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Chapter 531: The New Paragon List

    Chapter 531: The New Paragon List

    Yes, he would get strong. A man who always ran from his problems was a coward. The things that happened couldn't be undone, and even the Clairvoyant was powerless to change that. Hera was dead, all that was left for her was revenge. Qianlin still lived. Lan Jue had to protect her, and find a way to wake her up.

    Once an Adet reached Paragon, it opened up a whole new universe of possibilities. He thought that, if they one day could break through to Paragon together, than Qianlin might wake up. Starting now, that was his ultimate goal.

    They were as close as flesh and blood. She was an inalienable part of him, one that he would keep with him until the day she awoke and would be his wife.

    When he left the museum he was surprised to find the sky dark. It was clearly still day, but they were surrounded by the night. Stark against the black was a searing comet, leaving a trail of starfire in its wake. The Wine Master, Keeper, Bookworm, and Gourmet all watched it pass in silence.

    At some point without him noticing, Skyfire Avenue had become choked with people. No one spoke, or moved, or cried. Every eye fixed its solemn gaze on the shooting star as it blazed a path through the darkness of the heavens.

    That was the third strongest Paragon known to humanity. The Eye of Tomorrow; the Clairvoyant; the preeminent sage of humanity; the founder of Skyfire Avenue. Gone.

    A day later both the Avenue and Underground were wreathed in white 1. Stores were shuttered and Skyfire's members spent the day in retrospection. For a time Skyfire Avenue was quiet as the grave.

    ζ

    The Dark Citadel.

    "He's gone." Satan muttered the words to himself. There was something in his tone, something difficult to place. "I should be happy, but why do I feel so dismal? It's like losing a part of myself. Ah, you slippery bastard. Why did you have to go now? You're abandoning your post."

    For days Satan was in terrible spirits, lashing out at his people with particular ferocity. No one understood his sudden irritation, but likewise no one dared approach him about it.

    ζ

    The Pontiff's Citadel.

    The Pontiff stood under the starry sky. He lifted his scepter. "We all die, and there is a world waiting for us when we do. Which one will you find yourself in, Clairvoyant? Heaven, or hell? Safe travels." 2

    ζ

    The Great Conclave.

    The Terminator and the Epochrion sat facing one another.

    The Northern leader stared blankly at his feet until his brows furrowed. "He's gone."

    "I know," came the Epochrion's soft reply.

    Bitterness underpinned the Terminator's smile. "Shouldn't you be more upset? There's no reaction from you at all. I'd prefer you cry or show some kind of emotion."

    The Epochrion rose smoothly to her feet, shaking her head. "Forgive me, Davis. I'm going back."

    This took the Terminator by surprise. "He asked you to go back and send him off and you didn't. Why now?"

    A mournful smile turned her dainty lips. "I didn't go back because I didn't want to see him like that, mostly dead. I didn't want to bring back all that heartache. If I want to give up my past, then I mustn't give it any opportunity to catch up with me. Now he's gone I will go back to the Avenue, because I have always been Skyfire's Clockmaker."

    The Terminator's eyes were wide and indignant. "You!"

    The Epochrion's voice was dispassionate. "We made an agreement when I first came. We agreed that you would not try to stop me if one day I decided to leave."

    "This is really what you want? Honestly, I never thought the day would come," the Terminator pleaded.

    "I've missed so much," she replied, though it sounded like she was talking more to herself. "There are some things I'm not longer willing to miss out on. In the end, that is my place."

    Agitation was clearly written on the convert's face. "That may not be how they see it. They might not even want you back!"

    The Epochrion smiled back. "So what if they don't? I'm going back because I want to. So I'm going back."

    ζ

    Planet Ziluo.

    Chi Bupang rose to his feet, with a glass of whisky in one hand and a cigar in the other.

    "The old shyster is on his way. Respect."

    ζ

    Three days later a new paragon list was officially drawn up.

    Celestial Master Qian was gone longer than most can remember, so his name was removed. The Eye of Tomorrow had met his end. The new official rankings had changed;

    Jue Di

    The Terminator (Force)

    The Epochrion (Time)

    The Pontiff (Faith)

    Satan (Dark Faith)

    The Arcane Magnate (Science)

    The Cosmagus (Dimension)

    The Astral Phantom (Speed, Poison)

    The Karmic Scholar (Science)

    The Infernal Vanguard (Death-Faith)

    Ten names, the same as before, but different. Four of them - numbers six, seven, nine, and ten - were members of the Avenue. Their total presence on the list had grown by one, but their total strength was much reduced.

    A week later the Clockmaker returned to the Avenue and opened her shop. Half of the list was now Skyfire members.

    ζ

    The Wine Master had been standing at the Western entrance to the Gothic Winery for ages. The glass in his hand changed as time passed; a round, white wine glass, then red wine, then cognac. He never left farther than his shop's threshold, but his drinking became more vigorous.

    Across the street sat Zeus' Jewelry Shop, but his eyes were focused further down the lane to a smaller building.

    She's back... just like that.

    No explanation - not a word. The Clairvoyant was gone, and suddenly she was back. She left because of him, now he was gone and she was back.

    The Wine Master spied her the day she returned. She opened the store, and by herself set about cleaning the place up. She used only the simplest and most straightforward method to tidy up, her own hands.

    The Epochrion was back, and that had put a spark of something in the Wine Master's eye.

    He wanted to just walk right over like he used to a decade ago. He used to just wander by and invite her over for a drink and a chat. They never spoke about cultivation - just wine and clocks. It had been a wonderful way to pass the day.

    He thought about it often. When he did, he'd follow the train of thought and simply stare, lost.

    He thought he had his emotions under control, but when she came back he found that it was all just a paper cap on a volcano. Her sudden arrival was all it needed to blow.

    The Clairvoyant left, she returned. It was an emotional time for him. If only the Clairvoyant was still here. Or if only he had more courage. He had neither of those things.

    "What are you looking at?" A calm voice interrupted his thoughts.

    The Wine Master didn't need to turn his head. He knew who it was. "I thought you had work to do."

    Lan Jue walked over to his side and followed his friend's eyes down the street. "I'm getting ready to head for West Hill, what are you talking about. If you're thinking of going over there, just go do it. All this hemming and hawing is not the Wine Master I used to know."

    The Wine Master chose to play dumb. "What the hell are you jabbering about?"

    "Are you having fun?" Lan Jue shot him a look. The Wine Master didn't reply.

    Lan Jue lifted a hand and patted the Wine Master's broad shoulder. "I've got stuff to do, you figure something out. I'll be too busy to look after you. Remember that opportunities only come around once and life is short." A bitter look flashed across his eyes as he delivered the last sentence.

    After the Clairvoyant's departure, Lan Jue closed up shop for three days. All through that time he watched and rewatched the recordings. After three days he emerged, looking like a new man. He was calm and composed, at least on the outside.

    At home he took meticulous care of Zhou Qianlin. He changed her clothes, massaged her muscles to keep them nourished, bathed her, and fed her. When he had to leave he would take her with him, merged inside. The routine helped keep his heart on an even keel.

    Starting today, life will be different. It's time to get busy!

    None of the A.R.C. students refused the invitation, and by now they were all members of Skyfire Avenue's new Star Division. It'd taken three days just to get the numbers in order for this new endeavor.

    Altogether the new battalion boasted eight hundred and twenty three soldiers, more than expected. It even included a Paragon, the Gourmet! The Pharmacist could almost be counted in that, too. There were several other familiar faces interspersed. The Star Division was ready to begin turning the crack fighters of the Avenue into real warriors.

    West Hill had been emptied out for their purposes, while a thousand upgraded sim pods had been delivered. Meanwhile, their custom mech suits were already under construction.

    Next on Lan Jue's list was to assess the changes to these pods and DreamNet. An internal review. He had to first understand their strength before he knew what needed fixing. They were all Adepts as well, the most difficult fact to address. Everyone's Discipline was special in some way, and he had to find all of that out. On top of that, their experience with mechas ranged from brand new to veteran soldier. He also had to pick out who knew what.

    Only with all the data would he be able to run this outfit. It was a tedious but necessary job.

    Luckily, he wasn't alone. The Accountant had been conscripted to be their intelligence officer. Data and analytics would be his realm of expertise.

    They began the process quickly. There was no check or registration for their Discipline, they just clambered in and got to testing one another in virtual mech suits. With the Eastern authority's approval, everyone was given a virtual mecha model to begin. They were only available for use in designated DreamNet areas, which did not include out in 'public.' They were strictly meant for training purposes.

    The support is what ultimately gave Lan Jue faith in what they were doing. Now all the data was ready and everything was underway. It was time to start the training and selection process.

    1. The color of death in China is white. Take special care not to wear anything white on your head.

    2. I'm not very happy with this, but it's the closest I can accept. The phrase TJSS uses is Bu Song, or 'not send.' It's customary for people to send you off when you visit them. Here it's a little more nuanced. The Pontiff is showing respect, but at the same time the way it's written suggests there's a callousness. A begrudging respect paired with the selfish assertion that he's not dead yet. I erred more on the side of begrudging respect.
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