Chapter 150: Hera?
“What is this place?” Lan Jue blinked, and looked all around.
It was a world of white. Wisps of cool white mist covered the floor below him. The sky overhead was a soothing eggshell hue. Everything… everything around him was that same pure white.
As he peered all around, he was struck with a rather unsettling sensation – he couldn’t feel himself. He was here, but at the same time he wasn’t. Like he didn’t truly exist. His heart sank, for he knew that he was dead. The spirit was capable of living in the place between time and space. A man with enough power of will could stop his soul from escaping to other realms. Was this death? Was he to remain here for eternity?
Just as he begun to sink in to depression the mists around him began to congeal. Not far from himself, a figure appeared through the haze and approached. Each step brought clarity.
A pure, white dress. Long, dark hair and shimmering blue eyes. A face so beautiful it almost hurt.
“Hera!” Lan Jue called out to her, and before he knew it he was pulling her in to his embrace.
The young woman hesitated, but soon acquiesced and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“As long as I get to see you again, I don’t care what comes.” Lan Jue’s voice was soft, almost a murmur. A small contented smile spread across his face. “Had I known all I had to do to be with you again was die, I’d have done so a long time ago. How are you? What happened that day? What did you encounter? Was it really just some disaster, like they claim? Why was it the whole thing left me with a strange feeling?”
Lan Jue did not move, did not react. There was no outward sign, but inside he felt himself fill with joy. His spirit soared with a sense of good fortune.
Nothing else meant anything anymore. Finally he was together with his Hera, and that’s all he cared about. Living or dead, he didn’t care – so long as they were together. Through the years they were apart, he never put her out of his heart. In his soul, Hera was the only one for him, and here she was.
“And if I hadn’t died, would you still have made this choice?” Her voice was soft.
Lan Jue was taken aback. He loosened his grip and placed his strong hands on her shoulders. He looked at her carefully.
“Would you?” She looked back, her question genuine. Those dazzling blue eyes held his own.
Lan Jue took a moment to consider her question carefully. “If there was a one in a million shot at survival, I’d take it. But if there was no choice, no chance, I’d still do it. All just to tell you one thing; your man is no coward. Even if we were to be parted forever, saving these families from the pain I felt would be worth it.”
She looked surprised. “So,” she said, “in your heart duty is more important than love?”
This brought a grin to Lan Jue’s lips. “No,” he responded. “This isn’t about duty. It’s humanity. If I didn’t do at least this, how could I call myself a noble?”
The young woman smiled, and drew nearer. She took him in to her gentle embrace. “If there ever comes a second chance, I do hope we can be together. I don’t need to know your glory, what honors you’ve achieved. I just want to be with you. Where you go, I go – my greatest wish is just to see your face.”
“Hera,” Lan Jue murmured. “My queen. I love you darling.”
A strange fog seeped around them, covering the world and bringing a muted silence with it. The mists surrounded the two of them, until everything vanished.
In the rapidly shrinking reality around them, she gently placed her forehead against his own. Two crystalline tears appeared at the corner of her eyes, and traced a line along her cheek. Upon reaching her chin they fell, and landed cold upon his face.
Her breathing had become arduous, and a golden light began to fill her up. Motes of golden light floated through her, from her, in all directions.
“You’re sleeping, darling, and that’s the good news.” She gently lifted her face, and placed a kiss against his lips. She drew back, the shimmering snowflake emblazoned on her head also vanishing in to nothing.
She wrapped him in a hug. It was strange, for instead of feeling empty for her loss, her heart was full. The one she held was her love, her pride. This was her glory, right here in her arms.
The sky above became blue, bright with the light of day. It appeared as though things were returning to normal. Little by little the pale white light from the cocoon dimmed until it was barely visible. The shell, originally definitely a construct of the woman’s energy, was a solid thing now. It looked almost like plaster, despite the gentle pulses of vital energy that surrounded it. However, as the others looked on, the cocoon changed once more. This time, it seemed to turn to stone, and it no longer moved.
Then, the sound of tearing.
The Wine Master’s eyes hardened at the sonance, and he immediately turned to find the source of the noise. What he saw made his brows furrow.
Mo Yu, too, turned to see. Surprise was clear in his eyes as he saw it approaching. The commands from on high were clear: no one was to approach. What, then, was all this?
It started as a simple blue light, but that lasted only the space of a blink. Before long the light had grown enormous, shining against their gathered faces.
The ship was a hundred and fifty meters long, with a streamlined hull shaped like a dolphin. It slowly drew up to their location, leaving behind a metallic blue contrail. The dazzling tail began to vanish from view even as the ship was stopping.
The side of the ship sported a strange design, lines of gold wrapping around itself. It was circular, with the image of a cresting wave in it’s center. The very middle of the complicated design housed a rhomboid blue gemstone.
It was after seeing the design that the Wine Master relaxed somewhat. His brows eased, and his frown dissipated for he knew who it was that joined them.
The door to the ship opened as it docked, and two figured emerged, lit against the ship’s bright interior.
Just as Mo Yu was preparing to give his snipers the order, the Wine Master’s voice rung clear in his ears: “Don’t impede them. They’re one of us.”
As if on cue, the two figures began to move towards the group. It took them no time to arrive at the aged Paragon’s side.
“Cosmagus!” Though Hua Li’s eyes were certainly revealing signs of anxiety, the young man still made sure to show the Wine Master his proper respect with a bow. The fiery red haired youth at his shoulder followed suit.
“You’re here for the Jewelry Master I assume?” The Wine Master asked.
Hua Li nodded his head.
Their conversation was interrupted when the Wine Master’s ears picked up a sound.
“Cosmagus, don’t let them see me. The treatment is almost complete. Get them out of here – they can see Lan Jue when I’ve finished.”
The voice was soft, but clear. The Wine Master, in response, raised his hand and motioned in the air. Much to Hua Li and Chu Cheng’s surprise, the world warped around them as they were swallowed in to the void.
They found themselves in some interspacial reality, composed of flickering silver light. Clearly this place was unstable, but remained safe so long as the Wine Master was present and exuding his power.
“C-cosmagus, what’s the meaning of this?” Chu Cheng piped up, a scowl on his face.
“The Jewelry Master is currently undergoing his treatment,” the old man responded. “It should be complete soon. It is important that you don’t interrupt the process. I must ask you to wait patiently until it’s complete.”
Hua Li did not take the request happily. “What’s wrong with us watching A-Jue get treated?”
The Wine Master tried to reassure them. “Please, you two, be at ease. The Jewelry Master is a member of Skyfire’s Council, a very important friend to us. My own care and attention is no less than your own. Unfortunately, how we treat him is a Skyfire secret. I can tell you that he’ll be fine, however.”
It worked, and both Hua Li and Chu Cheng breathed a sigh of relief. A Paragon’s assurances were more than enough for them. On top of that, both the Cosmagus and the Clairvoyant of Skyfire were well known for their trustworthiness.
“We saw what happened on the way to Taihua,” Chu Cheng said. “Those monsters that showed up so suddenly, they had to have come from off planet, am I right?”
The Wine Master explained. “As far as we know, yes. But where precisely they come from we haven’t determined. We’ll need to do more research. The monsters themselves were not weak, and appeared quickly from nowhere. We did discover that they have a powerful phagocytic ability that devours all life around them, which they use to nourish themselves. Just moments ago we took out their progenitor, some sort of living nest out there in the sea. It appears the others monsters we’ve encountered here originated from that beast’s body. Afterwards they spread out and began absorbing the planet’s vitality, which made them stronger. The stronger they became, the higher the demand for life energy, and so they just kept killing everything they came across. As for their purpose or goal, we haven’t been able to discover anything as of yet. Your companion the Jewelry Master showed great courage and nobility, taking out as many as he could. He waded in to the densest areas of the fight to save the tourists trapped there. It was largely due to him that the death count here is as low as it is. Things could have been much, much worse.”
Chu Cheng couldn’t help himself, and pressed for more information. “You’re sure A-Jue will come out ok, Cosmagus? He was hurt before all this happened. According to what we’ve been able to discover, he was fighting for a long time out here. If the creatures were as strong as you say, then he…”
The Doctor rose to his feet at cut the Divine Monarch off. “He’ll be fine. The treatment being employed will work so long as he still has breath in his body.”
Hua Li swept his eyes to the young physician. “I’m sorry, we haven’t met. You are…?”
The Doctor’s heart was in chaos. On the one hand he was intensely excited to have witnessed such a miracle as the Queen of the Silkworms, saving a Talent who by all known medical science should be dead. Of course his pride wasn’t in such fine spirits.
“You may call me Doctor. I’m also a member of the Avenue.”
“Greetings, then,” the two mercenaries hailed. Knowing the man was a Doctor, and was present for A-Jue also brought them some measure of peace.
A short time passed, then the Wine Master once again raised his hand. The world twisted uncomfortably, shifting until Chu Cheng and Hua Li once more felt solid ground beneath their feet.
“Huh?” Almost immediately Hua Li noticed changes. The stone-like object that was before them when they arrived was cracked, revealing a large fissure. The small ship set not far off when they arrived was also missing.
Chu Cheng, impatient as he was, was gone in a flash and appeared before the stone. It didn’t take him long to spy Lan Jue within, naked as the day he was born.
His face was ruddy and flush. His chest rose and fell with even breaths. Golden light still danced on the surface of his skin, the last evidence of his struggled. He looked better than new.