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Chapter 502: Dad’s Getting Old

    Chapter 502: Dad's Getting Old

    "Yeah, not the greatest," the Wine Master confirmed. "Before she reached Paragon we used to call her Little Pepper. She's still famous for her temper, apparently."

    "So, I can only promise I'll try. I don't think I have much leeway, especially since I intend to live for a few more years," Lan Jue quipped.

    The Wine Master chuckled. "Do what you can. If you learn anything else, tell me right away. Tell her also that the Clairvoyant isn't doing well, and will likely pass. Whatever you have to do to convince her."

    "Alright." That was something he could do.

    Their conversation was interrupted by a sudden wave of energy that swept through the house. The mysterious singularity appeared again, and two figures emerged above the fields. But this black hole was high overhead, and the figures came tumbling through in freefall. The first was Jue Di, somehow missing the top half of his overalls. The pants were a ragged mess.

    Luo Xianni's descend was purposeful, and direct. She slammed in to Lan Jue's father at full bore. Jue Di reacted by crushing her against him with his burly arms. She struggled, but couldn't wrench herself free of his bear hug.

    "Let me go!" Luo Xianni shouted.

    Jue Di cackled. "Then stop pitching a fit. Finish your tantrum and I'll let you go."

    "Fine." She answered flippantly.

    He let her go, but the second she had wriggle room she spun around, and dug her teeth in to his shoulder.

    "Aaahhh! Did you just bite me!?" Jue Di yelped. The fiercest beasts could tear at the Paragon and he would feel nothing, the strength of his Discipline was indomitable. It looked, however, like he was not engaging his defense here, perhaps for fear of hurting Luo Xianni.

    Lan Jue clapped a hand over his eyes and felt his way back in to the cabin. Some things were better left unknown, he thought, to spare oneself the trouble.

    A little while later he heard the door open.

    "Brat! Get out here, now." Jue Di's thoroughly irritated voice called to him.

    Lan Jue was instantly transported to the days when he and his brother suffered this man's abuse regularly. He remembered them fondly. He sprang up to his feet and went outside.

    "What is it, father?

    Jue Di and Luo Xianni were in the main room, both looking a little beat up. Xianni was in better shape - at least her clothes were in one piece - while Jue Di looked like he'd been mugged.

    Jue Di's angry voice called to him. "Still calling me Father. Do you see how much trouble you've caused? Xianni, you go check - there is absolutely zero blood connection between me and this punk. I've looked after him and his brother since they were small. They're my disciples, my foster children."

    Lan Jue was smart enough to recognize the cues, and started to piece together the relationship between his master and this Luo family ancestor. He sputtered to interject. "Yes, that's right! I'm not related to father at all."

    Luo Xianni sniffed derisively. "If not, then fine. But if there is, I'll castrate him."

    Jue Di felt himself tense up. "Can't you show at least a little sympathy in front of the boy?"

    "I ask again, what about my youth? I have been looking for you for thirty-six years! And you dare talk to me about saving face?" She spun on her heels and tore in to the older man again. Tears had begun to accumulate at the base of her eyes.

    Thirty-six years? What's that about, dad? Lan Jue quietly criticized his adopted father. But then he sighed, for wasn't this his doing? He'd come home to visit his father, but ended up causing trouble.

    "Dad, how about you and the Lady Luo talk first? I'll take a walk around, I haven't been here for a while so it'll be godo to see what's new." He didn't even stop talking before he started to trudge away.

    "Stop!" Luo Xianni shouted again

    Lan Jue was starting to get very tired of this conversation.

    "What are the lady's instructions?" Lan Jue said with an impossibly sweet smile.

    This only made her glary even sharper. "How do you know my family name? Did he tell you? Did you guess?"

    Lan Jue looked over to his master, trying to gauge the expression in his face.

    Lan Jue answered with a knowing air. "Yes! Father told me. He used to talk about you all the time, his very close lady friend - the most beautiful girl in the universe, he'd say. He said her name was Luo Xianni. That's how I recognized you."

    She grunted, thoroughly unimpressed. "Stop the bull**. A three year old wouldn't believe that nonsense. If he thought about me so much, why didn't he ever come find me, huh? It's not like he couldn't. Now tell the truth!"

    Lan Jue looked over at Jue Di again, but his father was too busy holding his head in his hands.

    "The Wine Master told me. I just asked him." Lan Jue muttered dutifully.

    "Wine Master?" When she heard the name, she straightened her back and got a far-away look in her eyes. Her full-on sprint down the warpath eased. "You're also part of the Avenue? What's your designation?"

    "Jewelry Master," he answered.

    Luo Xianni turned back to Jue Di. "At least you're the slightest bit conscientious. You sent him to the Avenue to look over things."

    Jue Di heaved a sigh. "It was my apology. Things change as time inevitably marches on. I'd rather not hash up the past again."

    Lan Jue hardly contained his look of surprise. But Dad... you didn't ask me to go to the Avenue! All that head-holding was an act, too. On more levels than one, he and his dad weren't anywhere near the same level.

    She sniffed again. "Don't bring it up? You're dreaming. You will never have a moment of peace ever again, not until you kill me!"

    What could have spawned so much hatred? Lan Jue swallowed hard, then scurried away toward the nearby door. It was best to not get involved in old wounds. Dodge the bullets when you can.

    Jue Di separated a few steps and fell in to a nearby chair. "Xianni, if you want to hit me, then hit me. If you want to curse my name then do it. But first sit and have a cup of tea."

    Her well-practiced sniff made a return appearance, but she did walk over to him and sat nearby. She sat on the same side as the clear indentation of her teeth set in his shoulder.

    Lan Jue desperately wished to take a picture of the scene and share it with Lan Qing. He wanted his brother to see what had become of their harsh taskmaster.

    "Get the hell out of here!" Jue Di snapped. Lan Jue spun around fast enough to give himself whip lash, and ran inside. Anyway, the whole thing was too weird for him to handle.

    Once he was out from under that angry cloud, he felt much more relaxed. He just kept running until he reached the edge of that expansive forest. He was convinced that he didn't want to know what was going on between his father and this woman. Whatever it was, it had to mean they used to be very close. It was almost unthinkable that his dad - who had never shown interest in women before - had this fiery woman on the side. An unhappy couple, but still.

    Lan Jue heaved great breaths of familiar air as he came to a stop before an enormous tree. This particular tree was beautiful, laden with blooms and healthy. He lifted his eyes skyward, where he looked through dappled sunlight at the expansive canopy. It provided him with cool and shade. It would take over a dozen people to surround the base of this old denizen.

    Lan Jue sat down beneath the shade and pressed his back against the tree. He remembered when father would tie him and Lan Qing up to this tree and beat them. The intent was to teach them to dodge. They would writhe and wriggle like fish on a line as Jue Di whipped them.

    That time they were beaten black and blue. They were suspended then for ten days, and every sunrise brought a new round of beatings and an herbal soak. Beat, soak, beat, soak. Only when he and his brother were barely breathing did he let them down.

    Phantom pains still caused his muscles to spasm at the mere memory. At least it served its purpose, though, for their reaction time improved by at least one hundred and twenty percent.

    Memories danced all through this forest, filled with long gone days of him and his brother among the trees. Things change as time inevitably marches on. Now that he was back, everything seemed different.

    Father did seem a little older, not least because of his more easy-going attitude. He could tell it was something he had been working with. It made Lan Jue's heart feel heavy.

    No one knew Jue Di's true age, but Lan Jue knew that even Paragons passed away eventually. Was his father nearing that inevitable end to the road?

    He refused to face it! Those memories were painful, but without his father he and Lan Qing would not be the men they are today. Anyway, love and appreciation for all the work he did to raise them trumped everything. They didn't have a mother to learn on, just this strict father.

    Lan Jue lifted his communicator to his face, and quietly dialed in his brother's number. He knew his brother was busy, but the action just came naturally.

    "Di di... di di!" The ringing continued. Lan Jue was about to hang up when suddenly there was an answer.

    "You went back?" Lan Qing asked.

    "Yeah, I'm here." Lan Jue said, nodding his head.

    "Father, he..." Lan Jue could hear the hesitation on his brother's voice as he tried to explain. But he cut him off.

    "Dad's changed. He hugged me." The words felt strange in Lan Jue's mouth, almost distasteful. He went on to tell his brother everything he'd seen.

    "Dad's getting old." Lan Jue finished.

    "...." Lan Qing was quiet for a long time.

    After a while, it was Lan Jue who had to break the silence. "How are things over there?"

    Lan Qing finally answered. "For the moment, dead calm. Our investigations have concluded that these planets are real, they are a threat, and their first target will likely be the North. The agreement is that once the aliens make their move, every Alliance will hit them with everything we've got. We'll provide aid and combat assistance. We've put everyone on high alert and have them drilling constantly."

    "When I'm done here I intend to go over and help," Lan Jue said.

    Lan Qing's tepid voice replied. "Don't. You're not a soldier."

    Lan Jue face set in to a stubborn expression. "What, is it too late to join?"

    Once more, Lan Qing lapsed in to silence. "I don't want you to come."
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