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Chapter 719: Forced Marriage

    Chapter 719: Forced Marriage

    Lan Jue furrowed his brows. "As far as I can tell Mo Xiao likes you a lot."

    Hua Li shook his head. "It's different... it feels different. She's a good friend, a great partner. But not a wife. I never liked her like that."

    "So why marry? I figure an unhappy marriage isn't any good for the family. Besides you told me you have someone you love, and it looked like you meant it. What will happen to your love then?"

    A laugh bubbled from Hua Li's lips. The bitterness in it paired with the young man's good looks tugged at Lan Jue's heart. Even he couldn't help but be smitten by him.

    "Marriage is not a choice for me. Mo Xiao is destined to be the mother of Poseidon's next generation. It's our duty to the family, and one I must adhere to. We'll employ technological methods to conceive an heir to carry on the family legacy. Our wedding is just a formality."

    He paused for a moment before continuing. "The one I love doesn't know I love her. I'm sure you're familiar with the concept of unrequited love."

    Lan Jue was stunned. "You? Unrequited love? Hell all you have to do is profess your feelings and I'm sure you could have any girl you want right?" As far as Lan Jue was concerned there was no better candidate for a husband than Hua Li.

    But the entertainer and Paragon shook his head with a bitter grin." You don't understand."

    "Then help me understand," Lan Jue said. "What is going on? I can help you figure it out."

    Hua Li was still reticent. "I'm afraid of hurting her, and if it doesn't work out we can't keep a friendship. She has someone she loves so it isn't my place to say anything. This love will have to remain buried in my heart and go with me to the grave. But, you know, holding love for someone is a nice feeling. All I can do is make sure I don't betray her."

    Lan Jue openly gaped at him. "I never would have pegged you for a hopeless romantic."

    Hua Li chuckled. "There's a lot you don't know. Alright, it's time for me to head back. But before I do how are you doing? When are you going to break through?"

    "Soon I suspect," he answered. "You keep working, don't wait for me. You aren't my competition."

    Hua Li shrugged. "Maybe we should spar tomorrow, my last shot at kicking you around before you become a Paragon."

    Lan Jue chortled. "Alright, I'm not afraid of you. Don't think you're going to wail on me just because you're a Paragon now. Tomorrow we'll see who beats on who."

    "No doubt, better than sitting idle though. We'll be the pre-show for A-Qing and A-Cheng," he said.

    Lan Jue wasn't being cocky. After seeing what the Harmonious Swords did against the Terminator, how would Hua Li be any different? He also sensed that Qianlin had slipped into a quietude, the sort of quietude an Adept enters when they were ready to break through. What that meant was she had also reached the peak of ninth rank. Now that they had reached the threshold together, it was only a matter of time before they were Paragons.

    ζ

    As rays of early morning light filtered into his hotel room, Lan Jue stirred from his meditations.

    His eyes were warm and soft, without a hint of sharpness. Anyone who did not know him would say he looked like any normal person.

    The deeper Lan Jue's comprehension of Taiji became, the calmer and more potent his All-Heaven Lightning became. But in that calm was a mystifying aura.

    The sensation wasn't merely protogenia, but essence - the essence of All-Heaven Lightning. Or to put it another way, more like universal protogenia.

    The thunder essence he'd consumed was almost gone, only a third remained to be absorbed. At this point the rate of absorption had quickened considerably. Part of that was the immortal qi, and his Discipline had been entirely evolved through the pure lightning element.

    Lan Jue was at his peak, stronger than he'd ever been. It could be said he had one foot in the Realm of Protogenia. With the addition of Captus, his arrogance with Hua Li last night was especially warranted.

    Ding-dong. His doorbell rang.

    Lan Jue sensed the presence outside. He knew who it was. When he pulled open the door he saw the stoic face of the Pharmacist looking back at him.

    "You're up? I'm sorry to bother you so early." Her stony visage cracked into a gentle smile as she walked into Lan Jue's room. She looked like she was back to her old self.

    "How do you feel after your rest?" Lan Jue inquired with a smile of his own.

    "Very well, thank you," she said. "There's something I wish to speak with you about. Currently, the three alliances are urging their people to gather on the largest planets. The result has been a severe lack of resources. I'd like to use this opportunity to purchase some herbs to ensure the Hall of Supreme Harmony can survive the war. I also plan to concoct a batch of medicine for Star Division troops to carry with them. This should keep casualties to a minimum."

    Lan Jue beamed at her. "Excellent idea! Where will you go gather the materials?"

    She replied calmly. "Several Northern planets possess excellent herbs, but Luo seems to have run out. I plan to make a trip to see if I can't discover some on my own."

    "I have to be here for another couple of days. If you want to wait I can go with you when I'm finished," Lan Jue offered.

    She shook her head. "We don't have the luxury of time. Handle your business, and I'll deal with the shopping myself. I've already arranged transportation. When I find what I need I'll head back to Skyfire directly."

    The Avenue's chairman nodded. "Alright, just be careful."

    She smirked as she ruffled his hair with her hand. She cooed teasingly at him. "Brat, I'm a Paragon now, with a legendary godblade at my command. What danger will I encounter that I can't overcome? Relax. I'll see you."

    She patted his shoulder to punctuate her words, then turned to go. However, after only a few steps she stopped and turned her head to look back at Lan Jue. It seemed as though she wanted to say something but in the end reconsidered. She offered a small, friendly smile then swept away down the hall.

    A sense of disappointment filled Lan Jue's chest as he watched her leave. He understood the pain she carried with her. Scars like those only got better with time.

    He left to find his brother and the two went for breakfast. Chu Cheng and Hua Li met up with them then.

    "A-Li, I've spoken with the Eastern leaders. The Chairman has gone back to convene a secret session of the national congress and discuss your offer. Seeing how important it is, you should send some of your people over right away to take part in the discussions. We must also consider how this will affect the East's relationship with the West."

    Hua Li nodded in understanding. "It's not a problem, we've already come up with a plan that involves a few ways for us to deal with the West. I'll have Mo Xiao go and participate in the deliberations herself. As my fiancé she fully represents the wishes of Poseidon Group."

    "Very well," he replied. "When you go back she can fill you in on the details."

    Hua Li, smiling, nodded his head. Then his attention turned to Lan Jue. "Today is a good day! Not only will our dear friend break through, but I have an ass to kick! I've never won in all the time I've known him but I think today that'll change."

    Lan Jue's dark laughter was ominous and pride filled his voice. "Don't assume victory yet. We'll see how things end up!"

    Hua Li regarded him with surprise. "Well aren't you full of self-confidence! Even with such a big gap."

    On paper the different between an Adept and a Paragon was a few letters, but it was a gap about as wide as earth was to heaven. Hua Li was assured in his superiority.

    Chu Cheng, meanwhile, no longer seemed dejected by his encroaching public humiliation. On the contrary he was calm and did not speak. However, a flickering gray light shimmered in his eyes. Clearly he had worked hard to prepare for today.

    "A-Cheng, I have a problem. Is there anywhere here with an arena that can handle our power?" Hua Li asked.

    Chu Cheng's answer betrayed a note of pride. "Of course there is, I've already found the place. It belongs to the boss, Terminator. We're in luck because he'd disappeared somewhere and gave me special approval to use it."

    Suddenly his voice dropped and he leaned in conspiratorially. "You guys didn't see it, but yesterday there was this strange light over Luo. It pierced the clouds and shot out into the atmosphere. I think it was the Terminator, he's going to break through."

    Lan Qing and Lan Jue shared a quick look. He wasn't wrong about the Terminator's impending breakthrough, but that light hadn't come from him.

    They took a high-altitude verticar to a familiar location.

    As expected, it was the arena where the Terminator had taken the Lan brothers just the day before. The ceiling had since been repaired, like nothing had happened.

    "We're up first!" Itching to get started, Hua Li threw his arm around Lan Jue's shoulder while a nasty light smoldered in his eyes. He spoke eagerly as he tugged him forward. "I have waited so long for this day. But I'll be gentle, don't worry."

    Lan Jue gave him a flat stare while Chu Cheng laughed behind them. "I tell you I'd be down, too! You should take a load off big brother, you can judge the ass-whoopin' I'll give your little brother."

    Lan Jue swung his eyes between the two of them. "It looks like you two are invested in being bullies."

    Hua Li grinned at him, and Chu Cheng stood his shoulders back and chest puffed out. They didn't respond, but their body language said all they needed to say.

    "Bring it, A-Li. A-Cheng, watch and learn." He gave the order without irritation and walked to the center of the ring.

    Hua Li watched him go with some small measure of curiosity. He glanced at Chu Cheng. "I'm suddenly filled with a sense of foreboding. He didn't become a Paragon and not tell anyone, right? Something doesn't feel right."

    "He hasn't. Go on." Lan Qing quietly replied.
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