Chapter 363: Calamity and Revival
The Wine Master’s face had turned purple. He swayed on one knee, threatening to topple. The most terrifying aspect of these grapes was the fact that they were the product of pure protogenic energy. This wasn’t any normal toxin they’d eaten, he’d have known right away if it was. It’s properties were insidious, invasive. The victim slowly succumbed to exhaustion until they fell in to a deep, coma-like sleep. In a situation like this, when one needed to be at their sharpest, this was disastrous.
Just as the Wine Master was on the verge of collapse, Lan Jue – who had long since fallen limp – began to move. A stream of bright red blood began to seep from between his brows. However, it didn’t drop down his face as blood should. Instead it coalesced in to something akin to a ruby, set within the flesh of his forehead. As a faint red glow surrounded Lan Jue’s head like a halo, the faint scent of grape filled the air. It was the smell of wine, of the best wine the world had ever seen. The purple tint to Lan Jue’s skin quickly melted away. When his eyes opened from the unnatural slumber, a flash of blood red raced across them.
Lan Jue shot to his feet, and his aura blasted out in all directions like an explosions. Gold replaced purple. There was a stuttering flash of energy, and Lan Jue vanished. He reappeared behind the Wine Master, with his right hand pressed against the ruby. A shimmering red orb of light swirled around them.
Under the strange energies, the purple covering the Wine Master began to recede as well. It rose like a mist from his pours, and when the poisoned hue was gone from his face the Wine Master’s eyes flashed a dangerous silver.
“No! This is impossible! How are you able to counter the fruit’s effects?!” Aubert de Villaine howled in shrill tones.
The Wine Master slowly rose to his feet. As the steamed remains of the poisons flowed around him, he lifted his astrum high overhead. Crackling ominously, the constrained black hole begun to shrink further. For half a moment there was absolute silence, before the Wine Master’s star-swallowing black hole swelled to a phenomenal size.
Silk-thin tendrils of silver light slithered through the fabric of reality around them. Where it met with the deep-purple halo of constraining energy, it created an interdimensional tempest. These hairline fractures in existence fused with the black hole, allowing it to expand even farther and grow even stronger like a flood following the course of a river.
This was the unbridled power of a Paragon. Unconstrained, and unaffected, the Wine Master had more tricks up his sleeve to turn the battle in their favor. Aubert’s figure writhed in the distance, with each vine of it’s body lashing out wildly in rage. In response, every single vine across the stretch this quaint French-style village began to slither like they had a mind of their own.
That purple energy thickened, blotting out the sky and casting everything in a hazy light. Pressure, as though the weight of a mountain were upon them, pressed in upon the hole and the three Avenue Adepts. With the Wine Master back to full strength, Aubert would have to rely on his own direct protogenic powers diffused throughout the whole city. He was no longer caught in the grips of his mania, and was frightened by the power of this old man. He was much stronger than he’d anticipated. Ultimately Aubert was confident he could win in a straight fight – but at what cost? At the very least, he’d be unable to protect Beaune from destruction.
More important to the god of wine, however, was how Lan Jue was able to expel the grape’s powers. Not just that, but he was able to remove it from the old Paragon as well. All of that should have been well beyond his capabilities.
Lan Jue would not give him answers. Largely, though, this was because he didn’t know what was going on either. The flood from his forehead was his, but why did it form the way it did? Why does it seem to possess these powers? He couldn’t say.
With his hand on the Wine Master’s back supporting his abilities, they weren’t in any immediate danger. Lan Jue looked around for the Pauper, to help him as well. When he found him, though, the Pauper was surrounded by a hazy golden aura. It seemed to radiate out from him, making his entire body gold as well.
Slowly, he pulled himself in to a seated position. His legs were folded beneath him, and his hands were pressed together level with his chest. The dirty, homeless man sat awash in light in grandeur and solemnity like a buddha. A halo of shimmering light revolved behind his head to the sound of a thousand chanting monks.
Lan Jue could feel the pulsing waves of primordial energy rippling out from him. He was fine, too? And able to use protogenic abilities?
After a moment of surprise, Lan Jue things were not as he imagined. The power surrounding the Pauper was protogenic in nature, but was internally derived. The power flowed through him, but he didn’t move. He remained stuck to the floor like a buddhist statue.
Lan Jue understood. He wasn’t trying to help directly with the Wine Master. His was a last ditch effort, using the swirling powers around them to help him find his Path.
The Pauper would not be launched in to Paragon status so easily, but by immersing himself in the understanding of protogenic powers, he would unlock the ability to use it – just like Lan Jue’s Ascension. It would invariable help him break through to Paragon, assuming they lived through this moment. With time and further understanding, his route would grow smooth and his path short.
Lan Jue couldn’t help but betray the surprise he felt. After all, witnessing a top-level Adept discover his Path was a rare and beautiful thing. Many ninth ranked Adepts went their whole lives without having this chance. It was unlikely the pressure of the situation was the impetus. He had been asleep from the effects of the grapes. There was only one explanation, and that was the grapes themselves.
Thinking back to that day they shared the Cros Parantoux, Lan Jue remembered what the Pauper had said. An epiphany, and that was the very reason he’d come with them on this journey. Now, it looked like his goal was achieved. Aubert’s poisoned grapes weren’t expelled, but rather absorbed. That was the push he needed to find his way forward.
The Wine Master must have sensed something as well, for he looked over toward the meditating beggar. He allowed the briefest flash of joy to appear in his eyes, before it quickly passed. If they made it out, then having another powerful Adept with protogenic powers would be a great boon for the Avenue. What’s more, he was younger – about as old as the Gourmet. With luck there would be another Paragon in the Avenue’s future.
Aubert de Villaine didn’t care for their happiness, and continued his murderous assault. The skies overhead were like a thick sea of fluid, and it started to swirl like an angry vortex. It was quickly devoured by the encroaching black hole.
Lan Jue’s keen eyes watched, and spotted the vortex swirling amidst the near perfect darkness. It was like a glue, sticking to the black hole and gradually pulling it shut.
The Wine Master’s black hole was a manifestation of his protogenic powers. It was birthed in to reality through his will. This was different from Lan Jue’s Ascension, which was simply a sort of coat of protogenic energy. It was not true power – enough to amplify his abilities, perhaps, but not real control.
The battle between them now was a primeval war of pure energy. Aubert’s insidious powers sought to clog and close the Wine Master’s black hole. It came down to who could persevere.
Aubert’s abilities were not as combat oriented as the Wine Master’s. However, he did have the whole of this place under his command. With the energies of this place amplifying his own, Aubert was a terrifying force to reckon with. His attacks did not let up, coming as swift and ruthless as the Paragon’s poisoned rage.
The Wine Master remained still, with his scepter held aloft. The war going on overhead between his black hole and the purple vortex loudly went on, but he was still. His eyes narrowed as he peered in to the middle distance, as though thinking.
Escape would not be terribly difficult. With his powers fully restored, they would make it out alive. It would, however, consume a great deal of energy to have all three of them transported to safety.
But what next? Aubert would undoubtedly try to hunt them down. He’d lived here for who knows how long, and his intimate connection with the land made finding an upper hand difficult. With his connection to the Western Alliance, it would be difficult for him to lock up the airspace around the planet. At that point, they’d have no chance at returning home. What’s more, it was easy for any Paragon to find their target, especially for Aubert. On this planet, every plant was his eyes and ears.
Things were different here than in the East. The military forces of Skyfire would mobilize quickly in an event like this. Not for the West. He had their backing, yes, but out here the only one to really have a Paragon’s back would be another Paragon. Whether it was the Pope or Satan backing this madman, he could not say. In the end it didn’t matter, for if either came to this madman’s aid that would be the end of them.
Coming to this realization, the Wine Master’s heart sank. He had no idea they’d have encountered a situation like this. One of the greatest vintners to have ever lived remained hundreds of years passed when he should have died. Unfortunately, he had become one of the very few corrupt Paragons.
It had happened before in the history of humanity, in the Former Era. One in particular was abnormally strong, with a corruption that spread the world over. He was a dictator, and his poison plunged the world in to war. He was eventually defeated, but the cost was borne on the backs of the innocent dead. Even now, the full extent of that tragedy defied understanding.