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Chapter 551: Lan Qing Wavering
Not really Paragon. Rather, like the Pharmacist Lan Jue found himself with one foot in the Realm of Protogenia. All he needed was a little more cultivation, and the desire. He could become a Paragon any day.
The thunder essence, through the catalyst of Captus, had deepened his comprehension of purebolt, the protogenia-laced evolution of his Discipline. It would take time and cultivation to fully comprehend, however.
Lan Jue was beginning to understand his brother’s situation. If his brother wanted, he could attempt to become a Paragon immediately, and would have a high chance of success. But he chose not to, instead taking it one small step at a time. He was tempering his willpower, and shoring up his foundation. Now that his ascension was assured, he had to prepare for future growth.
Jue Di’s instruction was also priceless. While normal Adepts dreamed of the day they may become Paragons, Lan Jue and his brother were adopted by one. For them, becoming a Paragon was never in doubt. What would be difficult was what came after. They had to become stronger than their father, and do it fast.
The longer they stood at the cusp of Paragon, the deeper their understanding became. It was an investment in their future progress.
Lan Jue’s face betrayed a soft smile. “Maybe now I can catch up, brother.”
Lan Qing walked down a corridor from a meeting that had just concluded. He rubbed his tired face, heading for his quarters.
The super soldier never demanded much in the way of outer comforts, something he and Lan Jue did not share. Lan Jue appreciated the finer things and sought them out. Lan Qing’s focus had always been becoming a soldier. Service and discipline was how he built his character. Lan Jue would never catch up because it wasn’t in his character.
Training for the Bloodiron Khans had been going well. Lan Qing was lauded for his performance upon inspection by the top brass. But perfection came at a cost. Lan Qing was feeling from the pressure from the added responsibility. Now that they knew his program was successful he would receive more resources. More resources meant more responsibility and expectation.
An Lun orbited a star right on the border between East and North. It was an important strategic location. They didn’t know where the aliens were going to strike, but it was safe to assume it would come from outside the periphery of human occupied space.
He knew about small-scale incursions from Lan Jue, but those were relatively easy to handle. It would be impossible for the real threat – one of their home planets – to sneak by their perimeter defense. With the intel at their disposal, it was most likely that the planets would make first contact in the North. That didn’t mean that the East or West were in the clear, though.
An Lun was at full combat readiness. Scouting sorties and probes were busy at all hours. Tension was thick in the air because everyone knew that at any moment the enemy could appear at their gates.
Lan Qing’s Discipline was also embroiled in an important crossroads. Every day he inched closer and closer to his breakthrough. He struggled mightily against it, fighting for every hour of preparation. However the mind was powerful, and influenced his cultivation. When he’d heard of the attempt on his brother’s life, it had taken every ounce of will not to break through right there.
The Astral Phantom wouldn’t dare remain on Skyfire, but his whereabouts were always a secret. The bastard was far too cunning. He could appear almost anywhere, at any time, and disappear into the shadows just as quickly.
One day I’ll end him with my own hands! A light of murderous promise blazed in Lan Qing’s eyes.
He stepped into his quarters and pulled the door shut. His uniform was removed and carefully put to the side. He ate a simple meal, nutritious and bland. Then he sat cross-legged on the ground and began to meditate. This was his routine, when work did not demand his attention.
“This is not the son I know.” The sudden voice made Lan Qing immediately tense up. He shot to his feet and swung his shocked eyes to its origin.
He sat in a chair, leaning against a nearby chair lazily. His jumpsuit was dirty and his hair was tousled.
“Father…. You’re here…” Lan Qing’s voice trailed off. He couldn’t sustain his normally chill and emotionless exterior. A surge of feeling flitted through him.
Jue Di smirked. “You don’t have time to visit, so I thought I would come by. Who’s going to stop a father from seeing his son, eh?”
The rush of emotion had quickened Lan Qing’s breath. His heart beat hard against his ribcage. If his subordinates saw Prometheus, the An Lun Super Soldier like this, it might put them in a coma.
“I’m thirsty!” Jue Di complained.
“Oh, oh.” Lan Qing snapped awake and hurried to fetch his father a glass of water.
Jue Di took his time, taking a sip before placing the glass on the table. His eyes then returned to Lan Qing, looking him up and down. He nodded. “You look like you’re struggling with something.”
Lan Qing nodded. He couldn’t hide anything from his father.
“When A-Jue was attacked by the Astral Phantom I nearly lost control. Mother intervened, but ever since my condition has been unstable.”
“Mother?” Jue Di looked at him, stupefied. “When did you get a mother? Why don’t I know about this?”
Lan Qing gave him a strange look. He told his father everything that had happened on Skyfire.
By the end, Chi Bupang looked deflated. He chuckled ruefully. “This woman, goddamn! I never figured se’d use my own kids against me. Hmph! Never mind, let’s not talk about her. Let me see what the Clairvoyant gave you.”
Lan Qing pulled down the neck of his simple white shirt to reveal the pendant fused to his chest. There was no way to take it off, and it was as connected to his Discipline as it was to his skin.
Jue Di scowled at the flickering pendant. After a few moments of silence he spoke up. “He’s quite the handyman, isn’t he? Damn shyster. It should help you when you’re ready to break through. You don’t need to be concerned. Strengthen your faith, stick to the plan, and control your growth. Only when you can overcome yourself will you become truly mighty. You and A-Jue are different, you tread different paths. Astral Phantom, was it? Right! Mess with this old man’s kids and this old man will make you eat your own spine.”
“Father!” Lan Qing cried.
“Eh?” Jue Di looked back at his son.
Lan Qing met his gaze with a steely one of his own. “Let me, don’t get involved. This is a challenge for A-Jue and I.”
Jue Di’s face changed, and he smiled back. “Alright, it’s up to you. Whatever he throws at you, kill him with it. Now soothe your spirit and cultivate. I’ll be for here a little while. Do you guys need a mechanic?”
“Ah?” Lan Qing blinked at his father. His chest was filled with a happiness that was difficult to describe. Dad was sticking around?
He had grown under the strict, sometimes harsh guidance of Jue Di. Quietly he suffered whatever was necessary to please his adoptive father. So it was, day by day up to this moment. It wasn’t just respect, or admiration, or fear. He adored this man and worshipped him as a role model.
Jue Di was the strongest human in the universe. He was the sole victor in the legendary battle of the Paragons. There was no equal under heaven. Lan Jue was desperate to catch up with his brother, but Lan Qing’s singular desire was to surpass his father. So he fought with himself every day, working himself harder so that he could become strong. To protect his brother, to protect the East. It was his obsession.
Yet no matter how tremendous his power grew, a part of his heart would always remain soft. As the threat of foreign invasion loomed he was buried beneath a mountain of responsibilities. He could feel fatigue creeping into his bones. His dad chose now to come stay by him. He didn’t need to say or do anything, just having Jue Di close helped. Even if all three of those alien planets where to show up right now, with his father at his back Lan Qing could face anything.
Jue Di gulped down the rest of his water and stretched. “You know I’ve always been restless. All this news of aliens and life-extending procedures – interesting stuff! Why wouldn’t I come take a look? Maybe I’ll grab a few of those Cores myself. They should be especially useful for pure lives like ours, eh?”
“Excellent!” Lan Qing’s exhaustion was gone. Suddenly he was in high spirits.
“Where’s A-Jue, anyway,” Jue Di asked.
Lan Qing explained. “He’s in the Shattered Starfields, clearing out pirates and training soldiers for his Star Division. And relax, the Gourmet is with him.”
Jue Di nodded. “He’s a sad and sentimental kid, compared to you. But he’s damn lucky, and there’s something about him that draws people. That’s probably why that shyster picked him in the first place. ‘Link’ my ass… you just wanted my kid’s power, and his connection to me. Ah, you old shit. You spent your life making plans, even got me caught up in it. But since you’re dead I guess we won’t make a fuss.”