. At that point, they’d have no chance at returning home. What’s more, it was easy for any Paragon to find their target, especially for Aubert. On this planet, every plant was his eyes and ears.

Things were different here than in the East. The military forces of Skyfire would mobilize quickly in an event like this. Not for the West. He had their backing, yes, but out here the only one to really have a Paragon’s back would be another Paragon. Whether it was the Pope or Satan backing this madman, he could not say. In the end it didn’t matter, for if either came to this madman’s aid that would be the end of them.

Coming to this realization, the Wine Master’s heart sank. He had no idea they’d have encountered a situation like this. One of the greatest vintners to have ever lived remained hundreds of years passed when he should have died. Unfortunately, he had become one of the very few corrupt Paragons.

It had happened before in the history of humanity, in the Former Era. One in particular was abnormally strong, with a corruption that spread the world over. He was a dictator, and his poison plunged the world in to war. He was eventually defeated, but the cost was borne on the backs of the innocent dead. Even now, the full extent of that tragedy defied understanding.

Chapter 364: Arrivals

The only way for them to resolve this problem, was the destruction of Aubert de Villaine. But killing a Paragon was no easy feat.

“Jewelry Master.” The Cosmagus looked over his shoulder at Lan Jue.

“Wine Master,” he replied. He could see the same thing his elderly friend did. He knew what he was thinking.

Skyfire Avenue’s acting leader fixed Lan Jue with a serious stare. “I will be sending you and the Pauper to safety. Make our way to Skyfire Avenue immediately. Tell the keeper he is now in charge of the Avenue, and the Gourmet will be his support. You yourself need to continue on your path, don’t let the Clairvoyant down.”

Lan Jue could feel his heart seize. He was a smart man, and immediately understood what the Wine Master was planning. His response was low and stubborn. “I have never, and will never abandon a companion on the battlefield. If you’re risking your life here, count me in. Send the Pauper – he’ll likely be a Paragon in a few years. If we work together, we may have a

chance.”

“No.” The Wine Master flatly refused. “The Clairvoyant said that you are Skyfire Avenue, maybe even the hope for all humanity. You must live, and your life will not be one of joy. It will be a life of responsibility. A corrupted Paragon is more terrifying than you can imagine, but I am strong enough to deal with this issue myself.”

As he spoke, the Wine Master flourished the scepter in his hand. The space around them shimmered, and a golden portal appeared like the one they’d seen earlier. Like before, it was stable and unique – like it was created from some otherworldly power. The golden light painted their grim faces in a dim hue.

The Wine Master’s voice came again, stoic and determined. “Flee, now under the cover of my strongest abilities. If you wait too long, the chance will pass.” His eyes were hard, there was no second guessing this. He’d made his choice. Destroying  a corrupt Paragon meant saving countless lives, and if sacrificing himself insured that then it was a worthy sacrifice indeed.

“Now cut the shit and get the hell out of here!” It was the first time Lan Jue heard anything other than regal discourse come out of the old man’s mouth. He looked out over the expanding

black hole. Soon, it would reach it’s critical mass, and everything would be devoured – including Aubert and the Wine Master.

“No one needs to leave. Things here are done.” An old, craggy voice interrupted their farewell. Much to Lan Jue and the Wine Master’s surprise, however, this voice was female. For the Cosmagus it was even more pronounced. This newcomer was a Paragon, undoubtedly, considering her ability to interceded here. Among the Paragons there was only one woman, and she didn’t sound like this.

Alas, this was an omen of doom, certainly. The only reason a Paragon would arrive now under these circumstances, was to bring aid to their enemy. This would be their demise!

The Wine Master answered by allowing the portals to close. Every Paragon, by virtue of their link to the world of primal energy, had some control over interspatial power regardless of Discipline. The Cosmagus could no longer be sure his portals were safe.

Lan Jue, meanwhile, was frozen in place. He was familiar with this voice!

Aubert was still as well, the moment he heard that voice. A column of blood-red light appeared then, shining down upon him from on high. He let out a shrill, forlorn scream. Immediately following, the constricting purple energies disappeared without a trace as did the Wine Master’s black hole. The Avenue’s Paragon was in a daze, uncomprehending.

Aubert begun to writhe and flail. Vines thicker than a man’s waist whipped dangerously all throughout the small town. They were illuminated by a blood-red moon that sat full in the sky.

Lan Jue and the Wine Master looked back to Aubert. Their senses heightened, they could see something else hanging over the mad vintner now. It was an arrow, white as snow, buried in his ‘body.’ It shimmered like moonlight, and from the wound threads of poison black energy groped out desperately. Lan Jue could feel something else in the air as well, something kind and familiar.

Realization dawned on the Wine Master as he watched. This new Paragon, this sudden and frightening voice, was not their enemy. Her target was Aubert de Villaine.

The Wine Master and Lan Jue exchanged a look, but neither made a move. They weren’t sure precisely sure what they were

watching – it would be foolhardy to act now, before they knew where they stood. Meanwhile, the writhing mass of vines that was Aubert slowed and eventually stopped. The purple aura that surrounded them vanished, and was replaced by a soothing violet glow – but where Aubert’s purple was harsh and violent, this green-tinged purple was far more gentle.

The column of red light, pining Aubert in place, disappeared. The moon’s own red hue melted away to reveal silvery white. The peaceful lunar glow painted the area in silver and shadows.

The grapes upon Aubert’s form began to change with the addition of moonlight. The amethyst fruit were suddenly covered in a thin film of hoarfrost, and were no longer transparent. But what was this? Some sort of Discipline metamorphosis?

Lan Jue’s expression revealed his confusion. He stepped forward, but the Wine Master quickly grabbed him by the shoulder. There was still so much unknown, the old man couldn’t let Lan Jue risk his safety.

In the silence of the unnatural night, suddenly they heard a faint sigh. It stretched on for a long time, quiet and sad. After perhaps half a minute, it faded in to silence.

It washed across all of them. The Wine Master’s face once more adopted it’s regal façade, for he knew now that they were safe. Who ever this person was, she was on their side.

“Why? Was it worth it?” The elderly female voice hung in the air as moonlight coalesced beside the body of Aubert de Villaine. The skies cleared, and were revealed to have changed from that angry purple to a soothing lavender. What’s more, the entire town felt… lacking, as though something had gone.

Lan Jue looked out toward the fields where he spied the farmers. They stood like statues, with tendrils of black escaping from the top of their heads. The poison energy would rise a few meters, then dissipate in to the air. Their expressionless faces remained blank, though now it was clearly due to confusion. Even Gates, the strongest of them, seemed as though he were just waking from a nightmare. The dark power over him had been the most powerful.

Once the gathering moonlight waned to reveal a human figure, Lan Jue couldn’t help but gasp. “Granny Bess.”

Indeed, this stranger – this woman who stopped Aubert’s mad rampage – was none other than Granny Bess. It was she who’d attacked them on Skyfire, and caused the strange bond between

he and Qianlin.

He’d known it when he first her her voice, but nonetheless Lan Jue was shocked when he saw her standing before him. What was she doing here? He couldn’t tell whether this woman was friend or foe.

The Wine Master, upon hearing Lan Jue’s surprised  cry, turned to look at him. Shock was in his eyes  expression. “Granny Bess? Could it be… Bess, an anglicised version of Bize? She is another of the three gods of wine – that’s the only explanation!”

Lan Jue looked like he’d been hit by a verticar. His mind went back to the times he’d come across this old woman. Suddenly, a detail swam up at him from the images. It was after he finished the Cros Parantoux with the others, and went to save Qianlin in the hospital. During the course of their struggle he’d coughed up blood, and it was then ‘Bess’ mentioned the vintage. She’d reacted to the news.

It must, it had to be. This woman was the one who had been partner, lover and betrayer to Aubert de Villain: Lilou Bize- Leroy.

How could this be, though? Three hundred years after they should have died, two of the three greatest vintners in history were here. Bize, as she was apparently called, was not like Aubert – she hadn’t needed to become a plant. But how? It made no sense, and that cause unease. Questions still remained, the foremost being whether or not Bize had followed Aubert in to darkness.

Bize didn’t pay them any mind. In fact, it was like she’d forgotten about them entirely. She sat at Aubert’s side, with eyes only for him.

“Why go through this again, Aubert?” Her voice trembled with pain and sorrow.

Aubert, the vines composing his body limp and just barely clinging together, lay on the ground. The flora of his face spread in to a bitter frown. “Indeed… why? Ever since I let that poison jealousy in it has eaten away at me. I forgot everything that made this life beautiful. In my heart, there was only envy, anger, price and greed. Those toxic seeds grew, until they consumed me. Thank you, Bize… thank you for helping me see.”

Lan Jue and the Wine Master furtively listened in on their conversation. It appeared as though their conjectures were

correct. This was indeed the Leroy successor.

She heaved a quavering sigh. “They are sins we all suffer – but the strongest of yours was pride. It ate at you that you were inferior to someone else. From that poison soil those seeds of envy, anger and greed sprouted. Eventually the illness reached your heart, and that’s when you chose to win by any means necessary. That was when you were lost.”

Chapter 365: The Terrible Cost Of Misunderstanding

Aubert de Villaine spoke with a weak voice. “You’re right. No matter what I do now, it’s far too late. You’ve separated me from the illness for a time. I thank you for giving me this opportunity, to clear the haze from my eyes. I’ve lived for over three hundred years, and I’ve done far too much bad. It’s time I passed. You were right, I was full of arrogance. But I must tell you something… that I, Aubert de Villaine have only ever loved a single woman in my entire life. Even death won’t change that. That woman, is you Bize. Dying in your arms is a blessing. I need to ask you to help me end this poisoned life. Yet, I would ask that you continue building on what I’ve accomplished in this place. All of the men and women here, all of the workers and wine makers, they were all under my control. I  infected them with my own hatred and took over their minds. Now that my power has been severed, they are free. Please be good to them.”

Aubert sighed, and turned his eyes to the sky. “Especially Gates. He is Jayer’s nephew. I’d stolen him away all those years ago. He was the first victim of my poison. I used my powers to keep him alive, so that one day when my wines surpassed his predecessors I could lord it over him. Now, that won’t happen. He was a great talent for wine making, please encourage that.”

“And then there’s this place… our beloved Beaune. I have never forgotten our beautiful homeland. I would like you to have all of it. I have carefully tended to all of these vines, adhering to the biodynamic principles we used from the beginning. Even though my soul is poisoned, these grapes are true. They will make you fine wines.”

Lan Jue and the Wine Master, standing off to the side, listened to their exchange. The anger and resentment they’d felt melted away when they heard his impassioned speech. Aubert de Villaine was a masterful talent who’s desire for success and blind pride lead him down the wrong path. Yet even now, defeated, the most important thing to him was the wine. A god of wine was a god of wine, even if he did do it for the wrong reasons – a fallen god! Although they had had to fight for their lives, a sense of esteem grew within the Skyfire adepts at what they witnessed. They remained separate, however. This was something the two old vintner’s had to do themselves.

“Die? Do you think it will be that easy? Have you already forgotten what you did, how you treated my sister and I? How you expelled me from the board of directors? That was the man who loved me? No, the one you claim to love was my sister.”

Aubert answered with a bitter smile. “The deeper one loves, the stronger their reproach. You left to find Jayer and didn’t

return. That was when jealousy took root. I knew I couldn’t compare to the man – and in our world, making wine was the most important thing. I wasn’t good enough for you, and when you finally did come back with that smile on your face I knew I’d lost you forever. Hate and envy lead me to the single greatest regret of my life, separating the DRC family. It was simple math; I owned fifty percent, as did you and your sister. I knew she fancied me so I roped her in. I couldn’t stand to look at you, that was my only thought. Then you left, and oh do I remember the day. The look in your eyes… it brought me a terrible pleasure.”

“But in truth, I never loved your sister. When you left, I ended things with her. She went on to marry and have children. She was happy, so far as I know, until her passing.

Bize’s sneer was cold as ice, and sharp as nails. “Really? Well I have something to tell you as well, Aubert. Why I was really smiling when I came back that day from Jayer’s vineyard. I had figure it out… the true reason for his success. I had brought my knowledge back to share with you, so that we could create a superior wine together. Like you, I had only ever loved one man, until that man cruelly gloated that he loved my older sister instead, and the both of you forced me to leave.”

“Wha… what?” The defeated vintner’s voice was thick with

surprise. “Impossible! You loved Jayer! No… it can’t be.. no!”

Bize laughed in his face. “Impossible? After all these years, in this place right here and right now do you think I would lie? I have never once in my life been dishonest. Aubert de Villaine, you are ridiculous. A truly laughable man.” She laughed so hard that tears began to stream from her eyes.

Aubert was completely dumbstruck. Almost unconsciously, he muttered “But… you’d said, you’d told me that the man you would love would be the one who made the best wine.”

Bize fixed the fallen god with a glare so full of hate it could have killed him outright. “Because at that point, I believed the greatest vintner to be Aubert de Villaine! I went to Jayer for that belief, so that I could learn what he knew and bring it back. So that you could once again be the greatest god of wine the world had ever seen!”

Aubert wasn’t dumbfounded, he was stupefied. He couldn’t find the words to speak. But those poison seeds in his heart stirred again.

Lan Jue could feel goose bumps raise on his arms. All of this

was a misunderstanding! A terrible misunderstanding, that ruined the lives of two people for three hundred years! A single mistake vast one in to madness, and the other in to bitter loneliness.

“I struck you with this soothing arrow because I needed you clear, lucid. I wanted to tear it out of you, to interrogate you until I knew why you did that to me. And now you say, it’s because you loved me… you don’t find that funny?”

“No! No, no, no!” Aubert howled suddenly with as much strength as he could muster. “No, Bize – you must listen to me! It was not like you say. I was wrong, I’m an idiot – worse than anyone. My jealousy never gave you a chance to explain. It was that arrogance, it hurt my pride. But it hurt you as well. All of it… all of it is my fault. Could you find it in your heart to forgive me? I beg you to give me another chance. My sins were many, my plans were terrible, but… everything was for the wine. Despite my desires I hadn’t yet hurt anyone. I don’t.. I don’t want to die. Pull out your arrow. You’ve given me hope, and that hope has started to kill those poison feelings. Because of you, I’ll never succumb to them again. I don’t know how much longer O have to live, but if you’d like I’ll spend the rest of it making amends. Three hundred years of debt, I’ll repay. I don’t want to die… I don’t want to die! Bize.. Bize I was wrong. I was wrong!”

Purple tears leaked from Aubert’s grape-like eyes, and trickled down the vines that composed his face. His emotional turmoil was causing all of the grape vines to writhe in discomfort. The blazing white arrow seemed to respond. Gradually, it began to rock back and forth, while the light dimmed to almost nothing. Eventually, it worked itself free from Aubert’s body and fell to the ground.

Lilou-Bize Leroy looked down at the arrow in shock. This proved one thing; that the arrow of kindness could only seal evil, not kill. It was an ancient technique, which was painstakingly difficult to recreate. Since it had fallen out of its own accord, it meant that there was nothing further that needed sealing.

More importantly, however, it meant Aubert’s words were true. Otherwise, these changes would not have happened.

It’s true… he really loves… me?

Bize pushed herself away, her features stricken. She would never have believed this was the case. A simple misunderstanding had ruined their lives.

Now free from the arrow, Aubert quickly began to recover. The vines that were his form began to curl and twist again. The many grapes upon them shrank, then vanished. After a moment, the rest of his body followed. What remained was an exceedingly old human man. The only thing that distinguished him from any other centenarian was the fact that his skin was the color of grape vines.

“Bize!” He scrambled forward a few steps, and reached out to grasp her hand.

Bize subconsciously backed away. Aubert fell to his knees. “Bize, I swear upon my family name, that everything I said is true. From this moment forward I give it all up, everything, to just be Aubert with you. I will be Aubert Bize. I will be your knight, your servant, anything at all so long as I can be by your side. If my life is what you want, you may have it. Because as of this moment, you are the only thing I live for.”

Chapter 366: Three Hundred Year-Old Mistake

Bize swayed on her feet, as she looked at Aubert. After a moment, she limply fell to her knees. “Why must it be like this? I spend a great deal of time, energy and resources for that arrow. I’d created it specifically to torture you, and to discover what sort of monster you truly were. I didn’t expect this answer. The fault doesn’t just lie with you, Aubert. I bear some of the blame myself. You said it true, that our pride has brought us here. Not just yours – ours.”

The elderly woman weakly hugged her knees close, and began to sob.

The farmers, formerly under Aubert’s control, encircled the small group by this point. Many of them had been brought here and kept alive by Aubert’s power, all the way from the former era. Many stared blankly, standing still as statues and trying to come to terms with their new reality. Most simply rejoiced.

The poison that had consumed them was finally receding, after so many long years. The memories of what they’d done, and the things they’d went through gradually came back to them. It had been like a nightmare, but in the end they were still alive. Now, things were finally starting to look up.

“Three hundred years! Three whole centuries! Wasted, because of a moment of pride and envy.” Aubert de Villaine heaved a sigh, turning his head toward the others. “You two… come here, please.”

The Wine Master nodded, and with a wave of his scepter both he and Lan Jue floated over to the fallen god’s side.

Aubert looked at the younger Paragon, and nodded. “You love wine… I can feel it. All of you do. It’s a pure love, not like mine. I lost my way when wine became an instrument of dominance. That was my great mistake.”

Aubert weakly raised a hand. There was a flash of purple, and suddenly three grapes appeared in the air, covered in hoarfrost like the others.

“These grapes are absent the infection. I give them to you as compensation. They are the product of years of my own heart’s blood, and hard work. Through the purification of Bize’s arrow, they are free of impurities. Not only are they going to produce wonderful wines, they are also imbued with some level of my own protogenic comprehension. Anyone on the verge of breaking through to Paragon can take one, and it will help them along their Path. The removal of impurities has strengthened

these effects, and more. A normal adept will be drunk for seven days and seven nights eating just one of these. A paragon would not get drunk, nor enjoy quite so effective results.”

Again? More of this fruit? Lan Jue looked toward the Wine Master for directly, but the older man had already taken them. He handed two to Lan Jue and kept one for himself.

“Thank you, honored predecessor.” The Wine Master bowed respectfully before the old god of wine. Evidently, he didn’t have any qualms about accepting the grapes this time.

Once more, Aubert sighed pitifully. “I’ve finally come to my senses. Do not fret, friends… the corruption that had consumed me is gone forever. With Bize at my side, I wouldn’t dream of it. You all may go… I’d like to, spend a little time with Bize, just she and I.”

The Wine Master simply nodded. At his level of cultivation, as with any Paragon, they were able to sense acute, and minute, differences in a person’s aura. He knew what he was hearing was truth – you couldn’t fake the reaction he had. The gods of wine didn’t have to resort to that sort of base trickery anyway. Against two Paragons, they didn’t stand a chance, so there was no need for falsehoods.

Lan Jue didn’t ask the Wine Master why he was given two, and simply put them away. They had a lot to talk about once they left.

“Wait a moment.” Bize, who had been quietly crying, raised her head. She tenderly rose to her feet, and faced Lan Jue.

“You must doubt that my arrival here was more than a coincidence. I will tell you the truth; it wasn’t. And you needn’t worry, all of this was the Clairvoyant’s design.”

“The Clairvoyant?” Lan Jue vaguely recalled something, lingering the back of his mind.

She nodded. “The Clairvoyant and I have been friends for a long while. He knew me I searched for years for de Villaine. Back then, when the Earth was dying, we didn’t want to leave. I thought I would return there to find my answers, but when I arrived at Beaune, it had been abandoned. Not a soul remained.”

“The signs pointed to an exodus, so I figured he must have relocated to another planet. I felt hopeless, after all where does one begin looking in the vastness of the universe? I sought out

the Clairvoyant, and asked him to help divine some answers. He told me he couldn’t find him, because his status as Paragons shielded him from the power. He did tell me, though, that Aubert would find a way to extend his life. To achieve my own goals, I spend an incredible sum to make sure I would live. When you saw me in Grace hospital, I wasn’t just thinking as I sat by that window. I forced my body to consume as little energy as possible – that was the only way I could live this long. A month would pass like a day to me, but every day was like living in the body of a corpse. I lingered on like this, for years upon years. All because the Clairvoyant told me Aubert was still alive.”

“Eventually I came across something.. a sensation. Something had changed. I went to the Clairvoyant again, and begged him to expend his own precious energies to help me learn more. He confirmed my fears, that Aubert had fallen to corruption. It was he who taught me how to make the arrow. He said it would be the only way to clear your mind.

“It was an instrument passed down from the ancient days, requiring tremendous effort to create. With countless treasures needed, it took a hundred years to complete. But the most important thing this arrow of compassion needed… was altruistic blood. I approached the Clairvoyant one last time. He was old, nearing the end of his days. He must have known I was coming, he said that as his life faded, his powers grew. Strong

enough, he said, to faintly see where Aubert might be. He asked me for a favor, for you. Meanwhile, I would get what I needed to finally get what I wanted.

Chapter 367: The Arrow Of Compassion

“I used your blood – one positive, one negative – to empower the arrow. At long last, it was finished. At the same time I fulfilled my promise to the Clairvoyant, and fused your Disciplines together. Qianlin possesses the Queen of Heaven Discipline, a transformative power that is full of empathy and compassion. Altruistic blood is necessary to bear that power. Luckily we had a second who had been touched by her power, and whose blood had absorbed that essence. It was enough to make the arrow.”

“Wait a minute!” Lan Jue interrupted. “Granny Bize, just one second. I feel like I’ve heard that before, Queen of Heaven. And you said she used it on me… but when? I don’t remember anything like that.”

Bize heaved an exasperated sigh. “That’s because you’re an idiot. The Queen of Heaven Discipline is the kindest of them all, marked by a spirit of self-sacrifice. Those who bear the power are limited to using it only three times in the course of their lives. Three lives can be saved. If even the slightest heart beat remains, this power can bring life back where there should be none. It can knit bone and heal muscle. However, using the power reduces the ninth ranked Queen of Heaven back to the very start – like she hadn’t any Discipline at all. The process of saving a life looks like a cocoon, so it’s called the Silkworm’s

power. The skill itself, the Mystic Raiment. Think now, puppet, there was a time you very nearly met death yourself, wasn’t there. It was she who saved you. You must have felt stronger, afterward. Cultivation felt easier, yes?. That was the after affects, all thanks to her.”

Gradually, realization crested on Lan Jue’s face. His eyes went wide… Near death? The only time that could have been was on Taihua. He’d passed out, but it had been the Wine Master and the Physician with him then. That experience had pushed him through to seventh level. It was true, since then he had improved faster.

His head whipped around, and he fixed the Wine Master with an inquisitive look.

The Cosmagus sighed under the pressure of the Jewelry Master’s stare. “She told me not to tell you.”

Lan Jue took a deep breath. Were it not for the fact that they were surrounded by people, he’d have brought Qianlin out right then. He had a few burning questions to ask.

Bize went on. “I could sense her power in you, what the arrow

needed. In taking some of your altruistic blood, I also bound you together. Her powers are rooted in compassion, but that certainly doesn’t mean they’re weak. The Silkworm Dharma and Mystic Raiment leave a sort of mark, an energy that allows the Queen to use the power for her own. It only works when the two – the Queen and her mark – are in close contact. This also allows you two to merge in to one. The draw-back is a reduction in power. However, the girl did save your life and can strengthen you to much higher levels. You don’t have much of a right to complain.”

“Qianlin wasn’t away of these abilities. I completed the process for her. You’ve borne her mark ever since she saved you with the Raiment. During that time, the two of you were joined, sharing the same blood. That connection is what allows you to combine in to one body. But this presents a problem as well. Before achieving Paragon, neither of you can become… intimate. Once those fluctuations of emotion begin, the connection through blood strengthens and you join. If in the future you should near Paragon status, then it is also required that you break through together. Otherwise, neither of you will ever reach the end of your Path. The two of you must work to remain together, to combine your abilities, your yin and yang. Once the protogenic world opens up to you, you’ll be even stronger than other normal Paragons – as much as a Paragon is normal. You will almost certainly begin at the second tier.”

Lan Jue couldn’t even comprehend second tier Paragon status. He was barely following where he was at now. He had no idea he had such a history with Zhou Qianlin. He had indeed at some point heard of the Silkworm Dharma, but he had no idea that it possessed powers like this… yet, it made sense. That day in her room, when he thought he felt her Discipline awakening, he was wrong. It wasn’t awakening, but recovering.

Three times, that was all. Each time, a peak-level Adept had to start from the very beginning. What an enormous price to pay! And he’d repaid this by trying to get himself murdered non stop. A tumult of feelings swirled inside Lan Jue.

Bize’s voice was hard and cruel. “Do you finally get it now, puppet? Qianlin is a good girl, and if you ever do anything to hurt her, you’ll answer to me. Are you listening?”

Lan Jue grinned sheepishly. “I’m just… a little overwhelmed, Granny Bize. Thank you for telling me this, otherwise I’d never have known who saved my life.”

“You needn’t fear or resent any of the changes your Discipline has undergone,” Bize assured him. “I do suggest that you two remain together when in the process of cultivation. Half the work for twice the result, yes? While you do need to break

through to Paragon together, it doesn’t matter if you’re joined or not, so long as it’s in tandem. When you get to this point, you’ll understand.”

Lan Jue nodded. He really was a mess of emotions, and he almost couldn’t wait to find a place where he and Qianlin could talk.

Bize waved, and the arrow that had fallen to ground not far away floated in to her hand. The Arrow of Compassion had since lost it’s white light, and looked like any other normal arrow now. She reached her hand out to Lan Jue and presented it to him.

“The Clairvoyant’s visions were never wrong. He brought us together because he knew you’d lead me to Aubert. I’m giving this to you as recompense and reward. Other than I, only you and Qianlin can use it. Remember, it can only strike evil, and only seals it for a time. No matter how great the darkness, this arrow will banish it. However, it will need your blood before each use. Perhaps twice more, then it will have lost it’s power. Use it with care.”

“Thank you.” Lan Jue carefully accepted the arrow from Granny Bize. The moment he took it in to his hands, he could

feel a pulse, that matched his own. There was a flicker, then the arrow melted in to him.

Bize nodded her head. “The arrow came to be because of you and Qianlin’s altruism. Now that it’s returned, it will nourish you and your spirits.”

Chapter 368: Why Didn’t You Tell Me?

Indeed, just as Lilou Bize-Leroy said, he could feel the arrow strengthening him from within. The image of the Arrow of Compassion hung behind his eyelids, as though a mere thought would bring it back in to being.

Aubert de Villaine slowly made his way to Bize’s side. “Bize,” he began, “I…”

She cut him off with a sideways glance. “Remember what you said! Slave, those were the words – starting right now!”

Aubert was perhaps happier than any person who’d ever been coerced in to slavery before. After centuries, she had forgiven him – after a fashion. It meant they would finally be together again.

“I swear to you I will not repeat my past mistakes. No matter what – you could curse me, beat me, it doesn’t matter – I’ll be half a step from your side until the end. I’ll use the remainder of my days paying you back for the wrong I committed. Wherever you go, I’ll be there. Whatever you need me to do, will be done.”

Lan Jue barely contained the wince he felt. He was all over her like white on rice.

It was, however, what Bize wanted to hear. Her features softened almost immediately. “You all may go. Come by once a year perhaps, we’ll share the vintage we create. You can help bring us a few comforts that are difficult to get out here.”

Aubert’s brows shot up, then, as a thought came to him. He looked toward the Wine Master. “Actually, I was hoping I might beg a favor.”

“Of course,” he replied.

After a moment of consideration, Aubert continued. “My… plans get me in bed with some powerful people in the Western Alliance. With things as they are now, I have no interest in continuing that course of action. I suspect that with your power, together with Bize and my own, we could move Beaune to another location. Just somewhere else here on the planet. If you were to open a dimensional pocket for it, no one would come to trouble us.”

There was a note of misgiving in the elderly vintner’s voice. It

was the Wine Master’s time to mull things over, but after a second he replied. “If I may, predecessor, this cooperation you had with the West…”

Aubert shook his head. “I may have decided to change plans, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sell out my former business partners. Find out for yourselves if you must, but you won’t hear it from me. You’re also under no obligation to help us move, we can manage otherwise I’m sure.”

“Not a problem,” the Wine Master said hurriedly. “I’d be happy to lend my assistance. It looks as though my friend needs some more time to meditate regardless. Perhaps we could ask you for your hospitality for a few days.”

The two old wine maker’s nodded their wrinkled heads.

Three Paragons working in concert were capable of miraculous things. Beaune was no small town, but between the three of them, moving it would not be an issue.

The Wine Master turned his attention to Lan Jue. “Jewelry Master,” he began. “Will you making preparations to stay, or will you be returning to the other teachers?”

He didn’t need to think very long for an answer. “I’ll be heading out, there are some other matters I need to take care of. Once they’re settled I’ll leave directly for the North. There’s still the tournament to prepare for.”

“Alright, then safe travels to you. The Pauper and I will return to Skyfire Avenue once business it concluded here. Keep safe,” the Wine Master urged.

Lan Jue nodded. He turned, then, to the two gods of wine. “Congratulations on finding each other again. I have to be going.”

Bize gave him a black look. “Lan Jue, Jewelry Master… whatever you name is, puppet, I don’t care. Qianlin is my protégé, and if you upset her I’ll chop your legs off. Understand?”

He could only grin awkwardly. “Not to worry. I’m off!”

Aubert reached out with a hand, and the mirror-flat bottom of the lake overhead split down the center. The beautiful sky of the Barrows was revealed. Lan Jue thanked them with a bow, then changed himself in to lightning and darted away.

The lake closed behind him. Once things were back to normal, Bize brought her eyes over to Aubert. The old man had a smile plastered on his craggy face. “Are you hungry, darling? I can make you some food.”

The Wine Master was the very picture of poise, but even he couldn’t suppress a chuckle at the cute old pair. In the end, it all worked out well – better, for in fact two of the great gods of wine still lived! He was terribly excited to stay here for a few days. Then there was this storage room Gates mentioned, with wines from over three hundred years ago…

ζ

Water exploded outward from the lake like a fountain, as Lan Jue blasted through the last few feet of water. In a flash, he was on the banks. His features were strange, struggling with a host of conflicting emotions. Microscopic bolts of lightning crackled behind his eyes. Silkworm Dharma… Mystic Raiment… Qianlin, you-

He pulled free a set of clothes he’d borrowed to give to Qianlin. He then shut his eyes. There was a flash of light, and the young woman appeared to separate from Lan Jue and appear at his side. She quickly scrambled to pluck up the clothes

and put them on.

“Alright,” she said, her voice thin and timid.

Lan Jue opened his eyes to find Zhou Qianlin staring right back. For a long time they just looked at one another.

He didn’t even know how to begin, or how to face her. She’d given up a lot for him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” He asked.

“What would that have achieved,” she said, as though she’d expected the question. “To earn some sympathy? Like it or not, I used my power. It’s done, so what’s the point in discussing it. I wasn’t even using it, really, and at my speed I’ll be back to ninth level in no time. I’m at no disadvantage, since Bize ensured that our powers are joined. With you here now, I can use a more offensive Discipline if needed. That’s a net gain in the end.”

Her words were soft, but the longer she went on the harder Lan Jue had to hold back. Seeing her like this – with her twinkling impish eyes and half-smile – he couldn’t stop himself,

and grabbed her up in a hug. She found herself pressed tightly against his warm chest.

Zhou Qianlin didn’t know how to react. One second she was on the defensive, and the next she was caught in a bone-popping hug. A small turned the corners of her lips, while her head rested comfortably on his shoulder. Her fingers laced together behind his back.

“It was quite a scene. I wouldn’t have thought Granny Bize would have spilled the beans, but here we are – I’m embarrassed. Should I go speak to her?” Qianlin asked.

Lan Jue shook his head. “There will be other opportunities to meet with her. Qianlin… thank you, for everything you’ve done for me. Thank you for saving my life.”

Qianlin’s body stiffened as she pushed him away. “This is why I didn’t tell you – because I don’t want your thanks. My sister would have done the same thing. I’m just here to help, and I know that the only woman in your heart is my sister. That’s proven by the fact that you’re still single, even despite being surrounded by beautiful girls. It hurts sometimes, but it also makes me happy for my sister. At the very least, she picked a good guy. If she were still alive, you two would be very happy.”

“If you are really grateful for the help I’ve given, then I beg you not to say you like me as some sort of payback. If we do get together someday, I want it because we grew to that point naturally. I don’t want it to be because you feel like you owe me something. Love shouldn’t be built on compensation. Alright?”

As Qianlin lectured him, her features were calm and even. She stared at him with an earnest look. It was a look that silenced Lan Jue. There was a lot he’d wanted to say, but under her stare he simply pursed his lips and nodded.

“Alright, I promise.”

“This was a very unexpected thing,” Qianlin said. She drew closer to him again, smiling sweetly. “Who could have predicted this would have happened? Poor Granny Bize, harboring a three hundred year old heartache. Well, where to next? I don’t know if the tourist party has gone yet or not.”

Lan Jue shrugged. “Whether they have or not, we can’t go back. We’ve got somewhere else to visit – to save someone.”

“Save someone?” Zhou Qianlin gave him a strange look. Quickly, though, her face returned to normal. “It isn’t another

girl, is it?”

“Ehm… yeah. Yeah it is,” he replied.

“I figured. This guy…” Qianlin said with a frown.

Lan Jue almost sputtered, trying to get his response out as quick as possible. “That’s why I’m bringing you! Under your supervision, I’ll toe the line, right? If I mess up you can beat me up. What do you think?”

She snorted a laugh at his expense. “Fine, just remember you said it. I won’t go easy.”

“Alright. Just don’t hit so hard you hurt yourself,” Lan Jue said with faux concern. “And proper ladies don’t curse.”

“You’re a proper lady!” Qianlin pouted.

“Off we go!” Lan Jue grabbed her hand without warning, and the two of them were off like a streak.

As they tore through the sky, Lan Jue ruminated on the new information he’d received. The first thing he noted, was his growing affection for Zhou Qianlin. More importantly, though, that wall between them felt as though it was much thinner.

Maybe all they needed was time. Lately, there was evidence enough for Lan Jue to take heart.

It didn’t take them long to find a public use air terminal. Lan Jue was worried he’d run in to Richard, but he was nowhere to be seen. Apparently the Pauper’s methods had been effective. A peak-level Adept’s threats were not to be taken lightly. It appeared as though Richard’s own ninth-ranked Adept protector had convinced the young politician’s son to leave. Hence their lack of trouble.

But before they boarded the ship for the next long leg of their journey, Lan Jue decided to take Zhou Qianlin out for a nice meal. Things had been strange and emotional, so some good food would be appreciated.

It was a wonderful dining experience, even considering the fare was entirely vegetarian. Still, a shadow of anxiety still lurked in the recesses of Lan Jue’s heart. Where they were going next, would be a lot more dangerous than Beaune.

Chapter 369: Eurmania

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boarding will begin shortly for the Holy City of Reims, capital of Eurmania. At this time we’d like you to gather your personal effects and prepare to disembark. We’d like to invite our first- and business-class passengers to please board the aircraft at this time.”

Lan Jue and Zhou Qianlin were recovering from their large meal when the broadcast came over the loudspeakers. They were staring at each other, smiling.

“Good timing,” Qianlin commended. “Just as we finish, it’s time to go.”

“Not really. Eurmania’s the capital of the Western Alliance, so there are many flights a day. Come, we should get on,” he said.

“Alright.”

Lan Jue certainly wouldn’t skimp on his own comfort, so he’d bought the two of them first-class cabins. He figured  he deserved it. They scoured a planet, got in to a fight, drank poison, then almost died. It was a busy few weeks, so when he

sank in to that comfortable chair Lan Jue immediately sunk in to slumber.

Qianlin curled up in the chair beside him, and watched him sleep. Her face bore a small, delicate smile, but her eyes were troubled. There was something she was pondering.

ζ

Eurmania, thankfully, wasn’t far from the Barrows. The flight would take them two days. Lan Jue slept for near a full day before finally waking.

Airships were not friendly spaces for cultivation. The passengers cherished peace and quiet above all things, but they didn’t always get it. Like their narrowly avoided calamity on the way to the Barrows, sometimes things happen. When meditating to cultivate one’s Discipline, absolute silence was needed but – more importantly – so was stillness. The gently bumping and rocking airship wasn’t a good choice.

But Lan Jue refused to be idle. Deep meditation was off the table, but a lighter introspection would suffice. He could also use this opportunity to teach Qianlin a little bit more about

controlling his Discipline.

“All your deception really caused me a lot of extra work. Had I known you were ninth-ranked… Qianlin, I have a question,” Lan Jue Said.

“Go on.”

“When you sister…” Lan Jue began. “She was a ninth ranked Adept. I never did find out what her Discipline was. Was it the same as yours?”

Qianlin looked at him for a moment before speaking. “Probably, but maybe a little different. Neither of ours were much use in a fight, though.”

Lan Jue nodded in understanding. “Hera was one hell of a pilot. God-ranked. Her Discipline didn’t amplify her suit’s attack, but it did pump up it’s energy stores. You’ve got a talent for piloting, too. With effort you could be just as good.”

Qianlin shot him a glance. “You want me to be better than her?”

“No…” Lan Jue’s eyes stared off for half a second. “That’s not what I’m saying. I just want to make sure you have the ability to protect yourself. With your sister gone…”

Zhou Qianlin was silent, and Lan Jue didn’t further disturb the stillness. Both of them stared at the carpeted floor, lost in their own thoughts.

ζ

Although the trip wasn’t long, Lan Jue felt like they’d made good progress in improving Qianlin’s control. Two days passed quickly, and before they knew it they were on approach to the Holy City of Reims.

In stark contrast to the natural beauty of the Barrows, Eurmania was overflowing with modern flavor. It was a gorgeous place, very similar to tales of what old Earth looked like. It had been discovered one hundred and eight years ago by the West. Development of the planet began immediately afterward, and no expense was spared. To ensure it’s resources and further development, the West made Eurmania its capital.

One particularly special characteristic of this place was its

days. In a forty-eight hour day, thrity-six of them the city was bathed in sunlight.

They wasted no time once the ship landed. They followed the crowds out in to the streets of Reims. Throngs of people wandered along the pristine streets, and many of them wore the traditional black pastor’s smock. They walked with gentle grace, easy smiles, and the light of fervent devotion in their eyes.

Lan Jue felt the Spirit Caller gem warm against his chest.
Zhou Qianlins voice filled his mind:

Qianlin: The person we’re here to save lives in Reims? Not in the Cathedral, I hope…

Lan Jue: Clever girl.

Qianlin stopped in her tracks and stared at Lan Jue with open shock. He grabbed her hand and tugged her along quickly, which brought Qianlin back to her senses.

Qianlin: The Pontiff’s Citadel?

Lan Jue: It looks like you know quite a lot about the world of Adepts!

After a moment of silence, her voice replied: This is really dangerous. What’s your plan?

Take it easy, first we’ll wander around town some. We’re not going to find our target right away. The Pontiff is in the Cathedral, he commands it personally. Safety has to be priority. Obviously a direct play is suicide, so we’ll have to succeed through wit.

Qianlin nodded her agreement, but didn’t say anything else.

Lan Jue used the GPS on his communicator to find a nearby hotel, choosing something mid-range. Once they got settled, they could continue their conversation.

“Hello, and welcome. May I ask what sort of room you’re interested in?” The receptionist greeted them with a friendly smile.

“A suite please, with a queen-sized bed,” Lan Jue answered.

Qianlin, upon hearing the arrangements, couldn’t keep her face from reddening. Although the situation with their Discipline meant nothing could happen, the prospect made her bashful.

After a few more moments the keys were handed over, and Lan Jue took up Qianlin’s hand. They sought out the door to their new living arrangements, on the top of the six-floor building. Lan Jue had requested it specifically because it allowed him to look out across the whole city.

At the Northern edge there was the Reims Square, a massive public square capable of accomidating three hundred thousand people. It was three hundred and forty meters long, and two hundred and forty meters across. It was constructed in a semi- circular fashion, where the edges were bordered by a covered walkway. It was supported by two hundred and eighty-four white marble doric columns. Underneath the canopied path, one hundred and forty-two statues of influential Citidelian saints and sages watched passers-by. Their eyes in particular were masterfully carved, so that it seemed as though they were sentient. All of this was right outside their hotel window.

When they entered the room, Lan Jue shut the door and wandered over to the window. He let his eyes scan out over the horizon, while Qianlin inspected their suite. It was essentially

an apartment; with a bathroom, bedroom and living room. It wasn’t an overly large space – maybe fifty square meters, average for a suite.

Once Qianlin was done looking things over, she walked to Lan Jue’s side. She peered out the window as well. “What can you see from all the way up here?”

Lan Jue grinned. “I can see the whole Cathedral. First we observe, then we find a way in. I’m afraid the front door isn’t an option.”

“Is there anyone who might recognize you?” She asked.

“Um… Maybe.” Lan Jue said. “Probably more than a few, if I’m being honest. We aren’t on the best of terms.”

Qianlin folded her arms. “Are you ever going to tell me who we’re here to save?”

“The Moonfiend Empress, mistress of  the  Shattered Starfields’ Moonfiend pirates.”

Qianlin blinked at him.

“A pirate? We’re here to save a pirate? Don’t you hate pirates?” She said incredulously.

He shook his head. “She’s different. The Moonfiend pirates are the biggest and strongest pirate clan in the Starfields. They control one of the three ruling planets. Since she took over, there have been much fewer raids. The Moonfiends also don’t kill – they’re only interested in plunder. Things are much calmer and much safer, in comparison, with her in charge.”

She still looked skeptical. “No other reason?”

Lan Jue gave her a helpless, exasperated look. “Does there need to be any other reason? We used to be friends. Back when I was a mercenary, I was in the Starfields to eradicate the pirate threat. I came upon the Moonfiend Pirates – at that time still small – battling against a stronger clan. I didn’t think any of these scum deserved to live, so I was just waiting for my opportunity to end both groups. But then I saw her out there. She was young, my age.”

Qianlin chuckled and patted his shoulder. “Being a little

generous with ourselves, aren’t we?”

This brought a chuckle from Lan Jue. “You want to hear or not?”

She nodded. “I do,” she said through her grin.

He went on. “I was still with your sister then, but she hadn’t come with me. I just continued to watch, and to my surprise the tides turned. The Moonfiend pirates were outnumbered and outgunned, but well organized. Eventually, they managed  to win. I was curious, and still preparing for my assault. So, once all was said and done, and the Moonfiend were victorious, I showed myself. She met me face to face, already injured from battle, and demanded a dual for the lives of her people. Of course, I won – but I found that her Discipline was strange. It was light-based.”

“As now I’m sure you know, an Adept’s Discipline is a reflection of who they are as a person – their spirit. More often than not, those with a light Discipline have good hearts. Of course, there are always exceptions. I asked about her history, but she didn’t tell me. Instead, she told me her cause. She said she wanted to bring order to the chaos of the Shattered Starfields. She would create humanity’s fourth Alliance. I liked

how it sounded, and I thought it would end in a net positive for everyone.”

“The Starfields are a complicated place. Reaching a solution through brute force is impossible and ill-advised. Clearly, the area would do much better under some sort of governance. We wouldn’t have to worry about the development of dangerous weapons since the terrain prevented it. It both protected and restricted them. Who could say whether her miracle would come true, but at least it might reduce the number of pirate- related deaths, I thought. So, I told her they would be allowed to live if they followed three tenets; become the leading pirate clan within three years, don’t kill anyone, and maintain order to prevent any more massacres from occurring.”

Chapter 370: The Operation Commences

“She agreed, and in the end it had taken less than three years. In that time, the Moonfiend pirates had become the strongest clan in the whole of the Shattered Starfields. About then, I also discovered that she had hailed from the Pontiff’s Citadel.”

Afterwards, Lan Jue had come to rely on the Empress’ intelligence to protect him from Citadelian patrols during his adventures.

“I have a question,” Zhou Qianlin said, after hearing Lan Jue’s tale.

Lan Jue nodded. “What’s that?”

“If we’re going to face the Citadel, why didn’t you bring the Wine Master?” She asked. “He’s right there on the Barrows – I’m sure he’ll help if you ask.”

Lan Jue shook his head at the suggestion. “I haven’t told the Wine Master anything about all this. If it were just me then it wouldn’t much of an issue. Even if I was captured, the Citadel wouldn’t dare anger the Avenue. With two new Paragons in the

East, they’d have to be crazy to harm me. There would be some sort of exchange or ransom, and that’d be the end of it.”

“Secondly, this is a personal matter and doesn’t have any connection to the Avenue. If I did drag them in to this, then it’ll be two powerful organizations at each others’ throat instead of a few people’s problem. The Empress is also an important part of their organization; she used Fantascia Genetica to empower herself to the rank of Six-Wing Seraph, the Morning Star. So this is an internal matter, making it even more inappropriate for the Avenue to get involved.”

“When we first came to the West with the Wine Master, I was considering asking him for help. With his help our chances of success are much higher, of course. But there are risks and consequences. If it was revealed that he was involved, the Citadel would undoubtedly have to respond. Although the differences in power between the Wine Master and the Pontiff aren’t enormous, the leader of the Citadel is still stronger. Not to mention, this is his home turf. The Wine Master really wouldn’t stand a chance under conditions like that – hell, we just saw what could happen on the Barrows. With the Wine Master preoccupied, we’d have to handle the rest; the Lord of the Archangels, Metatron – nearly a Paragon himself – and the six Archangels. Even if there were three of me, we’d be far outmatched. It’d be a hopeless, all-out fight to the death which no one wants. So after pondering, I decided it would not be a

good idea to trouble the Wine Master about it. This is my own operation, and doesn’t involve either the Avenue or the Citadel. I can’t let my own issues instigate a conflict between two great Adept organizations.”

Qianlin nodded in understanding and agreement. It was indeed as Lan Jue had determined, everything here came down to on person. Elevating this to involve an entire group would make it a very different beast that could very well lead to confrontation.

“So what’s the plan? Direct force isn’t an option, so we’ll have to be clever as you said. Are you familiar with this place?” Qianlin asked.

Lan Jue chortled. “Of course not. This is the first time I’ve ever set foot in Reims. But even the Pontiff’s Citadel has to use electricity, and where’s there’s electricity there’s a way in. We can’t run in half-cocked, though. Not only are we getting Little Yue out, but we also need to protect our identities so it doesn’t bring trouble.”

Qianlin shot him a sideways glance. “Little Yue, so intimate…”

Lan Jue grinned at her. “When you’re handsome you can’t avoid getting some attention.”

She kind of wanted to punch him in his smug face, but she knew it wouldn’t have ended well. Anyway, she didn’t really want to hurt him.

They had a bite to eat, then left the hotel room. Instead of going to the Cathedral, however, their first stop was the shopping mall. If they wanted to protect their identities, they’d have to blend in. A change of clothes was the place to start.

Lan Jue bought what he assumed was a middle-income set of clothing and accessories for both he and Qianlin. Of course, Qianlin’s outfit was a little more involved. It was necessary, considering the little they’d brought with them.

All of the buildings and shops that they passed had a religious theme. A crucifix hung above every doorway. A handsome man and a beautiful woman captured quite a lot of glances as they walked from store to store, so Lan Jue decided to buy a pair of large glasses to help hide his face. Although they were just frames, it served to conceal him well. He would have preferred sunglasses, but those were not allowed to be worn inside the Cathedral. It was considered disrespectful.

Once they’d made their purchases, they decided to leave. Exiting the shops, however, they were met with a very luxurious verti-car blocking the way. It was descending noisily from above, projecting light over it’s intended landed spot. People hustled to get out of the way.

Lan Jue felt his heart skip a beat. He grabbed Qianlin’s hand, and pulled her to the side. The verti-car doors hissed open, and a man emerged. It was a man Lan Jue knew, had even confronted – the Archangel of Healing, Raphael.

Today, he was clad in ash-gray pants and vest. A dark-colored tie sat against a white colored shirt. He looked for all the world like a perfct gentleman. The Angel of Healing entered the shop without loitering around. Luckily, Lan Jue had pulled Qianlin aside just in time. Had he not, they’d had have run straight in to him.

An Adept’s aura, their strength, intermingled with the strength of others when revealed. Strength attracted strength. Raphael had no need to hide his abilities here in Reims. Lan Jue, however, had to be careful – revealing his aura would immediately give him away.

“Who’s he?” Zhou Qianlin asked.

“Raphael, the Archangel of Healing,” Lan Jue responded.

Her face darkened. “He’s one of the ones who ambushed you.”

Lan Jue nodded.

“He’s by himself,” she whispered. “Should we just deal with him?”

Lan Jue barely suppressed a laugh. “This is the Holy City of Reims. It’d be unwise to confront him here…” However, just as Lan Jue said this, a light shone in his eyes. A plan was forming. “Or would it…”

I’m not sure if this has been mentioned, but this is a very typical Chinese response for certain things. ‘Ths is China’ is used any time the speaker wants to apologize for their country or chastise foreigners. Holy shit, is my taxi driver smashed on rice wine? ‘This is China.’ My boss just forced me to wake up at 5:30 to work an extra three hours with no pay. ‘This is China.’ What do you mean I can’t pay my cellphone bill without showing you my passport? ‘This is China.’ Here, ‘This is Reims’ is used similarly to explain in a somewhat derogatory tone that her idea is stupid.

Lan Jue knew that when facing enemies stronger than yourself, the first step is to conceal your objective. If the enemy doesn’t know what you’re after, they can’t keep you from it.

Raphael wasn’t the weakest of the six Archangels, but he was lower on the roster. He was a support Adept, so his direct attack power was limited. With he and Qianlin hand in hand, Raphael wouldn’t be much a problem.

Lan Jue’s mind worked quickly. He only had a second, and in that second his plan was formalized.

“Let’s go.” Lan Jue pulled Zhou Qianlin back in to the store behind him. Raphael, as expected, wasn’t taking any effort to conceal his powers – his aura pulsed visibly. Even separated by walls and floors, Lan Jue knew where he was. There was no rush, so Lan Jue slowly and quietly lead Qianlin upstairs toward where Raphael lounged.

Third floor – that was their destination. It looked like a clothing accessories store, and the Angel of Healing was trying on a new wardrobe. Lan Jue turned right around and left the shop.

“We’re not going after him here?” Qianlin asked.

“We are, but not this minute,” Lan Jue explained. “These sorts of stores are almost certainly being monitored with surveillance video. We’re always being watched, there’s no hiding. All the Citadel would have to do is review the tape, and they’d know it was us. First, we’ll have to solve the surveillance issue.”

Qianlin noticed a peculiar light in Lan Jue’s eyes. “I never would have thought you’re such a pro at this.”

“Pro,” Lan Jue snorted. “This is all just common sense.”

Qianlin answered with a snort of laughter. “Alright. Common sense, then. Lan Jue, can you promise me something?”

“What.” He replied.

“We’re here to save people. I don’t want anyone hurt. People who come after you, that’s fine, but these shop owners are just living their lives…”

Lan Jue smiled in the face of her kindness. “Relax. The Arrow of Compassion is still part of me. Like Bize said, if I do anything improper than the arrow will punish me for it. This is why she gave it to me, and not to you. She has faith in your kindness. For her, I’m still a question mark. She never said it, but I’m sure this arrow was her way of keeping an eye on me.”

Qianlin’s response sounded anxious. “Will this have some sort of impact on you?”

He shook his head. “No. At most it’ll just limit some of my options. This was a weapon made through the power of a Paragon after all. I don’t want to mess with that. I’ve never harmed an innocent anyway.”

They returned to the first floor of the shop as they spoke. The whole time Lan Jue searched for the surveillance control room – for him, it wouldn’t be difficult to find.

Electricity was everywhere, and Lan Jue’s own electric Discipline helped to highlight where the energies were strongest. This shop – unlike the Cathedral of Reims – did not have defenses in place to keep Adepts out. So, Lan Jue did what would be considered suicide for any normal man and stuck his finger in a nearby socket. Through the coursing volts of

electricity, he was able to follow them to the surveillance control room. Among Adepts with this ability, they referred it as creating a dynamic conduit.

Through the sensations he picked up in the electricity, Lan Jue was quickly able to find the location of the security surveillance room. Taking Zhou Qianlin once more by the hand, he lead her quietly to their objective.

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