Skyfire Avenue Chapter 371-380

Chapter 371: Raphael And His Tailor

What happened next was simple; a ninth level Adept had no trouble dealing with the normal security –  little  more  effort than lifting a finger. Lan Jue didn’t even need  to  enter  the room. He urged his electric Discipline through a nearby outlet, shorting out all of the equipment within. At the very least, all of their surveillance footage for the day was lost.

It was quick, and quiet. Those in the shop were none the wiser. Still, they’d left a mess and wanted to vacate as soon as possible. They returned to the third floor.

Raphael was still there. He was trying on clothes while chatting with the tailor. She was a woman who looked to be in her thirties. Her long black hair was stark against a white blouse with the sleeves rolled up. Agile fingers pulled her crimped hair back in to a pony tail, accentuating her long pale neck.

Lan Jue and Zhou Qianlin watched from a distance. Raphael and the tailor seemed well acquainted. They would laugh together from time to time. She swatted at his shoulder from some comment he’d made.

One constant among the Archangels was their beauty. Each

one of them looked as though they were sculpted by the hand of God himself. They certainly didn’t have to try in order to attract attention, especially from women.

Raphael had replaced his outfit with a pale yellow three-piece suit, purple shirt and white tie. He looked like Spring, given flesh.

Lan Jue couldn’t help but smirk. “This guy, desperately trying to act the young man. Fresh colors won’t hide his age. It looks like he and the Gourmet share the same taste in tailors.”

Qianlin blinked at him. “You mean the Gourmet and the Seamstress…?”

Lan Jue nodded. “They made it official not long ago. I’ll bring you along when they hold the wedding.”

In China, the marriage process is different than you might expect. It’s a long, laborious celebration laden with tradition and ceremony. It BEGINS with you and your spouse signing the wedding papers. From that point on, you’re legally married. However, the actual wedding celebration won’t occur for another six months to a year in some cases (seven months for

mine). During that time all the preparations are made for the wedding, parties are held, groomsmen and bridesmaids carefully selected, and ultimately a date settled upon by your local astronomer.

“Great! So, when do we make out move?” Qianlin nervously said.

Lan Jue produced two butterfly masks he’d picked up while shopping, and handed one to Qianlin. “Soon.”

Zhou Qianlin’s face reddened. “Should we…”

Her companion chortled, but did steal a glance at her delicate lips. “It won’t be necessary to handle Raphael. Let’s go, he’s in for a surprise.”

ζ

Raphael’s appreciation for this store wasn’t simply because of the well-tailored clothes, but clearly involved the tailor – Julie. She was famous in the Holy City. In fact, Raphael wasn’t the only one interested in her, for Gabriel had also expressed some

interest. In the end, Raphael had been more direct and more charming.

It was obvious to everyone that this was not Raphael’s first lover, or his last. Archangels were always in demand, and the only thing that mattered was bliss in the moment.

“Mh. Yes, very good. It’s a little young, but it’ll be suitable during springtime.” Julie looked him over with a small smile.

This was what Raphael appreciated about her. Man or women, someone who took pride in their work was to be respected.

Julie could feel his burning gaze on her. She raised her head, just as Raphael leaned down to plant a kiss on her lips. His deep voice whispered, “What would you say about spending a little private time? Just to clear our heads.”

The tailor’s face reddened slightly, and she gently bumped a fist against his chest. “What sort of Archangel are you? It’s the middle of the day, you aren’t afraid of upsetting the Father?”

Raphael smiled disarmingly. “How’s that? We aren’t in the Cathedral. And you’re my girl, there’s nothing wrong with this. ‘We love because He first loved us’; Book of John, chapter four verse sixteen. My affection for you comes from the heart, and thus the body yearns!”

Julie slipped from his grasp, but her expression showed that his words were working. Raphael didn’t insist – he enjoyed the chase. He was a mature adult, and patience was a virtue.

The Archangel took another look at his suit. Julie had done a fine job, she was very familiar with his dimensions. Her suits were always perfectly fitted.

“Hello. I’m so sorry to trouble you, but is this shop open for business?” A pleasing voice interrupted their exchange.

Both Raphael and Julie swung their eyes to the door. The tailor’s face was no longer red, and she smiled amicably. However, a strange look came over her when she saw who’d addressed them. They were certainly a strange  couple,  these two. Both had the bottom parts of their face hidden behind a face-mask.

Raphael scowled in irritation. “It’s too early for Halloween, and this isn’t a costume shop.”

A gentle titter came from the woman. “No it’s not, but we felt like having a little fun. It doesn’t change our need for a new wardrobe.”

Julie approached, full of professionalism. “Absolutely, please come in. Please don’t worry, we take pains to ensure completely anonymity of our customers.”

Raphael said nothing further. Instead, he busied himself with admiring the suit. His plan was to return to the Cathedral wearing it, to make the other Archangels jealous. The Citadel imposed very few restrictions on the Archangels. They were often out and about integrating with the populace and, although they were devout, details tended to go unnoticed when they weren’t under the Pontiff’s watchful eye.

“I heard that the men of Reims were all very gentlemanly. Is that true?” It was the man who’d spoken this time. His voice sounded hoarse.

Julie continued with the small talk. “Oh, that must mean you

aren’t from here. I can’t hear an accent, though.”

The couple slowly traipsed closer their way. The man laughed again. “We’re not from here. I was just curious whether His Excellency Raphael, the great Archangel of Healing, cared whether you lived or died.”

Raphael had just been preparing to go, when he stopped in his tracks. His face changed suddenly, and grew dark with anger. However, before he could react, a milky white light enveloped Julie and separated her from the others. Shock was written clear on the tailor’s face, but in a testament to her character she remained calm.

The angel’s skin took on a radiant, divine glow. From beneath his feet arose a soothing pale light. But the murder in his eyes was anything but holy. He fixed the masked man with a cold stare. His deep voice filled the shop. “That is not a very funny joke.”

He hadn’t felt anything menacing since their pair had entered Julie’s store. Neither of them let off an aura, either. More importantly, however, was the fact that they stood in the near center of Reims. This was the home of the Pontiff’s Citadel, with all of the organizations most powerful players minutes

away – including the Pontiff himself. No Adept would dare make trouble here, and the normal folk were all strict adherents to their religion. Using belief as a means of control worked better than Skyfire Avenue’s methods by a large margin.

Lan Jue, of course the man behind the mask, chuckled dismissively. “My time is precious, and I wouldn’t want  to waste it making jokes about His Excellency. Now, if the Lord Raphael does indeed care for the life of this beautiful woman, we ask that you seal your Discipline and take a walk with us.”

Raphael was equal parts stunned and infuriated. “Do you think you can threaten me with this? Since you seem to know who I am, you should know this isn’t going to end well for you.”

Lan Jue looked at Julie, and grunted. “It appears His Excellency the Archangel isn’t as fond of you as he lets on. He isn’t willing to make any sort of exchange.”

Julie’s calm exterior never cracked. “None of this instigation is necessary. I never wanted to bring any harm to him – Raphael, go. They’re here for you, just leave me here. Go!” There was an almost fervent air about her, like Raphael had completely brainwashed her.

Raphael had indeed been prepared to leave, but her words touched him. His mind reflected on the… benefits of her company. Pretty things were as transient as the clouds, but his affection was deeper for her than for any of his former lovers. Perhaps he could love this woman, until she grew old.

That split-second of hesitation was all that the pair needed. The man waved his right hand, the world around them began to swirl nauseatingly. Raphael felt a strange sensation race through him, as up become down and left became right. Even his Discipline was writhing and twisting inside him like a ball of worms.

What power was this? Raphael turned pale with fright, for right then he could feel that both his attackers were stronger than he. Under circumstances like this, he had but one recourse. His Light Discipline flooded through him and burst forth as he prepared to flee.

In the end, his own life was the most important. All vestiges of chivalry and valor were gone. He was already thinking about revenge, not how to save his ‘beloved.’

Whoosh! Raphael rushed out of the tailor’s as fast as he could. Although Julie’s pleas had been true and impassioned, her face

fell when she saw him flee with no thought for her.

Chapter 372: Captured! Angel Of Healing

He could hear Lan Jue’s voice, faint but biting: “This guy is worthless.”

In a flash, the two figured who had assaulted Julie were gone from her side.

Raphael stumbled through the store, headed for the window. From there his communicator could get a signal out the Citadel for help. These two were strong, but they couldn’t be any higher than ninth rank – neither were Paragons. It would take time for them to take him down, if that was their aim, hopefully long enough for his friends to arrive. At the moment, Julie was completely gone from his memory. Surviving was paramount.

Just then, a strange attractive force caused him to stagger. It was coming from behind, pulling him away from freedom. In the next instant the world was spinning all around him. Reality warped, and a stifling pressure bore down on him with strength enough to shatter bone.

It was terrifying. Raphael had never experienced this level of suppression. The power of these strangers had the entire area under their control.

Was this… a Paragon’s Domain?

Stunned as he was, he hardly noticed the pair of hands groping toward him; one black, and one white. He summoned the loudest shout he muster, and brought his Discipline to bear as a shield. It was just in time, for no sooner had his shield materialized than a series of blue flashes began to assail him. Somehow the power penetrated his shields, shocking him and constraining his abilities.

The massive hands came crashing down upon him, slamming in to the circle of holy light at his feet. There was a terrible sound, like glass crackling, then Raphael’s protective shell exploded in a shower of twinkling light.

Real fear was reflected in the Archangel’s wide eyes. These foes were even stronger than he’d thought, and there were two against just him. On top of that, he’d never even seen this strange Discipline before.

Raphael focused the entirety of his remaining energy in to the palms of his hands. With a grunt, he shoved them both forward and released the energy in a staggering shock wave. His hope was to push his enemies back enough to make an escape.

However, just as the blast of energy left his hands, the world before him spun dizzyingly. A vortex swelled in to view just in front of him that dispersed his last-ditch effort.

It was a new sensation for him, and one that was entirely unpleasant. He’d never come across a power that could negate his holy energies in such a way. It was, in a word, incomprehensible.

He looked on as the masked woman appeared. From the center of her chest, she extended a palm toward him that was wreathed in tendrils of violet electricity. Raphael went flying.

That vacuum force returned, sucking him forward despite the crushing force that had blown him back. The large black and white hands reacted as well, reaching for him. Raphael felt like he was caught in molasses, unable to move. Although he desperately fought to withstand them, he had no more energy to do so.

The two hands clapped down on his shoulders, and again the world went spinning. Raphael felt his innards warp with it, like they were trying to tear themselves apart. Every inch of him felt as though it were being pulled in a hundred different directions.

The world went black.

All of this happened in the space of a spark. Julie had freed herself, and rushed outside just in time to see the hands lay Raphael flat. He was limp, and the masked man lifted him easily from the floor with a single hand. He flung the unconscious Archangel over his shoulder before approaching her.

“Y-you…” Julie shook, both from fear and surprise. Even under duress, she never doubted the strength of Raphael. These terrorists couldn’t have been stronger than he, she’d thought. To her, the Pontiff’s Six Archangels were synonymous with unbeatable. However, what she was looking at now disproved that. These two were stronger than her sweet Raphael. Her brave, strong, valiant Angel of Healing was slung like a slain mongrel over this man’s shoulder. It was unthinkable… something that she would never have thought within the realm of possibility.

“When his friends get here, tell the Citadel that I’ve taken him. Let’s see who I get next…” He let the words hang in the air for a moment. Then, with a nod to Qianlin, the two of them and their sleeping prize vanished in a flash of lightning.

When turned to electricity, Lan Jue didn’t have the

capabilities or bringing someone with him. What he could do, though, was store a person in his interspacial container. At Raphael’s level of cultivation, it would be a couple days before he suffocated to death.

Lan Jue was already familiar with the layout. They exited out in to the market while removing their masks. Then, with the change in clothes they’d just purchased in hand, they went in to the bathroom to change.

A few minutes later two entirely different people exited, or so it seemed. Even Julie would have a hard time recognizing them if she was walking right passed. They headed for the market’s exit as an alarm screeched in the distance. They simply walked on, strolling by the shops like they hadn’t a care in the world.

It wasn’t until they reached the hotel room and shut the door behind them, that Qianlin felt safe enough to let out a sigh. She looked at Lan Jue and saw the light of excitement in his eyes. It was a different experience for her – she’d never kidnapped anybody before!

There was a flash of silver light, and Raphael appeared on the ground before them. He was still unconscious.

During their confrontation, Lan Jue was careful not to use any of his thunderbolt Discipline. Instead, he used his Discipline to empower his Taiji. Zhou Qianlin, in contrast, gleefully employed the electrical attacks of their shared Discipline with one hand, while the other was wrapped around his waist. Through the Soul Caller gemstone they were able to communicate instantly, silently, and with precision. Under Lan Jue’s command their coordination was flawless.

Raphael was unique – all of the Archangels were. However, he had never really been a match for Lan Jue individually, not to mention his support-based Discipline. In the face of two ninth level seventh rank Adepts, he didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. Part of that, too, was the presence of Lan Jue’s Taiji martial power. Such a spiritual based manifestation was almost certainly nothing like what he was familiar with.

Lan Jue sharply slapped Raphael’s forhead. The actions was met with a crackle of electricity that raced all across his body, making the angel flop like a fish on the carpet.

“What are you doing?!” Zhou Qianlin asked with a start.

“These sorts of Disciplines rely on occultism,” Lan Jue explained. “They’ll certainly have him tracked with some sort

of spell. With a net of protogenic energy, I can locked that power away so he’s no more traceable to them than we are. Now we get to watch as the Citadel goes crazy.”

He’d walked to the window as he spoke, and looked out over the city. Just as forecast, it was only a few minutes before scores of guards dressed in Citadelian habit poured from the Cathedral doors. He could also see the faint light of a pulsing Discipline somewhere inside. Lan Jue was right – their response time was very fast. A minute or two too late, and they’d have been in real trouble.

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“What? Someone kidnapped Rafael?” Shock twisted Metatron’s perfect features. What he was hearing was impossible.

This was the Holy City of Reims! How could there possibly be someone mad enough to take an Archangel? More importantly, they grabbed him without a sound, without a trace. The Citadel was entirely in the dark.

The Pontiff didn’t trouble himself with most matters of the

Citadel. Those clerical duties fell largely to the Lord of Archangels. There was a reason for this, and Metatron quickly put away his surprise to get down to business. A chilly calm calm over him.

“Summon the Messenger of Death, Gabriel. And call for the Cherubim Uriel as well… we’ll have to go take a look for ourselves.”

Ten minutes later, three of the strongest Adepts in the Pontiff’s employ were standing in the tailor shop. Julie was among them, stunned.

These men knew Julie. The Archangels were close, and knew of one anothers’ exploits. Gabriel, with knit brow, was first to speak. “Tell us what happened, and don’t leave out any detail.”

The tailor took a deep breath to calm her nerves. “Raphael was here trying on some clothes. Then, two people came in. They wore face masks that covered their nose and mouth…”

She spend the next few minutes going over everything that had happened, from beginning to end. Julie had a good memory, and the traumatic experience wasn’t likely one she

was quick to forget.

“’Let’s see who I get next’?” Metatron’s handsome face bore a beautiful fury. This sort of arrogance was certainly their way of angering the Citadel.

Gabriel went on. “The Inquisition is already looking for them.
Should we let Constantine know?”

In case you aren’t history buffs or fans of Monty Python, the Inquisition was a group of organization that were tasked with stamping out heresy, and anti-church sentiment. The most famous was probably the Spanish Inquisition who killed hundreds of Jews and forcibly converted thousands of others. All together, it’s estimated the inquisition killed between three thousand and five thousand people.

Metatron nodded. “Yes. This whole thing is very unusual. Obviously they’re targeting the Citadel. I tried to locate him back in the Cathedral but could find no trace, so it’s likely they have him sealed away somehow. We have to be prepared, because they certainly were. Come, let’s check the security footage and see if we can pick up any details. Then we’ll go to the market, the shop that sells those masks. Perhaps the shop owner can remember something. Someone get on the

communicator with the Inquisition and tell them the Holy City is now under martial law. Get lists of all foreign nationals staying in local hotels, with pictures. Leave no stone unturned.”

Metatron was a master at his job, and he put his full intellect to the problem at hand. With clarity and without hesitation, their plan of action was implemented.

“If this attack was deliberate then we’re unlikely to find any evidence,” Uriel mused. “The assailants probably took this all in to account. I’d be surprised if we find anything at all. Should we bring this to His Majesty?”

Chapter 373: Without A Trace

Metatron nodded his head. “This isn’t something we’ll be able to sweep under the rug. I’ll return to the Cathedral and ask the Pontiff for further instructions. From this point forward, you aren’t to leave each others’ sight. If you encounter the enemy, report it immediately. If what the tailor said is true, then they weren’t just here for Raphael.”

Uriel nodded in agreement.

They soon discovered that Uriel’s predictions were right; the equipment had been destroyed and there was no way they could recover the day’s footage. They did manage to find the shop where the masks had been sold, but the owner was no help. He noticed the masks were gone, and the money for them was in the till – and yet, he couldn’t for the life of him remember anyone coming in to purchase them.

Gabriel sent for someone to come examine the money in the hopes of finding fingerprints. They did – several hundred, in fact. The money they’d used was too well worn to even hold complete prints, so most were fragments anyhow.

Their only lead had been cut. Uriel anticipated the results of

the hotel sweep to be a bust as well. These terrorists knew what they were doing, as evident by the complete lack of clues.

The whole atmosphere of the Holy City reacted. A thick anxiety hung over the city like a fog. Inquisitors swept through every street and lane. Every hotel was scoured and their logs confiscated. Everyone couple was stopped, especially the young ones, as the search ramped up.

Still, nothing.

Lan Jue had, of course, come prepared. Fake IDs had been used to book their rooms, which claimed they were from some large company here on business. When the Inquisition eventually knocked on their door, Lan Jue met them with an easy smile. He was even so haughty as to drop hints, but they never caught on.

It looks like they don’t know anything. What’s next? After the Inquisition left, Qianlin spoke with Lan Jue through the Soul Caller gem.

Lan Jue smiled. “Nothing. Sleep. I’m not impatient.” As he spoke, Lan Jue nonchalantly wandered to the bed and took a

seat. It was already dark out.

“Hey,” Qianlin protested. “If you’re on the bed, where am I sleeping?”

Lan Jue laid back with a grunt, and patted the mattress beside him. “Right here. It isn’t any closer than when we were traveling on the airship. Plus, I’m about the safest man for you to have in this situation. If anything should start to happen, you’ll just melt right in to me. And then –“

Woosh! Lan Jue didn’t see the whirling sofa cushion until it smacked him. In the end, Lan Jue found himself sleeping on the sofa. They were only separated by a thin wall between the bedroom and the sitting room, but it felt like different worlds.

Lying in bed, Zhou Qianlin could feel her heart beating. A confused flurry of emotion filled her eyes as they stared at the ceiling. Still, she felt… secure. She knew it was because he was right outside.

Lying on the sofa, Lan Jue could hear Qianlin’s gradually easing breath from the other side of the thin wall. He had sunken in to a quietude himself. In his pondering, though, he

couldn’t help but recognize that things were changing. The more time he spent with Zhou Qianlin, the more he mistook her for Hera. Whenever that happened his defenses dropped.

Wait, he thought. Sleep? We should be training!

Lan Jue’s mouth curled in to a frown. What was he thinking? Clearly his emotions were clouding his judging. So be it, sleep it was. They’ll continue with cultivating tomorrow. With no recourse, Lan Jue closed his eyes. Soon he was asleep.

While Lan Jue and Qianlin slept easy in their hotel beds, things were very different in the Citadel. Martial law had been imposed, and the word had been spread that the hunt was on for blasphemers. It was a frightening prospect for many, and although the West maintained it’s government here everyone knew the Pontiff’s Citadel was the real power on Eurmania. However, while they enjoyed a powerful position in the West, things weren’t decided by a single Adept organization. The Citadel’s complete control only extended to the borders of Reims.

The Pontiff had yet to show himself. However, the Citadel had since lapsed in to a reverent stillness. One of the six great Archangels had been stolen away. Their beloved Angel of

Healing, captured. It was a deep, burning disgrace for this holy order.

In truth, they didn’t even know whether or not the attackers and Raphael were still in the Holy City. It had all happened so quickly, by the time the Citadel had caught wind the assailants must have had ample time to escape. The more time stretched on, the more difficult their search would become.

If they got out of the Pontiff’s sphere of influence, things might get messy. Powerful adepts though they were, could they hope to contend with a government? With a galactic fleet? Of course not, so they would need to play by the rules.

They could also approach the government for help. Aside from the West’s raw military power, they also stood to benefit from sweeping something as humiliating as this under the rug. Remember that half of this planet was lost to hell. The Dark Citadel was only too anxious to abuse any opportunity the Pontiff gave to degrade them.

One full day and night of searching had produced nothing. With satellites spells and manpower, not a trace was revealed. Although the satellites were precise, it was a long shot. In a crowded city like Reims, picking two suspects out from

hundreds of thousands was almost impossible.

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Within the Grand Cathedral of Reims.

Six men were situated around a large, circular table. Although they all looked different, each were garbed in opulent garb – and wore a dark scowl.

Metatron was seated farthest from the door, head of the table. To his left was the Angel of War, Michael. He looked mostly recovered from his conflict with Lan Jue all those months ago. However, of all those seated here, his expression held  the deepest fury. He and Raphael were close friends.

Here is an explanation of Chinese seating arrangements in terms of respect. In reality it isn’t this strict, in most cases, but the left-hand side is the seat most coveted, equivalent to the ‘right-hand man’.

The next two positions of import were occupied by Gabriel and Uriel.

Across from them sat Ramiel, the Angel of Visions and Sariel the Archangel of the Moon.

TJSS did his homework. Interestingly, Ramiel is also called the ‘Thunder of God’, and TJSS used the character for thunder
– 雷 – to write his name (in pinyin it’s Lei Mi Er, so if this is
intentional it’s a really clever little detail that fits perfectly with Chinese naming practices). Pretty cool.

Metatron and five Archangels. This was the highest court the Citadel possessed, with the exception of the Pontiff himself. Constantine had been appointed Inquisitor General and was hunting his prey.

“Not a trace.” Metatron growled. “The attackers must certainly have prepared beforehand, and specifically to target us. Why, however, we don’t yet know. If anyone has any thoughts, now is the time to share them.”

Uriel spoke first. “The simplest answer is to wait for their next move. Like you said, we don’t know their aim – but they have Raphael, and he plays a part in it. Otherwise, they’d have killed him already. We wait for our opportunity, then sweep in before they know we’re close.”

Ramiel, seated across from the Cherub, scowled at the table top. “So you suggest we tuck tail, lick our wounds and let them hit us again?”

Gabriel shot his fellow Archangel a glance. “Of course not.
Uriel is advocating caution. We mustn’t be rash.”

Ramiel laughed dismissively. “Rash? Your clever little trap from before wasn’t rash? Michael almost died because of it, and the news that our Angel of War was so severely beaten is still making the rounds in the bars. Now the enemy is at the gates – is this what you’re ‘advocating’, Uriel?”

“Watch your tone, Ramiel,” Uriel growled.

The Archangel of Visions laughed off his compatriot’s threat. “Metatron asked us to share our thoughts. I’m simply expressing my opinion. If you disagree with it, then keep your mouth shut.”

“What’s the meaning of this,” Gabriel interjected. His voice was thick with anger.

The Six Archangels were close, but stress had them on edge. The Pontiff’s Citadel had always sought to return to he glory of the old days. Canonically, there should be seven Archangels, for example. The Moonfiend Empress was that seventh, the Morning Star. Now they were down two.

The Empress, before leaving, had held a close relationship to both Ramiel and Sariel. Michael, the strongest of them, paid no mind to these cliques and games. The others, however, did.

“That’s enough, back to business,” Metatron said, knocking his knuckles against the table. For emphasis, the power of his aura began to thicken in the air around them.

Gabriel looked back to the Lord of the Archangels. “I agree with Uriel. Right now, our best option is to see what comes next. We mustn’t act blindly. That will only make things easier for our opponent. According to Raphael’s tailor, they are strong. We also don’t know if they have backup – it could be a whole coterie. Lord Metatron, did His Majesty have any instructions?”

“The Pontiff has commanded that we bring Raphael back as soon as possible, Metatron said. “His Majesty’s cultivation process prevents him from acting directly. Michael, what are your thoughts on all this?”

Although Metatron was stronger than Michael, the Angel of War was first among his Archangels. He specialized in combat, and with his experience Metatron often relied on his suggestions.

After a moment, Michael deep, rumbling voice replied. “I also believe Uriel is correct. We stay the course. Constantine and the Inquisition are already scouring the city. Our actions must be measured, and careful. From now on no one goes out alone.”

Metatron heaved a sigh, and a hard light flashed across his eyes. “This is an absolute embarrassment for our Citadel. Nothing short of a slap in the face. When I catch those vermin, I’ll hear their confessions after they’ve been nailed to a cross.”

Ramiel sat back in his chair, with a mocking expression pointed at the table. The only female among the Archangels – Sariel – remained expressionless like none of this mattered to her at all.

Chapter 374: The Archangel Of The Moon, Sariel

On the second day, martial law was lifted. They had to be cautious about remaining in that state for too long, lest panic set in among the people. However, it was all just appearances. The Inquisition was as busy as ever, searching every nook and cranny for their lost Archangel.

Lan Jue stood before the window of his hotel room. He stood there, with a small grin on his face, watching the Cathedral from afar.

“What’s the next step?” Zhou Qianlin stood at his shoulder and followed his eyes to the seat of the Pontiff’s power. They hadn’t stepped foot outside all day, and had only eaten from the hotel’s cafeteria. Lan Jue had spent most of that time silently staring out of the window.

“We’re in no rush,” Lan Jue said. “They’re the ones with their hair on fire for the moment. They’re waiting to hear from us. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

ζ

Half an hour later, a paper slip was being delivered to Metatron.

The words on it were simple: If you want Raphael back, go to the Dark Citadel.

It was only one sentence, but the implication made Metatron furious. Clearly, this was their enemy fermenting mischief. The Pontiff’s Citadel and Satan’s coterie were long-standing enemies, but they maintained a tentative cease-fire. The West kept the peace by refusing to allow Adepts from either side to visit the other. The Citadels had their own safeguards as well. In Reims, for instance, there was specialized equipment for detecting dark-aligned Disciplines. In fact, the Pontiff’s own Astrum was very sensitive to the presence of darkness. He’d have felt someone immediately. The situation was undoubtedly similar in Hell – the side of the planet that the Dark Citadel controlled.

They’d learned something about the attackers from their investigation in to the tailor’s shop. One of them possessed a Discipline of black and white power. The other manipulated electricity. As far as they were able to tell, it was the woman who used the lightning. Neither of them appeared to possess a dark Discipline.

Metatron looked over the slip again, and felt disgust at his taunters. He discarded the paper, and it burst in to flames in midair. Not even ash reached the floor. His eyes stared off as he pondered upon something.

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“Metatron is almost certainly spitting blood by this point.” Lan Jue smirked with self-satisfaction as he stared at the distant Cathedral.

Qianlin, puzzled, furrowed her brow. “If you knew they wouldn’t believe your message then why did you send it?”

“To keep them on their toes,” Lan Jue explained.

She still didn’t understand, but he didn’t seem in the mood to explain. She dropped the topic. Lan Jue, meanwhile, watched the Cathedral intently. A faintly discernible change had come over him.

“We’re ready for phase two.”

Qianlin looked back to the opulent building, but could see nothing different. It all looked normal to her. When she looked back at Lan Jue, the look on his face said he had a plan.

They hanged clothes – the clothes they’d bought from the day before – and Lan Jue perched those frameless glasses on his nose. Now, looking for all the world like two average tourists, Qianlin and Lan Jue set out for the Cathedral.

When they arrived, the two of them meandered among the famed walks as any visitor would. Lan Jue even managed to keep a pious expression on his features. Qianlin, however, was fraught with nerves. They’d just kidnapped one of this organization’s most cherished soldiers, and here they were waltzing right in to the belly of the beast. They were certainly being recorded, and destroying that equipment was infinitely more difficult than their quick work at the tailor’s shop. At the slightest sign of trouble, with the Citadel as tightly wound as it was, things could turn sour. The Pontiff himself, a Paragon, was a shout away. If he showed up, it would spell the end for them.

She kept these concerns to herself, however. Coiling her arm around Lan Jue’s, she followed him in to the center of the Citadel’s power. They followed a coiling corridor, pushed along by the crowd toward the Cathedral interior.

All visitors to the Cathedral of Reims were accompanied by the church’s clergy. Tourists and pilgrims alike were herded along at a brisk pace to keep things moving in a quick and organized fashion. However, Lan Jue wasn’t interested in a tour
– when he saw a small path before the Cathedral entrance, he pulled Qianlin with him out of the crowds.

They were met immediately with a clergyman. However, instead of stopping them, he produced two white robes and silently waited for them to pull them on. From the back, at least, they would look like any other Cathedral staff. Qianlin was even more unsettled, and not a little surprised by the situation. However, she said nothing, and simply followed Lan Jue with her hand in his.

They followed the silent clergyman through a series of curving, roundabout pathways that lead to a building. Once inside, they stopped to assess their surroundings.

The room was extravagantly decorated in former era European fashion. It’s vaulted ceiling soared overhead, and the dome interior had been painted with stunning frescos. The carpeting was a wine red with interwoven golden fiber, and the furniture upon it were amalgamations of white and gold.

The soundless priest left without uttering a word. Alone, Lan Jue lead Qianlin to a nearby sofa and took a seat. He sat with the ease of a casual visitor, but Qianlin’s small hands had begun to sweat from fear.

“Relax, everything is fine,” Lan Jue assured with a disarming smile. She looked back and nodded her head, but said nothing. She didn’t want to disturb his focus.

After a few moments the door opened and another figure entered from outside. Like the clergyman from before, this stranger was dressed in a white robe. Where they differed that that this newcomer was wearing a cloak that completely concealed their face.

Lan Jue sat, unmoving. Zhou Qianlin tightened her grip on his hand.

“You can relax, this is my meditation room. Once holy light fills it, the outside world is locked away.” Their voice was pleasing, almost musical, but bore a cold indifference. A pair of hands reached out from the flowing white robes to pull the hood back.

A shock of golden hair tumbled from within the hood like a wave. Her skin was impossible fair, pale as moonlight. Her namesake – a half-moon – was imprinted on her forehead. A pair of big, baby blue eyes shone like windows to the soul. Just her presence left an undeniable sensation, like they were in the presence of divinity.

Lan Jue rose to his feet and approached. He extended his right hand. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

“I’m sorry,” she replied, her voice detached and unfriendly, “we aren’t… accustomed to shaking hands here.”

Lan Jue laughed it off and retracted his hand. “I understand.” And he did – she didn’t want to have any more contact with him than was necessary.

The girl continued, her voice soft and dispassionate. “She’s being held in the Tribunal, under control of the Inquisition. The whole place is blanketed in security. The Empress has already been tried and found guilty – the punishment will be to start anew. At the Pontiff’s command they’ll strip her of everything, and create a new Morning Star. The process of sealing away her process began a week ago. They’ll need forty-nine days in total to completely remove her Discipline.

Lan Jue was serious, down to business. “I’ll need a map – the more detailed, the better. Best would be a whole layout, including electrical lines.”

“You seem confident,” the young woman said.

“Not absolute confidence,” he confessed. “With the Pontiff here, our chances are… less optimistic.”

Her voice dropped low. “What you’re looking for… I can bring to you. But the Pontiff has already sealed her Discipline. Escape will not be easy. In a week Metatron will be leaving. He’ll be taking the Cherub and the Angel of Visions with him to the Adept competition in the North. They’re bringing someone else as well, some young newcomer. That would be the wisest time to strike.”

Lan Jue shook his head. “Metatron is smart – always thinking one step ahead. There’s no doubt that the Pontiff will increase security once the Lord Archangel and the others leave. No, the earlier the better. Just bring the package, that’s all you have to worry about – I’ll figure it out from there.”

“Very well,” she said. “Tomorrow I’ll have someone deliver

the package to the designation place. One more thing – be careful to avoid the High Inquisitor, Constantine. He’s a powerful one, and bears an artifact that makes him stronger. If his Discipline were purer, he’d be greater than Metatron himself.“

Lan Jue nodded in appreciation. “Thank you for the advice.”

“Five minutes after I leave someone will be along to lead you back,” she stated.

Lan Jue smiled. “Alright.”

She replaced her hood and left without uttering another word. Zhou Qianlin looked at him, and opened her mouth to speak but was silenced by a gesture.

“We’ll talk about it later,” Lan Jue promised.

As the woman had said, five minutes later the same priest who’d lead them here returned. They took the same route back that they’d used before. Qianlin paid careful attention, and noticed the distinct lack of surveillance equipment.

The walk back to the hotel was uneventful. At last, Qianlin asked her questions.

“You have a contact in the Pontiff’s Citadel? And not a grunt, by the looks of her. That woman’s aura felt very powerful.”

He smirked. “Are you familiar with the term bff?”

“Of course,” Qianlin said, a little surprised.

“That was Sariel, Archangel of the Moon,” Lan Jue explained. “She and the Moonfiend Empress were practically sisters. Little Yue had told me about their relationship once, that she would be the only one willing to help in a jam. The only reason I took Raphael was to create this opportunity, and let her know I’m here for the Empress.”

Qianlin folded her arms across her chest. “So should we keep waiting?”

He nodded. “For news.”

“Are you sure we can trust her?” Zhou Qianlin looked up at Lan Jue. “What if…”

Chapter 375: Fusion

“I have back-up plans,” Lan Jue assured. “Anyway, according to what Little Yue told me, Sariel is different from the other Archangels. Her Discipline is the Light of Conscience. As part of her inherent energy, she can’t do anything if her heart isn’t behind it. Her Discipline is so integrated in to her being that doing so would cause her power to collapse, and may even driver her mad.”

Zhou Qianlin’s face fell in to grouchy pout. “Why are you always so secretive? What’s your back-up plan?”

A smirk spread across Lan Jue’s lips. “Raphael! If Sariel betrays us, we’ll be caught for publicly humiliating the Citadel and capturing one of their own. But of course, they’ll want their Archangel of Healing back. I’m a councilor in Skyfire Avenue, and as we haven’t caused any actual damage they’ll be forced to deal with them – leveling inquiries, and so forth. At that point, we’ll have to wait for the Wine Master or Keeper to come and retrieve us. We’re not in much danger – you think I’d just bring you waltzing right in to the tiger’s den unprepared?”

Lan Jue’s explanation served to ease Qianlin’s concerns. She smiled back. “You’ve got quite an impressive mind. I wonder why I never noticed before?”

He replied with a wry smirk. “I’m forced to, aren’t I. Hmm, but I just had a thought – Little Jue won’t be able to return to the Moonfiend Pirates once we rescue her. She had a solid foothold in the Starfields, but if the Archangels were able to drag her back, then it means she is no longer in control.”

Qianlin’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. “So you’re planning to bring her home.”

“Heh – if I don’t, then I might as well just fold my arms and wait for her to die! You heard what Sariel said, they’re in the process of suppressing Little Yue’s powers. The Pontiff’s Discipline is steeped in mysticism, and has been strengthened with genetic manipulation. Once the process is done, Little Yue won’t remember anything about her former life. Without her to protect and lead the Moonfiend Pirates, they’ll be wiped out. I also want to use the Starfields as a future training area for the ARC students, and we can’t do that if it’s a constant war zone.”

Zhou Qianlin didn’t respond. Instead, she quietly looked out of their hotel room window, out over the city. Lan Jue took her hand and pulled her around to face him.

“What are you doing?” She gasped.

Lan Jue gave her a cryptic chuckle. “Adhering to Bize’ rules of cultivation! We didn’t do any cultivating last night, and we need to really grasp how our powers interact.”

Without warning, Lan Jue leaned down to place a kiss on Qianlin’s lips.

They were warm, and soft. But he couldn’t even taste her before Qianlin melted in to a figure of light and melded in to his own body.

Right away, Lan Jue felt his Discipline strengthen and begin to flow smoothly through him like a current. The opposite was also true, however – when she separated, he felt empty and constrained.

He was back to the peak of ninth ranked immediately. Settling cross-legged on the carpeted floor, Lan Jue closed his eyes and sank in to meditation.

The merging was thorough. He couldn’t feel even a trace of some separate entity inside him. It was like  the  sudden explosion of his Discipline had no reason – and yet, he could still sense Qialin’s consciousness somewhere deep inside. Now their

communication became an exchange of thoughts and feelings without even needing the Soul Caller gem.Within his spirit, the Arrow of Compassion began to exude a pale white light and focused his concentration. He could feel himself connected to everything around him – his own energies communicating with the whole of the universe.

Now, even as the cultivation process began, he could sense why this process would be beneficial for the both of them. Ninth level ninth rank Adepts possessed at least double the overall energy of a ninth ranked seventh level Talent. The source was stronger, as was their ability to absorb energies from around themselves. Peak-level Adepts had an elementary perception, an understanding of the real truth of things. All of this meant that cultivating at this level made things faster and easier with half the effort required.

Most importantly, though, was the fact that his deeper communion with these truth brought him closer to a complete protogenic understanding. He could see it, sense it with a deeper clarity than before. Within, his core had doubled in size and shone with brilliant electrical power. Occasionally, threads of Qianlin’s own pale white energies would appear and then quickly vanish.

Anything Lan Jue felt, Qialin could sense as well. Their

consciousness was joined and, when the two minds joined in concerted effort, the results were almost mystical. Any deviation from concentration, any anxiety, was found and eased with each other’s help. All of this helped to bring them both deeper in to contemplative stillness, and closer to ultimate understanding.

Qianlin especially stood to benefit from this. As they explored the protogenic energies around them, Qianlin was able to feel them the same that Lan Jue did. She was weaker than the former mercenary king, but that didn’t mean she was ignorant of them – after all, the Queen of Heaven was a protogenic transformation, just like Lan Jue’s Ascension! Perhaps it was the spirit of sacrifice, of dedication that made her protogenic transformation so pure. Certainly purer than anything Zeus had experienced.

These were certainly cheap gains for Qianlin, but her presence in this helped Lan Jue a great deal as well. He could feel different aspects of this power, now. It was as though he were experience it from an entirely different perspective.

Time passed quickly. When Lan Jue awoke from his meditations, it was morning on the second day after Raphael’s capture. After two days of cultivation neither had eaten, but they didn’t need to. Their connection to the universe had kept

them satiated to the point they felt overstuffed.

The actual rank of their Discipline hadn’t budged. They were both ninth level ninth rank when fused together, so progress would not be so easily won. However, he could feel some changes in himself.

Another of Zhou Qianlin’s gains in this situation had been access to Lan Jue’s Discipline. Naturally this was helpful since she was unable to use her own powers in combat. While her control was still lacking, her understanding had grown. She was able to feel it as Lan Jue grew his powers. The electrical energies flowed through their shared meridians and mingled with the power of the world around them. It was enlightening to see how the power was meant to be directed.

Lan Jue found Qianlin’s Silkworm powers fascinating. Her Discipline was an incredible nutritive force for the human body. After such a long period immersing himself in it, he’d come around to find himself in peak condition. His muscles, bones, even organs felt rested and ready. His body’s ability to channel these powers also seemed to have improved.

This likewise meant he could sustain more.

Eventually, it was time for the awkward portion of their arrangement. He shut his eyes and waited for the telling sensation of Qianlin leaving his body. He heard her wrapping herself up in a blanket.

He couldn’t help but chuckle. “It’d probably be best if you undress first and go straight for the blanket next time. It’s more fiscally responsible.”

Qianlin clearly didn’t appreciate the humor. She glared daggers at him, but it only made her red cheeks more prominent. “You’re in time-out! Face that wall, I have to shower.”

Lan Jue mirthfully did as instructed. Now, alone with his thoughts, he had time to ponder on their situation. The more time passed, the more he found himself used to their reality. There was a dependence now, but so long as they were together things were fine. Then there was the merging, but in the end this was good too. He needn’t fear losing control in the heat of the moment, since intimacy was impossible.

Sariel was dependable. Her Discipline made it impossible for her to betray her own good nature. The package he’d sought was delivered without incident. Afterward, he and Qianlin took

a stroll through the market. They looked at the various things on offer, stopping in a shop on occasion to buy some. Once they were finished, they returned to the hotel.

“Why are we buying extension cables,” Qianlin asked.

“This is our escape route,” he said. “Getting Little Yue out is damn near impossible. The Pontiff’s psychic force envelopes the whole Cathedral. The moment he senses that the ceremony to seal Little Yue’s power has been interrupted, he’ll appear. He’ll lock us away from reality – there would e no escape. Other, cruder methods will be needed. We’ll have things to do before we can save Little Yue. We’ll need to do whatever we can to get the Pontiff away from the Cathedral while still keeping our objective a secret.”

By nightfall, the Great Cathedral closed its doors to the public. Every day, when the sun set behind the mountains, the Cathedral shut it’s massive gates and lapsed in to contemplative silence.

“Thank you for visiting. The Cathedral has now closed for the day.” A woman’s pleasing voice called out to the tourists through the broadcast system, as they filed for the exit. Several members of the clergy were on hand, leading stragglers to the

outside. However, they did miss the two people vanishing from a dark corner.

There was a flash, and the two mysterious figures appeared in a dark room. From the looks of it, this was a storage room. Lan Jue peered in to the inky darkness. There were no lights, but at their levels of cultivation their perception worked better than their eyes.

“The next step can get dangerous. We have to tread carefully. We should kiss, I’m thinking. It’s dark in here as well, so you can remove your clothes beforehand” Lan Jue shared his thoughts through the Soul Caller.

Qianlin huffed in irritation. Her hands shot out to grab both sides of his face, then she kissed him. In no more than a second she had merged in to Lan Jue’s body. In the dark, he could clearly see a pale blue aura surrounding him after the fact – it was his own Discipline, overflow from rising in levels so suddenly.

Their meditations had not been in vain. Already Lan Jue felt like he had more control over their combined powers. He slipped on one of the white robes from before and stepped out in to the Cathedral interior. Pulling the hood of his coat up to

conceal his face, Lan Jue moved deeper in to the depths of the church.

He came across several of the Citadel’s number as he walked the halls, but none sought to block his way. Everyone here was used to the idea of peace. With the Pontiff here, they  had nothing to worry about. No foe would dare plunge in to the heart of the Citadel. Or, so they assumed.

Lan Jue’s circuitous route brought him before a pair of large double doors. Two clerics stood guard. They were different from the other clergy – dedicated, devout soldiers of god. They stood like sentinels, eyes forward, faces calm.

Chapter 376: Encyclopaedia Roboris,

Martial Articles
“Halt!” A man barring Lan Jue’s path lifted a hand.

“Are you new? You shouldn’t be wandering around – don’t you know this is Uriel’s meditation chamber?” The  priest’s voice was haughty and dismissive. For him and the other clergyman standing by the door, this was a very honorable position.

“I’m very sorry,” Lan Jue replied, feigning awe. “I am new, yes. Thank you for the help, I’ll go this way.” He turned around and started back the way he’d come. What the two arrogant guards could not see was the small smile spreading across his face.

He’d approached to gather information, and the guards had been very helpful in providing it to him. The map he’d been given appeared complete, and now he had his target.

Sariel had armed with with blueprints and quite a lot of valuable intelligence. Most of it was concerning Uriel, Gabriel and Michael. According to what she’d told him, Michael had spent most of the last few months locked away in his room,

recovering. He was almost completely back to normal. Gabriel spent the bulk of his days in prayer, while Uriel chose nightfall as the time to do his meditations.

Every Archangel had their own meditation chamber. The ultimate aim was to improve their photoelemental abilities and make them more powerful. Lan Jue had met Sariel in her own meditation chambers when they’d stolen in to the Cathedral before. This one was Uriel’s, as confirmed by the guards.

Lan Jue took a few turns through the corridors, before pushing passed a door in to a utility closet. The Cathedral was massive, so there were several of these small rooms strewn about to help the staff. They were mostly full of cleaning products and janitorial equipment. He didn’t have to worry, though – janitors kept specific hours, usually during visiting hours.

Moreover, most surveillance equipment was turned off after hours. The selection criteria for clergymen here was very strict, which had the unfortunate side-effect of making them overconfident.

Lan Jue was left undisturbed. He looked around from an electrical socket and, with a flash, he was gone. He reappeared

in a marvelously decorated chamber.

The meditation chambers were all the same, and Uriel’s was no exception. Sariel had expressed that these rooms were the best place for the Archangels to get some privacy. No one was allowed inside without express consent from the Archangels, and violators were very harshly dealt with.

Lan Jue carefully examined his surroundings before slowly walking behind a nearby pillar. Here, he closed his eyes and focused his breathing. Gradually, his electrical Discipline vanished and was replaced by an infrequent shimmer of black and white light. But then something strange occurred, for as Lan Jue’s aura coiled around him it began to solidify. It drew together until Lan Jue was like a statue hidden behind the pillar. Even if someone were to be standing right on top of him, it would now be difficult to sense out his aura.

The unity of heaven and man! Wholeness!

An Adept of appropriate skill who saw this might understand Lan jue’s motive, for only such a skill would have these results. Any ninth level Adept – regardless of rank – may learn the Wholeness. It also served to help expedite their training to at least ninth level fifth rank. It was a skill acquired through

understanding, not hard work. When an Adept was able to fully grasp man’s place as an integral part of the universe, it helped to improve their own Discipline.

This is a core precept of yin-yang naturalist theory that states man is an integral part of the total Truth. We are not separate, only another aspect made up the combination of yin-yang and the five elements. In Chinese Medicine, this translates as an understanding that we follow the same rules as any other living thing and helps guide diagnostic theory and treatment protocols. From a philosophical point of view, this means that we are already at one with the universe, and understanding the universe will help us come to understanding ourselves and vice- versa.

It was an important step, a level of comprehension that prepared the Adept for the Protogenic realm. Once Wholeness was understood, the road ahead became easier. It was possible that every Paragon had to master this before they broke through. If one didn’t, they would be stuck at the peak of ninth level forever, searching for their Path.

Lan Jue had learned this skill three years prior, though he wasn’t looking for it. After Hera died, he’d locked himself away in seclusion. For ten days and ten nights he didn’t move a muscle. When he awoke, he’d somehow come to know the

reality of man’s connection to the universe.

The years following were spent languishing away. Had he kept to his cultivation, he’d undoubtedly be significantly stronger than he was now. At the very least, he’d be closer to where his brother stood.

The seconds ticked by. Outside the day darkened in to night.
That was when he heard footsteps approaching.

“Lord Uriel. Lord Gabriel.” Lan Jue heard the two guards outside greet the Archangels respectfully. The doors opened, and the two powerful Adepts stepped inside. Lan Jue, practically indistinguishable from the pillar he hid behind, couldn’t move. However, this state did serve to enhance his perception.

Two of them together, Lan Jue thought, his heart skipping a beat . Bad luck? Or…

He didn’t move, and barely breathed. So long as he maintained this skill, the only way they could know he was here is if one of them walked behind the pillar.

“Nothing – no news at all. And Raphael, he couldn’t even get out a warning? Or delay for backup? He  mustn’t  have, otherwise how could he be snatched up,” Gabriel complained.

Uriel motioned for his compatriot to take a seat. He then shook his head. “I’m sure it’s no so easy as that. They had to have planned this for a long time in advance, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without leaving any clues behind. They must also have known that Raphael, with his healing Discipline, was the weakest fighter of us all. If the attackers were strong enough, they’d have been able to silence him before he could do anything. It’s also lucky they used the tailor to help them, maybe make threats.”

Gabriel’s voice was low as he responded. “She’ll have to go. Whether Raphael is returned or not, her presence here undermines our reputation.”

Uriel nodded his acknowledgement. “Metatron expressed a similar thought. I’ll send someone to deal with it. In a few days I’ll be leaving for the tournament, but it would be best for you to remain here. I have a feeling the terrorists are still skulking around, somewhere.”

Gabriel grunted in irritation. “That’s good then, the more

opportunity for us to discover who would dare kidnap an Archangel. When we catch them, they’ll be nailed on a crucifix side by side for their insolence.”

“Don’t act rashly,” Uriel cautioned. “They must be very strong, at least a match for you. Think about it, who would be able to beat Raphael so thoroughly he couldn’t even get a message out to one of us?”

“How would I know? I’ve never seen it,” Gabriel answered.

Uriel poked three fingers in to the air. “Three possibilities. A man and a woman with power at least comparable to our own. It’s worth noting what Julie said about the man, that his Discipline manifested in black and white. Part of it contains a consuming element. This is no Discipline I’ve ever encountered, but my research has revealed three prospects.However, none of them could contest the abilities of your average ninth level Adept, especially since none of them confirm to this vortex aspect.”

Ying-Yang theory also posits that yin and yang are interconsuming (as indicated in the yin-yang picture by the white or black tapering off near the bottom). This means that both yin and yang are capable of destroying and absorbing the

other, but not completely. That may or may not be the idea behind Lan Jue’s martial vortex from the earlier fight.

“You mean to say that this Discipline is completely unknown?” Gabriel asked, surprised. Although his face bore an indignant anger, he was careful and calculating.

Uriel shook his head. “No, I suspect that his power isn’t necessarily a Discipline. I checked the Disciplines recorded in the Encyclopaedia Roboris, and came across  something helpful.”

Gabriel blinked. “Why didn’t you tell Metatron?”

“Because there’s no proof, only conjecture,” he explained. “It also involves something we aren’t supposed to be involved in. Look!” Uriel produced an ancient, yellowed volume from his robes. He handed the crumbling tome to Gabriel.

“Encyclopaedia Roboris: Articles on Martial Virtue!” Gabriel read off the book’s title. His tone rose with each word.

Uriel nodded. “Here,” he said, reaching over to flip open the

book to the second page.

“The Martial Virtue of Taijiquan. Lost knowledge said to have been rediscovered by the master Jue Di. It is said that a true sage of Taiji is capable of using oneself to channel the yin and yang energies of the universe. Through this, the practitioner is capable of unmaking any living thing.”

As Gabriel read on, his eyes grew wide. He wasn’t sure how to react to the news. Most of it was noise, but two words stuck out like they were burned on the page: Jue Di!

Even just the name had caused the Archangels’ breath to quicken. They exchanged a quick look, and each spied in the others’ eyes the fear they themselves felt.

Jue Di! An average Adept my not be familiar with the name. Most would probably say it sounded pretentious. To those in the know, however, this name represented incomparable power.

Jue Di is written as 绝帝 – translated directly as Absolute Emperor.

Among the Three Alliances the strongest was undoubtedly the North. They were in control of the largest number of galaxies, more than both the West and East combined. By now – a hundred years after humans left for the stars – the nearby galaxies were all occupied. If any of the Alliances wished to expand, they’d have to reach out further in to the dangerous blackness of space.

Chapter 377: The Fabled Battle

Under situations like this, resources are required  to  fuel further scientific and technological growth. The North – who had always stood at the forefront of human innovation – was the most adamant about interstellar expansion.

However, since that time, when the universe had been carved out in to the Alliances, external growth was no longer an option. So the North turned inward. It became a race for resources, for anyone with enough resources could accomplish anything.

Obviously the remaining resource-rich planets were under the control of the East and West. Though the West was not on par with the North technologically, their disparity wasn’t huge. The East took up the inferior position due to the fact that it had always been that way.

So, in order to secure more for themselves, the North saddled up to the West. Together they undertook several actions against the East, even going so far as to enact an economic blockade. All of this was just a ploy for the North to take what rightfully belonged to the East.

This is a nod to nationalism in China. The Chinese are very

sensitive about what they view as their sovereign territory. Research Chinese territorial disputes if you’re interested. It’s an important topic for anyone who truly wants to understand China and East Asian politics.

As the East struggled to deal with the aggression, one figure arose to stand against their foes. He appeared from nowhere, and after three nights the North had lost three of their top commanders in the field. After a month, three Bastion commanders were inexplicably found slain.

Because the West had never directly become involved in the conflict, none of their people died. However, there was a very public display made of the President. He was found hanging from the flagpole outside of the congressional building. Luckily he hadn’t been hung by the neck, so he survived.

This enraged both the North and West. They dispatched their strongest Adepts to find the murderer, however they didn’t need to look for very long. This mysterious man appeared, and challenged these adepts directly.

The fight took place on a distant planet. Five Paragons of the time came, including the Pontiff of that era. All of them perished. The one who bore the title of Satan lived to get back

home, but died from his wounds shortly thereafter. In all, seventy foreign combatants came to answer the challenge. Only twenty returned.

The West and North called it D-Day 2. It was a great military tragedy, and all of it was at the hands of one man: Jue Di!

Before the fight, the East’s attackers had far greater numbers of top-level Adepts. After the battle, however, things were different. Since then, the East has enjoyed the advantage in regards to powerful Adepts.

Although Jue Di, the God-King, was never as famous as Master Qiantian – ranked second among the Paragons – he was nonetheless the strongest human being in existance. For a long time, Jue Di’s name was a curse. No one dared speak it. In the end, the West and North dismantled their blockade. They even paid restitution for the damage it caused.

Jue Di disappeared after that, though he would reemerge in situations of dire need. Even today, the North wouldn’t dare encroach upon Eastern land without confirmation of Jue Di’s death. The Eastern Alliance had taken the opportunity, after Jue Di’s actions, to put all their effort in to strengthening the country. Now both the West and North had to acknowledge the

East’s power.

This was why the two Archangels reacted so dramatically to the name. Jue Di’s name was taboo – he was the boogeyman, only real and deadly. Neither of them had been present for that fight so many years ago, but they’d heard stories. With nothing but his own abilities, the God-King defeated the strongest Adepts of the day.

The current Pontiff had been there, however, though he was a Cardinal at the time. He was one of three from the Pontiff’s Citadel to return. When information about Jue Di and the battle were recorded in the Citadel’s annals, there was only one word he needed to write; invincible. Since that day he never again spoke of Jue or the things he’d seen. Clearly it left a deep and lasting mark on his psyche.

“No… that’s impossible.” Gabriel swallowed hard. The anger from before was gone, replaced with fear.

Uriel smirked. “That’s my hope as well. But a power of light and dark, with the ability to draw things in… that sounds  a whole lot like a Taiji Master. Whoever this is, isn’t Jue Di… but they could be one of his disciples.”

Gabriel’s brows furrowed. “Why would they want to come after us? Did we offend him in some way?”

“I’m also interested to know why this is,” Uriel mused. “If we want to discover who these people are, then the first step must be to find out their purpose. This isn’t some pointless game, there must be a reason for all of it. Otherwise we likely wouldn’t have been the target. But the more I think about it, the less certain I am of where they came from. The chances are very small that their agents from the North. The East, we were just in the Avenue and the Pontiff took pains to show goodwill. They have their own problems as well, not the least of which being the Clairvoyant’s retreat. He likely won’t come out of his museum alive. On the surface one might say the Avenue is a real powerhouse with their four Paragons. But the two Paragons together couldn’t match the Eye of the Future. The Arcane Magnate and Cosmagus are not weak, but are further down the power rankings from the Pontiff. Anyway, if they  were interested in power than the Conclave would likely be their first target.”

Gabriel pondered for a moment. “What about rogue Adepts? Jue Di was a rogue Paragon, wasn’t he? He belonged to that organization…”

Uriel huffed. “Not a chance. Sending someone our way, only

to tell us some nonsense about the Dark Citadel… it’s a ruse. Someone trying to stir up trouble, or deliberately trying to cover their tracks.

Gabriel nodded thoughtfully.

The book was returned to Uriel, and he hid it away in the folds of his robes. “Would you like a glass of coffee?”

His companion waved the offer away. “No. After what you’ve told me, how could I want a coffee? In the end all of this is because we simply aren’t strong enough. So tell me, Uriel, how strong was Jue Di reputed to be? Five Paragons against one, and he walked away unscathed… is that even possible?”

“I’ve never seen anything like it with my own eyes, nor do I have any way to accurately evaluate his strength. However according to what I’ve read from the Pontiff, it’s entirely real. The Paragons themselves also have a system of rankings, four to be precise. What they are exactly I’m not sure, but at that time Jue Di was supposedly at the very top. By comparison His Majesty, the Cosmagus, the Arcane Magnate are all still within the first stage. Master Qiantian is a mystery. He’s been missing for so long, who knows? Still, I doubt seriously that he’s stronger than Jue Di.” Uriel tapped his fingers against the arm

of his chair as he thought.

“Ahh,” Gabriel lamented. “When will we breakthrough to Paragon? I’m desperate to feel what that level of power is like. Well, it’s time for me to go – I won’t trouble your meditations any longer. We must keep improving, or true strength will forever elude us.”

Uriel didn’t stop him, and nodded. “Take care of yourself. If you need to leave the Citadel, bring Michael. I’ll be locking myself in seclusion for the next few days before I leave. These stressful times help me to think clearly. Maybe I’ll break through.”

“Very well. If you’ll be here then I’ll handle the tailor,” he replied with a flat tone.

Uriel only nodded.

Gabriel stepped out of the room. From outside Lan Jue could hear respectful addresses from the clergy on guard. Once more, Uriel plucked the Encyclopaedia Roboris, Martial Articles from his robes and looked over it’s cracked leather cover. As he did the light of disappointment shone behind his eyes. What Adept

didn’t dream of becoming powerful?

After a little while, Uriel lifted his hand from the book’s binding. A pale ball of white light extended from his hand and illuminated everything around him. The golden geometric designs set in the walls and ceiling began to glimmer brilliantly. A single column of light – soothing and pure – poured down on to him from on high. He prepared to meditate.

“I have a great deal of admiration for you, Uriel. Your reputation is well earned, to find a clue in such conditions as this.” A voice, calm and slightly haughty, interrupted the Archangel’s silence.

The Cherubim’s eyes popped open. Before him stood a man concealed behind a butterfly mask.

He didn’t waste a second. Uriel was up and launching himself toward the center of the meditation chamber without even stopping to get a good look at Lan Jue. In situations like this, when you were already suffering from surprise, wasted time could mean one’s death.

Before Uriel could get far, however, Lan Jue shot forward as a

bolt of golden lightning. He reappeared before him, blocking the angel’s path. Fluid as a lazy stream, he swept his hands in an arc, level with his navel. The action caused an aura of black from one hand, and an aura of white from the other to bleed in to one another. The result was a perfectly spherical orb of equal parts black and white, but then the light vanished revealing the image of yin and yang.

It was a strange power, and as it appeared Uriel felt himself being drawn closer to his attacker at an even greater speed. Uriel didn’t utter a sound, for even before he could reality upended itself. Colors were inverted, the skies turned to dust and everything became what it was not. He couldn’t tell where he was anymore.

Changing the world around in this way, even on a small scale… this was almost like a Paragon’s Domain! Uriel was stunned enough with the revelation that someone would have the gall to attack him in the heart of the Citadel. But he didn’t have time to dwell on it – escape was paramount.

The meditation chamber’s mystical spells had been activated, flooding the chamber with the elemental force of light coalesced from outside. It also served to separate the room’s interior from any outside distractions. Uriel’s goal had been to stop the beam’s power and allow sound out once again. When his enemy

appeared before him, he knew his only chance was deactivating the spell, and so he had tried to bull-rush through, and take head on whatever power this man possessed.

Just then, a milky-white light rushed out from the center of his chest. It formed in to the shape of a blazing sword, and lashed out of it’s own accord toward Lan Jue.

However before it could, the power of Lan Jue’s Taiji energies sapped its power. It slowed, as though it were trying to slice through a mire, until amidst a host of impotent buzzing, the sword stopped dead in the air.

Uriel spread his hands wide, and at the motion his saber of light erupted. In to a million shards of light. They flowed like quicksilver toward his attacker, surrounded him. The world around Lan Jue was swallowed up in those twinkling, deadly lights.

Chapter 378: Jue Di?

Uriel’s attack was not aimed at killing his foe. His hope was, instead, to create any opening for him to escape.

Unfortunately the man responded by expanding the scope of that black and white power. A pale white light bloomed from behind him. At once the room filled with a gentle and pure radiance. But the light was more than light – it was warmer, and softer than light was supposed to be. And the gentleness wasn’t gentleness – it was softer, all-encompassing. Uriel felt his whole body begin to slip in to a relaxing calm.

Not good!

Who can fight effectively if they’re completely relaxed?! Like a fetus in amniotic fluid, he was relaxed to his very bones. Vestiges of the energy began to congeal on the surface of his skin in the appearance of hoarfrost. He almost looked frozen.

His jaw jerked – he wanted to bite his tongue, hoping the pain would keep him alert. However before he could, the orb of intermingled yin and yang energies shrunk from over one meter in diameter to a single point of light. That vacuum force returned, stronger this time. It yanked Urial forward like a rag-

doll. No longer able to control himself much less his Discipline, the hail of light from his weapon spiraled off in all directions.

Uriel’s face fell, settling in to a grim acceptance. Just then, a light burst from his eyes just as a white-hot flame spat from his every pour.

Holy Fire! It was one of the most powerful light-based skills the Citadel taught. The terrifying manifestations were a result of the Adept actually setting his Core energy ablaze. Six pearlescent wings stretched out from within the column of flame.

The deceptively gentle sensation strengthened suddenly. Uriel could hear the sounds of chanting, as clear as though they were being sung right beside him. A stupefying haze clouded his mind that extinguished the holy fires. His wings, too, began to wither and molt until they dissolved in to pure white light. Soon they vanished as well.

Protogenic power!

Uriel could only soar helplessly through the air. In the space of a blink, he was right in front of his assailant. He was met

with an outstretched palm that looked as though it were composed from a black hole. The consuming energies easily defused the light from Uriel’s Discipline, to the point where the light of holy ‘holy soul’ began to be pulled out from within him in strands of white light.

Poof! The palm collided with Uriels arms, risen to ward off the blow. At first it felt like being struck with a pillow, but half a second later, the hidden power within was revealed.

Bang! Uriel was thrown away, smashing with bone-jarring force in to the far wall. There was a flash, and Lan Jue traversed the room to Uriel’s side before he could even register the collision. The excruciating pain came soon after, and it felt a though his organs had all been set on fire. Then, it was gone, replaced immediately by that sublime relaxation. It was too much too fast – the agonizing pain and the blissful comfort blended in with one another, and Uriel could no longer distinguish one from the other. Unable to cope, his mind shut down and he fell in to a deep sleep.

Lan Jue looked over the prostrate angel for a moment before raising his hand. A silvery light fell over Uriel, and when it receded the Cherubim was nowhere to be found.

Just as Uriel vanished like breath in the wind, a terrifying oppressive force surged through the Cathedral. A deep, regal voice boomed through every corner. “Who dares!”

Uriel’s meeting with the wall had apparently expelled more energy than his meditation chamber was capable of masking. That, and the sudden disappearance of Uriel’s energy, had invariably gotten the attention of a world-bending power. This consciousness hung over everything like the eye of God, searching.

There was another flash of golden light, and Lan Jue reappeared at the outside edge of the Cathedral grounds. However, he was not fast enough. The consciousness swept over him, and Lan Jue felt like a tiny ant caught beneath a giant’s boot.

His face went ghastly pale. The only thing keeping him from collapsing underneath this staggering psychic pressure, was his enhanced power. His fusion with Qianlin kept him standing.

Lan Jue was ready, dire though the situation was. The dual forces of light and dark sprang out from him once more, accompanied by an aura of material disinterest and spiritual connection. At the very top of his head there appeared a strange

sort of vortex that released an aura of enlightenment.

Acupuncture was based off of Daoist principles. One of which is man’s connection with the divine. Near the top of the head, about where the fontanelle was located when you were a baby, lies an acu-point called 百会 – the hundred meetings. Here, the yang qi of the body coalesces. In qigong it’s seen as the house of the corporeal aspects of the Soul (Souls are complicated in TCM). It is also connected to the upper dantian from Taiji practice, which is connected to human consciousness. So in short, the area of this point – DU 20, as it’s called in the west – is man’s connection to the spirit, heaven, and to God  as  the ancient Daoists perceived It (‘Absolute Truth’).

“Jue Di!” The Pontiff’s booming voice was thick with shock. The oppressive powers receded like frost before the rising sun. It was a split second, but in that moment Lan Jue took a string in hand that was hanging from overhead. There was a flash, and he disappeared.

The Pontiff’s psychic force came rolling back in like a tsunami. However, by then there was no one there.

ζ

Two hundred meters from the Cathedral’s gardens, a figured appeared in a dark corner. The extension cable hanging from the eaves of the building burned black, and was blown away as ash on the wind.

Lan Jue didn’t move. He slipped in to the meditative state of Wholeness and constrained any signs of his presence. Escape through the extension cable had been wise. It was fast, but also concealed his abilities as much as possible. He could reach light- speed himself without its aid, but the subsequent release of energy could be clearly seen for miles around. It wouldn’t take much for a Paragon to find him then.

Lan Jue’s eyes swung back toward the Cathedral, where a golden light had risen over the ancient building. Though it blazed like the sun, it was not – it was the Pontiff, soaring high overhead. He was clad in resplendent golden robes, and bore the opulent crown of his office.

In his right hand was born the traditional Pastoral Staff, held aloft. His eyes searched the grounds, full of worry and doubt.

“Is that you?” The Pontiff was a man fabled for his saintly calm. Now, however, his heart beat so hard it threatened to rattle his rib cage. Unpleasant memories of that battle from so

long ago sprang to mind, clear as they day they happened. He feared these memories would become reality once again.

Orbs of light appeared scattered around the Pontiff. Five of his Archangels emerged; Metatron, Michael, Gabriel, Sariel and Ramiel. Metatron looked at each of them in turn  before speaking.

“Where’s Uriel?”

The Pontiff had his answer, delivered in a deep voice barely containing his fury. “He’s been captured.”

Every one of the Archangels stared at him with wide eyes.
Uriel… captured?

The Cherubim was not considered among the strongest of these Archangels. In a fight, he was far less experienced than Michael or even Gabriel – to say nothing about Metatron. Where Uriel flourished, however, was intelligence. But even despite his lack of combat prowess, this was the Holy City of Reims! The very heart of the Pontiff’s Citadel, with the Pontiff himself in attendance! Their commander had been unable to stop this nightmare. Could it mean they faced a Paragon?

If it was a Paragon, one who concealed themselves to strike from the shadows, than this truly was an unmitigated disaster!

The Pontiff stared in to the distance, with brows knit tight. “Relay my commands: Reims is under martial law. All modes of transportation, public and private, are forbidden from leaving the planet. I will find this person myself.”

“Your Majesty!” The Archangels replied. The anger in their leader’s eyes light a fire within them as well.

The old priest held his astrum aloft, and from it’s dazzling length a beam of golden light tore through the night sky toward the heavens. It bloomed outward in all directions until Reims was bathed in light that would shame the sun.

Many out among the town stopped in their tracks as they looked overhead. Night had become day at the Pontiff’s hand – it was a miracle! Many fell to their knees in prayer. Lan Jue didn’t move, even as the golden light fell over him. It was warm, but the comfort was deceptive for within was hidden a divine power. The anointed energies reached to all corners of the city.

Lan Jue, in his state of Wholeness, managed to almost completely extinguish his Core. He hardly breathed, as though locked in suspended animation, an even deeper stupor than Uriel had experienced. As the moment stretched on he hoped… he believed, that the Pontiff couldn’t maintain this for long. He was bound to alert the rest of Eurmania if he did.

Next, orbs of milky-white light appeared within the illuminated streets. They started in the center of town, then moved and expanded outward toward the borders.

This is…

Even in his nearly dead state, Lan Jue could feel the change. Divine Faith! It could be nothing else. For a moment, he was too shocked to think… the entire city was laid out as a massive rune! Any unbeliever would be revealed, like a body eliminating a virus.

Metatron lead the others in splaying out around the Pope, as sweeping white lights roamed the city. As they looked on one of those illuminating orbs did stop, about a hundred meters away from the Pontiff.

It was Constantine, leader of the Inquisition. “Your Majesty, what’s happened?”

The Pontiff’s face was as smooth as the surface of a lake. “An enemy stole in to the Cathedral and captured Uriel.”

Upon hearing this, even the famously calm Constantine couldn’t help but stare slack-jawed at the Paragon. As Head Inquisitor, this was his responsibility.

“The failure lies with me, Your Majesty. I ask I be punished!” He immediately fell to one knee.

The Pontiff waved a hand, and at the motion a white light appeared before Constantine to lift him to his feet. “Our foe is cunning. But, he is no Paragon. A ninth level at his peak I suspect, who will be found as a heretic beneath these lights of faith. Take your men and find him – bring him to the Reims Square. That is, if I don’t find him first.

Chapter 379: Avoiding Detection

“Yes, sir!” Constantine was as surprised as all the others. Employing this kind of power here was not a good thing for the Citadel. People would be seeing dangers in every shadow, and their enemies will be laughing at their misfortune. However, things would be done as the Pontiff commanded. It was never wise to get on a Paragon’s bad side.

Constantine left in a hurry to perform his tasks. As he did the Pontiff’s staff blazed even brighter. Rays of golden light pierced to the horizon. The Pontiff wasn’t confident in their ability to find the enemy, truth be told. For this person to have the gall to waltz right in to the Cathedral, they more than likely had an exit strategy. Still, with the Pontiff’s Faith and the light of his staff, they couldn’t hide for long. With the Pontiff himself leading the search, the Inquisition wasted no time. They splayed out down every street and alley just as they’d done for Raphael.

Lan Jue remained still as a corpse. Gradually a white light emerged from him, still partially hidden by the pillar he hid behind. The pale shroud dimmed in to a concrete grey which served to make him even less distinguishable from the surrounding buildings. To say nothing for the lack of people in the corner he’d chosen, even if someone were to chance by they’d be unable to see anything.

His heart rate was down to ten beats per minute – weak and slow. Even an infrared sweep likely wouldn’t show him on the scanners. Reims wasn’t a large city, but it wasn’t small either, the Citadel only had so many men they could use to clear the streets. There were limits, he knew, to what they were able to realistically achieve in a manhunt. However, the addition of the Pontiff himself aiding in the search changed things. It made the stakes much higher, and far more dangerous.

ζ

By now the Cathedral square was full of people. Most were clergy, but a number were prisoners. They were marched here without warning or explanation, but in the face of the Citadel’s full strength there was nothing they could do. With the Pontiff in the heavens above, blazing like a sun, who would dare try to fight back?

“Your Majesty, we’ve gathered all the unbelievers located by the Light of Faith. None were left out.” Constantine appeared again before the Pontiff, confident in his work.

The Citadel’s leader nodded. “You’ve worked hard, Constantine. Let’s see what we’ve got.” Before he’d even finished, the Pontiff and his Archangels were descending toward

the heretics. The Paragon was already scanning the crowd for his prey.

One by one, he examined the prisoners. Many were spies or agents from the Dark Citadel, but none were the man he sought. None of them possessed a power above sixth rank, and he knew the attacker was ninth at least.

The Pontiff’s face was so sour he looked as though he might scream. All of this energy expended, and the only thing they found were petty criminals. They were pulling out all the stops to no avail. Everyone could feel the fury bubbling just below the surface. There was also fear, but he didn’t let anyone see that.

“What should we do now, Your Majesty?” Constantine asked. He enjoyed a very close relationship with the Pontiff, which certainly helped him get the office of High Inquisitor.

“Get in touch with the Western parliament. Ask for their help in our search. Detain anyone from the East, and make sure no Eastern tourists leave the city,” the Pontiff said.

“Are…” Constantine trailed off. What the Pontiff was saying, would have a significant impact. The Citadel was autonomous,

but that was all. Even if the Western government did agree to help, what would be the cost to them? Likely too much.

“Are you sure this is wise, Your Majesty?” Metatron interjected. “This will undoubtedly sour our relationship with the East – it may even force Skyfire Avenue to intervene. I urge you to reconsider.”

The Pontiff’s face eased visibly, his rage restrained. “Very well,” he conceded. “Request aid from the parliament in locating a pair of terrorists. Ask that they take extra precautions with any Easterners attempting to leave Eurmania. Suggest an energy scan.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” Constantine sounded relieved.

“Release them,” the Pontiff announced, waving away the heretics. “None of you are to leave the city until tomorrow.”

With his commands delivered, the  Pontiff  turned  and returned to the Cathedral. Metatron followed close on his heels. The Lord Archangel noticed that his Master was not himself. He was usually far more level-headed.

ζ

All the while, Lan Jue never moved a muscle. The light of faith dimmed, and eventually vanished. Not until the faintest hint of a threat was gone did Lan Jue begin to revive. He walked calmly back to the hotel through the deserted streets.

ζ

“Your Majesty, are you alright?” Metatron followed the Pontiff back to his chambers, and only then ventured the question.

The old monk shook his head. “I’m fine. Just a little out of sorts. He was in my grasp, but then his aura… it was just like Jue Di’s.”

“Jue Di!” Metatron gasped.

“Your Majesty.” Several of the other Archangels had followed their leadership in to the Cathedral. Gabriel took a step forward, his expression strange. The Pontiff motioned for him to speak.

The Messenger of Death continued. “Before Uriel’s disappearance he was expressing the same theory to me. Our enemy had some connection to Jue Di.” Gabriel went on to summarize the rest of their conversation.

The Pontiff nodded thoughtfully as he listened. “Uriel appears to have been correct. This man is likely to be Jue Di’s apprentice. That aura is unmistakable. I was too shocked at it to react, and he took the opportunity to flee.”

The atmosphere grew anxious and somber. Though irritating beyond measure, this enemy wasn’t an insurmountable threat. They weren’t afraid of this man. They were, however, afraid of the one who stood behind him. To the Pontiff, Jue Di was an inhuman thing – a demon. That was why he couldn’t react.

“Your Majesty,” Metatron interjected with brows furrowed, “were you able to puzzle out this man’s objective?”

The Citadel’s leader only shook his head.

Gabriel looked at them both. “Could this be revenge for when Jue Di was besieged?”

“Jue Di’s revenge? That’s the best you can come up with?” Ramiel openly laughed .”Jue Di was the one who called for the fight, and in the end our losses were staggering. If anyone should be seeking revenge, it’s us. The God-King has been missing for dozens of years, why pick now for any sort of revenge? This is a disciple. If it was the man himself, how do you think we could scare him off?”

The Angel of Visions openly shamed Gabriel, and his face reflected his displeasure. His voice was tight. “Again you go too far, Ramiel.” Both of his close friends had been taken, and Gabriel was in no mood to be trifled with. Ramiel’s snide remarks instantly put him in a rage.

The Pontiff fixed both of them with a hard gaze. “Enough!”

All of the Archangels receded a step, and bowed respectfully before their master. He turned his attention to Metatron.

“Once more, tell me every detail we’ve gathered.”

Metatron and the others rose, then the Lord Archangel recounted everything they’d learned up to this point.

“Go to the Dark Citadel?” The old cleric muttered, going over it in his mind.

“When I received this information, I determined it was a ploy to get us to leave the city. The two clearly weren’t Satan’s agents, so I thought nothing of it.”

The Pontiff shook his head, returning from his thoughts. “Jue Di believed that words were important. A man should say what he means. If these terrorists are his apprentices then the message may not be a ploy.”

Metatron looked aghast. “You’re saying Raphael and Uriel might be with Satan? That these two are some sort of foreign agents for the Dark Citadel?”

“We mustn’t dismiss the possibility,” the Pontiff instructed. “Increase monitoring of all travel to and from the Dark Citadel.

“Yes, Your Majesty!”

ζ

“Huhh-“ Lan Jue heaved a sigh, pulling the window curtains closed. He shut out the scene of agitated bustling from outside. An angry Pontiff was certainly not someone to start playing with, and an errant satellite sweep could catch sight of him through a window. That would cause some troubling consequences. Right now, hiding was the correct move.

Zhou Qianlin had replaced her close and sat nearby. Her face was pale. Although Lan Jue was in control when the two were merged, she could still feel everything as clearly as though it was her own body. Now the fear was settling in – the realization of how close she was to death at the hands of a Paragon.

“Your Queen of Heaven transformation is very, very useful.
More than I’d have thought.” Lan Jue said with a chuckle.

Qianlin gave him a flat look. You could say that again. The Protogenic abilities Lan Jue had used in his fight against Uriel were her own. What Uriel must have suspected to be some insidious attack, was actually a flood of healing energy designed to make him feel better.

Of course the Queen of Heaven’s powers imparted sensations of peace and comfort. Who would expect their enemies to heal them in the midst of battle? Naturally, he resisted. However the

Queen’s powers are enhanced and perfected with the addition of protogenic power. Though not as complete as the Mystic Raiment, her regenerative powers were strong enough to seep in to every pore. Uriel, unable to resist the all-pervasive sensation, panicked. Lan Jue took that opportunity to finish the fight. Once again, the increased power afforded by his fusion with Qianlin had given him the boost he needed to definitively end it quickly.

Then, once he was out, he’d also relied on Qianlin’s powers to help him blend in more completely with the environment. In situations like these, her protogenic transformation was much more useful than his.

Chapter 380: The Dark Citadel

Lan Jue had come to the realization that he could use Qianlin’s Discipline just as she could use his. It was something he’d discovered the night they’d meditated together. The mother affect Qianlin’s Queen of Heaven powers bestowed was like a salve, and nourished the source of his power. Even more interesting, because of the nature of the Discipline – supportive, gradual – its use didn’t expend too much energy. Although it didn’t look like it would be all that useful in a fight, Qianlin’s Discipline was a great distraction when used suddenly.

Lan Jue was pondering the conversation he’d overheard between Gabriel and Uriel. They had come to precisely the conclusion he hoped they would. It was all by design – planting evidence to mislead an intelligent foe. Using what Jue Di taught him when confronted with the Pontiff had also been intentional. Everything, designed to produced a calculated response.

Although Lan Jue certainly wasn’t in complete control of the situation, he’d mitigated the potential damage well. What he told Qianlin before was true; if they were captured, the Avenue would help. By using the specter of Jue Di, the Citadel was even less likely to act rashly. True or not, they were afraid of awakening Jue Di’s ire!

Zhou Qianlin rolled her eyes at Lan Jue. “The more time I spend with you the more I’m afraid my heart can’t handle it.”

This earned a chortle from the Jewelry Master. “Take it easy, the best is yet to come. Next we leave for the Dark Citadel, to deliver Raphael and Uriel. I wonder if Satan will throw us a parade.”

“The Pontiff will probably be blocking travel,” Qianlin said.

“He can’t close everything,” he replied. “That would incite a panic. At worst they’ve increased checkpoints and monitoring. And what have we to fear of monitoring systems? Any mode of transportation we use will have electricity. We’ll be going in a few minutes.”

ζ

Although vast swathes of the city were in disarray over the disappearance of the two Archangels, that wasn’t the case in every corner of the city. At the end of the day the Pontiff’s Citadel was an Adept organization, and it demanded its power through faith.

Many official government offices were located here, so no doubt the West was aware of the situation over the past couple days. They’d already opened up channels of communication with the Cathedral. The next step was an official warning from the parliament, which they would have to act on. This was why the Lord Archangel and Constantine were so reticent for the Pontiff to ask them for help. An outside power would have control over how the Citadel reacts, and while their demands may not be overtly harmful to the Citadel it would result in restrictions. It would be a great blow to their prestige.

And so, the two Eastern Adepts checked out of their room and left as though they had nothing to worry about.

The Holy City of Reims was diametrically opposed on the opposite side of the planet by Gomorrah. Ever since anyone could remember, the two had been locked in a contentious stalemate. Eurmania was a large planet, but there existed no direct means of transport between them. It was a difference of faith. The Dark Citadel was an organization of faith as well, remember, though not to the extend of the Pontiff’s army. At least, so it was on the surface. Under normal circumstance, the best way to get one from Reims to Gomorrah was hitching a ride with someone passing through.

Of course, ‘normal circumstances’ never described Lan Jue.

Travel would not be a problem at his level of cultivation. He was limited to the speed of light when transformed to lightning, but passing over half the planet would be a quick endeavor. However, he would need to make sure that they wouldn’t be picked up by satellite. Anyone who came across an object this close moving at the speed of light would undoubtedly get in contact with the authorities right away.

The public air hangar was likely the most carefully watched area in all of Reims, but that was where Lan Jue brought Zhou Qianlin. Often the safest places were considered the most dangerous. Plus, it was simpler.

Inquisition agents had Discipline-detecting equipment, and were scanning everyone who passed through their security check. They appeared to be paying particular attention to young couples.

Lan Jue paid none of this any mind. A flash, and they went from the security check to the boarding gates without alerting a soul. He presented the checking officer with the tickets they’d purchased online, and were waved right through.

They took their seats, and the airship left without further incident. If anything, this whole incident proved the fact that a

government could not contend the world of Discipline. There was no blocking an Adept with the will to go on.

After an hour the scenery began to change. Another hour and the buildings slipping by beneath them began to adopt the characteristic black matte of Gomorroah.

Gomorrah was, like Reims, a very unique place. Not only was it the seat of the Dark Citadel, but the city was also a hot bed of tourist action for Eurmania. All of the planet’s most famous attractions and theme parks were located here. Surprisingly, the crime rate was very nearly zero – a figure even the Holy City couldn’t touch. But that was on the surface. In the seedy underbelly, where the official surveys never reached, things were different. The Dark Citadel’s support of the Western government made sure it stayed that way.

As passengers filed out from the airship, they were greeted with an unsettling broadcast on repeat: “Welcome… to Gomorroah.” For those who were interested in a novel traveling experience, it was hard to beat Eurmania’s version of Hell.

It was Lan Jue’s first time here. It was certainly unique, he thought, as they stepped in to a dark world. Things weren’t so much black, but muted. All colors seemed as though they had a

black mist hanging over them. Bright was not an adjective one could use for anything in Gomorrah. It lent an oppressive feeling to the environment. As they walked the streets, strange scenes assailed them. People with mouths dripping blood might pass, but nothing too unsettling.

This place had no industry – it was just a giant playground. Characters ran around in bizarre outfits; as nightmarish beasts, pale vampires or hairy wolf men. The story goes that some of these performers were the real deal, but no one could say for sure. It made the place all that much more exciting for visitors looking for a thrill.

This place was more suited to the tastes of Western and Northern guests. Easterners didn’t appreciate the flavor. Their appreciations lay elsewhere.

“What do you think?” Lan Jue turned his head to look at Zhou Qianlin. They looked like any other couple on vacation.

She shook her head ever so slightly. “It feels overbearing.”

This made him chuckle. “They’ve worked hard to build that atmosphere. Come on, we’ll deliver our things then go, I’ve

already got the return tickets. Look at us – door to door service, I’d call that exceptional!”

They hailed and boarded a maglev taxi as he bantered. The driver turned his head to look at the two of them. “Sir, madame. Where would you like to go?”

Lane Jue thought for a moment. “What’s the most famous building here in Gomorroah? We’re looking for something big and eye-catching, some kind of landmark.”

“Then you’re looking for the Dark Citadel,” the Driver answered. “That’s the most famous place in the city.”

“Dark Citadel? Sounds spooky, let’s go!” Lan Jue nodded for the driver to be off.

The two passengers settled back as the taxi began it’s steady trek. Zhou Qianlin spoke to Lan Jue through the Soul Caller gem.

“Is it a good idea to go straight to the Dark Citadel?”

Lan Jue shook his head: “It’s not the real one. He’s taking us to a tourist attraction. I’m not even sure where the real Citadel is. At least at this copy we might find some guards to relay our message.”

‘Landmark’ was an understatement for the fake Dark Citadel. It was the exact heart of the city. They could see it from miles away, situated on top of a mountain that spewed a river of magma. The mountain was about three hundred meters high, with the impressive structure perched on top.

A purple moon hung in the sky, directly over the Citadel. It cast everything in a ghastly light. Although Qianlin didn’t like the style she could appreciate the creativity. It was certainly worthy of being a famed landmark. The taxi driver told them that no buildings were permitted to rise above the six hundred meter Citadel – a rule that was rigidly enforced. He took them through a series of winding, gloomy back roads that arrived before the Citadel’s massive doors. Even though the structure was on the top of a mountain, a moat had been constructed around it which bubbled with a fluid that looked like blood. The tell-tale iron scent was absent, though.

Qianlin frowned at the images, and clutched tightly to Lan Jue’s hand.

He laughed disarmingly at her. “What an incredible place! Whoever designed it really put their soul in to the work. I guess it’s meant to look like the real Dark Citadel. Let’s go in and take a look!”

They stepped through the massive, maw-like doorway of the Citadel. The interior was dark as night, making that stifling sensation ten times more potent. When they reached the ticket booth, Lan Jue realized this entire place was a haunted house – probably one of the biggest ever made. The pamphlets boasted that walking through the whole thing would take three hours.

To Lan Jue, though, the most terrifying thing was the price of admission.

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