Chapter 601: The Avenue’s Seven Paragons!
It was veritably pouring Paragons for Skyfire Avenue these days, to where it was getting unthinkable. With this new Paragon on the rise, how many did the Avenue even have now?
The Photographer, the Epochrion, the Wine Master, the Keeper, the Bookworm, and the Gourmet. Adding the newcomer, that made seven. Seven Paragons!
The Photographer was a Paragon of the third degree, Nirvana. The Epochrion had achieved Reflection of Heaven and Earth. The other five were only just beginning their journey, but were Paragons nonetheless.
Even if you added the two Citadels and the Great Conclave together, they still didn’t come close to what the Avenue boasted now. Besides, the Adepts here were numerous and promising. With members like the Jewelry Master and the Pharmacist, it wouldn’t be too long before Skyfire Avenue had ten or more Paragons. What other Adept organization could compare?
Now was a fine example. They freely shared the wealth of
knowledge they were about to attain, a fact which earned them a great deal of respect.
But even before considering enlightenment, safety was a major concern. The aliens could show up anywhere, but if they arrived at Skyfire at least these mighty demi-gods could stand between them.
As one can imagine, the future of Skyfire Avenue was bright.
As the Epochrion glowered, there was another flash of grey light, indicating the arrival of another. It was the Infernal Vanguard, who broke his hermitage to come join them. Other than the Photographer, each of the five remaining Paragons had arrived to bear witness.
Clearly safety wasn’t a concern. Even if the Astral Phantom was nearby, seeking another shot, he wouldn’t dare make a move. He was fast, but not fast enough to escape a gaggle of super humans.
The hymns were loud and clear, echoing across the horizon. Pulsing ripples of protogenic energy surged across the Avenue’s surface.
Every Paragon had their ‘own’ protogenia. As other Paragons broke through, they released pure protogenia into the surroundings. This unchanged, raw protogenia helped them more deeply understand their own powers and helped prepare them for future growth. If they could learn something from it, then even these great Paragons could find their abilities empowered.
The A.R.C. students from the National Eastern University were particularly lucky since this was their second time experience an ascension. They had been present when the Bookworm became the Karmic Scholar. Under Lan Jue’s guidance they had all benefited greatly from that. Now they had a chance to see another Paragon come into being, they wouldn’t miss it for anything. Using what they learned last time, an epiphany would likely come easier today.
The Epochrion turned her head to regard the Wine Master. “Who is this?”
The old sommelier grinned. “This is the Pauper. It’s likely you never paid him much mind.”
Realization dawned on her. “Ah, so that’s who it is. His protogenia is strange… his comprehension is deep, despite only
now breaking through. He feels nearly as robust as the Terminator.”
“The Pauper’s cultivation method is unique,” the Wine Master explained. “It was handed down, a legacy. We spoke about it once. He said it was called the Taming the Dragon Arhat, taught by one of the great Buddhist masters. It was in fact the monk of legend, Ji Gong, who lived a carefree lifestyle. The Pauper has been at the peak of ninth rank for many years, hiding away his abilities. At last this is the reward that comes to he who waits. By breaking through to Paragon it shows that he’s mastered the Taming Dragon Arhat. He is indeed strong, stronger than those of us with normal Disciplines. He is a manifestation of Buddhist dharma, and so will very quickly enter into the Realm of Protogenia.
Note that this was Arhat of the Descending Dragon before.
Apparently it already had a name, go figure.
The Epochrion sighed. “This was all probably part of the Clairvoyant’s plan. He really was a terrifying man.”
The Wine Master grinned wryly and shook his head. “I couldn’t tell you. We probably lay a lot at his feet simply because of what we think he could accomplish.”
Eventually the thunderous Buddhist chants faded away. Great coronas of golden light pulsed from the Arhat in incessant waves. Everything they touched was painted gold, including the Star Division soldiers meditating below.
They all felt a strange energy penetrating into them, through their pores. From outside it looked like they were all covered in golden silk, as brilliantly gold as the Arhat himself. Everyone had been preparing for this moment, and as the Paragon’s energies flowed through them they quickly were blessed with insight.
Lan Jue’s understanding of his own protogenia was already quite thorough, so the Arhat’s protogenia only helped him to confirm what he already knew. It was unlikely he’d learn anything so, so instead he sought to see which of his soldiers would gain the most from the experience.
To his surprise, the first one he felt undergo a shift was his chubby disciple, Tang Xiao.
He was illuminated by the golden light of the Arhat, along with the rest of his brothers and sisters. However as the light spread over his body, a wide smile split his lips. His bulging belly quivered for a moment with his laughter, and then he
went still as a statue. Another strange energy, separate from the others, flowed out of him. It mingled with the Arhat’s protogenia, moving with it. Tang Xiaos had clearly come to discover something.
Generally it was said the earlier the quicker the epiphany, the better its results. It came almost immediately after interacting with the Taming Dragon Arhat. That meant Tang Xiao likely had some sort of affinity – what an excellent discovery!
Several others discovered truths of their own a little while later. Adepts didn’t choose when or if they could learn from this, it was their Disciplines. Tang Xiao’s Discipline was metalmorphosis, but metal didn’t have a soul. The dharmic stateliness that he felt imbued his Discipline with a sense of spirit. He even felt it stir something deep within himself.
The golden light persisted for fifteen minutes when suddenly the Arhat broke into joyous, ringing laughter. He lifts his arms to sky and spread them wide, whereupon the clouds split like he’d torn them asunder. Beams of beautiful sunlight tumbled from a clear sky.
The Taming Dragon Arhat pulsed once again with golden light, so intense that the skies were tinted the same hue. From
the street below people could hear Buddhist chants resuming. Each resonating note sounded like it was right beside them. Unconsciously, everyone folded their hands. Skyfire Avenue became a field of golden, meditating monks. IT was more comfortable than they could describe.
The light of nirvana illuminates all things. The Pauper had succeeded in cementing his truth of the Taming Dragon Arhat.
There was a flash of light, and the Pauper appeared among the others in the street. He pressed a hand to his chest and bowed respectfully to those gathered. “My deepest thanks, everyone.”
“Hail, the Taming Dragon Arhat.” The Epochrion had descending to join him, and greeted the Pauper with an amicable smile and a nod.
The Pauper’s new title was not in doubt. Taming Dragon Arhat – a mighty name, but achievements deserve merit.
He chuckled and flicked his wrist. A ratty-looking fan appeared in his grip, which e flitted lazily from side to side. “It wasn’t easy! I have been waiting for a long, long while. I must thank the Jewelry Master, if he hadn’t taken me with him to
seek out the gods of wine, I’m not sure I’d ever have taken this final step.”
Lan Jue smiled pleasantly and walked over. “I guessed it was you. Congratulations, should I call you His Majesty the Pauper from now on?”
This made the beggar laugh. “Whatever you like, it’s only a name. I have been cultivating since we returned and only just broke through. Ah, it’s unfortunate I wasn’t able to send the Clairvoyant off.”
His moment caused everyone’s faces to fall in sadness. The Clairvoyant’s loss was still a sore wound for the Avenue.
Lan Jue smiled and fought the depressed atmosphere. “The Clairvoyant spared no effort in his responsibilities for the Avenue. What’s most important is that we strive to keep his dream alive. Your Majesty Taming Dragon Arhat, I think that’s the most suitable name. You’ve been locked away for a long time, to you want to hear what you’ve missed?”
The Pauper paused, but quickly recovered. “Indeed! I’d appreciate you filling me in.”
“Of course,” Lan Jue assured. “Let’s head to my shop for a bit.”
The Wine Master watched Lan Jue with a resigned expression. He knew what the Jewelry Master’s aim was, but he didn’t make any effort to get in his way.
The Gourmet chimed in. “I’m going to continue my meditations, everyone.”
The Keeper and Bookworm only shared a farewell before going their own way. They had borne witness to the ascension of the new Paragon, but now they had things to research and projects to complete. There was no one on the Avenue busier than those two.
Other than Lan Jue and the few of his subordinates that weren’t present, the rest of Star Division was deep in meditation. A number of them would need time to fully comprehend what they learned.
Very rare opportunities like this only granted a glimpse of the truth, but even a hint was enough to noticeably improve their Disciplines. No one wanted to leave before they squeezed every
ounce of potential from the opportunity.
Lan Jue brought the Pauper to Zeus’ Jewelry Shop. There, he told him all about what had transpired since the gods of wine. He left nothing out, especially the aliens and their newest discoveries.
Zeus’ five Amazons were with the soldiers on the Avenue. They were also seeking inspiration. As a result, the store was abandoned but for them.
Astonishment was evident in the Arhat’s eyes. When Lan Jue got to the part of his story where the planet Moonfiend was eaten, his scowl deepened. “I had no idea they were so strong. Luckily you all reacted quickly and got everyone out,” the Pauper said.
A sigh heaved Lan Jue’s chest. “But I couldn’t convince the parliament. They have their own agenda, but for us the biggest problem is anticipating where these planets will show up next.”
Chapter 602: Persuading The Pauper
The Pauper shrugged. “It can’t be said the parliament is entirely wrong. If they decide to evacuate, that’ll displace more people than I can count – many will become destitute. If it isn’t handled carefully that situation can very quickly turn into a riot. Besides it’s like you said, we don’t know where and when those aliens will show up, or whether they’re impact the Eastern Alliance at all. In situations like this it’s hard to be confident and quick in making decisions. My guess is the only thing they can agree on is to increase the military and prepare.”
Lan Jue nodded. “Subsequently we don’t have any choices. Like them we can only strengthen Star Division and be ready to hit back when the aliens arrive. What do you say, join us.”
The Pauper hesitated. “Me? I’m spoiled after living by my own rules for so long. I won’t fit.” Then the light of understanding lit up in the Pauper’s eyes. “Ah hah! I thought you were being kind asking me here to explain, Jewelry Master. Instead I find that you just intended on trying to sell me on the Star Division!”
A grin spread across Lan Jue’s face. “You’re a Paragon. The Division isn’t going to demand anything from you. Don’t forget about the exuvium process, either. The East has already
determined that military members who participate in preparing the process will be given the option to undergo it. A Paragon’s life is limited, too. A few more years is just as important for you as it is for me.”
The Pauper chuckled. “Stop this nonsense. This process is being examined in all of the Alliances. I could go anywhere and as a Paragon they’d happily give me an opportunity. That’s no reason for me to join your Division.”
“It’s not my Division,” Lan Jue corrected. “It belongs to Skyfire Avenue. You really won’t join?”
The Pauper shrugged. “I’ll think about it. I’ve only just broken through, I need to stabilize my new abilities.”
“Who’s talking nonsense now,” Lan Jue retorted. “Your Discipline draws on the righteous dharma of the cosmos, it doesn’t need ‘stabilizing.’ Cultivating normally will open the door to the Realm of Protogenia, don’t think I don’t know what’s up. Relax, joining won’t mean anyone can tell you what to do – think of yourself as an adviser. You’ll have just as much freedom, you’ll just have a military distinction.”
Lan Jue’s former partner in crime pondered. He’d been a beggar, and he wouldn’t trade it for a crown. He had grown used to the lazy lifestyle, and wasn’t interested in any commitments. However, he couldn’t simply ignore the aliens and the threat they posed to humanity. He didn’t feel right refusing the invitation straight away.
Their conversation was interrupted by the buzz of Lan Jue’s communicator. He answered.
“When are you coming?” Lan Qing answered in his typical, no-nonsense fashion.
“I’m afraid it’ll be a few more days,” Lan Jue replied. “We just had another Adept ascend to Paragon here. Many of the Star Division soldiers are meditating on their findings and I want to watch over them. Then they come to I’ll head right over.”
Lan Qing paused. “Another Paragon?”
His brother’s typically flat voice sounded a little pleased.
“This is a good thing, but I’m telling you that I don’t think I can wait too long. It can’t be held back forever.”
It was Lan Jue’s turn to take a pause in surprise. He was a smart guy, and quickly put two and two together. “Bro, are you about to break through?”
“Yup.” Lan Qing replied. “With father’s instruction a lot has become clear to me. He’s helped assuage some of my concerns. After these insights, it’s become harder to keep the pressure from overwhelming me.”
Lan Jue took a deep breath. He sounded somewhat irritated. “I thought I’d be able to catch up to you, brother. I didn’t realize I was so far behind. Hey! Do you think I could bring the Star Division troops? They’re top-class Adepts, these protogenia- inspired epiphanies are very helpful for them. Last time I looked them over a tenth of them had come upon a profound insight. The others also got glimpses. Every Paragon’s protogenia is different, and I’m sure your breakthrough will inspire a lot of people. It’s important!”
Lan Qing replied. “If you can be here within the week, then get here.”
“Aright. Talk to dad and see if he can help you resist for a little longer. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Worst case I leave the meditating ones here and take the others. You’ll definitely see me within a week.”
“Alright.” Lan Qing hung up.
Lan Jue’s face was bright with excitement. His brother wanted him close while he broke through to Paragon. Indeed! Lan Qing had been a peaked-rank Adept for so long, it was about time. There was a moment of regret, where Lan Jue pined over his three years lost in depression. If he had kept to it, he certainly would not have been far behind his brother today.
This was tremendous news. Star Division was about to get another leg up.
The Pauper looked at Lan Jue in shock. “Your brother is about to break through as well? He is…?” He didn’t know much about Lan Jue or his relationship with the man he’d called brother.
Lan Jue nodded. “… also an Easterner. His name is Lan Qing, have you heard of him?”
The Pauper shook his head. Lan Jue laughed. “It’s really like you’ve been living under a rock. Look up ‘An Lun super soldier’ when you have a chance. My brother is part of their army.”
The Pauper was stunned. “There are Paragons in the army?
This is excellent!”
Lan Jue felt something stir in his chest. “Your Majesty Arhat, you’ve just broken through to Paragon but I can feel that you don’t need time to secure your power. What do you need is someone who can guide you through the next steps. None of the Paragons here are suitable to help you, because they aren’t familiar with the ancient martial ways. I know someone who might be able to help. At the very least he’ll make your path easier.”
The Pauper was both surprised and curious as he regarded Lan Jue. Then he smiled. “Jewelry Master, you don’t need to resort to baseless boasts to get me to join your army. Just wait for my response.”
The Pauper wasn’t intending to be flippant, but he really didn’t believe there was anyone around who could instruct him. There were many strong Adepts on the Avenue, but none of them were suitable for what he needed. He really couldn’t think
of who he could turn to.
A sense of disquiet filled Lan Jue’s heart. Father, I’m sorry.
I’m going to have to do some name dropping.
“You probably know my father’s Paragon title. Jue Di.” Lan Jue softly revealed.
The Pauper’s smiling face froze. He looked like he was having a stroke.
“Jue… Jue Di.” Taming the Dragon Arhat knew who Jue Di was, and his wisdom in regards to ancient martial styles. If there was anyone who could truly help him take his next step, it was Jue Di.
For most Adept Jue Di was more legend than man; the greatest Paragon to have ever lived, a peerless weapon of mass destruction. The Pauper was now a Paragon himself, but he felt he could never match the likes of Jue Di. If someone would have said one day he’d have an opportunity to be trained by the man, he’d have laughed. Jue Di had been gone so long.
Lan Jue earnestly nodded his head. “This is not something I’d ever joke about. He’s with my brother now. You can come with us.”
Skyfire Avenue’s new Paragon audibly gulped, but waved his hand. “There was absolutely no offense intended, Jewelry Master.”
His friend chuckled. “We’re all family, that doesn’t matter. Humanity has suddenly found itself faced with a terrible foe. Every capable human is a treasure for the species. Trust me, father isn’t going to be too stingy with what he knows. You’re aware that he is a master of many martial arts, one of which is based on Buddhist faith. I’m sure he can help you.”
Promises of instruction by Jue Di were very tempting. A few brief moments of thought convinced the Pauper to join Star Division. He did live here, after all. It had proven a fine shelter for many years, a place that had given him the peace he needed to break through.
Many were the Adepts that reached the final bottleneck and never broke through. It needed a lot of luck, and a lot of resources. Lan Jue and the Wine Master had guided him to what he needed, but without them would he ever have succeeded? If
he were not on the Avenue, would there be five Paragons watching over him?
One important aspect of an Adept’s transformation into a Paragon was the process itself. To some extent it went against the laws of nature. There were dangers. It was possible he could have lost his mind. An opportunistic enemy could have chosen that moment to strike.
However, the Pauper was lucky in that moment of vulnerability to be watched over by five great men and women. All of this was what Skyfire Avenue gave him.
Star Division’s primary directive was the defense of Skyfire Avenue. Obviously there was more they were involved in, but that main reason was enough for him once he thought about it.
On top of that Lan Jue was dangling the tasty prospect of one- on-one training with the strongest human ever.
When Lan Jue realized he’d convinced the Pauper, he was very pleased. The Gourmet’s sudden hermitage meant they were suddenly short one Paragon for the Division. The Keeper and Bookworm were too old and crazy to even consider. The
Wine Master was busy keeping everything running. And as for the Epochrion, Lan Jue deigned not to ask. She’d just come from the North, after all. Who knew what she was thinking.
Lan Jue’s mother was always available, of course. Having attained Nirvana, however, there were restrictions regarding what she could get involved in. Having another Paragon like the Pauper would be exactly what Star Division needed.
Lan Jue sent the Pauper off then made his way to the Gothic Winery. As expected the Wine Master and Driver were there. The Epochrion’s presence was unanticipated.
The Driver had been granted glimpses of truth through the Pauper’s breakthrough. Especially after his experiments with yin-yang lightning, and considering the fact that the Pauper’s protogenia didn’t match his, glimpses were plenty.
“Did you succeed?” The Driver asked with a smirk.
Chapter 603: Stingy Men Find No Women
Lan Jue nodded. “Who are you talking to, of course I succeeded. He agreed, he’s off cultivating now. By the way, I plan to bring Star Division to An Luo.”
The Wine Master didn’t expect the news. “Now?”
“My soldiers profited greatly from the Pauper’s breakthrough,” Lan Jue explained. “However, didn’t kinds of protogenia are suitable for different kinds of people. The more we encounter circumstances like this, the better it is for everyone. My brother is about to break through, so I’d like to bring the Division by. Those who have already experienced an epiphany will stay. The rest of us will head out, and once their insights are experienced we’ll return.”
The Wine Master was ecstatic. “Our An Lun super soldier is going to break through? That’s excellent news. No problem, take them with you. We’ll look after the ones you left behind.”
“Wine Master, you watched the Pauper break through. This is tremendous for the Avenue. What do you think, is it grand enough to drink a glass to?” Lan Jue asked playfully.
“Aren’t you and the Driver going to continue practicing? Why would you drink?” he Wine Master challenged.
The Drive waved a hand dismissively. “Everything in moderation. There is time for work and time for pleasure, such is the way of civilian and military life. We’ve already succeeded to a point today, even learned something about protogenia. You know, Wine Master, stingy men find no women.”
The Wine Master’s eyes flit quickly to the Clockmaker who sat beside him. She appeared not to have heard, and simply remained still and silent.
“Very well, what do you want to drink?” The Paragon’s tone was tight. He was fighting to hide his irritation.
Lan Jue made as though to rise. “How about I go to the cellar and pick one out? Just whatever I find.”
“Over my dead body!” The Wine Master couldn’t help himself. His hoary response surprised even the Clockmaker. She lifted her head and looked at him.
His face reddened in embarrassment. “Sorry, I was a little excited. You don’t know, these fellas are hardly human when they come by here! They’ve helped themselves to nearly all of my best wines. I’m not being stingy, these ‘gentlemen’ are taking advantage.”
A gentle laugh curled her lips. “Good things are meant to be shared with friends.”
Skyfire Avenue’s leader paused, but ultimately nodded. “For the Clockmaker’s sake,
I won’t be cheap with you guys.” As he spoke the Cosmagus waved his hand. With a flash of silver light, several items appeared atop the table.
There was a strange but pleasingly classical wine decanter and four crystal glasses. And of course, a bottle of wine.
The Driver stared blankly at the bottle. His preference was for whisky. He wasn’t as much a fan of the old wines as the other gentlemen were. He was largely here just to enjoy their company. Lan Jue, though, was clearly pleased when he saw it. He turned his eyes, full of meaning, to the Wine Master.
“Definitely for the Clockmaker!”
The woman paused, then looked at him curiously. “How do you mean?”
Lan Jue smiled. “Comparatively, there’s no better wine to please a woman than a sweet white but the fermentation process sweetens them too much. It’s a fine drink for a man and woman who share a deep connection. It’s called Cos d’Estournel Blanc – from the second village of the Medoc region of France in 1855. The second village was a lauded producer of wines, no less favorable than the region’s main fields. It’s comparable to places like Leone and Ducru Beaucaillou.
The Clockmaker turned her attention to pink label on the bottle. “That’s this one?”
“It is!” Lan Jue replied with a nod.
Her face reddened ever so slightly. She understood what the young Jewelry Master was getting at. The Wine Master shot him a look. “According to you!”
He laughed. “You’re too aggressive. If no one said anything how would she have known? If she didn’t know how would she know your heart was in it? I’m your friend, so of course I’m going to help you wherever it seems you need it. Now, Cos d’Estournel needs a relatively long time to decant. Shall we open it?”
“Yeah,” he answered, but was careful not to look the Clockmaker’s way.
Old wines needed to be decanted. Oxygen catalyzes the fragrance and flavor, essentially waking it up. When decanting wines, each one was a little different. However, there were ways to speed the process up like funneling.
The Wine Master rose. In his left hand he took up the decanter, and in the other he cradled the bottle of wine by its base. He put the neck against the decanter’s opening and slowly tipped the bottle over. Little by little he drew the bottle further away from the decanter, revealing a stream of ruby-red liquid.
When funneling the wine in this way, the most important thing of course was not to spill any. The sommelier needed to maintain a constant, even stream. The further one pulled the bottle back, the most space the wine had to breathe and the
better its overall taste.
Without question, the Wine Master was the most suited to the task. Soon the wine end over end, and he held the decanter down below his waist. The trickle of wine remained unbroken. Its path through the air ensured it was as aerated as possible in so short a time.
The Clockmaker smiled as she watched. She gently flicked a wrist, and suddenly a strange energy swirled around them. The liquid reacted to it somehow, but it was hard to see just how. It didn’t interrupt the flow. The Wine Master gave her look that was both bemused and irritated.
Lan Jue laughed and gently clapped his hands. Using time- manipulating protogenia for wine. Extravagant!”
She smirked back at him. “They’re my abilities and I’ve been wanting to use them. Nothing extravagant here. I’m anxious to try this wine you say girls like. I’m curious about the flavor.”
Five minutes later, most of the wine was sloshing safely within the decanter. He left about a finger-width of wine left in the bottle. That sip was thick with tannins and other harsh
tastes, so it would not be imbibed.
There was an unforgettable character to Cos d’Estournel. One could smell licorice and spice, with notes of cream, blackcurrant, blackberries and toast. The wine was full of body, pure and thick. The tannins had already melded perfectly with the wine.
TJSS says ‘like establishing a skyscraper in your mouth’. I know it’s my job, but I haven’t the slightest idea what that means.
“It’s a little bland for me,” the Driver said.
Lan Jue smiled at his drinking buddy. “You’re used to drinking spirits, of course you’d think so. Next time we’ll have the Wine Master bring us by for a Mouton-Rothschild. It’s the most flavorful wine of the whole Bordeaux region.”
The Clockmaker quietly sipped the contents of her glass. She didn’t say anything or engage in their conversation. It looked as though she were lost in thought.
The Wine Master continued the conversation. “When do you plan on leaving?”
“Soon as possible,” Lan Jue stated. “I don’t know how long he’ll be able to hold back his Domain. Dad’s there, but it would still be a good idea to get there as soon as possible.”
The Wine Master nodded. “Alright. The soldiers who weren’t blessed with insight should be ready to wake up in a few hours. The earlier you leave, the earlier you can get back and resume training.”
Lan Jue’s mind went back to the last time he brought guests to An Luo. His A.R.C. students had fought valiantly against his brother’s crack soldiers, and learned a lot from the special opportunity.
“Since I’m bringing them out there, we might stay for a little while. We’ve tempered them against the pirates, but I think it’s about time they learned how to handle a straight fight. Since DreamNet and the sim pods have been upgraded, I think we can probably arrange that, we’ll give it a shot.”
The Wine Master thought for a moment. “Alright, you can keep track of your own time.”
Just then, the paragon’s communicator beeped. He dropped his head to take a look, when suddenly his face darkened.
“What is it?” the Driver asked.
The Wine Master’s voice was low and solemn. “We’ve lost contact with the scout team in the Shattered Starfields. We got nothing back.”
His dour expression was quickly matched by Lan Jue and the Driver. They both knew what this meant.
Lan Jue replied. “The North’s scouts managed, they even sent a whole fleet. The planets must have some way of foiling spies, that’s the only thing I can think of.”
The Driver chimed in. “The benefits of military intelligence go without saying. We know so little about them, almost nothing – we’re too passive. If it weren’t for our lucky run-in, the aliens would probably completely control the Starfields by
now, including Moonfiend. I think we need to alert the Alliances, and tell them that we need to improve reconnaissance no matter the cost. At the very least we need some warning before the planets teleport. If we don’t, we’re just sitting here waiting to get smacked around.”
A sigh caused the Wine Master to heave his shoulders. “If only it were so easy! We sent our top scouts, and this was the result. I agree with the Jewelry Master’s determinations. These aliens are intelligent, and they likely picked the Starfields because they knew we couldn’t bring large ships in. They can feed without worrying over whether we’d interrupt. Large ships can’t get in, and small ships are destroyed outright. Then there’s the magnetic field that prevents communication. This is a very big problem.
It was Lan Jue’s time to sigh. “I’ll go!”
Chapter 604: I’ll Be The Scout!
“You’ll go? Go do what?” The Wine Master asked.
Lan Jue responded. “I’ll be the scout! The Driver’s right, intelligence is incredibly important especially now. Without it we’re sitting ducks. I’ll take Zeus-1 – it’s small, fast, and can cloak. It’ll be perfectly safe.”
“Unacceptable!” The Wine Master quickly answered. “You cannot go. Star Division needs your leadership and guidance. Do you even know your status among your soldiers? If something happens to you, how are we supposed to fulfill the Clairvoyant’s prophecy?”
A smile touched Lan Jue’s lips. “Don’t be so worried. The Clairvoyant picked me because it’s what he saw in his visions – because I would help humanity weather this crisis. If that man’s prophecies were as strong as they all assume we are, then I won’t be dying any time soon. There’s danger, no doubt, but between the asteroid belts and the Blinding Stone, I can escape without much trouble.”
The Wine Master’s eyebrows screwed together. “It’s still too dangerous. This is not your responsibility.”
Lan Jue adopted an angry countenance. “You can’t say that. I may not be military but these aliens are everybody’s problem. I am capable, why can’t I flex a little?”
The old paragon hesitated. “Let me think about it.”
“He’s right.” The Clockmaster added her voice to the discussion. “We need as much information as we can get. Normal scouting parties can’t do the job so we need to take up the slack. Compared to normal soldiers we’ve been blessed with a myriad of advantages that can help us. Even a paragon can’t survive a shot from a capital ship, but a strong, individual Adept can do more than a whole contingent of soldiers. Scouting is a job he can do, and I’ll go with him.”
She fixed Lan Jue with her eyes as she spoke the final words.
Lan Jue paused, surprised by her sudden offer of services. As far as he knew, the Clockmaker had hardly left her shop since returning to the Avenue. This was a wild departure from normal. With her along, their chance of success increased significantly, that was undisputed. She had the power to control time, and was a powerful Paragon in her own right. Her presence would be of untold value.
“You’re going?” The Wine Master looked at the Clockmaker in shock.
She nodded. “There’s no reason for me to just stand around here. I’m back and I want to help.”
The Wine Master was silent. After a few moment he lifted his head and looked at the Clockmaker. “Then I’ll go as well.”
The Driver and Lan Jue each looked at the Wine Master with strange looks. This guy, he cared more about his girl than he did his friends!
The Clockmaker paused, and her face reddened ever so slightly. “If you leave then who will take care of things around here?”
He waved away her concerns. “I can deliver major policy decisions from anywhere. The Gourmet will be staying back to cultivate, so I’ll speak with him about it. Anyway, once Lan Jue takes Star Division to An Lun there will be very little here to pay attention to at all. I hardly ever leave, and if we’re going to talk about using our powers, why can’t I?”
Lan Jue sighed. “I used to think you had some self-respect. I guess I was wrong.”
The Wine Master glared at him. “You scoundrel! We are going in order to keep you safe. Between us we control both time and space, you can ask for better company.”
“Who’s a scoundrel?” Lan Jue countered disdainfully. “My mother will certainly be coming with me to An Lun. Between you who do you think has more control over time, huh? Your presence makes no difference.”
“You…” The Wine Master was speechless, and of course he would be. What could he say? Everything he knew he learned from the Photographer. With Lan Jue’s mother going with him, there really was no reason for the Wine Master to tag along. He understood now why Lan Jue was so set on scouting as well. The Photographer’s abilities were among the strongest in history. If they couldn’t kill what came their way, they could flee. It was no different than having Jue Di in your backseat.
The Clockmaker looked to the embarrassed Wine Master sitting beside her. “I’m going to start getting ready. Call me when it’s time to leave.” She punctuated the sentence with a nod to the two younger gentlemen, then she left.
The Wine Master rose sharply to his feet and sent her off. The Driver noticed and spoke softly to Lan Jue beside him. “Why’d you screw with him like that? It’s hard for an old tree to spread new roots, and just as he was about to flower you go and make trouble.”
Lan Jue laughed. “How am I making trouble? Don’t you think he was coming on a little strong? I was trying to tell him to back off. If he doesn’t he’s gunna miss his chance.”
“Horseshit! You little bastard, you come in here and drink my wine and then attack me! Have you got any conscience at all?” The Paragon was clearly furious.
Lan Jue sat back and spoke as though delivering some profound thought. “You should be thanking me. I’m trying to give you a chance to get close to the Clockmaker!”
“We already are, who the hell needs you?” He blurted out.
“Oh.” Lan Jue and the Driver shared the expression as they were informed. The Wine Master’s voice was dangerously calm, but still red from the shame and anger. “Now get. The. Hell. Out! NOW!” The sharp clap of his hands punctuated the words.
He glowered at them in resentment.
The Driver and Lan Jue stood. “We’re going. We won’t cause any more trouble. We’ll find somewhere else to practice.”
Practice had strengthened their level of control. So long as they restrained the amount of energy, at least they wouldn’t blow the place up.
After he saw them leave, the Wine Master couldn’t help but chuckle. In truth, ever since the Clockmaker’s return he’d been in high spirits. Perhaps it was time for a little trip. There was an opportunity to meet the legendary Jue Di, after all. His aunt – so strong and haughty – fell head over heels for the man. He wanted to know what he was like.
Jin Tao’s eyes slowly opened as he roused from deep meditation. He sensed that hi Discipline was somehow different, but he couldn’t pinpoint precisely what it was.
He scratched his head then clambered to his feet.
There were many of the Star Division left here now. The remainder were being looked after by the Skyfire Avenue security force. When they saw him awaken, they waved him over and led him away.
Jin Tao looked back to glance at Tang Xiao, who was still meditating. He saw flashing of golden light around his rival that took him by surprise. He looked like one of those fat happy Buddhas, complete with a small smile and everything. He didn’t move – he didn’t even seem to be breathing.
Jin Tao wasn’t the ‘dumb mutt’ he used to be. He knew more about the world of Adepts than he had before. Did this mean his rival had found a suitable type of protogenia? Jin Tao couldn’t help but feel a little envious. The two of them were both personal disciples of Lan Jue, and he had shared with them many specifics about the world of protogenia.
Jin Tao knew that finding the right protogenia was important. If you did, it meant ninth level was within reach. It was the first step on their Path to Paragon.
Results like this were part of why it was so beneficial to find an Adept breaking through to Paragon. It was a rare opportunity only a few Adepts ever got to experience. Insights
gained from circumstances like this had a chance to tremendously boost an Adept’s abilities. It was like trying to compile a computer program from scratch. You could work for three days and three nights and still get nowhere, but a single sentence from someone in the know could make it all clear.
Jin Tao admitted that he’d learned something from the new Paragon. However, compared to Tang Xiao it seemed his insights were less. It was unfortunate, but that just meant he had to work harder!
Ever since meeting Lan Jue, Jin Tao had tread a path he thought he’d never see. Every day he was stronger, and that gave him inspiration.
He thought back to a year ago, when he was a trouble maker with no sense of societal responsibility. Now he was an eighth level warrior, reputable by normal standards. No one called him trash any more.
Lan Jue’s words swam up through his memory, the requirements he’d shared the day Jin Tao swore fealty. He would became a soldier, and be a man of use and character! This had always been his deepest desire. Now he was among brothers and sisters who strove every day for greatness, and it filled him
with joy and pride. The past was long forgotten, there was only the future.
His competition with Tang Xiao was also a motivating force. It irked him terribly that Tang Xiao was always in the lead, and he’d had to use the fantascia genetica decoction just to close the gap. But he was crazy and cowboyish, and that made him work harder than everybody else. He was happiest when he was cultivating.
When the others saw it, even Tang Xiao, they called him crazy. He wasn’t normal.
“What are you thinking about?” Suddenly, a hand clamped down on Jin Tao’s shoulder.
He was caught so much by surprise that he tripped, and went sailing through the air. He stayed there on all fours with eyes risen. He’d been careless to let someone get so close without him knowing.
Chapter 605: Lan Jue’s Pride
“Teacher?” After a moment of stillness Jin Tao shot to his feet. He scooted to Lan Jue’s side with a sheepish expression.
Star Division’s commander chuckled. “You’re vigilant. That’s a good thing.”
Jin Tao cast a sideways glance at Tang Xiao then dropped his eyes to the floor. “Teacher, I feel useless. My comprehension is lacking. Tang Xiao has already discovered something, but I haven’t.”
Lan Jue wrapped an arm around the young man’s shoulders. “You think too much. Everyone has their own chance, in their own time. Who knows when that’ll be, I don’t. But remember that so long as you’re breathing there are opportunities. The trick is that these opportunities only come to the people who are ready. Frankly speaking when you first asked to be my apprentice, I wasn’t sure. Not because of your Talent, but because of your character. Today, I’m proud I made the decision. There are two sides to everything. There was a side of you who was a troublemaker in school, but you’ve flipped. Now you’re an excellent Disciple, and the single most determined person I have ever met. It’s true that you needed the decoction to help you, but not everyone can survive it. The fact that you
did speaks volumes.
“Your teacher sees how hard you’ve been working. I know that the second you’re opportunity comes, you’re going to grab it with everything you’ve got. I didn’t have your strength of will when I was your age. Don’t doubt yourself. You can’t if you’re going to make this your obsession. Do you understand?”
Jin Tao looked up at his teacher, and that steely persistence flashed in his eyes. He nodded resolutely.
Lan Jue grinned back. “We’re moving out soon, there might be another opportunity out there for you. No more doubts, dogged cultivation is the right path.”
“Yes.” He affirmed.
Lan Jue swung his eyes to Tang Xiao. He’s been surprised himself to discover how quickly Tang Xiao gained this insight. He knew his Disciple had only broken through to ninth level recently. To have such epiphanies early in the level was immeasurably helpful, a sign of his chances at Paragon.
For many Adepts, the speed of their cultivation was drastically reduced once they reached ninth level. At that point their bodies were at the limits of what human bodies could endure. The only way was comprehension of the universe, its ebbs and flows.
But fathoming the secrets of the cosmos is just as hard as it sounded. Luck played a large role.
Tang Xiao remained in place, beaming at nothing. Then it struck him, how similar it seemed to the Pauper’s Arhat. Tang Xiao hadn’t just uncover some secret of protogenia. He’d found a dogma. Lan Jue couldn’t tell if that was what resonated with his student, but they were similar – Buddhist in nature. It wasn’t everything, just a glimpse, but enough to be pleasantly surprising.
He felt like he deserved to be called the transformer the way these kids were turning out! Pride was clear in his face.
“Lan Jue.” A voice called to him from off to the side. He turned his head to see a blushing face. When he saw her, Lan Jue’s face went stiff.
Tan Lingyun walked over to him. Jin Tao knew when it was time to make his escape, and told Lan Jue he was going to cultivate before trotting off.
“Professor Tan.” Lan Jue’s greeting was polite.
She looked a little conflicted when she saw the look in his eye. She was also a part of Star Division, and in fact was a part of First Division’s Alpha Squad. Her combat prowess and ninth level Discipline demanded nothing less. Lately her improvement had also been quick. He could safely say that in the last year she’d learned more than she had in the last half decade.
To her all of it was thanks to the man standing in front of her.
His sudden change of status to her had been dizzying. She’d called him cowardly and useless. Then he was the Lei Feng who’d made her heart race. Next he was the drillmaster, and finally a hero.
When she first learned the truth, she was dumbfounded. How could she have known that someone who looked so pretty and – frankly – delicate, could command so much power?
During the tournament she was biting her nails right beside all of her students as they watched Lan Jue fight. She cheered him on just as hard, though perhaps not quite so verbally.
After he’d won the championship, much to their delight, Hua Li dropped another bombshell. He revealed Lan Jue as the hero of Taihua, and subsequently proved Tan Lingyun a total fool. Compared to him she’d contributed a pittance to humanity, he’d even saved her life. For months she continued to abuse him, each time worse than the last.
Tan Lingyun had been terribly conceited. Regret was not a word in her vocabulary. That was, until recently. Now she regretted her sour temper. She resented it when people called her the Savage Goddess. Maybe if she’d been gentler, thought before she acted, was less direct, then things might have been different.
She studiously observed Lan Jue during their quest to clean up the Starfields. His capable command and overwhelming strength were often on display. She also noticed the beautiful and intelligent woman at his side.
She was only one of five women who called her commander ‘boss,’ each one more impressive than the last. Be it looks or
ability, every one of them was her superior. However, their ‘boss’ was always clear about his feelings.
When Tan Lingyun wasn’t cultivating he was often in her thoughts. However, he always seemed to keep his distance. Unquestioningly, her previous treatment of him was still fresh in his mind too.
Today had been the first time she’d had an opportunity to approach him, to stand next to him. There was so much she wanted to say, but when she saw that stiff expression cross his face she couldn’t get a word out.
Everything he’d said to Jin Tao, she’d heard. Yes! There were only a limited number of possibilities in one’s life, you had to grab them when you can. That was the only way to success, otherwise you were doomed to mediocrity. Only the people who were ready and willing saw them when they came. Who was to say he wasn’t her opportunity? But, how could she know if she was ready? How could she know if she could grasp it?
“Are you alright, Professor Tan?” Lan Jue couldn’t help but ask after watching her stare into to space for a minute. It was the first time he’d seen her in any other state besides abject insanity. He could see the helplessness and pain in her eyes. It
definitely wasn’t like her.
“I’m fine,” she answered, and shook her head. “I was just thinking, you and Qianlin…”
When her name came up, sadness flashed behind the commander’s eyes. His love was on the right track but still hadn’t awoken. And all of it was his fault!
“I love her. I only joined the university for her. She’d hired me as her bodyguard, and being an etiquette teacher was my cover. Who’d have thought things would spin so out of control. Qianlin was injured protecting me, ironically. She’s still recovering.”
Tan Lingyun was silent, stunned. She chuckled a little self- admonishing laugh. I never had a shot. He’d already known Qianlin.
No wonder it always seemed strange when she saw them together. Indeed, how could such a capable main remain single?
“I hope she recovers quickly and can return to her family.”
She smiled and nodded pleasantly at him.
“Thank you.” Lan Jue wasn’t sure how to respond to this new, gentler Savage Goddess. He sure as hell preferred it to how she used to be, though.
“How are you? Did you gain any insights?” He asked her.
But she shook her head. “I tried, but this kind of protogenia doesn’t resonate with me. It was helpful but not the path I want to follow.”
If there was any kind of Adept that hated these aliens the most, it was those like Tan Lingyun. Their natural, vigorous Discipline was in direct conflict with the beasts. She drew her powers from nature like they did, but used it to empower combat. She was directly affected by her environment. When she was standing on Taihua her Discipline must have been boosted a full rank. On the other hand these aliens fed off of vitality and corrupted it. Whatever was left behind was cancerous and sick. She found everything about their species particularly loathsome.
Lan Jue paused in thought for a moment. “You might have
another opportunity, perhaps his protogenia will serve you better.”
Tan Lingyun was surprised at the news. “There’s going to be another Paragon?”
Lan Jue nodded. There was pride in his face. A grin spread across Tan Lingyun’s.
“How much better it would have been if I’d met you earlier.”
Lan Jue visibly shivered. “You mean try to break me earlier,” he blurted.
Tan Lingyun’s old anger flared. “In your heart, do you really think I’m so nasty?”
Chapter 606: Go Cultivate!
“Eh…” Lan Jue felt something shift in the environment. He hurriedly spoke up. “Of course not, you just tend to leave an impression. Anyway, we’re about the same age.”
Her face grew gloomy. “I’m going to go cultivate.”
“Alright.” Lan Jue didn’t give her any excuse to stay.
He watched her go. Secretly – and silently – he admired her. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he’d ever met, but her figure absolutely drew the eye. He loved to watch her go! She glided down the street, every movement vibrant and full of natural allure.
“You’re too blunt, Professor.” Tang Mi’s voice interrupted his thoughts. She’s snuck up at some point when he hadn’t been paying attention. She grinned at him coquettishly.
“How do you mean?” He asked.
She grinned back at him. “Can’t you see Professor Tan likes
you? I don’t believe it, you’re playing dumb aren’t you?”
Her commander maintained a straight face. “You’re so young, what do you know about affection? Go cultivate! Your brother is in the midst of an epiphany, what about you?”
“Don’t you rely on seniority,” Tang Mi countered. “If I’m so young what about Qianlin, huh?”
“That –“ There wasn’t anything he could say. Where all young women so cunning these days?
Tang Mi crept closer and took his arm, while simultaneously extending one of the long legs she was famous for. “What do you think, Professor?”
He looked at her fatly. “Go cultivate!”
She sniffed. “Ugh, you’re so boring. Fine, I know you belong to Qianlin. But you know Jin Tao’s been chasing me. What do you think I should do?”
“Ah?” Lan Jue blinked at her helplessly. “Deal with your own emotional issues. I can’t teach you this.”
Tang Mi retorted. “That’s no good, you’re his teacher. You know him better than most, I’m sure. Tell me, do you think he’ll make a good boyfriend?” She looked genuinely lost.
She never gave the old Jin Tao more than a passing glance. However, she’d watched his spectacular transformation over the last year. Besides her brother, Jin Tao was the strongest one in the A.R.C. class. His persistence and dedication bordered on obsessive. It shocked her too see how much he’d changed from the dumb-mutt she used to know.
When she first met him, she thought Jin Tao was a waste of space with no talent or skill. How things change in just a year. Now he was stronger than she was. She didn’t know how to react to that.
Lan Jue shook his head. “I don’t know what Jin Tao was like before, but men change when they stop being boys. Take your time and think on it. If you’re sure he wants to be your boyfriend, maybe test it a little. Give him a target and see if he reaches it.”
Tang Mi’s eyes lit up. “I like that idea. I know, I’ll tell him that if he becomes a Paragon, then he can call himself my boyfriend. What do you think?”
Lan Jue feebly looked her way. “You’re a Paragon, then? That’s not so easy! Decades, maybe. Are you willing to wait that long?”
She stuck her tongue out at him. “What, then?”
“Ninth level is good enough,” Lan Jue said. “It’s not too far off, and it’ll serve your purpose. If you make it too hard he’ll just think you’re refusing him.”
She bat her lashes at him. “Professor, will you accept me as your disciple? Look at what’s happened to Jin Tao and my brother, I’m falling further and further behind. What do you think?” She playfully tugged at his arm.
“Absolutely not,” he answered. “You and Qianlin are the best of friends. If I accept you as a disciple how will manage that? Anyway, at your level a teacher isn’t what you need. What you need is more personal insight. You and your brother have similar Disciplines, you should talk to him. I’m sure he can
teach you a lot.”
It took some persuading, but eventually Tang Mi went her own way. Lan Jue decided it was time to make a move as quickly as he could. If he stuck around any longer he didn’t know what other trouble would come his way.
The orders were given; those soldiers who were awake were to gather tomorrow morning for another excursion. He’d considered leaving immediately, but figured the students would need time to process what they experienced. A few hours likely wouldn’t make a difference, so he delayed their departure.
Lan Jue continued to train combining Disciplines with the Driver. It wasn’t cultivating exactly, more like an evolution.
The Driver’s gains were more profound than Lan Jue’s. As they continued to meld and absorb these energies, he could feel changes in the state of his Discipline. Lan Jue benefited as well, but he was better helped by continuing to absorb the thunder essence.
The thunder essence reacted to the yin-yang thunderbolt powers. It somehow catalyzed it and helped him to absorb the
essence faster. Its righteous aura and immortal qi continued to join with his own energies. It was causing some changes in his own Discipline.
The river also benefited indirectly from the thunder essence. Since they were exchanging the flow of Discipline between them, some of that immortal qi was transferred. Even in miniscule amounts it was very helpful for the Driver.
Changing one’s own segregated energies into a combination of yin and yang was not quick. It would take quite a lot of cultivation to achieve. Part of the reason was its inherent danger. They could only combine a little bit of their Disciplines at a time, because if they lost control for even a moment it would be ruinous even with the help of Taiji.
The energies were the same when the two adepts joined them, but changed when they were absorbed. At the moment of creation, the yin-yang lightning was a crystalline blue. It looks like countless gemstones flowing into and around one another, perfectly calm.
However, this state was quickly modified as it was assimilated. For the Driver, he was surprised to discover traces of purple in the crystalline blue light as it flowed into him. Yet
to Lan Jue it was different. A pale gold infiltrated his energy, turning it brighter. There were flecks of light within like twinkling stars. That was undoubtedly from the thunder essence.
The more of the thunder essence he assimilated, the deeper he felt it. It was something he recognized, that he’d sensed at some point before. It was a boundless void, and yet was the root of everything. That was the only way he could describe it.
Jun Yongye had explained it to him that this was part of the tribulation lightning visited upon immortals. It was the germ of life and death – from which everything sprang, and to where it would all return. In this way, nothingness was just as much a part of being. This fundamental power was dangerous no doubt. However if you survived, if you held onto your core, you would be reborn. The realm of the immortals would be at your fingertips.
Chapter 607: Extermination Lightning
This lightning, laden with the substance of life and death, was terrifying. It was strong enough to destroy the great beasts of the ancient days. This tribulation lightning bore great opportunity, but it also wrought destruction. Whether man or monster, everyone shuddered at the flash of tribulation lightning.
As a lightning-based Adept himself, the chance to use this extermination lightning was wonderful. Jun Yongye’s aim was to have him absorb the life-extinguishing lightning into his own thunderbolt Discipline. If he succeeded, than every attack from him would be like a blast of tribulation lightning.
Lan Jue’s cultivation continued to improve by leaps and bounds. Through the process of manipulating the yin-yang lightning he could sense the rise and purification of his own energy.
But there was a roadblock. Namely, his state of mind.
Over the last year he had been blessed with one great insight after another. From the Banishing blade and being forced to recultivate, to yin-yang lightning, lightning essence, Taiji and
now extermination lightning. All of them had been an important step along his path, giving him hints at the nature of his protogenia.
It was undoubtedly a great thing if an Adept came to recognize protogenia, but Lan Jue had experienced so much in so short a period. Initially he thought he knew the righteous course his thunderbolt Discipline demanded. However, righteous came in many forms. He’d experienced a plethora of different kinds of protogenia, and although it has empowered him it was difficult to keep stable when so much was in flux. The things he’d undergone changed him, not just his Discipline.
His cultivation had also become a search for a suitable path. Once an Adept broke through to Paragon there was no going back. He had one chance to get it right.
The next morning Majesty and Zeus-1 left Skyfire, under the guise of military secrecy.
They’d only gotten back and they were off again. It was exhausting by any standard. Only, this time they weren’t
leaving to fight, and they had been motivated by the arrival of a new Paragon. Even now, all seven hundred Star Division soldiers were in their bunks cultivating. They were all looking for that elusive opportunity.
Over a hundred Division soldiers were left back on Skyfire, those that were still working to understand the insights granted by the Pauper. Even small insights needed time to sink into the mind.
They were fewer in numbers for this excursion, but they were ludicrously protected. The Gourmet stayed behind, but he was replaced by the Wine Master, Clockmaker, Photographer and the Pauper. Four in exchange for one, totaling more than half of Skyfire Avenue’s strongest fighters.
The Pharmacist didn’t join them this time. She’s been separated from her daughter and wished to remain near her. Jun’er was still cloistered away to cultivate. She was young, but had tremendous focus. No one knew where she and the Clairvoyant were in the process of transference.
“Should we take a break during the flight?” Lan Jue asked the Driver, who seemed excited.
But the excitement changed to stern reprobation. “Of course not! A boxer never sits on his hands, and a singer’s notes don’t stay in their mouths. We have to strike while the iron’s hot! Don’t you want to evolve your Discipline as soon as possible? Look, when the transition is complete I’ll stop bothering you. Alright?”
“There are hundreds of souls on this ship,” Lan Jue pointed out. “One mistake and this ship explodes. That’s hundreds of corpses.”
The Driver was beginning to lose patience. “We’ve been at this for so long already, you’re just making excuses. We’re wasting time – three months at the most and the transition will be complete.”
The Driver had the same misgivings, but to him this opportunity was too good to pass up. He hadn’t had the wealth of good fortune Lan Jue had enjoyed, especially in the sense of improving his Discipline. He’d only just begun to comprehend the flows of protogenia. Through the yin-yang lightning, he’d begun to establish his own thunderbolt protogenia. His Discipline and his heart were both racing for the same goal.
At first the Driver was never sure he had what it took to
become a Paragon. However, now he was convinced that if he could absorb the yin-yang lightning then would join their illustrious number in the not too distant future. It was too enticing for him not to doggedly pursue.
Lan Jue went on. “I’ve been thinking about the changes we’ve noticed. Our combined Disciplines are different, of course, but they’re different because of what leads them. For me, yang is the predominant force. For you, it’s yin. I think this accounts for the change in color.”
The Driver nodded. “I had the same thought. It’s not important, though. What’s important is that we complete the transition as quickly as possible. Once we thorough grasp the nature of this lightning, it’ll be lightning equivalent to what a Paragon commands.”
Earlier in the morning after their cultivation and before boarding the ships, Lan Jue and the Driver attempted to use the yin-yang lightning. The Driver in particular was surprised at what they found. The result wasn’t flashy, but everything the lightning touched was obliterated. It was at least three times stronger than what they’d experienced the first time. It reminded him of the blast created in his fight as Skyshade during the miracle god-battles.
Instantly he understood why Lan Jue’s Taiji borrowed force was so overwhelming, to the point where the Clairvoyant hadn’t been able to ward it off. The union of taiyin and taiyang lightning transcended the Adepts that used them. It became protogenia.
Lan Jue entreated caution. “You shouldn’t be so hasty. I asked father and he said you could only really master yin-yang lightning after you’ve achieved Paragon. Until then there was no way to really comprehend its nature.
The Driver nodded. “Fine, but the first step is transforming our Disciplines. When we eventually become Paragons, understanding it will be a cinch. Our Disciplines will be ready when the time comes, and they’ll get even stronger”
A grin split the Jewelry Master’s face. “The Driver I knew was never this diligent.”
He chuckled in response. “Guess you missed the change. Besides I didn’t have the same goal I do now. Only an idiot would give up this chance. Honestly, thank you.”
Lan Jue chortled at his friend. “Come on, I can’t stand your
thanks. It feels weird.”
Majesty and Zeus-1 left Skyfire’s orbit and tore through space, with no concern for fuel economy. They had to get to An Lun as quickly as they could.
Chapter 608: Reaching An Lun
Their stay on Skyfire had been too short from them to use any of the resources Star Division had taken from the pirates. But they did have energy in spades. The worth of all the energy crystals they brought back with them was hard to quantify. They’d gone after the strongest and riches pirates of the Shattered Starfields, culminating in the Moonfiend Pirate clan. Their last campaign had been the most profitable of them all, including resources directly from the Pontiff’s Citadel.
The poor souls that the Pontiff had experimented on had been settled on Skyfire, and the Keeper set about eliminating the poisons in their bodies. Obviously, none of these people were eager to run back to the Pontiff and report on what they saw. They didn’t even want to return to the West. For the time being a place was arranged for them, but when the question of their future came up Lan Jue and the Wine Master agreed to let them find their own way.
Despite their terrible treatment, these young Talents would emerge from detoxification at sixth level, at the very least. These were meant to be molded into the Pontiff’s reserve forces. They weren’t weak, but the crimes they had to suffer were similarly intense. It was impossible to tell what sort of effect it had had on them psychologically.
What they needed was guidance and freedom. Until then they couldn’t know if they would be a danger to society. Su Xiaosu had approached him, saying that she could convince them to join Star Division, but after some thought he refused that idea on the same premise.
They had been captives for years, their longing for a life of freedom was certainly stronger than any normal person’s. If they solicited them now in their time of vulnerability many would accept, but it would be perilous for their spirit. Besides, Star Division was already strong, and padding its numbers wasn’t the way to make it stronger. After widespread discussions with the likes of the Gourmet, the Wine Master and others, the consensus was to let them go their own way. It could be addressed again later, when it was clear how they were reacting, psychologically.
As for Gabriel, Lan Jue had kept his promise and allowed the Arhcangel to leave. He’d been present for the Pauper’s rise to Paragon status, and in fact had received some benefit from the experience himself. This was all news he was certain to bring back to the Pontiff.
Skyfire Avenue had entered a golden age, and the Pontiff’s Citadel had made no efforts to cause trouble any more. Right now, the focus was largely on the enemy at their doorstep. It
didn’t serve anyone for them to throw their strength behind hopeless pursuits. They’d suffered a terrible blow, and surely the Pontiff would be angry. But as far as Lan Jue was concerned, everyone had to suffer the consequences of their bad decisions.
The Pontiff’s Citadel had chosen a dark path, and it was up to them alone whether or not they would turn back. What was certain was that Lan Jue’s actions would seriously impact the Citadel’s development for years to come. They wouldn’t even be able to contend against Satan and his ilk.
Back on Skyfire, the Keeper and Bookworm had had to divide up the labor. With the wealth of alien Core’s Lan Jue had returned with, and thanks to their earlier efforts, Skyfire Avenue’s exuvium process was nearing completion. All it needed now was experimentation to test results. The Confucian Scholar took on the work of that himself. Meanwhile, with his free time the Keeper was developing weapons for Star Division.
Their campaigns in the Shattered Starfields had indeed been lucrative, but had also revealed flaws. The first was their embarrassing lack of really big guns. They were woefully unprepared technologically for these aliens. Both ships had wonderful capabilities but were similarly deficiency in firepower. The mecha suits had been customized for the students, but were still not packing the punch they needed.
Although Star Division was a force for quick hits and rapid movements, it just meant their destructive powers had to be twice as hefty. Infiltration meant nothing if you didn’t mess things up while you were in there. They couldn’t continue to rely on Paragons. What kind of fighting force would they be then?
The Keeper made it his goal to get them all properly outfitted.
Star Divisions’ trip to the Starfields had been a tightly kept secret, but their results were widely lauded. Before even taking into account everything else, the fact that they brought back information on the aliens was an incredible achievement. That lone proved their usefulness, for now humanity at least knew where their enemy was, and how strong they were.
Support from the government for Star Division was not a concern. The Avenue was itself doing well economically, especially after the haul from the Starfields. What they needed now was more people.
Scientists and researchers from all over Skyfire converged on the Avenue, and under the Keeper’s direction they began developing weapons. When they were completed they would be given to the Division first, and the surplus would be provided to
the Eastern forces.
The Wine Master reported to the parliament that Lan Jue would be setting out himself to scout out the alien forces. When they heard this, the politicians happily awarded the Avenue ten rare s-ranked power gems as a token of support.
At top speed, it took Star Division’s ships two days to reach An Lun. Looking down on its surface, nothing much appeared to have changed. A grim atmosphere hung over everything just as it had before. They deorbited and were directed into the heart of the military complex.
Only a few of the people coming with Lan Jue this time had visited An Lun before. The military and Adept worlds were very separate, but that didn’t mean they were ignorant of one another. An Lun was still famous in the East for what had transpired on its surface and in its mines.
It was also where the youngest admiral in Eastern history, the An Lun super soldier Prometheus, had his command.
An LUn had been the center of some of the East’s greatest battles in history, and was an integral piece of its defense. Ever
since news of the aliens, their numbers had swelled. Even though, though, they topped out at three hundred thousand soldiers.
Among them was the newly formed Bloodiron Khans.
The Bloodiron Khans were arranged in two parts; the main force, and reserves. Each were ten thousand fighters strong, and were the highest grade of soldier they could find. However, few if any of them had ever seen any actual combat, so it was impossible to tell how effective they would be when the time came.
The soldiers on An Lun were widely regarded as the best in all the Eastern Alliance. A whole fleet was stationed there as well that they called the Yanhuang Fleet. One could tell by the name how highly the fleet was regarded.
Named after two legendary Chinese emperors, Yan Di and Huang Di (note the naming convention, the same as Jue Di).
The East had always been behind the other Alliances in the realm of technology and strength. Turning that around was not something that happened over night. So, thirty years ago the
government enacted policies to change that, including the creation of a crack contingent of soldiers.
We don’t have the numbers of the North and East, so we have to make sure we have the strength to match their armies.
The An Lun army was also established as a result of this need. So, even though there was only a single fleet stationed here, it was the result of generations of sweat and blood. Yanhuang Fleet wasn’t an iota less impressive than its Northern counterpart, and was likely stronger in a fight.
It was precisely the An Lun army’s presence here that protected this important Eastern resource from repeated attempts to take it from the North. They were the watchers that kept the Eastern territories safe from aggressors.
For all of these reasons there was a deep and abiding respect for the men and women of An Lun. It was true for normal soldiers as it was for Adepts. Now the metal world of these defenders was flitting below them. The excitement was palpable.
Now they were soldiers too, part of their own army. Who was
better? What was the An Lun army they’d heard so much about really like?
Their minds full of these questions, led by their commander and four powerful Paragons, they disembarked.
Lan Qing stood nearby with a welcome party. He was dressed for war, with two golden star glinted on his shoulders. When he saw the Wine Master and the other four Paragons exit the ship, he and his soldiers immediately snapped to attention.
The Wine Master returned their respectful address with a nod. The Wine Master’s station among the military was at the highest levels, equivalent to a chief of staff. It was only proper for Lan Qing to greet him as a superior.
“We’re happy to welcome Star Division.” Lan Qing took a step forward and grasped the Wine Master’s hand. He then went down the line, shaking hands until he reached Lan Jue. The two brothers clasped both their hands together, and at once Lan Jue could sense the chaos raging within his brother’s body. Waves of protogenic energy pulsed from him, while his own energies felt oddly fractured. It was a sign that his resistance was failing. He couldn’t hold back the transformation to Paragon much longer.
“Congratulations,” Lan Jue greeted joyfully.
Lan Qing’s hard face bore a small smile. “You’re right behind me. I’m sorry I couldn’t wait for you to catch up.”
Lan Jue laughed. “Don’t be so cocky. It won’t be long before we’re shoulder to shoulder.”
The An Lun admiral led Star Division to quarters that had been arranged for them. The Paragons and officers of An Lun met for supper together in the mess hall. The fare was simple military food, bland and nutritious. Certainly there was no alcohol, it was strictly forbidden here.
“We’ll have to use tea in place of wine tonight. Welcome after your long journey.” Lan Qing was on his feet, and lifted his small glass respectfully to his guests.
Chapter 609: Where’s That Old Jerk Chi Bupang?
“Where’s that old jerk Chi Bupang? Why didn’t he come?” Only the Photographer would dare talk about Jue Di in that tone. Her sharp eyes had been sweeping the crowds looking for him the moment they touched down. So far he’d alluded her. Her perception was mythical, so there was no way he could be hiding.
“Father’s cultivating,” Lan Qing explained. “He’ll meet with everyone tomorrow.”
Luo Xianni sniffed. “I don’t care about the others, but I’m seeing him right now. Bring him to me, or don’t blame me for the trouble I’ll cause!
“This…” Lan Qing was a man of the military. Orders had to be followed, structure had to be maintained. However, his title as admiral did nothing for him when faced against Luo Xianni. She had a passionate streak, to put it mildly. However, even Lan Qing felt his father had done her wrong.
“Chi Bupang, you get out here this instant. Don’t make me take out my frustration on your children!” Luo Xianni was
entirely nonplused by the scores of eyes watching her. She wasn’t shy to call the old man out. Her voice did not boom dramatically, but it did echo harshly through every crest and valley of An Luo. Clearly the product of interdimensional tomfoolery. However, only an Adept of a particular strength would be able to pick the sound out. The normal soldiers were, so far, not bothered.
“You’re a special kind of crazy, aren’t you.” Jue Di’s defeated voice answered her.
When they heard him, the collective eyes of the other three Paragons contracted. Was this that legendary man, the strongest of all the Paragons? Was that the voice of Jue Di?
Luo Xianni grunted. “You call yourself a man? If you were you wouldn’t be hiding like a coward.”
There was a flash of light, then Jue Di appeared before the gathering with a face as dark as a thunderhead. He slowly pointed an accusatory finger at Luo Xianni. “We’re all supposed to be adults here. Are you incapable of acting your age? You’re not off the ship five minutes and you’re already causing trouble. And then threaten my kids!”
Luo Xianni thrust her shoulders back and faced Jue Di with the same indignant menace he showed. “I’m right here threatening you, what about it?! You wanna hit me? The others are afraid you, some sort of living legend. Bullshit! This old lady ain’t scared of nothing! If you got a problem then bring it!”
But Jue Di could do nothing. Before his only recourse had been to hide, but he couldn’t do that anymore. Alien invaders threatened their very species, and his children were in the thick of it. So long as Luo Xianni was guarding one of them, he wouldn’t be rid of her.
When they’d parted ways Jue Di’s companion had been uncharacteristically gentle. She came at him teeth bared this time. It took him off guard.
“Pardon us, Majesty Jue Di!” The Wine Master hurriedly intervened to try and smooth things over. The Clockmaker and the Pauper each offered the famed Paragon bows of respect.
At Jue Di’s arrival, not a soul was caught lounging. Lan Jue shuffled over to the two of them and placed a hand on his mother’s arm. “Ma, maybe there’s a better time for these family matters, right? Others are laughing…”
She turned on Lan Jue, her personality flipping faster than the pages of a book. She regarding him with a wide, beaming smile and ruffled his hair. “Such a good boy, he knows how to talk. And you, screw off and don’t sit near me!” The last part of the sentence was spat at Jue Di.
Lan Jue’s father could hardly bite back his anger, but in front of so many he had no choice. He also knew that no matter what he did, it wouldn’t matter to Luo Xianni. Could he even really hurt her if he had to? He trundled over to his eldest son’s side and slumped into a seat. Jue Di glowered at nothing in particular and stayed quiet.
Luo Xianni shot Lan Jue a mischievous look, her pretty eyes sparkling playfully. Clearly verbally abusing his old man brought her a special kind of joy. He looked back at her with a helpless expression. My old ma, he thought to himself, she’s got a child’s temperament.
Lan Qing coughed in a bid to refocus attention. “Everyone, let’s eat.”
With Jue Di here, no one’s mind was on the food. It could have been a ten course spread of delicacies and it wouldn’t have mattered. They were sitting at the same table from a nearly
… he didn’t look like much, really.
He was dressed in dirty mecha mechanic overalls with stains on the front. Stubble peppered the leathery faced of an average- looking middle-aged man. Why was he dressed like a mechanic? Where was the splendor they’d imagined?
Despite his appearance, this didn’t impact the respect displayed by the Wine Master, Clockmaker or Pauper one bit. They were all Paragons, and they could sense the threads of protogenia that seemed interwoven through the man. They could not, however, sense anything from Jue Di himself.
To their perception Jue Di was as void and limitless as the universe, unfathomable. Protogenia seemed to be absent from him, but in its stead certainly was nothing. To the Skyfire Paragons he felt like a reflection of universe, its avatar in the flesh. The sensation they felt wasn’t oppressive, but awe- inspiring.
He was indeed the strongest human alive, more perfect than any human to have come before!
Luo Xianni cheerfully munched at her food and didn’t pay the glowering super human any further mind.
“Eat! Let’s go eat up, don’t be polite. My kid prepared this.” Luo Xianni urged the others on, occasionally giving Lan Qing nods of satisfaction.
“Will you stop with this ‘my kid this my kid that’ nonsense?” Jue Di snarled, no longer able to hold his tongue. “They my kids
– you’ve got nothing to do with it.”
Luo Xianni wasted no time in firing back. “We’ve got over this, you aren’t man enough! If you were you’d give me one of my own. I remember you used to have trouble…”
There were certain sure-fire ways to injure a man’s pride. It was as true for the normal man as it was for Jue Di. It was bad enough to hear about it, but nothing was worse than making it public.
“You bitch!” His eyes flashed, and in their depths arose a flashing golden light. Everyone but for Jue Di’s children felt every hair on their body stand on end. The only way to describe the sensation was like watching the eminent explosion of a
super nova. The promise of immeasurable ruin was so potent it even curdled the Paragons’ protogenia in their veins, rendering them defenseless.
Jue Di was gone from his seat, too fast for anyone to track his movements. A yelp from Luo Xianni drew their eyes, and that’s when they saw her cradled under Jue Di’s arm.
“Continue eating,” Jue Di tepidly offered. He turned and made to walk off, and then he and Luo Xianni vanished in a flash of light.
The Pauper swallowed hard. The Clockmaker was so stunned she dropped her chopsticks. The Wine Master fumbled to catch them.
Who was the Photographer? She was the strongest member of Skyfire Avenue in all its history! Yet before Jue Di she was like a little girl. She couldn’t do anything when he plucked her up and took her away like a sack of potatoes.
Her natural resistances had been tripped, though. When Jue Di’s awesome aura descended upon them, wisps of pink light flickered into reality around her. However, in the next instant
and faster than anyone could have seen, Jue Di somehow slipped passed her subconscious defense and snapped her up. It all happened in the blink of an eye.
Of all the known Paragons Jue Di was indubitably the strongest. Right after him was the Photographer, Luo Xianni. The two of them were vastly stronger than anyone else, but even then the gulf between them was immense. As Jue Di displayed.
“It’s fine, we’re fine. Let’s eat,” Lan Jue said, trying to salvage the meal.
The Coffee Master and Driver who sat on either side of Lan Jue had no further desire to eat. They both looked like they had stars in their eyes. It wasn’t like galaxy-altering power was a new thing for them – Luo Xianni had offered to seal away an entire planet for them before. It ended up being a small fleet, but nonetheless incredible. She had delivered them planet Moonfiend on a proverbial platter.
For the strongest person they had ever met to be so quickly subdued, it was…
“My idol… it’s my idol.” The Coffee Master could barely contain his excitement. His hands were shaking so fast they were leaving afterimages.
Lan Jue chortled. “Alright, enough. Stop exaggerating. Mom and dad will figure their own stuff out.”
A laugh came from the Wine Master. “Hell even if they couldn’t, who would want to get in the middle of that? Eat, come on.”
His contact with Jue Di had thus bar been brief, but the Wine Master was already thoroughly convinced. Jue Di might have looked like a hog, but the unmitigated power he’d felt left no doubt in his mind that the man was every bit what people said about him. Only a man like him was worthy of his aunt! No wonder she was acting this way, how could she not? After meeting him, what other man could catch her fancy?
The rest of the meal passed beneath an awkward atmosphere. Jue Di’s arrival and dramatic exit was on everyone’s mind. Lan Jue turned to his brother.
“Have you got everything prepared?”
Lan Qing nodded. “Now that you’re here, we can begin tomorrow.” A glint of excitement shone in his normally stoic face. What could be more exciting for any Adept than joining the ranks of Paragon?
Lan Jue nodded back. Great, tomorrow it is. We’ll help look after you, but it seems your powers are stabilized. Do you anticipate a problem?”
Lan Qing shook his head. “None.”
The Wine Master interjected with a friendly grin. “Let us be the first ones to congratulate you. We very much look forward to your success. Have you chosen what you will call yourself?”
Lan Qing nodded. “I will tell it to you all tomorrow.”
Something stirred in Lan Jue’s chest, a similar sort of inkling he’d experienced during the Pauper’s rise. “Brother, is dad helping you shore up your protogenia?”
This made his older brother grin. “He is! We’ve been looking forward to this day ever since we were kids. Now that it’s time
A laugh escaped Lan Jue’s lips. “Are you capable of feeling nervous? Never once in all the years I’ve known you have I seen you act nervous. I think that’s still the case.”
Chapter 610: About To Start
“I’ll do my best,” Lan Qing affirmed. “I’ll be content with whatever the result may be.”
Lan Jue shook his head. “That’s not like you at all! If you don’t hurry up I will catch up to you. I’m not lying, I’m coming up fast.”
Lan Qing gave him a flat stare. “Cocky.”
Lan Jue smirked. “In fact, you can’t even contend with me these days. Yeah I’m cocky – there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Lan Qing didn’t dare show his hand. He was at the cusp of a breakthrough, and drawing on even a little of his power might make him lose control. He had to find the perfect moment for this important event, one where he was prepared to face whatever would come. He couldn’t prove his little brother right, right now.
Lan Qing continued to stare. “We’ll talk again when I’ve broken through.”
“I like the pressure,” Lan Jue shot back. “When you break through then. Let me see how strong you end up.”
The Wine Master was curious himself. How strong would he end up? The God of Wisdom, Prometheus, was an Adept versed in the element of Wind. His protogenia and Paragon title would most likely have to do with that. What wasn’t clear was precisely what form and strength his Domain would reveal.
Jue Di and Luo Xianni didn’t return for the duration of the meal. No one knew where they’d disappeared to, and none of them were eager to go looking. When the food was gone everyone went their separate ways to cultivate and prepare.
For Lan Qing, now was the time for him to stabilize his cultivation as much as possible. Lan Jue didn’t bother his brother, and instead sought out the Driver. Lan Qing’s success was a catalyst for his own urge to catch up.
The two of them trained for about three hours before they had to stop. Their bodies couldn’t sustain any more yin-yang lightning for the day. They cultivated on their own, with Lan Jue returning to the realm where Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi could teach him and Qianlin swordplay.
Lan Jue was more diligent in his cultivation now than he ever was as a child under Jue Di’s strict guidance. He continued until the sun came back to light up the sky. He then meditated for an hour to rest and recover. For someone of his Talent, an hour was all he needed to arise refreshed.
The atmosphere surrounding the Star Division troops was abuzz. After their time fighting pirates, every unit had become like tight-knit family. There was healthy competition between units to keep spirits high and the soldiers hungry, inspiring them to push themselves as far as they could go.
Such was the way of man, if you were by yourself you grew lazy. IT was especially easy to fall into that trap the stronger you got. Few had the willpower and talent to keep up the pursuit for perfection. However, if you surrounded yourself with others who worked hard and were stronger than you, it was easy to keep up the effort.
That was the case for Star Division now. Lan Jue and the other leaders, along with the Paragons were undoubtedly powerhouses of the Division. However, there were also a number of ninth level Adepts and more eighth level Adepts than they could count. It was a crisis for the less naturally endowed warriors.
Every one of them hoped to earn enough through conquest to afford the exuvium process. Who knew how many alien Cores there were, or how many were needed for the process to be successful. The closer they got to the front of the line, the better their chances. For that reason, their military achievements were very important.
Fighting out in the Starfields taught the Division soldiers that how they performed on the field was directly proportional to their strength as an Adept. And not just their individual strength, but their strength as a unit. Every operation relied on the hard work of ten people. That was to say that if there was even a single weak link, it undermined everyone’s ability to do their job.
Who didn’t want to live longer? With the pace technology was increasing, a few more years could buy them enough time to see another life-extending process discovered. Eternal youth wasn’t unthinkable. The more years they had to live, the more time they would have to cultivate as well, and thus a higher chance at Paragon.
A Paragon’s lifespan stretched at least two hundred years, a fact that all Adepts were familiar with. Because of all of this, no one needed to urge these men and women to keep working hard. Especially after watching the ascension of the Taming
Dragon Arhat and failing to grasp an insight, they were hungry. Jin Tao had eagerly begged for instruction, and he was hardly the only one desperate for improvement.
In the last year, Skyfire Avenue had produced three new Paragons. They practically grew out of the soil! It served as inspiration for many who thought that becoming a Paragon was a ludicrous dream. Others could do it, they thought, why not them? All they needed was hard work!
Seeing their companions blessed with epiphanies only made their desires stronger!
Naturally, this environment had been deliberately constructed by Lan Jue and Su Xiaosu. Now that they’d created a positive feedback loop they didn’t have to work to maintain it. All they had to do was let human nature take its course. Over the course of the last few months a large number of sixth and seventh level Adepts had broken through to new heights.
Another benefit of being part of the team was structure. Each unit had to have a high-level Adept as a commanding officer. Their job was to keep everyone in line and motivated so they didn’t fall behind. This helped the lower level members especially.
Up to now, no one outside of Division command knew what they were doing on An Lun. Lan Jue was careful to keep it a secret. It was revealed to them by message, when they were told to gather early in the morning and prepare to accept insights.
It was vague, certainly, but ‘prepare to accept insights’ were four words that could only mean one thing. Another chance to gain insight from protogenia? For these soldiers, it was a dream come true.
This was why, when Lan Jue exited the buildings for the trainings fields, he was greeted with the sight of all four Brigades neatly arrayed and ready. Every soldier had an excitement and fervor in their eyes.
The Driver, Coffee Master and Bartender were there with their teams. When they saw him coming they stepped forward to meet him.
“Boss, our people are all here.” Su Xiaosu approached from another direction, quickly trotting over to him.
“Good. They can relax in place while we wait for word from An Lun,” Lan Jue replied with a smile.
“Aye,” came her answer.
None of the Paragons had arrived yet. Lan Jue also noticed with some distress that neither of his adopted parents were around either. His father had a famously violent nature, and he’d gotten into physical altercations with his mother before.
Mid-thought, a flash of silver split the sky and three figures were deposited before him. With the arrival of the Paragons, the eyes of Star Division’s soldiers were bright with respect or envy.
They all felt safe, too, with so many of their best in attendance. They’d seen what the Gourmet could do, and now they had three with the lauded Cosmagus and Epochrion among them. Both of them were on the higher end of the Paragon list.
“How was your rest?” Lan Jue greeted them.
The Wine Master answered with a smile. “Not bad. It’s my first time coming to An Lun, it’s certainly different from what I’m used to.” He was right. This world of metal smelled of steel and gunpowder. An everlasting, ominous atmosphere hung over everything. As Paragons, their heightened perception could sense things from miles away, of course they could feel the
The Pauper chortled. “Are you planning some joint military exercises with the An Lun boys, Jewelry Master? This is a great opportunity for it!”
“If we do it’s going to have to wait until they’re done here,” he answered. “I’ll talk to Admiral Lan about it.”
“Oh let me participate,” the Pauper said, jittering like he had ants in his pants. “Let me participate!”
Lan Jue frowned. “Stop, if you participate what’s the point of drilling maneuvers? You’re strong enough to take out a Division by yourself unless they’re equipped for it. If we let them put on the gear then it puts our guys at risk of getting hurt. You’re going to have to sit this one out.”
“No fun at all,” the newest Paragon grumbled.
A smirk split Lan Jue’s face. “You’re looking for fun? Easy. I’ll take you somewhere interesting, a place I promise you’ll like.”
The Pauper, suspecting no nefarious purpose, lit up in a smile. The Wine Master shot Lan Jue a glance, but held his tongue. The Epochrion smiled to herself.
Humanity was living under the dire threat of destruction from an alien force. The ascension of another Paragon was met with great joy because it meant a new protector. Lan Jue was bold, but he was also prudent. This wasn’t an opportunity he was about to miss.
Just then, two figures approaching them from the side caught his eye. When he saw them, Lan Jue couldn’t help but smile.
Luo Xianni had her arm linked around Chi Bupangs. She had a sweet smile on her face, which itself was an alluring shade of pink that made her look all the more beautiful.
Jue Di’s face was expressionless, though he had at least changed his clothes. Today he wore a black outfit that made him look like a rugged, battle-scarred veteran.
“Mom, dad!” Lan Jue hurriedly walked over to meet them.
The other Paragons were fast on his heels.
Soldiers of the Star Division also curiously followed the volatile couple with their eyes. They didn’t know who the two were, but watching their commander and the other Paragons rush over spoke volumes. There had to be something special about them.
Luo Xianni let go of Jue Di’s arm and wrapped Lan Jue up in a hug. “Keep it up, kid. Don’t be discouraged, it’ll be your time to break through soon.”