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Chapter 490: Absconding

    Chapter 490: Absconding

    The Wine Master took a step back and staggered, almost falling over. His ruddy features were now a ghastly pale, and twisted in agony. "I was a clown and nothing more. I'm sorry I troubled you. Had I known, I wouldn't have been around all the time. I apologize. I won't bother you any further, but I will say that the Horologium is still just the same as it was. Come by, if you're feeling nostalgic. It's been forty-two years, your store is the same but many other things are different. Otherwise, I promise that I won't disturb you anymore."

    A pain difficult to put in to words struck at the old man's heart. Over forty years of waiting, only to discover this. He felt empty, like his dimensional rifts had carved away the inside.

    The former Clockmaker looked at him in stunned silence. She watched as he retreated a few steps, then turned as though to leave. His shrunken frame quivered, and an amorphous light splayed out around him.

    Forty-two years, and he still...

    ζ

    Zeus-1 was tucked in to an unassuming corner of the public air hangar. None of the newly arrived Paragons had used it to get here, though. The Gourmet had informed the Wine Master of Jun'er's abilities at the earliest chance he could. The Cosmagus then immediately alerted the other two and made for Luo. This was not simply a matter of bringing back the little one safely. The entire future of the Avenue was altogether, not least Lan Jue who the Clairvoyant placed such high hopes on.

    A great deal went in getting in to the North undetected so quickly. It required a series of secret identities to confound would-be defenses. They'd refused Lan Jue's offer to use Zeus-1 to maintain secrecy.

    The Accountant kept them abreast of the situation with a special frequency their communicators were attuned to, to hide the messengers from curious ears. For minds like the Karmic Scholar and the Arcane Magnate, it was a laughably easy network to set-up.

    The three Paragons watched closely as the East began to dominate the tournament. Lan Jue's miracle victory over Titan put him in the finals, and swept potential victory from the other two Alliances. With each passing moment, they knew their haste and secrecy was warranted.

    They knew the North, its domineering style. To be faced with such an excellent showing by the Avenue and the East, it would have been strange for him not to try something.

    The Gourmet covered their retreat in conjunction with the other three. No one need fear any longer, with nearly all of the Avenue's strength at their back.

    Their painstaking preparations had paid off in the end. And what's more, even with four Paragons they had not overdone it. Without them, the Gourmet and his party would have been at the Terminator's mercy.

    They without fuss, and made no attempts to hide their tracks. They were sufficiently protected and even if they'd tried, the North was the biggest Alliance in the galaxy. If they wanted to track them, they could.

    Jun'er was waiting on the ship, as promised. She was in the middle of playing, surrounded by a ring of beautiful women.

    They were familiar figures: the Stygian Succubus Mika, the Asura Blademaiden Xiuxiu, and the Psychic Tide Lin Guoguo. Ke'er was the only amazon not present. Due to her history with the North, Lan Jue thought it best she remain behind and tend shop. His accomplices during the tournament, responsible for the bets, were Mika and Xiuxiu. They'd be coming back to the Avenue tremendously wealthy people.

    Su Xiaosu, the Morning Star, was of course with them. She had helped the two amazons during the tournament before busying herself with their escape plans.

    The Accountant sat at the controls, fidgeting. He turned to look at Lan Jue. "Everyone here, Jewelry Master?"

    He shot the twitchy man a thumbs-up, to which the Accountant chuckled deviously. "Then let's get the hell outta here! Ladies and gentlemen, the fasten seatbelt sign has been illuminated!"

    Zeus-1 slowly pulled out of the hangar and on to the runway. The delegate were perched awkwardly around the cabin, as it hadn't been equipped for luxury travel. The seats were the ones he'd had installed for the ARC students. Discomfort was a staple of that training, so he hadn't spent very much on amenities. The passengers had to make do with limited elbow room.

    Every moment on Luo was a risk, so when the Accountant got the airship lined up, take-off was swift. The engines roared as Zeus-1 streaked across the sky and through the atmosphere. The ship's state-of-the-art dampening equipment made the acceleration feel no more uncomfortable than a bus ride. Jun'er almost didn't notice they were moving.

    Almost the entire Avenue leadership was on Luo, and it was no longer a secret. They needed to get back to Skyfire as quick as possible, or they left themselves exposed to danger. In reality, however, they knew the chances of something happening while they were away was small. Short of a Paragon attack, they would be safe.

    Flickering reds and oranges filled the cabin as the atmosphere burned just outside the cabin windows. Soon it faded away as Zeus-1 thrust itself in to the empty embrace of space. Lan Jue sat in his usual seat, with the control helmet perched on his head. They weren't completely out of the proverbial woods. The North had the strongest fleet in the galaxy, with bastions and warships that could destroy them without much effort. Whatever the likelihood of that happening, he had to be ready.

    The wrinkled face of the Keeper slipped in to his field of vision. The old man patted him on the shoulder. "The Blinding Stone. Let's have a look."

    Lan Jue wasn't sure what he wanted, but hastily produced it from interdimensional storage. It still sat in its crystal box. Presumably. He handed it to the Keeper.

    A gem like this was a rare thing to see, even for him.

    He weighed the box in his gnarled hands, and chuckled. "That idiot baldy has suffered a hell of a lot to safe face! This sort of gem is not cheap. A worthy reward. I'll take a closer look at it while you're bringing us home."

    "I'll go, too!" The Bookworm spryly leapt to his feet and made to follow his colleague. Upon breaking through to Paragon and assuming the mantle of Karmic Mantle, the dispute between them withered and died. Now the two were practically attached at the hip. They spent their days trading theories and testing hypotheses. Through it they had made pretty amazing advances.

    Those two were a large part of what made the Terminator back down. With their powers joined, they were as strong as a second level Paragon. That was likely to change, though, as both had begun their path to second level individually.

    The two old researches left, while the Wine Master kept to himself in a corner. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking about by his face. The Gourmet stood at Lan Jue's side, ready to offer assistance if needed.

    The Jewelry Master allowed his psychic energies to flow through the helmet and in to the ship. He used it was a conduit, to spread his perception out through space. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Soon they were moving at light speed, toward safety on the route the Accountant had designed.

    After about fifteen minutes, Lan Jue took the helmet off. He smiled. "It looks like the Terminator is a man of restraint. There doesn't appear to be anyone in pursuit."

    He could hear the audible sighs of relief from the passengers. He couldn't blame them, it was a tense situation.

    "I need to visit the bathroom," he said before standing. "Accountant, watch the radar."

    "Count on me, I got this." He was piloting the ship, but when needed he had almost superhuman focus. It also helped that his two worst nightmares were a few feet away.

    Lan Jue made his way to the bathroom, the safest place to release Qianlin from within him. It wasn't a state they could maintain forever.

    "I see nothing! Can't see anything!" Lan Jue shut his eyes tight and turned away from her.

    Qianlin, modestly covering what she could, pepped Lan Jue with his eyes screwed shut. Her clothes were in his hands, held out to her. She gave a little giggle before taking them from him and quickly changing.

    "All set." She said, when she was finished.

    Lan Jue opened his eyes, and saw the blushing face of Zhou Qianlin. He greeted her with a friendly smile. "Did you get hurt in today's fight?"

    She shook her head. "No. You took all the attacks. Are you alright?"

    He, too, shook his head. "After sis' medicine, I'm fine. Check, what's your Discipline at, now? I'll check as well."

    He knew that after Hus Li's announcement, something was different. He felt stronger. The faith and appreciation of the masses had infused him. Qianlin was with him through the whole process, so her improvement was just as impressive.

    But when he closed his eyes and turned his perception inward, he discovered just how much of an improvement it had been. He was ninth level third rank before, recently risen upon finding his Path to Paragon. Still, that process would need time.

    It was everything else - that pure flood of faith and power - that bolstered both him and Qianlin. His Discipline had exploded to fifth rank, tempered through the whirlwind events of the tournament. It felt solid, too. His foundation was strong. His Core was maintaining its condensed state, and its energies remained pure. This tournament probably saved him several months of hard cultivation.
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