Chapter 699: The Eight Great Paragons

    Chapter 699: The Eight Great Paragons

    Lan Jue's heart jumped. "You mean the two gods of wine?" Lan Jue's mind conjured up images of Lalou Bize and Aubert de Villaine.

    Those two gods of wine had been the source of a great deal of trouble for the Avenue.

    The Wine Master nodded. "Their planet is verdant, and will likely be abandoned by the west since it's primarily a tourist destination. It has a small population so evacuations will be quick and easy. If the aliens show up, they won't let a planet so full of life pass them by. I plan to offer my help in transporting their underground world to someplace safer. Perhaps that will be enough to convince them to help us. If humanity is destroyed what good would their vineyard serve?"

    Lan Jue gave him a piercing look. "Why do I get the feeling there are selfish ulterior motives involved?"

    "What do you mean, ulterior motives?" The Wine Master snapped. "All I do, I do for the good of humanity."

    Lan Jue pointed out the obvious. "But they're Westerners. What makes you think they'll agree to defect?"

    The elderly sommelier waved a hand dismissively. "The West doesn't even know they exist. At any rate, do you think they care about national loyalty at their age? I suspect their grapes are their biggest concern."

    "No harm in trying," Lan Jue acquiesced. "They're Paragons, after all. So you want me to make the trip?"

    But the Wine Master shook his head. "No, I'll go. I need you to stay here and look after the Avenue while I'm gone. Star Division, and all the Paragons that are part of it now, are yours to command."

    All of a sudden Lan Jue felt like he'd been caught in a trap. "No way. At the very least you're going to be the worst kind of back-seat driver!"

    This earned a chuckle. "I've been chairman of the council for too long already. The Clairvoyant had always intended for the position to go to you. It's also a spot well-deserved. Everything's been decided - you have a lot to do, so you better get started."

    "You..." This old fox is too damn cunning! Lan Jue's face drained of color. Getting a moment of rest in the last few months had been a herculean task he'd only accomplished by leaving Star Division's day to day with Su Xiaosu. Thankfully she was good at it.

    Now that the Wine Master was leaving, the pressures of leadership fell squarely on his own shoulders. Telling a bunch of Paragons what to do was easier said than done - how was he to expect any commands to be followed?

    The Wine Master chuckled at Lan Jue's crestfallen look. "Oh don't pull that face, I know you'll be great. In fact I think you'll do a better job than I did. You have a fine relationship with all of our Paragons, and Star Division will become a part of the Eastern army. We've been in contact with the military already and they've pledged them to An Lun's forces. Can you think of anyone more qualified for the position?"

    The Wine Master's insistence only made him feel more helpless. But was he wrong? He did have a decent standing among the Avenue's Paragons.

    Altogether, Skyfire Avenue had eight powerful Paragons as its mighty protectors; Luo Xianni, the Photographer; the Wine Master, Cosmagus; the Clockmaker, Epochrion; the Gourmet, Infernal Vanguard; the Keeper, Arcane Magnate; the Bookworm, Karmic Scholar; the Pauper, Arhat of the Descending Dragon; and finally the newly ascending Pharmacist, the Siren of Slaughter.

    Luo Xianni he didn't need to worry about. He didn't know her Paragon title but it didn't matter - he called her mother. The Wine Master was an insufferable busybody, but also an old drinking buddy. Lan Jue's relationship with the Clockmaker wasn't especially close, but the Wine Master and she were intimate. She was also a confidante of the Clairvoyant, and Lan Jue didn't have to worry about her support.

    The Gourmet was an old friend and their roots ran deep, not to mention their connection through Chu Cheng. The Keeper and Bookworm looked at him like a nephew, and a protector to the Accountant. The Pauper and he had many ties that tangled them together. As for the Pharmacist, Lan Jue called her sister.

    After thinking it over he could say that it was true, he had good connections with each of the Paragons despite not being one himself. It would continue to be true for the Driver when he eventually broke through.

    "Your main job will be to coordinate everyone's efforts. Don't worry, I'll be back before you know it. I've also spoken with the Keeper and he'll help you where he can. With that psychopath in your corner what else do you need? The Eastern government has also pledged its full support to the Avenue, so you don't have to fret over them. Once you feel good about Star Division, we'll link them up with An Lun's army, and one of their main tasks will be the protection of this planet."

    Lan Jue frowned at nothing in particular. "An Lun's army will be protecting Skyfire? What about An Lun itself? That's one of our most important planets guarding the border. Besides, what are two fleets going to accomplish if an alien planet appears in local space?"

    Grinning, the Wine Master responded. "Now you're getting into national secrets. Once Star Division is ready and on its way to An Lun, you'll see. Ah, right - I've managed to convince the army to give you an official rank. What do you think, Rear Admiral?"

    Lan Jue rolled his eyes. "Whatever, Lan Qing outranks me by a mile. Star Division has eight Paragons, being led by a Rear Admiral makes it sound weak. Why not make me a fleet admiral!"

    The Wine Master gave him a flat stare. "It's that easy, is it? Nevermind, hang the title then. You should be focusing on breaking through anyway, the earlier the better. That will shore up confidence and respect."

    "So I'm supposed to lead Star Division, the Avenue, and become a Paragon? What do you think I am, a god?" Lan Jue whined.

    "That's your problem," the Wine Master retorted. "I'm just responsible for assigning tasks. I think you can handle it."

    Lan Jue outright scowled. "My heart can't take this. I need a drink. If you're going to be handing down directives and running off to drink with the wine gods I don't think my request is unreasonable. Open up that vault you keep your wine in and let me pick a bottle, then I'll accept."

    The Wine Master's face twitched. "Don't even think about it, you shameless punk. The moment I let you in you'll ferret out my best bottle and drink it before I have a sip. We're done here, you can go. We'll convene the council tonight and make the announcement. I'll be leaving in the morning - oh, and the Clockmaker will be coming with me. The combined strength of the Avenue is now in your hands, we'll come back when we're done."

    Lan Jue just stared at him. "So you just kick me out, eh? Aren't you afraid I'll find your stash while you're gone, walk away with a sack of ill-gotten loot?"

    "You wouldn't dare!" The Wine Master gasped. Before the claim wouldn't have worried him - he was confident in his power. But with Captus in Lan Jue's hand and power comparable to many Paragons even without breaking through, the threat was real. His treasures might really be in danger if Lan Jue lost his mind!

    Lan Jue grunted. "I guess we'll drink once you get back. I'm leaving!" He shot to his feet and headed for the exit."

    "Alright, alright! You scare me!" The Wine Master complained.

    Lan Jue hadn't really planned to leave, but he'd made a good show of it. He stopped and turned his head back to look at the stingy old man.

    The Wine Master stooped and pulled something from beneath the table. It was a bottle. "Take it, call me when you plan to open it up."

    The bottle was pitch black and smooth, simple but for its label which bore intricate orange scrollwork.

    "This is..." Lan Jue actually didn't know, he wasn't familiar with the bottle. But he knew quality the moment he saw it.

    The bottle was porcelain. Not wine, then. Spirits?

    He took it from the Wine Master, and immediately his eyes lit up.

    "Whisky... King of the isle of Islay, Bowmore 30 limited-edition? You actually have a bottle of this? Wine Master, if I were a woman I'd marry you right away - you're a damn treasure! Thank you, thank you." Lan Jue nearly cackled as he committed the bottle to Thor's Promise. He turned and left, absent the animosity he'd started with.

    As he watched him go, the Wine Master couldn't help but shake his head. The Clockmaker entered from a nearby doorway. "Since when did you become so generous?"

    The Wine Master bleakly responded. "What makes you think I wanted to give him that bottle? This kid's mood affects his decisions deeply. Leaving on this trip puts a lot of stress on him, he needed a little encouragement. At any rate the wine in my cellar is more than a single man can drink in a lifetime, and he'll get it when it's time for me to pass it on. In fact I'm rather helpless."

    "Helpless?" The Clockmaker asked.

    The old man sighed. "The kid has a natural affinity for wine, and is the Clairvoyant's chosen one. I'd actually had plans to adopt him, but who could have known about my aunt. She's an elder, who am I to contest?"

    The Clockmaker couldn't help but laugh. "He's an interesting boy, the Jewelry Master. If he breaks through and ends up like his brother, you wouldn't have been a suitable adopted father anyway. He's Jue Di's son."

    "So I guess I'm more an older brother," the Wine Master replied. "It's uncomfortable. Giving him a hard time helps my mood. Alright, we have things to prepare, you and I. We'll make this trip to the Barrows a honeymoon, what do you think? It's a beautiful place."
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