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Chapter 521: Unexpected

    Chapter 521: Unexpected

    Lan Jue gulped. "Mom, you must be busy..."

    Luo Xianni answered with a charming smile, then sashayed away from them looking for all the world like a care-free young woman. But who would dare tell her that to her face!

    "Your Majesty, has your aunt always been this terrifying?" Chu Cheng asked the Wine Master.

    The Wine Master shot him a look. "She taught me everything I know. At the inception of the Avenue, my aunt was the most experienced fighter we had. She would have been chosen our leader, except her terrible temper wasn't suitable for the job. Even then there weren't many who knew her, and she wasn't one to brag about her strength so most never knew. She stopped coming to the Avenue frequently, until eventually she disappeared for thirty years. I haven't seen her in a very long time."

    The others exchanged quiet looks. Lan Jue's mind, though, went back to what the Clairvoyant had told him. At the height of the crisis, he was to find the hidden Paragons littered through human society and recruit them against the threat. He didn't give it much thought at the time, since the ten recorded Paragons were the only ones known, not included the Avenue's recent additions. However, since then he'd had a number of unexpected run-ins with Paragons, each one stronger than the last. How many secret Paragons were there, hiding under rocks in distant galaxies?

    What's more, the longer Lan Jue spent on the Avenue the deeper he became embroiled in its secrets. The Clairvoyant's time had come, but his machinations would continue long after he passed away.

    The Pauper and the Pharmacist were the future Paragons of the Avenue, and unique additions at that. His brother was set to lead the charge, with no obstacles on his path. If in the future that included himself and Qianlin, than Skyfire Avenue would be by far the wealthiest nation in regards to Paragons. The East would never need fear for their defense.

    Everything had the Clairvoyant's fingerprints on them. The Eye of Tomorrow's greatest strength was never on the battlefield, it was controlling the fate of humanity.

    Ignoring the rest, the oppressive power of the Photographer was enough to instill fear. She was stronger than the Terminator, and even back in the day she was a better fighter than the Clairvoyant. She could only have improved since then. She was the only Paragon knew, aside from Jue and Celestial Master Qian, ever to reach Nirvana.

    "Wine Master," Lan Jue asked in curiosity, "what is mother's Paragon title?"

    The Wine Master thought quietly to himself. "She doesn't use it often. Usually she prefers 'the Photographer.' I've forgotten what it was, I suppose you'll have to ask her."

    Lan Jue turned to Lan Qing. "Shall we go, then?"

    His brother nodded.

    The group bade farewell to the Wine Master and left. They didn't return to the Jewelry Store - it was too small - so they went to the hotel that had been arrange for Lan Qing and the others.

    Lan Jue led them from the Avenue, and drove them in to the city.

    When they arrived, Lan Qing pulled him aside. "A-Jue, I have something I want to discuss with you."

    "Alright."

    Hua Li and Chu Cheng left for their respective rooms. Lan Jue followed his brother so they could talk.

    "Ask your question," Lan Qing said. He waved his hand, and a pale green aura hung over them.

    Lan Jue nodded. "You've taken the step?"

    Though Lan Qing had been the one to invite him in, he'd done it because he saw the glint of doubt in his brother's eyes.

    "Yes," he said. "And no. My situation now is similar to your re-cultivation. The further I walk the path, the more I see my Path. To do that, this step needs to be done as slow and careful as I can. I never re-cultivated, and your foundation now is already better than mine. Without that benefit, slow is better. If I control my Doman and pay attention to its changes, it will remold me. Then I will learn all its secrets."

    Realization dawned on Lan Jue's face. "No wonder!"

    He'd sensed something was off during their fight. Lan Qing was holding something back, even though he was as strong as ever. He could feel the power lurking underneath, and it made him shiver.

    That final, fateful step could happen at any moment. All Lan Qing needed to do was be calm, be patient, and maintain control.

    Lan Jue's latest race to catch up with his brother had seen some strides. Lately, his improvement had been incredible. Still, it looked like the gulf between them was as vast as ever!

    He wasn't discouraged, though. On the contrary, the extra challenge was motivating.

    Lan Qing handed him a bottle of water. "You've made some very impressive strides lately. But what's going on between you and Qianlin? There's got to be some problem you're going through. Will it affect your cultivation?"

    Lan Jue sighed. "It was a misunderstanding, but there's something else separating else. She wants to tell me something, but this confusion is making it harder. I'll deal with it, don't worry. It won't affect my cultivation. But I want you to know, if I agree to establish a division here, I won't be able to help you."

    Lan Qing shook his head. "I don't need your help. An Lun has organized its own Bloodiron Khans, a mecha unit of Adepts like yours but weaker. We've gathered crack soldiers and we're going to train them to fight in units to improve coordination. If you need help with anything, ask."

    "Alright." Lan Jue said with a nod. "I'm out, then. You take it easy."

    Lan Qing followed him as he rose to his feet. "What do you think will happen with the Clairvoyant?"

    Lan Jue considered for a moment. "Right now I'm not sure. I guess he'll announce a successor. That's what the Avenue needs most. What Hua Li said was right, the East is on the upswing. The North and West are going to be much more vigilant. When the fighting starts we can't rely on anybody. We'll need to watch our backs."

    Lan Qing nodded sagely. "I've long believed the only one you can rely on is yourself, and the soldier at your back. You be careful. Winning the tournament is going to be a double-edged sword for you. You've got a big target painted on your chest, so if I were you I'd stay put a little while."

    "Yeah," he agreed.

    Lan Jue rose, wished his brother a good night, and left. His fights today with Chu Cheng and Lan Qing had improved his understanding of Taiji. Victory and defeat were both vehicles for improvement. Since it was so rare for them to get together like this, it was good to take the opportunity to test themselves.

    He left the hotel and was heading for his car when a sudden chill spread through his chest. It was unnatural fast and sharp.

    Without hesitation, Lan Jue reached out and slapped the hood of his car. The Jewelry Master dissolves in to a hundred thousand bolts of lightning, then vanished. He appeared a moment later inside the car. His lightning's conductive nature allowed him to pass through the metal.

    His eyes snapped to the window. In the space where he had stood, a tranquil gust of energy swept by. If he had been even a second late, he had no doubt that energy would have pierced right through him.

    Lan Jue didn't dare waste time. All at once the car and everything around it was swallowed up in a ball of electricity. Lan Jue's hands were brought together in a circle which galvanized his Taiji powers to create a field of energy.

    Even as his powers surged, Lan Jue could see reality around him draining of color. He could see everything, but it was all reduced to shades of black and white.

    Domain! A Paragon!

    In that moment, Lan Jue felt a chill boring in to the center of his back. He knew who this was.

    He had to rely on area attacks, it was the only way to deal with them. He wouldn't be able to tackle a Paragon in a straight fight, but if he bought enough time his brother might notice something wasn't right. It was his only hope for survival.

    As though to taunt him, a shadowy figure appeared just outside of the car's windshield. Lan Jue's plan had been to become electricity and get lost in the forest of lightning, but his opponent's timing was masterful. It left Lan Jue with nowhere to hide, against a foe who stood amidst the sea of lightning like it wasn't there.

    As a thunderbolt Adept, one of Lan Jue's specialties was speed. However, he was surprised to find that somehow his speed was being restrained. It wasn't just that his foe was faster - which they were - but that his agility was curtailed. His enemy's Domain was doing this.

    An entry-level Paragon's Domain was strong enough to overcome any Adept. No matter how strong, the difference between a normal Talent and these superhuman beings was enormous.

    In this instant of crisis his body reacted instinctually. The familiar swirl of black and white as his Taiji powers swelled appeared at his back. Lan Jue's hands thrust forward together, and his body shook as a shell of consuming lightning surrounded him. One-Inch Guard!

    Phu! A spear of ethereal power pierced his defense like paper, and buried itself in Lan Jue's chest. Thankfully, the One-Inch Guard lived up to its promise. The attack narrowly missed his heart. There was no pain, only an instant of cold. Even that was short lived as a breath later he felt a crazed flush of energy rampage through his chest. He was going numb.

    Poison!
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