Chapter 643: Fighting the Astral Phantom

    Chapter 643: Fighting the Astral Phantom

    These two could be considered old, bitter foes. The Astral Phantom figured he knew Lan Qing's powers well; that Wind Discipline that refused to be shut out, that powerful ancient martial style, and his near super-human insight. Most importantly, though, was how often he'd escaped the Phantom's clutches. Things would be different now that they faced each other face to face. A lot of the assassin's ploys didn't apply. He was not worried about safety, however. After all, he'd been a Paragon far longer than this upstart soldier. He wasn't a Reflection of Heaven and Earth, but years of experience as a Paragon had taught him a great deal about staying alive. He put his chances of escape at twenty, thirty percent, however he knew the rules and limitations of those who commanded protogenia. It wasn't easy for people like them to go back on their word, lest protogenia revolt like it did against unscrupulous killers. Because of this, even assassin's like the Astral Phantom had rules he had to abide by.

    So what if he was a Paragon? What did it mean to him if Lan Qing was 'gifted'? The Astral Phantom had faith he could best this upstart. It was just a shame he couldn't kill him. The pay-out for Lan Qing's head was hefty indeed.

    The Astral Phantom made the first move. At first he didn't seem all that fast as he rushed for the Eastern general. His body was enveloped in a thick, mysterious purple light. It was important to remember where the assassin stood among his fellow Paragons. He had been considered stronger than the Gourmet, the Bookworm and the Pauper the day he ascended. Although he had yet to succeed in becoming a Reflection of Heaven and Earth, years as a Paragon assassin meant he was a master of his skills.

    Lan Qing ducked and spread his arms out to his side, like an enormous eagle spreading its wings. Formless yet oppressive, the general's aura sprang to life. Coiling eddies of cyan energy swirled around him until suddenly they burst out, illuminating everything.

    Rookie mistake, calling on your Discipline when it wasn't necessary. The Astral Phantom regarded the move with disdain. He didn't move or avoid the general's encroaching Domain. On the contrary, the Astral Phantom picked up speed and bore directly into the face of Lan Qing's power.

    The result was strange and unexpected. As the Astral Phantom met Lan Qing's Domain, the cyan universe split to let him pass like cloth before a pair of sheers. A number of gasps arose from the spectators as they looked on. Such power!

    Six shadowy figures appeared behind the Astral Phantom, following in his wake. A pair of black daggers had appeared in his hands. Since the blades didn't reflect any light, they could only be seen from specific angles.

    These were the weapons the Astral Phantom was famous for; Soulblight. No one knew how many lives these two dark blades had taken.

    A flash of purple light temporarily blinded everyone who watched. The Phantom and his six copies spread out every which way. They arced out, surrounding Lan Qing, then charged in from every direction. His Domain seemed to exist in name only, as the assassin and his copies effortlessly plowed inward.

    As the evil daggers bore down on the young hero, many in the crowd audibly gasped in dismay. One of them was An Liu, her pretty eyes wide and full of fear. But just then, the Astral Phantom began to despair. It was too easy.

    How could it be this easy? They'd crossed blades a number of times, and although the Phantom had the advantage, Lan Qing always got away by virtue of his smarts. He'd escaped so many impossible situations that the Astral Phantom started to wonder if he was even human. Was the 'God of Wisdom' really just going to stand there and wait to get stabbed? The Eastern super soldier didn't react at all, even as his Domain was being torn up around him.

    When he looked up, he saw the ridicule in his opponent's eyes.

    Something's not right! The Astral Phantom stuck to his gut instinct. Three of the copies continued their headlong rush toward Lan Qing. The three others joined with the original before breaking off into four separate directions.

    The cyan light became more intense as a vortex appeared without warning near Lan Qing. The vortex itself was crystal clear, but waves of green energy poured from it. Every pulse was full of a vital energy that made the heart race. From outside the vortex seemed unmoving, but the truth was revealed when the assassin's copies were caught in its pull. When the images were swallowed up, their bodies were sliced away into a hundred thousand pieces by some invisible force. Half a breath later, nothing remained.

    How is this possible? Is it actually...

    The Astral Phantom craned his neck mid-flight to stare at the scene. He was able to sense the power of the vortex through the last moments of his copies. It was protogenia, wind protogenia. Lan Qing had managed to master the essence of his own element and melded it seamlessly with the waves of cosmic turbulence abound. His mirror images had no way to escape and were summarily destroyed.

    How could someone who'd just become a Paragon be so strong? He couldn't come up with an answer, but that wasn't important. In a flash, Lan Qing appeared behind the Phantom.

    Countless edged gusts gathered around the general. They were so thick in the air they left his enemy no way out. The wind-weapons were condensed cosmic turbulence and as such were heavy with pure wind element. Not even a Paragon would dare test how sharp they were.

    The Astral Phantom was taken by surprise, but he didn't hesitate. He steadied his heart as the truth of his unfathomable foe was revealed. His retreat stopped, and as the Astral Phantom turned he lashed out with the Soulblight daggers, quick as lightning. He cut at the wind daggers, and when they collided Lan Qing's weapons dissolved into their elemental essence. Little by little the Phantom danced among the cosmic flows, carving out a safe circle.

    As for the other three copies, they seemed to have simply vanished into the vacuum of space.

    Wind daggers continued to sail toward the assassin, birthed from Lan Qing as he remained suspended in place. The Astral Phantom was in the center of a deadly tempest, and each gust was a piercing dagger at his weakest points. No dodge to the left or dash to the right freed him from the prison of air. They were locked in a battle of stamina.

    The Terminator swung his eyes toward the Keeper. "Congratulations! The East produces another Paragon. Why is it we Northerner's don't have such luck?"

    The Keeper answered with a knowing smile. "Because you've chosen the wrong path. The mysteries of the human body can't be answered by installing technology. To truly understand ourselves we must reduce, not add to. It only happens through hard work, step by step, day by day. While manufactured and altered Adepts rise quicker and are stronger in the early stages, everything's different after ninth level. You were looking for numbers. We have only ever pursued perfection. Our results speak to the righteousness of our path."

    The Terminator grinned. "Maybe. Though I contend our technology just hasn't caught up, yet. If one day technology could reveal the potential we contain, everything would be different. When that day comes we can make Paragons. That is when humanity will be the true masters of the universe."

    The Keeper didn't engage him further. This was an ideological rift that went beyond the two of them, and both knew the other wouldn't be swayed. Each had their own truth.

    In the depths of their pocket universe, the rivals continued their battle. In a short span the clash had reached a fever pitch. The Astral Phantom was gone beneath the constant purple flashes of his defenses. All he needed was a break in this never-ending flood of cyan, then he could get through. But he couldn't, the daggers never stopped. Both of them continued to throw everything they had at one another.

    Cosmic secrets had been revealed to Paragons, and they were capable of bending the rules of reality to their whim. However, they weren't gods. Their powers had limits, as did their stamina.

    From outside, spectators might assume the more practiced Paragon had the advantage here. After all, he had years of cultivation under his belt. However to those with more combat training, they saw that the fight was just getting under way. Everything up to this point was feeling each other out.

    The Astral Phantom had already guessed that the cyan power was not Lan Qing's Domain. The vortex was. Lan Qing deserved the praise, he thought. He was strong for a newly arisen Paragon. But at the same time the Phantom was starting to read the situation. Perhaps it was because Lan Qing was new to his powers, but his attacks were uniform.

    Unerring, time was needed for a Paragon to learn how to integrate their protogenia into their fighting tactics. The Astral Phantom had tread this road, he knew how things were. As far as he was concerned Lan Qing was too tender. He'd been holding back since the start of the fight.

    Meanwhile the Phantom's preferred style was more like a viper; wait for just the right moment, then strike. One blow to shake the pillars of heaven. Both Lan Qing and Lan Jue had been instructed in how lethal that style could be. Lan Jue had nearly met his demise because of it.

    Enough! Time to show him a little muscle. A cold light flashed in the Phantom's eyes. His Soulblight daggers were surrounded by a caustic purple light, then leapt from his hands in either direction. The started small but the farther they flew the larger they became. Eventually they were enormous, big enough that they threatened to slice apart the universe containing them. Both slashed their way toward Lan Qing.
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