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Chapter 657: The Proposal

    Chapter 657: The Proposal

    "You came?"

    "I did."

    The dry, somewhat aloof conversation was between two Reflections of Protogenia. The Epochrion regarded the Terminator warmly, while the Terminator's face was less readable.

    "Huan Xue... I feel regret. For the first time in my life." The Terminator said softly.

    The Epochrion paused. Was this the same strong, inflexible man she once knew? In all this time she never thought regret was part of his vocabulary.

    The Terminator's dark and creviced features broke into a small smile. "I've felt it ever since you left. I regret giving up so much of a normal life for power. But there's one thing I couldn't cut out - feeling. I realize now that you've always had a special place in my heart, but I never felt I was good enough for you."

    He spoke frankly, holding nothing back. At their age and station they didn't need to be coy. He wasn't telling her this because he wanted something.

    Conflicting emotions trilled through the Epochrion's eyes, and she sighed. "Davis, you're a good man. Honest, determined. Pursuing your goals is nothing to regret. The situations life put before you left you few choices, but you did the best you could and became a national hero. You have always been a close friend, a brother. That will never change. As I told you when I left the Conclave, no matter what happens you will never be my enemy. These last years you've have to shoulder incredible burdens. You must allow yourself time to relax sometimes."

    The Terminator chuckled wryly. "I'm afraid I'll have to rest when I'm dead."

    She helplessly shook her head. "You've weighed yourself down with so many shackles. This is for you." She produced a glimmering vital crystal and handed it to him.

    He gathered it with a nod. "I'll have my people send over a Capital ship."

    But the Epochrion shook her head. "No need. This is a gift from me. After all the years you looked after me, it's the least I can do. I hope it can help heal you."

    "I can't accept such a gift without payment," he replied. "Besides, the politicians will find out and grow suspicious I'm sure. We should pay, and I will. You know, although you might not believe it I hope to see a prosperous East. We will need everyone to face the alien threat. The politicians don't seem to understand that resisting destruction is the top priority. The aliens aren't just bearers of vital crystals."

    Admiration was plain on her face. "As clear-headed as ever. I'm glad you understand."

    "Anyway, a transaction isn't representative of our friendship," he continued. "And who knows, maybe if this crystal heals me I will be worthy of you. Perhaps by then you'll want me in the Avenue, and maybe I won't turn the offer down."

    "This will never happen!" There was a flash of silver light. Suddenly, another figure appeared beside the Epochrion - the Wine Master. The Cosmagus' face was a thunderhead.

    "Huan Xue will be my wife, and no one will take her from me." The Wine Master's voice was fierce and aggressive.

    A forced smile spread across the Terminator's face. "Is that so? I see no husband - only a coward."

    "You!" The Wine Master's anger flared. This man was a rival both politically and for Huan Xue's affections. He found it difficult to contain his temper.

    The Terminator continued, unperturbed. "Am I wrong? What has stopped you from plainly stating your love? You expect results without the work? If I were you I would have gone to the Conclave years ago to seek out the one I loved, no matter the odds. There are no excuses in the face of true love. But what did you do? I have never believed emotions to be unchangeable. Time and age change all things, psychology included. In all this time you have refused to change, to try, because you fear failure. Is this not cowardice? Is this not selfishness?"

    The Wine Master's breathing was quick with anger. He fixed the Northern Paragon with burning eyes and waves of protogenia pulsed from him.

    The Terminator broke into laughter. "You may be a coward but you have a conscience. You're single-minded. Your heart's been unchanged all these years. My blessings to the both of you, then. But I warn you, if she ever comes back to me and the Conclave, I will never let her go again." He ended his reproaches there, and left the two of them alone.

    The Wine Master blinked, stunned. The Terminator's sudden shift in mannerism threw him. He was hard and composed, but suddenly gave in. But he turned his focus to the Clockmaker. Her feelings were most important.

    She looked back at him with a faint smile touching her lips. The Wine Master awkwardly spoke. "I'm sorry, just then..."

    She gently shook her head. "I liked seeing the bad side of you. A pleasant break from the norm, don't you think?"

    The Wine Master didn't know how to respond. "I..."

    She stopped him with a chuckle. "He knew you were listening. He said those things on purpose, he knows how I feel."

    The Wine Master's face became deep red as he realized he'd been fooled by the Terminator. He was so incensed that he couldn't see the truth. The perils of a heart in chaos!

    The Clockmaker stepped forward, and the Wine Master instinctively stepped back.

    "Did you mean what you said?" She asked.

    "What part?" He stuttered.

    She stared into his eyes. "It sounded like you wanted to propose! I'm an old woman, I can't wait forever."

    Finally the Wine Master realized what was plain in front of his face. He smiled. "True. It was all true. Marry me, Huan Xue. I will be good to you, you're the only woman I've ever loved."

    "Prove it," she replied.

    With a smile the Wine Master flicked his wrist, and a wring appeared cradled in his palm. It was lavender hue, and its faceted surface sparkled prettily. It was the picture of grace and dignity. It was a power gem, masterfully crafted.

    "I remember you like purple. I made this myself, little by little, with my own hands. I did not use my Discipline. I finished it a long time ago and have fantasized about putting it on your finger ever since. Will you give me the chance to make this fantasy a reality? If you do, it will make me the happiest man in all the universe."

    As he spoke the Paragon held the ring aloft in both hands and dropped to one knee before her.

    As she looked down on him she bit her lip. Her smile was gone, replaced with a mixture of joy and anticipation.

    This was the day they'd been anticipating for so, so long.

    "It took me so long to come to my senses, you've had to wait all this time. I've wasted the spring of our lives, but I hope it isn't too late." The Clockmaker presented her pale, delicate hand to the Wine Master. A comforting white light enveloped them. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. The two looked lovingly at each other as the Wine Master slowly slipped the power gem ring onto her finger. 1

    ζ

    The Auction was more successful and impactful than anyone would have dreamed. Now that it was over, Skyfire Avenue was abnormally rowdy. Word had gotten out that the black market had a few crystals to sell. Since the crystals came from the Avenue itself, no one was going to corroborate these rumors. However when the first crystal appeared that was proof enough.

    A pale blue light swirled around Lan Jue as he opened his eyes. He looked like an azure crystal statue. His skin was clear as glass and the blood pumping through him was plain to the eye. Although the energies radiating from him weren't strong, they bore a unique quality. His appearance wasn't frightening, what was frightening was the aura around him.

    In the center of his chest, his diamond-shaped Core glittered with a faintly discernable light. Threads of silvery light embraced it. Though the immortal qi was fluctuating and unstable, it gave the sense of flowing through his whole body.

    It was done. Finally, after so many days of training, the evolution of his Discipline was complete. The yin and yang lightning was joined, thick with the marvelous powers of the thunder essence and immortal qi. Lan Jue's powers had undergone a complete transformation.

    A dual-natured lightning was a rare and marvelous thing in the world of Adepts, but Lan Jue's powers had risen to a whole new level. It went beyond his own comprehension, meaning only once he'd broken through to Paragon could he use it to its full potential.

    1. The Chinese call the ring finger 'the nameless finger,' I'm not sure why.
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