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Chapter 642: A Trap

    Chapter 642: A Trap

    The person stumbled and nearly collapsed, but no one paid any mind. Everyone's total attention was on the vital crystals, what did the other appraisers mean to them? All but Jun'er, who was standing in the path of the representative.

    The small girl's eyes did not work, but her other senses compensated. "Be careful," she squeaked. A tiny hand extended to help. Only just then the representative jerked away. To the outside observer it looked like they were trying to avoid bumping into the girl. Something in it grabbed the attention of the Keeper and Bookworm, though.

    "Nobody move." A deep, gravelly voice hissed through the air. All eyes turned to the dagger pressed against Jun'er's throat, throbbing with purple light. The culprit's free hand shot out, and ten vital stones suspended nearby shot into his grasp.

    Suddenly a wave of crushing power filled the area, pouring from the Avenue's two scientists. The suffocating aura ripped through like a tornado, swallowing everything up.

    "I said, don't move. You're smart enough to know what kind of poison is on this dagger. A clean cut through her aorta, and no one could save your precious little Clairvoyant." His voice was grim and low. The expression on the thief's face never changed.

    "Astral Phantom!" The Keeper's face went pale. He knew it because he could feel the protogenia flowing from him, the aura of a Paragon. Between the Keeper and the Bookworm, their holding aura was enough to make escape difficult. However not to comply was putting Jun'er in danger.

    The Astral Phantom's current face wasn't his real one. The Paragon never revealed what he really looked like. His appearances were rare, and this one seemed foolishly planned. With so many Paragons, getting away seemed impossible. But the best methods were often the most direct. One little girl was stronger than a whole room full of Paragons. She was the future of Skyfire Avenue, and the Phantom knew that. He was unaffiliated and didn't fear the wrath of Skyfire Avenue. Besides, his attempt on Lan Jue's life already put them at odds.

    "What are you going to do now?" The Keeper growled.

    The Astral Phantom's voice was cold, dead. "Nothing extravagant. You're going to give me every vital crystal in this place, and then I'm going to go. Once I'm safe the child goes free. You all know when I say something I mean it."

    The Keeper responded with a huff. "You have two choices. First, surrender. Pledge your support to the fight against the aliens and you can have leave with a vital crystal. Submit to a series of restrictions, and when we fight the aliens maybe your deeds will outweigh your crimes."

    The Astral Phantom regarded the scientist flatly. "Has dementia already set in? I'm the one in control of this situation. Keep your Alzheimer's to yourself."

    The Keeper continued as though he hadn't heard. His voice stayed calm. "Your second choice is to face them. Beat them and you're free to go." He casually pointed to where two figures were standing, not far away.

    The two bore expressions promising similarly brutal deaths, but through different methods. One was cold as ice and hard as a mountain. The other had a more elegant and refined bloodthirst. Four golden stars twinkled on the fiercer one's shoulder. His companion was also smartly dressed, but in place of stars he wore a mocking grin.

    They were ready? The Astral Phantom's face went dark. If this was a trap, he'd fallen for it. But what about the child in his hand?

    "You're pretty foolish, Uncle. I am a prophet, how would I not know when I'm in danger? I knew this would happen days ago." Her voice sounded small and piteous. The naïve tones of a child made the words much more cutting.

    A light flickered and Jun'er vanished from the assassin's grip. She reappeared in the distance, bathed in ethereal starlight. The Ocean of Stars Domain was an inheritance from the former Clairvoyant. Although the manifestation of power was permanent, it only existed here in the museum. However, so long as Jun'er stayed here she had access to all the benefits of a Paragon's Domain. Benefits like teleportation and concealment.

    Lan Jue smirked at the Astral Phantom. "When Jun'er said she felt danger, you were the very first person I thought of. You're the only one with the skill to masterfully sneak in, then immediately do something stupid. You've assassinated our people, and today those accounts will be paid."

    The steely-eyed general was Lan Qing. He had come to Skyfire to participate in a high-level government meeting. His mocking companion was, of course, Lan Jue.

    Jun'er had told Lan Jue she didn't feel right the day before. It didn't take him long to puzzle things out. The only person mad enough and good enough to be a danger to Jun'er was standing right in front of them. When it came to profits death did not concern the Astral Phantom!

    Lan Jue's eyes were strangely absent any hate as he regarded the assassin. There was only a heartlessness in his cold stare. If it weren't for this man, Qianlin wouldn't be in the state she was in. He had almost succeeding in taking the second love of his life from him, not to mention the many times he'd tried to kill his brother. Jun'er had predicted his arrival and here he was, the infamous killer. Today their disagreements would be settled.

    The Astral Phantom flicked his wrist, sending the vital crystals he'd stolen tumbling back out into the air. The movements were calm, almost flippant. Like he was capitulating for the greater good, rather than the potential danger.

    "If I beat the both of you, I may leave?" He didn't look at Lan Jue. The killer only had eyes for Lan Qing. He could feel it; this thorn in his side, who had survived so many attempts on his life, had broken through. His progress and determination were enviable.

    "So long as you don't run, you'll only have to deal with me." Lan Qing took a step forward, his voice even.

    When he spoke everyone looked his way. The An Lun super soldier wasn't known to everyone, but he did have a reputation.

    "Prometheus, God of Wisdom and hero of the Eastern military. He is challenging the Astral Phantom?" Someone asked.

    Lucifer's ears perked up. He knew those names and titles well, and the moment he heard them his face changed. The An Lun super soldier, great hope of the East - was it really him? Hadn't he been vice-admiral? He'd heard nothing about Prometheus becoming a Paragon.

    The Terminator was similarly blindsided by the revelation. However, his mind immediately turned to reports of An Lun satellite images. Was that golden aura a result of this young man's protogenic power? If that were true...

    Ordinarily Lan Qing would not have tipped his hand and revealed his ascension. Typically this information would remain secret to keep an advantage over the West and North. Now, however, things were different. The worlds of man were upended with the alien crisis, as well as the discovery of vital crystals and the exuvium process. It was as much a danger as it was an opportunity. The East - being the weakest of the Alliances - was seeking to exploit and profit from these opportunities. Surely they hoped the East would eventually surpass its two neighbors. Perhaps now wasn't the time for secrecy, instead it was time to flex muscles and make a show of what the East could achieve. With the alien menace at their doorstep, at least they didn't have to worry about overt Northern or Western aggression. The West's presence here was proof; despite their hateful rhetoric, how could they pass up the chance for a few vital crystals? How could they want them and at the same time say they were fake?

    "Very well! It looks like you've been promoted. Now show me how strong you've become." The others around them scattered back to give them space. Still there were many who were visibly frightened. This was a Paragon battle, collateral damage was likely.

    However their fear was only short lived. In the starry expanse above, a single celestial body flared brightly. The star's gentle light enveloped Lan Qing and the Astral Phantom. Right away both of them appeared to shrink. From the outside they looked like miniatures. To them, it was like they'd been cast into a pocket dimension. Completely oblivious of everything happening outside.

    Inwardly the Astral Phantom was in a sour mood. He was too bold, too careless. It was foolish to underestimate the Clairvoyant! He was dead, but managed to leave behind such a powerful tool even from beyond the grave. Too risky - in the future, he thought to himself, he would need to be more careful.

    Lan Qing's figure floated in the dark expanse of this pocket universe, facing his foe. For a moment he just regarded him. A gentle cyan light radiated around his body.
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