Chapter 646: Fealty or Death

    Chapter 646: Fealty or Death

    Lan Qing sensed something as the powers of life and death intertwined around them. His body had reacted suddenly, expanding the image of his dharma to ward off the attack. It also served to deepen his personal understanding.

    Yet none of this made any difference in the shocked look on his face. Nothing could have prepared him for the truth.

    Beneath the searing fire of Varochana, the Astral Phantom had to draw on the last vestiges of 'his' energy. In fact 'he' was no longer 'himself' - the disguise was slipping.

    Long purple hair was the first thing revealed, followed by a sleek and slender figure. A pair of royal purple eyes burned with rage and disbelief. Varochana's fiery light continued to devour the remnants of purple protogenia. What lay beneath was a beautiful face, cold and sad.

    A woman?

    Lan Qing wasn't alone in his shock. Who among the spectators - especially Skyfire's Paragons - would not be similarly flabbergasted? The knife in the darkness, heartless and malicious, a killer for hire. The Astral Phantom, bringer of death to so many men - was a woman?

    Speculation over the Phantom's true face was always fuel for the imagination. However, usually the stories painted him as a wretched old man. But a woman? And such a beautiful woman, at that. Only Zhou Qianlin was her rival, with the Epochrion a close second. She was also a Paragon, something Qianlin could not yet boast.

    Lan Qing quickly recovered, his face adopted that familiar frigid expression. The fact that his opponent was a woman didn't give him any cause to relax his guard. He pressed his hands together once again, and the Buddha's Revelation Domain manifested anew. The all-consuming heat of Varochana continued to broil the Astral Phantom.

    The assassin had no way to strike back. She only had enough energy to fend off Lan Qing's Domain. She knew that if this continued for much longer, Varochana's rays would burn her away.

    She glared at Lan Qing with such a deep, abiding hatred that he could feel it. If looks could kill, he'd be slain twice over. But he faced her with stony disinterest. Her wicked stare washed over him like a statue.

    Outside of the pocket universe, it was silent as the grave. The fight was over, Lan Qing's victory was clear. To witness the breakthrough of a Paragon was rare, but it was rarer still to watch one die. It seemed likely it might happen now. The appraisers representing humanity's most powerful organizations watched, expressions as varied as their patrons. And yet, they all had the same thought; it would be wise to follow the rules during the auction.

    A sound caught Lan Qing's ear. He paused, then peered into the distance with a golden light in his eyes. His vision pierced the protective Domain created for them to spy Jue Di. He stood beside his brother, who both gave him a solemn nod.

    An Luo's general swung his eyes back toward the Astral Phantom. "You have a decision to make. Release your protogenia, allow my light to mark your soul. Swear fealty. Or, die."

    Only the Astral Phantom could hear him.

    IF it had been left up to Lan Qing, this choice would not have been offered. He wanted the assassin put down. But Jue Di offered an alternative. He looked at Lan Jue because this was their enemy. Lan Jue had even more cause to hate her after what happened to Qianlin. Lan Jue's nod was in agreement with Jue Di.

    The fiery Domain around her set her shocked expression in stark light. She gaped at Lan Qing incredulously. "You want me to submit?" The fury in her eyes threatened to set her eyes on fire, bordering on madness. It was an insult, an affront! Paragons were known for their pride. Swearing service to another was unthinkable.

    Lan Qing regarded her with unfeeling eyes. "You don't have long to make your choice. Fealty, or death!"

    "You think you can kill me?" The Astral Phantom spat back.

    He answered with a scornful smirk. "You're a Paragon, you live for your own interests. You've undertaken tremendous risk for those interests. You're not conceited, but you have a singular focus on potential profit. You are sinfully selfish. I think in your heart you'd chose life over honor. However I'd be just as pleased for you to prove me wrong. So Phantom, do you have so much pride? Am I wrong?"

    "You..!" Poisonous words welled up in her throat, but a flash in Lan Qing's eyes stopped her. The burning hell she found herself in got a few degrees hotter. The lapping flames didn't scorch like normal fire. It was, in fact, much worse. They were spouts of pure, cleansing energy. This unfeeling purification burned passed energy, passed the body, right down into a victim's soul. The danger the Astral Phantom faced was the obliteration of her body and soul. Escape was not an option, with so many Paragons watching.

    What could she do? Her mind was in chaos.

    Lan Qing was right. Avarice was her drug of choice, there was nothing better than a new pretty bauble. She commanded the greatest organization of criminals in the history of humanity, and yet she still wasn't satisfied.

    The Phantom was a sixty year old woman in truth, but looked like she was in her twenties. A result of many rare treasures, which used together allowed her to break through without effort. It was a feat that required skill and a fortune in resources. All so she could keep her good looks forever as a Paragon.

    She had been overjoyed at the news of vital crystals and the exuvium process. Paragons had to die like any other living thing. The exuvium process changed all that. A single crystal wouldn't mean much to her, but a whole lot of them, or even just a particularly potent one was enough to extend her life. And through those extra years she could grow stronger. She'd been stuck at the Realm of Protogenia for so long already with no signs of progress. This time she acted out of desperation.

    Still she'd been cautious. She'd watched and listened for a long time, had a series of meticulous back-up plans. Yet never occurred to her was one hateful little girl. Skyfire Avenue was prepared, rendering all her back-up plans useless. She walked right into their clutches.

    At this moment of mortal danger, she did feel pride. But what could compare to life? You had to live to see a future. In death you lost everything - gone in an instant.

    It was only seconds but it felt like minutes of agony. An unending flood of fears and questions ran through her mind. She wracked her mind for any way to wriggle out alive.

    But Varochana's light was too strong. She could not shed it.
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