Lan Jue lifted his head to spy the sky above. It was dark now, but the full moon seemed unnaturally bright. It was like a jade plate suspended high against a black velvet backdrop. As the radiant silver light washed over everything, Lan Jue felt… comfortable.
Taking a deep breath, Lan Jue searched inwardly for his core. One’s Core was most important for an adept, and so long as it remained healthy he would be able to recover from anything.
Once he found his, Lan Jue was struck with amazement.
There were marked differences between his core now and what it was before. Usually it was a bluish-purple in color, with tendrils of white lightning surrounding it. It changed slightly as he employed either of his two Disciplines.
Now, his core was covered by filaments of silver light. They densely criss-crossed his core until they formed an encompassing net. The silvery threads released a faint white light, and it seemed to be constricting his energy flow. He could only call about a third of his power, by his estimations.
Put simply, all his years of training had been undone. A fraction of his abilities remained unchained. No wonder he felt uncomfortable he thought, his Discipline wasn’t prosperous enough to promote healing.
Further investigation revealed that his body had undergone some changes as well. His vessels and bone seemed to shimmer, and appeared smoother than he remembered. Where once his whole body had shone with the faint golden light of protogenic power, now everything was white and smooth like milky jade. But if he looked very closely, some of that gold still remained locked deep down.
What’s going on? What in the world happened? What did that Bess woman do to us?
Lan Jue rose to his feet, and focused on the surroundings. Thankfully, his perception didn’t seem affected by the constraints imposed upon his Core, and so he was still able to see the world around him clearly as ever. No one else was around.
Lan Jue turned back to Zhou Qianlin, and pressed his fingers to her wrist to check her condition.
What he felt was very strange. There was a link, somehow, like they were connected. The moment he touched her, he could sense the silvery net around his Core bloom with white light. It began to blend with his own power, and likewise he could feel traces of his own familiar Discipline within her. He felt as though he himself had grown my powerful, perhaps the peak of seventh rank.
What does this mean? Lan Jue stared at Zhou Qianlin in a stupor.
He felt as though their connected had deepened, especially considering the link he’d felt in their pulses. Even more astonishing was finding echoes of his own Discipline within Zhou Qianlin!
In a moment Lan Jue felt like he’d become the village idiot. He had no idea what was going on. He’d trained for many years, was especially privileged, and had perfected himself to ninth level – and this was the first time he’d ever experienced anything like this.
Lan Jue lifted the sleeping Qianlin in to his arms, for fear the cold ground would make her sick. He couldn’t help but again sense the changes in her.
Indeed, exactly the same. She had some of the exact same energies he did; thunderbolt and lightning. Both were yang, just as his were. Not a single thing was different from his own.
Qianlin’s Core in her chest had also come more in to focus. The interior was that same milky-white hue, but now a net of golden lightning hung over it. Lan Jue was both amused and infuriated. The net surrounded and restrained her core, but as he held her hand the golden net dissolved and joined with that pure white light. Her core shimmered a pale gold. Now her Discipline was as his, even about as strong.
What did this mean? It meant that when Lan Jue and Qianlin where hand-in-hand, there were two Zeus’. However when they parted, his power was reduced to only a third. Qianlin’s returned to its normal white.
This was all too strange. Too strange for Lan Jue to know what to do about it. As far as he could tell, this was a bad thing. Alone, he was far too weak to perform as needed. However, with Qianlin they were twice as strong. That was the supposed trade-off.
To have his powers returned, all he had to do was break through that silver mesh hanging over his core. But the power it bore was strange. It felt almost like a part of his own Core, and using his own Discipline to attack it was completely useless. It was like shouting at a brick wall. But there was something else in there, something indistinct. He could swear the protogenic inspiration that filled him was slightly greater, but why he couldn’t guess.
He wasn’t sure, but the creeping suspicion that filled him seemed inspired. The only way he was going to free himself from this, was to break through to Paragon. Otherwise, he’d remain like this forever.
How could that be allowed to happen? There was still so much he had to do. Not least of which was a tournament, and he was probably equivalent to a ninth-rank third level now.
Although the levels of ninth rank were very different, it wasn’t in the order of tens of times. In fact, the difference between a ninth rank first level and ninth rank seventh level Adept was about three to four times. This was especially detrimental to Lan Jue due to his dual Discipline.
For now, there didn’t appear to be any way for him to fix this problem. He’d have to accept it until he got back to the Wine Master and Keeper for an answer. Only they could figure out what was going on. After all, they were Paragons.
Qianlin twitched in his arms, and called out. “A-Jue!” Her eyes popped open, and in her surprise she’d begun to flail her arms. Eventually she caught them around Lan Jue’s neck.
Lan Jue held her tight, instinctively reacting to her concern. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”
Her eyes came in to focus, and the moment she recognized him she squeezed his neck tight and began to cry.
“It’s over, everything’s alright.” Lan Jue gently patted her back as he comforted her.
She cried for a while. When she regained some composure, she lifted her head and searched Lan Jue’s face, to make sure he truly was alright.
He stared in to her eyes, full of tears and sincerity. He was filled with a flurry of emotions, to which he answered by gently stroking her hair. “Take it easy, I’m fine. I don’t know what happened, but we’re alive. N-“
Zhou Qianlin didn’t let him finish. She leaned up, and kissed him.
Lan Jue sat, stunned. However he could feel that impulse rising up within him, but just in that moment a strange sensation overtook them. Both could feel their Cores shake, then suddenly release a blast of energy.
As Lan Jue watched in complete shock, Qianlin’s body flashed white, then melted away in to his own body. Lan Jue’s own silver-shackled Core burst in to a corona of vibrant light. Qianlin’s Core, meanwhile, had also slipped in to his own body and mingled with his own. The two danced together within him, emitting pulses of powerful pure energy. Suddenly, Lan Jue felt lost in a sea of power. His Core was writhing his energy, and almost instantly he could feel himself tearing through the shackles of eighth level. The power surged still, rising ever higher to the peaks of ninth level ninth rank, and only then did it subside.
Lost in the sensation, he could faintly make out rays of golden light coming from… somewhere. They weren’t clear, but they somehow bore an attraction he couldn’t resist. Everything in him wanted to pursue that light.
Is that my path?
At some point Lan Jue had become suspended in air. There he hung, and he could feel his surging energies racing through him. They were the same; thunderbolt, lightning, both yang. But he felt so much stronger. The difference between seventh rank and ninth rank was considerable – this was why Prometheus was such a terror even among the other Monarchs.
This is what it feels like to be ninth-ranked. But why… how did Qianlin do that? What the hell is going on?
Lan Jue turned his attention ward, to his pale gold Core, which appeared to have doubled in size. His entire body froze in surprise.
“What… what the hell is this?” Qianlin’s voice rang in Lan Jue’s skull.
All Lan Jue could summon was a wry, apologetic chuckle. “I have no idea. We fused together. It probably has something to do with that Bess woman. Our powers are stronger, and linked somehow. After the fusion, it seemed I was able to come out dominant. Qianlin, can you control my body?”
“No.” Once again, Zhou Qianlin’s voice was in his mind. “I can feel everything, but I can’t move. What is going on?!”
Lan Jue, too, could only sense her energy. “I guess the priority is figuring out how to get you back.”
The moment he formed the thought, Lan Jue could sense his Core begin to radiate with an ever-expanding silver light. It actually began to pour from his chest, until gradually the form of Zhou Qianlin reemerged.
And yet the alarmed Lan Jue all the more, for when Qianlin separated from the silver light she wasn’t the same. She was entirely naked, her silk-like skin bare to the world.
The trees shuddered as flocks of birds fled from the wail.