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Chapter 528: Cripple

    Chapter 528: Cripple

    The Clairvoyant sighed. "I've searched my heart and all of this - all the work I put into the Avenue and to humanity as a whole - all of it was to distract me from the guilt I felt. I am sorry, Xianni. I was wrong."

    "Alright!" Luo Xianni suddenly snapped. "It's over! Enough. I will always see you as an older brother."

    The Clairvoyant was hopeful as he looked her way. You... you're willing to forgive me?"

    She shook her head. "I don't forgive you. But I don't hate you."

    The Clairvoyant pressed her. "It made Huan Xue leave, too. Only she knew where my heart was. Then she left. This whole thing has been a sour combination of errors. I liked you, she liked me, the Wine Master liked her. Love is the strangest to human emotions. It's as wonderful as it is agonizing."

    "I knew Huan Xue liked you for ages," Luo Xianni replied. "She told me in confidence once about how she felt. I told her you were by brother and there wouldn't be any competition. She was so happy... you shouldn't have failed her."

    With a bitter voice, the Clairvoyant nodded. "Affection does as it wishes, I'm sure you understand. You will always see me as a brother, for instance. To me Huan Xue is like a sister."

    Both mighty Paragons were silent as they ruminated on things. Everything that had happened lingered like a painful memory.

    The Clairvoyant sighed again to break the silence. "Thankfully you decided to come back. When I am gone, I wish to impart the Avenue to you. With you around, I can go in peace."

    Her face also turned bitter and hard. "Maybe I fell in love with the wrong man."

    ζ

    The first one to awaken from their haze was Lan Jue. He ached all over, but despite the discomfort his spirit felt anxious. It was bursting with energy, ready for anything.

    He turned his perception inward to discover his Core acting strangely. It would swell and contract like it was breathing, and the power it exuded had become a dazzling gold.

    Lan Jue stopped for a moment, surprised. This was protogenic lightning! Before, he could only manage it when conditions were right. However, in this quiet time, this lightning around his Core seemed no different. His Thunderbolt Discipline was at the next level, but he didn't expect it to get there until after he'd become a Paragon.

    What was going on? Was it because of the pendant? He opened his eyes, and saw the Clairvoyant watching him with a heavy expression. While Lan Jue had only been out for a short time it looked like the Clairvoyant had aged a decade.

    "Come with me." The clairvoyant waved a hand at him. Beams of pure white starlight appeared out of nowhere and surrounded them both. In the next instant, Lan Jue felt like they were lost somewhere out in the expanse of space. The stars and galaxies were suspended in the darkness around them, not unlike the room they'd just been in. Their twinkling light illuminated the two men from all sides.

    "Clairvoyant, where are we?" Lan Jue looked around as he asked.

    The Clairvoyant quietly replied. "This is my Domain."

    The Jewelry Master felt odd. There was another flash, then they were joined by a third presence.

    "Qianlin!" When he saw her, Lan Jue was overjoyed. It was short lived, though, for in the next moment he looked into her eyes and saw nothing. There was no light, no consciousness - no signs that a person existed in there. Like she had no soul."

    "She... what's the matter with her?" Lan Jue asked. He was obviously distressed.

    The Clairvoyant took a deep breath. "Your saviors were a moment too late. The Photographer recognized the problem right away, but not before the poison had started to affect Qianlin's brain. We've done everything we can but she won't wake up from this persistent vegetative state. She reacts to stimuli, but there's no consciousness."

    A vegetable! 1

    It was all so sudden. From one moment to the next Qianlin was no more than an empty home. Lan Jue looked at her in a daze. He'd have been dead if Qianlin hadn't come along, but she was paying the price.

    The Clairvoyant's face was bleak. "Perhaps this was is a cruel turn of Destiny. When the universe gives us great gifts, it often makes high demands as well."

    Corded muscles rippled along Lan Jue's jaw as he clenched his teeth. "No. No one's taking her away from me. This woman is going to be my wife."

    The Eye of Tomorrow looked upon his in surprise. "What if she never awakens? Will you live like this forever?"

    Gradually, calm came upon Lan Jue. His face and eyes relaxed and softened. "Then I'll care for her, every day, until we grow old and die."

    The old Paragon nodded. "This young girl's love was not misplaced. There was something that she wanted to tell you, but since she cannot the task falls to me."

    Lan Jue suddenly turned his whole focus on to the Clairvoyant. By the way he'd spoken about Qianlin, he had reason to believe the old schemer knew her personally. All the signs were there, in his explanations ind apologies. If Lan Jue couldn't figure at least that out by this point, he would be a very poor Zeus.

    The Clairvoyant's voice was low and solemn. "You've probably surmised that Qianlin and I have met. This is correct. I also met Jin Yu. To be more precise, my relationship with them can be compared to the one you and Lan Qing have with Jue Di. I raised those girls."

    Lan Jue went rigid. He had some idea, but when the Jewelry Master heart the words it felt like his heart seized. The Clairvoyant had said his influence over them was extensive, and now he knew how much.

    "Hera... you told her to stay with me?" His voice cracked. An indescribable fear hung over him like a hurricane.

    The Clairvoyant nodded again. "The best way to influence a man, is to have the ear of the woman beside him. Yes, I asked Hera to remain with you. She would be my hand, guiding you without your knowledge, a positive influence. She helped me to make you kind, compassionate, just and strong."

    Lan Jue's hands curled in to fists. "And our relationship? Was that all fake, at your command?" He'd loved Hera for years. After her death, he was devastated. If everything they'd experienced had been manufactured - if he was just a mission - he wasn't sure he could handle it.

    The Clairvoyant heaved a sigh. "I admit that I had a measure of control in everything. I believe you underestimate how much control over Destiny I possess. But that's precisely why you shouldn't fear. Hera's love for you was real. My manipulations took her affections into consideration."

    Lan Jue stood there, still and silent. He didn't really understand.

    The Clairvoyant went on. "When I had Hera approach you, my only order was that she try to influence your behavior by osmosis. Stay by your side, and protect you. Beyond that, she had no other instructions."

    Lan Jue just looked at him, still trying to process what he was hearing.

    "Hera's love was real," the Clairvoyant assured, "everything you experienced together was her choice. I would never send her to seduce you, as a matter of principle. I was trying to guide you to be good. Under-handed methods are counter to that message. Once Hera realized she loved you, she came to me and asked if it was ok that you were together. I told her of course it was, and that whatever happened between you was her decision. All I required was that she kept guiding you on the righteous path."

    At last, the muscles all through Lan Jue's body began to relax.

    Gently shaking his head, the Clairvoyant continued to explain. "You have so little faith in yourself. You are a disciple of Jue Di. If you cannot see truth from falsehood, how can you become the link my prophecy describes? Jin Yu loved you. Qianlin loves you. This is undisputed truth.

    "Hera's death was a great tragedy, not just for you. I was... greatly saddened. I searched time, even going so far as to use my greatest techniques. The only thing I could discover about who was responsible was that they must be powerful, with amazing destructive capabilities under their command. This is the only way this 'accident' could have been pulled off so flawlessly. Beyond that, they must be someone who is very familiar with you. That's how they were so accurate and precise.

    "The North's reason for remotely destroying the planet was because of a dangerous radioactive source. If left alone it would have influenced the planet's Core. The explosion would have impacted star systems all across Alliance space. The closest planets would be stripped of their magnetic fields. A pre-emptive strike would avert the danger before it could affect innocent lives.

    "Before the attack the exploration team was evacuated. Hera went there to help save someone. Who, we never discovered. She never said in her final correspondence. Whoever it is, it's someone you and Hera knew well, otherwise she wouldn't have trusted them."

    1. I considered changing this because it's somewhat of an offensive term. However, the visceral impact of it, and the emotional state of Lan Jue led me to keep it in. I imagine that, in situations like this my mind might go to the worst way to describe something.
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