Chapter 364: Arrivals
The only way for them to resolve this problem, was the destruction of Aubert de Villaine. But killing a Paragon was no easy feat.
“Jewelry Master.” The Cosmagus looked over his shoulder at Lan Jue.
“Wine Master,” he replied. He could see the same thing his elderly friend did. He knew what he was thinking.
Skyfire Avenue’s acting leader fixed Lan Jue with a serious stare. “I will be sending you and the Pauper to safety. Make our way to Skyfire Avenue immediately. Tell the keeper he is now in charge of the Avenue, and the Gourmet will be his support. You yourself need to continue on your path, don’t let the Clairvoyant down.”
Lan Jue could feel his heart seize. He was a smart man, and immediately understood what the Wine Master was planning. His response was low and stubborn. “I have never, and will never abandon a companion on the battlefield. If you’re risking your life here, count me in. Send the Pauper – he’ll likely be a Paragon in a few years. If we work together, we may have a chance.”
“No.” The Wine Master flatly refused. “The Clairvoyant said that you are Skyfire Avenue, maybe even the hope for all humanity. You must live, and your life will not be one of joy. It will be a life of responsibility. A corrupted Paragon is more terrifying than you can imagine, but I am strong enough to deal with this issue myself.”
As he spoke, the Wine Master flourished the scepter in his hand. The space around them shimmered, and a golden portal appeared like the one they’d seen earlier. Like before, it was stable and unique – like it was created from some otherworldly power. The golden light painted their grim faces in a dim hue.
The Wine Master’s voice came again, stoic and determined. “Flee, now under the cover of my strongest abilities. If you wait too long, the chance will pass.” His eyes were hard, there was no second guessing this. He’d made his choice. Destroying a corrupt Paragon meant saving countless lives, and if sacrificing himself insured that then it was a worthy sacrifice indeed.
“Now cut the shit and get the hell out of here!” It was the first time Lan Jue heard anything other than regal discourse come out of the old man’s mouth. He looked out over the expanding black hole. Soon, it would reach it’s critical mass, and everything would be devoured – including Aubert and the Wine Master.
“No one needs to leave. Things here are done.” An old, craggy voice interrupted their farewell. Much to Lan Jue and the Wine Master’s surprise, however, this voice was female. For the Cosmagus it was even more pronounced. This newcomer was a Paragon, undoubtedly, considering her ability to interceded here. Among the Paragons there was only one woman, and she didn’t sound like this.
Alas, this was an omen of doom, certainly. The only reason a Paragon would arrive now under these circumstances, was to bring aid to their enemy. This would be their demise!
The Wine Master answered by allowing the portals to close. Every Paragon, by virtue of their link to the world of primal energy, had some control over interspatial power regardless of Discipline. The Cosmagus could no longer be sure his portals were safe.
Lan Jue, meanwhile, was frozen in place. He was familiar with this voice!
Aubert was still as well, the moment he heard that voice. A column of blood-red light appeared then, shining down upon him from on high. He let out a shrill, forlorn scream. Immediately following, the constricting purple energies disappeared without a trace as did the Wine Master’s black hole. The Avenue’s Paragon was in a daze, uncomprehending.
Aubert begun to writhe and flail. Vines thicker than a man’s waist whipped dangerously all throughout the small town. They were illuminated by a blood-red moon that sat full in the sky.
Lan Jue and the Wine Master looked back to Aubert. Their senses heightened, they could see something else hanging over the mad vintner now. It was an arrow, white as snow, buried in his ‘body.’ It shimmered like moonlight, and from the wound threads of poison black energy groped out desperately. Lan Jue could feel something else in the air as well, something kind and familiar.
Realization dawned on the Wine Master as he watched. This new Paragon, this sudden and frightening voice, was not their enemy. Her target was Aubert de Villaine.
The Wine Master and Lan Jue exchanged a look, but neither made a move. They weren’t sure precisely sure what they were watching – it would be foolhardy to act now, before they knew where they stood. Meanwhile, the writhing mass of vines that was Aubert slowed and eventually stopped. The purple aura that surrounded them vanished, and was replaced by a soothing violet glow – but where Aubert’s purple was harsh and violent, this green-tinged purple was far more gentle.
The column of red light, pining Aubert in place, disappeared. The moon’s own red hue melted away to reveal silvery white. The peaceful lunar glow painted the area in silver and shadows.
The grapes upon Aubert’s form began to change with the addition of moonlight. The amethyst fruit were suddenly covered in a thin film of hoarfrost, and were no longer transparent. But what was this? Some sort of Discipline metamorphosis?
Lan Jue’s expression revealed his confusion. He stepped forward, but the Wine Master quickly grabbed him by the shoulder. There was still so much unknown, the old man couldn’t let Lan Jue risk his safety.
In the silence of the unnatural night, suddenly they heard a faint sigh. It stretched on for a long time, quiet and sad. After perhaps half a minute, it faded in to silence.
It washed across all of them. The Wine Master’s face once more adopted it’s regal façade, for he knew now that they were safe. Who ever this person was, she was on their side.
“Why? Was it worth it?” The elderly female voice hung in the air as moonlight coalesced beside the body of Aubert de Villaine. The skies cleared, and were revealed to have changed from that angry purple to a soothing lavender. What’s more, the entire town felt… lacking, as though something had gone.
Lan Jue looked out toward the fields where he spied the farmers. They stood like statues, with tendrils of black escaping from the top of their heads. The poison energy would rise a few meters, then dissipate in to the air. Their expressionless faces remained blank, though now it was clearly due to confusion. Even Gates, the strongest of them, seemed as though he were just waking from a nightmare. The dark power over him had been the most powerful.
Once the gathering moonlight waned to reveal a human figure, Lan Jue couldn’t help but gasp. “Granny Bess.”
Indeed, this stranger – this woman who stopped Aubert’s mad rampage – was none other than Granny Bess. It was she who’d attacked them on Skyfire, and caused the strange bond between he and Qianlin.
He’d known it when he first her her voice, but nonetheless Lan Jue was shocked when he saw her standing before him. What was she doing here? He couldn’t tell whether this woman was friend or foe.
The Wine Master, upon hearing Lan Jue’s surprised cry, turned to look at him. Shock was in his eyes expression. “Granny Bess? Could it be… Bess, an anglicised version of Bize? 1 She is another of the three gods of wine – that’s the only explanation!”
Lan Jue looked like he’d been hit by a verticar. His mind went back to the times he’d come across this old woman. Suddenly, a detail swam up at him from the images. It was after he finished the Cros Parantoux with the others, and went to save Qianlin in the hospital. During the course of their struggle he’d coughed up blood, and it was then ‘Bess’ mentioned the vintage. She’d reacted to the news. 2
It must, it had to be. This woman was the one who had been partner, lover and betrayer to Aubert de Villain: Lilou Bize-Leroy.
How could this be, though? Three hundred years after they should have died, two of the three greatest vintners in history were here. Bize, as she was apparently called, was not like Aubert – she hadn’t needed to become a plant. But how? It made no sense, and that cause unease. Questions still remained, the foremost being whether or not Bize had followed Aubert in to darkness.
Bize didn’t pay them any mind. In fact, it was like she’d forgotten about them entirely. She sat at Aubert’s side, with eyes only for him.
“Why go through this again, Aubert?” Her voice trembled with pain and sorrow.
Aubert, the vines composing his body limp and just barely clinging together, lay on the ground. The flora of his face spread in to a bitter frown. “Indeed… why? Ever since I let that poison jealousy in it has eaten away at me. I forgot everything that made this life beautiful. In my heart, there was only envy, anger, price and greed. Those toxic seeds grew, until they consumed me. Thank you, Bize… thank you for helping me see.”
Lan Jue and the Wine Master furtively listened in on their conversation. It appeared as though their conjectures were correct. This was indeed the Leroy successor.
She heaved a quavering sigh. “They are sins we all suffer – but the strongest of yours was pride. It ate at you that you were inferior to someone else. From that poison soil those seeds of envy, anger and greed sprouted. Eventually the illness reached your heart, and that’s when you chose to win by any means necessary. That was when you were lost.”