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Chapter 523: Antitoxin

    Chapter 523: Antitoxin

    As Adepts he and Qianlin were more resilient than normal people. But, like any poison, once the Paragon's toxin spread through him it would spell his death.

    The assassin's blade cut through the fissure in their Domain, but couldn't strike accurately. The dagger struck Qianlin as she placed herself between it and its target, but luckily it missed any major structures. Now that they were joined, both of them would defend against the poison together. But if they failed, they failed together as well.

    Lan Jue clenched his jaw, aware of every moment the cold and numbness ate at them. Thankfully, joining brought his Discipline - and thus defense - up to peak level. His Core was desperately injecting his meridians with energy to protect them and counteract the poison's corrosion.

    Sharp pain sharpened Lan Jue's focus when he bit down on the tip of his tongue. A golden corona of energy sprang out around him as he called on his Ascension. This poison was from a Paragon. He thought - he hoped - that protogenia could help him defend against it.

    Lan Jue had his suspicions as to the identity of the assassin. He'd discovered a number of hidden Paragons, but the famous ones were widely recognized. There was only one on that Paragon List who was an expert in both speed and poison; the once-weakest Paragon, the Astral Phantom. After this brief encounter, Lan Jue placed the assassin ahead of the Karmic Scholar or Infernal Vanguard.

    What could be more terrifying than a superhuman assassin? He'd attacked Lan Qing a number of times, forcing the super soldier to rely on several methods to keep himself alive. He was the only one of the Phantom's targets still walking around. Likewise, Lan Qing owed some of his impressive power growth to the constant assassin threat.

    At least for right now, Lan Jue was part of the very short list of survivors. For how long, was the question.

    Paragons were already creatures of unfathomable power. They became the thing of nightmares when they choose to specialize in murder. It was too fast, too sudden. Lan Jue had been smart enough to respond right away, but he was fighting a Paragon! The only one who could compete was someone on the same level.

    Lan Jue took personal control of the flow of energy through his meridians. He needed to carefully direct it to combat the poison. Perhaps he could force it out.

    "I command you to stop!" Lan Jue's voice was low and dictatorial. Suddenly, his entire body became flooded with resplendent golden light. He looked like a statue made of precious gold. His Ascension command had stopped the blood in his veins. Lan Jue wouldn't be able to hold it for long. He was still human, and without moving blood he would soon be dead. But it was his only choice.

    Sadly, he soon discovered his efforts fruitless. This poison was too strong, he could feel it eating away at his cells. How could you expel something that was destroying you on a cellular level? The words of command would help him live a little longer and stop the spread of the poison, but without a way to remove it from his system it was only delaying the inevitable. Even the Phylactery Stone couldn't help.

    Qianlin, I don't know if you can hear me. I just needed to tell you I'm sorry. I shouldn't have left you, and you shouldn't have had to suffer so much because of me.

    I love you, Qianlin. Whether or not you love me back, I love you with my whole heart.

    But no, I shouldn't be saying this nonsense. After everything you've done how dare I question your feelings? It's me who's wrong. Me.

    Lan Jue's heart was full of regret. The bitter realization that is was too late was crushing.

    Qianoin didn't answer. The poison must have put her in a coma. Hopelessness and a whole host of negative emotions threatened to break his will. Damnit, no! I'm not supposed to die like this.

    A silver light cut reality in twain right in front of Lan Jue's face. An alluring figure emerged.

    "Capture spirit!" The voice was boisterous and strong. The force in it put some of Lan Jue's despair to bed. Although the poison had begun to take his sight, he knew who it was by the sound of her voice.

    It was mother! The Photographer, Luo Xianni!

    Luo Xianni's hands were pressed against Lan Jue's back. In the next instant his Ascension command gave way, but instead of poison he felt another strange energy permeate him.

    Lan Jue was locked in place, but it was different than his command. This time even his thinking was sluggish, though he could feel everything that was going on around him.

    Silver silk-like strands slithered in to Lan Jue's body. They were impossibly thin, but beautiful. They seemed to move at Luo Xianni, who looked at her son in law absent her usual coquettish smile. It was quite the opposite, for her eyes betrayed a deathly calm overhanging smoldering rage.

    As the slivers of energy invaded, Lan Jue's body began to shake. Luo Xianni retracted her hand and took a step back. The frail, pink camera was in her hands again.

    Ka-cha!

    Lan Jue became a photo, frozen in time. The Polaroid gently fell in to Luo Xianni's hand. She gripped it by the top of bottom, then pulled to stretch the photo larger.

    Lan Jue flickered with a strange silvery light against the face of the picture. It wasn't all silver, though. It clashed against threads of dull grey. Luo Xianni continued to fiddle with the photo as her fingers - ethereal and enigmatic - danced across its surface. Every tentative flick galvanized that grey energy, and hung around the top of Lan Jue's head like an evil shadow. Before long there was a copy of Lan Jue in grey, like a ghost-image from the camera.

    Luo Xianni reached in and pulled the flickering silver Lan Jue from the photo, depositing him on the floor beside her. She left the grey Lan Jue in the picture. She clapped, and it shrank back to normal size within her palm.

    Lan Jue had a moment to check himself over. He felt remade, but the process had him reeling. It was like being slices in to a hundred thousand paper-thin slices. It felt like even his soul had been segmented and cut apart. Though the pain was brief, the sensation was seared permanently on his memory.

    The numbness was gone, but tremendous pain remained. He felt like he'd been broken in to a thousand pieces. Evidently, Luo Xianni's healing had side-effects.

    He winced when his eyes were assailed by another flash of silver. This time it was the Wine Master and the Doctor who arrived.

    "What happened?" The Wine Master hurried to Luo Xianni's side.

    Her face was cold and callous. "He won't die. You guys are really something. An assassin was able to get right up to your front door and attack one of your people. If he hadn't used that special retreat, he'd be dead. Did you catch them?"

    A dangerous glint shone in the Wine Master's eyes as he shook his head. "A crafty one. He took his shot then ran. Too fast to catch."

    Luo Xianni's eyes narrowed. "What's the name of this assassin's crew?"

    A chill ran through the Wine Master's chest. "Aunt, you..."

    She rounded on him, eyes wide and wild. "Don't tell me someone gets to attack my son and get away with it! I'm not done with them. An assassin never does anything for free right? I'll follow the money and find their employer. If they won't tell me, I'll wipe every trace of these arrogant bastards from the universe. They'll all face my camera!"

    "Blood Phantoms, that's what they call themselves. The Astral Phantom founded it. We have some more information on them, I'll give it to you when we get back," the Wine Master said.

    The Doctor rushed to Lan Jue's side and clapped a hand on his shoulder. An emerald green light spread out from within the Doctor and in to his patient.

    The Pain was starting to take its toll on Lan Jue. He fought against his dimming vision, but eventually succumbed to darkness.

    ζ

    "Ah!" A searing pain shook Lan Jue from sleep. He shot up, and after a moment recognized the interior of his rooms behind the Jewelry Shop. The pain was gone, it was only a memory that woke him up.

    Everything felt like it was in its proper place. When he groped a hand against his chest he couldn't feel a wound. Internally he searched his Discipline: Ninth level fifth rank, thankfully the same as before the attack.

    Wait! What about Zhou Qianlin?!

    His pupils contracted to two dark points. Ninth level fifth rank - it meant he wasn't joined with her. So where did she go?

    "Boss, are you ok?!" Xiuxiu hurried in to the room. When she saw him sitting up, and so tense, she was filled with concern.

    "Am I ok?" He gasped. Lan Jue took deep breaths and tried to calm his racing heart.

    Everything that happened before his coma came rushing back, like some kind of dream. It was more than a dream, though - that pain was real, and he would never forget it.
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