Chapter 86: The Duel

    Chapter 86: The Duel

    Lan Jue floated in silence, suspended in the air. Wordlessly he stared at the glimmering figure similarly suspended before him - Michael, the Twelve-Winged Angel of War.

    "Hand over the devil and you can still leave." Michael addressed his opponent calmly. Red-gold flames smoldered from his eyes, and he hovered over them like a demi-god above the masses.

    Lan Jue's expression was flat and uncaring. "From where I stand, it looks like only one of us will be breathing by the end of the day. As that's the case, let's settle this like gentlemen - with a gentlemanly challenge."

    Michael's heart rate quickened. He knew he had the upper hand, and knew the man he faced was several degrees inferior in Talent. However in spite of those facts he also felt something inexplicable, something undefined that inspired fear to grow within him.

    "You're sure you want this, Zeus?" Michael asked in his growling voice.

    Lan Jue only nodded in response.

    Michael's ears pricked up, as though he'd heard something. A subtle change came over his expression. "Very well. I accept your challenge. But this doesn't have to result in death. It is my wish that concession end combat; if you succeed, you may leave unhindered, but if you lose the demon stays with us and you may go."

    Lin Guoguo and Ke'er both looked on in wonderment. Michael's conditions were uncharacteristically generous.

    Lan Jue smiled knowingly. "So it looks like Uriel wasn't able to keep Xiuxiu contained, am I right? Hypocrite."

    Michael's flaming eyes glared down at them. "Make your choice, Zeus."

    I don't agree," came the replied. "I am the master of my destiny. It is I who will be your challenger, Michael." Through the chaos her head had remained bent, her powers contained, but now Mika lifted her piercing gaze to the angel.

    "Mika!" Lan Jue hissed.

    "Boss, I'm sorry. I can't let you keep bearing responsibility for me. You've already sacrificed, suffered too much. There's no way I can pay you back. Originally I'd planned to follow you forever, but I bring nothing but trouble. You don't belong to me, I can't continue to be so selfish. If something were to happen to you because of me... I'd suffer the pain from that for the rest of my life." Glistening teardrops, reflecting the shimmering red light form her eyes trickled down her cheeks.

    Lan Jue gently shook his head. "I couldn't protect her on that day, and I lost the most important person in my life. If I fail to protect you today, and live to dwell on it, it would be a fate worse than death. You say you'd suffer pain, would you wish that on me?"

    "No, no, no! That isn't what I mean, boss!" Mika vigorously shook her head, scattering her glittering tears in all directions. The world before her eyes grew indistinct from the water welling up within them.

    Lan Jue moved to her side, and took her up in an embrace.

    "It's alright Mika. Be calm." He gently stroked her fiery red hair, and before she realized what was happening his finger brushed against the collar around her neck.

    Lan Jue turned, handing Mika's incapacitated form to Lin Guoguo.

    The Psychic Tide said nothing. She moved forward to take her friend from him. Ke'er reached out to grip Lan Jue's arm.

    "Remember boss, your life isn't just important to you. What happens affects all of us. If something really does happen, it isn't just Mika whose life will be ruined. Zeus' Amazons and Zeus, live together or die together."

    A pang ran through Lan Jue's heart, and with warmth in his eyes he ruffled her head of blue hair. He turned once more, fixing his gaze on Michael.

    "Come on then, Michael. It's time to decide the victory. If I win, I won't kill you. But if you do, you better make sure the job is finished."

    Lan Jue raised his right hand to the heavens, and they in turn grew dark and ominous. Countless tendrils of lightning snaked by overhead in a cloudless sky.

    Michael's eyes hardened in resolution. He, too, raised his right hand, and a pillar of flame lept to life in his palm. A great sword of light and fire appeared from the pyre's depths.

    It was then two more figured made their presence known; Gabriel, the Messenger of Death, and the Angel of Healing Raphael.

    Gabriel was still pale, weak, but the wings upon his back had been repaired.

    The Archangels of the Pontiff's Castle shared a special connection, one which allowed them to know intrinsically what the others encountered. Despite just re-entering the fray, they knew precisely what was about to occur. They stopped a short distance away, silent and watchful.

    With a flourish of Lan Jue's hand, it begun. Great, searing columns of lightning crashed down from on high towards Michael's position.

    Not a moment later radiant flames burst from around Michael's body. The holy fires expanded like a sun, and the lightning it came in to contact with harmlessly dissipated in to nothing. Not a single bolt managed to find it's mark.

    Michael's growling voice boomed through the thunder. "You should know this has no effect on me, Zeus. These powers I command - powers of a ninth-level ninth-ranked master of cultivation - I can maintain for half an hour at the least. You have already spent your energies, and cannot call your Ascension. You simply have no chance."

    "A load of nonsense," Lan Jue spat back at him. He vanished, only to appear suddenly directly before the angel. He hand lashed out, and gripped within was a whip of crackling lightning. Thunder roared as the whip snaked towards his adversary.

    Michael's divine sword - a simple weapon of no ornamentation - lashed out to meet it.

    Lan Jue immediately felt something indescribable. The blade seemed to be drawing him in; not just his powers, but it was as though his very soul was fighting not to be drawn in to the sword's depths.

    A booming chorus of holy sermon filled his ears. Darkness clouded his vision.

    Deaf and blind, his flailing whip could not find it's mark. However, with the slightest motion of his left hand the whip fractured in to a score of sizzling lightning bolts and raced back towards him.

    A deafening screech tore through the air. Michael struggled to maintain position as a vacuum threatened to suck him in. Lan Jue had in that moment vanished from sight. The Adventus Michael lost his hold.

    Great peels of thunder roared before the angel, as behind him there appeared an azure figure. An enormous hand raced towards him, reaching with tearing fingers for his twelve golden wings.
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