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Chapter 529: Hera

    Chapter 529: Hera

    "Someone who knows us?" Lan Jue's breath was coming faster. There weren't very many people he knew both he and Hera. That narrowed it down, and with some investigation he might be able to find a thread.

    The Clairvoyant went on. "I believe now is when she would show you this." He lifted his hand, laden with a small box.

    The sight of it made Lan Jue quake. It was the same box she was holding the night she saw him with Xiuxiu. The pang of sorrow in his chest sharpened.

    The Clairvoyant opened the box to reveal that it was in fact a computer. The screen inside flickered to life and displayed a stream of data.

    Lan Jue looked at the screen, then back to Qianlin. Her pretty eyes were open but saw nothing. His hands clenched in to quivering fists.

    The truth was steadily revealed.

    When the computer was booted, the Clairvoyant navigated to a specific folder and opened it up. Within were a number of video files. The Paragon chose the first one, and they were greeted by a pretty face. Beautiful figure, black hair, blue eyes. A long, white dress. She was standing on a sunlit beach with the ocean waves crashing behind her.

    Hera!

    She and Qianlin were very, very similar. But Lan Jue knew his his lost love. He could recognize her spirit in her eyes. Her eyes were warmer, whereas Qianlin's were more alive.

    "I met him today." Hera's slightly distorted voice issued from the computer. "He's a little arrogant - looks ok I guess. Cocky, certainly. Master wants me to get close to him. We'll see. Here's hoping he isn't too hateful."

    The first clip stopped.

    Lan Jue got a far-away look as he stared at the screen. He recognized that place, a resort planet called Zodenka. That was where he met Hera, yes! That was where they'd first met. And the same day - this was like a journal, or a mission report. The Clairvoyant opened the second video. This one also featured Hera, though the location was different.

    "Ugh, I'm so tired. We were out playing around all day, and I'm sure he's trying to get closer to me. Heh, I guess I'm pretty charming. He's pretty haughty but he's got class, I have to give him that. He knows a lot so at least it's interesting being around him. Alright, that's about all for today. I need a shower."

    Entry two finished. They opened the third.

    "It was a good day today. I was apprehensive when Master gave me this mission, but it isn't looking too difficult. This is a good guy. Yeah, a good guy. I fell today and sprained my ankle. He carried me all the way to the hospital on his back. Even when we got there he wouldn't put me down. When they were done he picked me back up, and carried me back. I could feel that he was anxious, and he didn't try anything."

    Entry four.

    "Ah, why is my face so red? Today there was a development. He... well he took my hand. He said he liked me. What should I do? What should I do! Should I tell Master? I was told to guide him, but... oh what should I do! I'm so confused."

    Entry five.

    "Hehehe, excellent! Master said I could make my own decision, he had no opinion. I mean, he didn't look upset. So should I tell him I like him back? No - no, it can't be that easy. He won't appreciate it if it's easy. I've got to string him along a little! Hehehe..."

    Entry six.

    "Zhou Jinyu, you are useless! I said I'd string him along, right? Then why, the moment I'm in front of him I lose all restraint. Ugh, his eyes. You get lost in them... Alright, alright. I said yes, and that's that. Gah, why is my face so red. I mean, really..."

    "I can't keep watching!" Lan Jue grabbed the Clairvoyant's hand, stopping him. He was choked with sobs, and tears streamed freely down his face. Each video was a knife in his chest. Hera... it was Hera! As she used to be, as the girl he loved. This was a record of all their time together. He didn't seem to appear anywhere, but the memories were clear and bittersweet.

    Lan Jue liked to think he was a strong and stable man, but these videos exposed the chink in his armor. Six short videos had reduced him to a sobbing mess.

    The Clairvoyant looked at the younger man with an expression of sorrow and pity. With a sigh, he opened the last video in the folder. A scene of ruined metal buildings appeared. Hera stood among them, scanning her surroundings.

    "Something isn't right! I'm here, but why isn't he coming out? This isn't right! When he told me to come I thought it was strange, but I didn't have any reason to suspect... Now I'm here and - ah! What's that!"

    The video panned to bring an enormous beam of light into frame. When it struck, the entire planet began to shake. It made landfall hundreds of miles away, but the destruction it caused came surging towards Hera at terrifying speed.

    "No... no I don't want to die! A-Jue, A-Jue!" She whimpered for a moment, but then grew calm. Courage started in her eyes then bolstered her whole person. As the world shook itself apart, she looked right into the camera.

    "Master. If I die... if you find this recording, give them to Qianlin. Have her study them, and take up my mission. No... no that's not good. I'm being too selfish, aren't I. He'll be so sad! Qianlin, baby sister. I'm begging you... I'm begging you."

    The world-swallowing light was moments away, poised to eat Hera up alongside everything else. Hera's jaw was set in determination as everything around her fell into chaos. She ripped the communicator from her arm and threw it into a box. Then everything went dark.

    Lan Jue watched, silent. His tears had stopped.

    Hera... even when staring down death she was afraid I would be sad. When she said she didn't want to die it wasn't because she was scared. She was angry, and unwilling. She was reluctant to leave me. Hera! My Hera! It was me... I couldn't protect you. It was my fault! How could I let her leave on her own? Why?

    Lan Jue was cursed with a clear memory of the day. Hera said she had a surprise for him then left. Later he got the news that the planet had been destroyed. It was all so sudden. There was no trace.

    The Clairvoyant's low, soft voice returned. "The data on Jinyu's communicator had been hacked, which means whoever was responsible had enough clout to authorize tampering with a communicator's operating system. We could tell from her tone and what she said that whoever it was that lured here there must know you two. However, after a great deal of searching I could uncover nothing. Those at your side are loyal, as far as I've been able to divine. For years I have searched, but have come up empty-handed."

    Lan Jue's fists were clenched so tightly his knuckles were white. After all this time the pain and anger were no less than the day she died. When he heard the news he hardly wished to live. It had destroyed him.

    They had plans. They were going to pick out her wedding dress and make invitations. They were supposed to argue over who would it where. Instead she died, and no trace that she ever existed remained.

    From that day he was lost, confused, hardly a man at all. He spent years nursing his emotional wounds. In all that time he never gave up his thirst for vengeance, but without any information to go on he was castrated. Everything was atomized when the planet exploded.

    The fact that the Clairvoyant had even this small piece meant he'd exhausted all resources to find whatever he could. Finding a single box in the mangled remains of a planet could not have been easy.

    "Does this... am I a bad person? I can't think of any reason why someone would hurt her. If this person has so much power and hates me so much, why don't they go after me directly? What was the point of killing someone whose only goal was to be a good person?" Lan Jue's eyes were screwed shut against the painful questions. He maintained his composure, though. It was an old wound, even if all of this was tearing it back open.

    The Clairvoyant gave a hard and bitter smile. "I share all your same questions. It's the lack of answers that has had my hands tied. There is one more thing I want to show you."

    The Clairvoyant closed the video folder and opened another one. This one was also filled with video clips, fewer than the first but still many. The Clairvoyant opened the first one.

    The heart-wrenching sounds of sobs met their ears. A tear-streaked face appeared on screen.

    "Sister... sister, sister!" She was screaming herself hoarse. Her black hair was wild. Her blue eyes were red and swollen. Great big tears rolled down Qianlin's face.
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