Chapter 648: The Tragedy of the Astral Phantom

    Chapter 648: The Tragedy of the Astral Phantom

    The Astral Phantom was slumped on the floor. Her long purple hair was splayed all around in a mess, concealing her face.

    Seeing her collapsed upon the ground like this, Lan Jue couldn't help but feel something unexpected. This was so much worse than just killing her. It seemed so unlikely to succeed.

    Lan Qing noticed Lan Jue's expression and nodded his way. Lan Jue smiled. "Brother, it looks like you've found yourself a fine bodyguard."

    Lan Qing walked over to the Astral Phantom and plucked her up, throwing her over his shoulder like a sack of rice. "Surrender the vital crystals," he growled.

    The Astral Phantom answered weakly. "I'm already your slave, can't you leave me some dignity?"

    Lan Jue's face twitched. He could hardly believe she was still gambling her life! All for these crystals.

    Smack! Lan Qing gave the Astral Phantom's rump a firm-handed slap. This elicited a surprised yelp from his captive. Several vital crystals tumbled out from her clothes. Lan Qing gave the surrounding Paragons a nod of respect, then he and the Phantom disappeared in a flash of light.

    As An Liu watched them go, a strange sensation gnawed at the pit of her stomach. It was something sour, but not a flavor.

    The Keeper's calm voice broke the silence. "Alright. Now that we've seen tonight's entertainment you may all continue with your examinations. All the vital crystals are accounted for."

    Capturing a Paragon was hardly a common occurrence. Although most of the spectators didn't see how the fight ended, it was clear Lan Qing was the victor. The Astral Phantom had been arrested, the universe's foremost assassin in the hands of the Eastern military.

    In a moment, the atmosphere had changed. The appraisers gave each other nervous sideways glances. They couldn't feel the waves of power thanks to the Domain's protections, but they didn't have to. It was such a visual spectacle that the fear and power were without question.

    Everything they thought they knew about the Avenue had to be thrown out.

    They were unassailable! The strength Skyfire Avenue showed was staggering, how were they to compete with them? The scene before them was evidence of how much clout they held.

    The rest of the viewing continued under this unspoken pressure. Anyone with a thought of causing trouble had it banished from their mind after watching the spectacular fight.

    The first part of the auction concluded without further event. Soon after, news that the An Lun super soldier was a Paragon spread across the human worlds. Now the news outlets were just waiting for any indication of what he chose to call himself. It was a spectacular story - a meteoric rise straight to Reflection of Heaven and Earth! Who knew, he might be the next Jue Di. One powerhouse usually didn't represent an alliance, but he was An Lun's commander. His presence made causing trouble more difficult for the West and North.

    Even the Astral Phantom was bested. Who could stand against the An Lun super soldier? No other Alliance could boast having a Paragon commander! In an instant people's perception of Eastern might changed. It was another stinging slap to the West's face that ruined all their plans.

    Now all eyes were on the vital crystal auction. Information about the specifics had already been released, and appraisers had given their backers their reports. These crystals were pure, better than any that had been discovered before. A few of them were clearly from a higher breed of alien. What it meant, only the clever could deduce.

    Never before had crystals like those been seen in human space. What were they capable of? How were they different from normal crystals? All of this needed careful study to understand. OF course, to study them they would need to be purchased first. Puzzling out the exuvium process would also need a large number of crystals for experimentation. These were new issues for them to consider, but first they had to have the crystals in hand.

    Certainly, the fact that the East was auctioning so many of these off meant they had a surplus. They also must have had enough for research. It was clear to everyone that the East was leveraging these crystals to bolster their military strength - but what could they do? This was a wide-open strategy no one could do anything about. This was one pit they were destined to tumble into, the crystals were simply too precious.

    After the showing demand for the vital crystals was at a fever pitch. Representatives from the rich and powerful were nearly rabid with lust. Whoever had the most crystals could position themselves for future profit and influence.

    It was evident that the North and West could not match the East for vital crystals. However, they did have faith in the skill of their researchers. The East may have the raw materials, but technology wasn't something that fell in your lap. It needed study and man hours. So they had trust in their science. Despite their late start, the other Alliances were confident they could catch up.

    This was the atmosphere that filled the air as the auction day arrived. It would be held at Skyfire Museum, and the auctioneer would be Skyfire Council's chairman, the Avenue's Wine Master, the Cosmagus himself!

    It went without saying that this auction was held by the joint efforts of the East and Skyfire Avenue. The East's presence was at the Avenue's behest.

    Lan Jue arrived in a wine-colored suit with a black tie, and a white shirt beneath. The outfit was accented by handmade brown leather shoes and a white kerchief stuffed in his breast pocket. He looked like the essence of a gentleman. Beside him was his brother. At Lan Jue's request, the An LUn super soldier traded his military uniform for a sapphire suit. They looked so alike in some ways, but were as different as apples and oranges. Lan Qing exuded an air of wisdom and consideration. Lan Jue had an elegant sort of genteelness. The both of them captured a lot of attention.

    Most of those eyes followed the newly arisen Paragon, Lan Qing. After breaking through directly to Reflection of Heaven and Earth, and defeating the Astral Phantom, he was immediately put within the top four of the Paragon list! Jue Di remained solidly at the top, but the Terminator and the Epochrion sat just below him. Before Lan Qing's arrival, they were the only two known second-degree Paragons remaining. Now there was a new name to add. Although he was part of the Eastern military, he was still marked under the banner of Skyfire Avenue. It meant the Eastern Adept organization added another Paragon to their ranks, and all the power that came with them. Skyfire Avenue was already considered the promised land for anyone with Talent.

    After the last stretch of time, the Avenue had accepted a great many new members. Most of them were unaffiliated Easterners looking for instruction, but there was a fair number of defectors from the other Alliances as well. These foreign Adepts had to submit to strict scrutiny before gaining entry. This undoubtedly also served to make the Avenue stronger.

    The Great Conclave and the Citadels were aware of what was happening, of course. There wasn't anything they could do about it. After all, you needed strength to be considered. How could they be strong enough to confront the Avenue? How many Paragons did they have now? If the West didn't have their decoctions and the North their technology, the power gap would be staggering. And Skyfire Avenue would have even more potential members.

    Lan Qing and Lan Jue walked to the first row before the auction block. The other participants parted to make way, and they took their seats.

    Only Eastern government officials and Avenue higher ups were allowed to sit at the first row. Besides Lan Qing and Lan Jue, representing the Avenue was the Gourmet, Epochrion, and Pauper. The Wine Master was leading the auction. The Keeper and Bookworm were not in attendance. They were absorbed in their research. The high-quality crystals recovered from the Shattered Starfields had been wonderful news for them.

    A dark figure arrived, clad in black robes from head to toe. Their features were hidden beneath a shadowy cowl. They approached the front row and took a seat on the far end of the table. Their mysterious image and arrival earned a few whispers from the others. The auction paddle in their hand meant they were supposed to be here. Whoever they were, they had to be from the Northern government. Adept organizations from the West and North had been assigned to the second row.

    The Terminator didn't appear to feel one way or the other about it. He was seated in the center of the second row. Although he represented both the government and the Great Conclave, the North decided to send separate representatives to show on behalf of the two organizations. This meant he had to sit one row back. Amusingly, Lucifer and Metatron sat on either side of him. All three looks a little uncomfortable.

    Who was this mysterious stranger in black? What was his station, where he could sit with the leaders of nations? Many curious eyes followed him, the Terminator among them.

    Lan Jue leaned in to speak with the brother. "The Astral Phantom?"
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