All the stores along Skyfire Avenue were open. They’re doors were open wide, and their wares on display for all to see as proprietors stood by. They nodded and gave their regards as the welcoming party passed. Still, there was a solemnity that hung heavy the air.
As the councilors reached the end of the Avenue, dots appeared on the horizon. A motorcade of vert-cars approached.
They were separated in to two processions; one set of gold vehicles, and one set of black. They flew in tight formation as they closed upon Skyfire Avenue.
Their approach was slow, and when they finally drew within fifty meters of the Avenue they descended, and came to a stop.
The luxurious vehicles settled, and their doors opens. Several figures exited.
The Wine Master stood at the head of the procession, watching with calm expression. He made no move to greet them.
Lan Jue was not far behind. His eyes were hard, and a cold light shone in their depths as he saw the golden cars open and their passengers emerge.
There were a few familiar faces from the procession. Rafael, their Archangel of Healing, was among them. The Cherub Uriel was also present, along with the Messenger of Death Gabriel. Three of the Pontiff’s six Archangels spread out as they exited their vehicles, and waited.
From the middle of the motorcade, a middle-aged man emerged. He was tall, and muscular, with a handsome bearing. He was surrounded by an aura of shimmering golden light.
As he exited the car, this dazzling man, too, stepped to one side. Another figure made its presence known, this one considerably older and more fragile.
He was clad in a magnificent white robe, embroidered with golden thread. A crown rested on his head, and his frail hand gripped a dazzling scepter. Once he was free of the car, every member of the Pontiff’s clergy bowed deep in respect.
The elderly man looked like any normal gentleman – just a man in the winter of his life. However, the look in his eyes was anything but average. His sight was clear, and cutting, as though he saw and knew all. He was followed by an indistinct choir of angelic voices, just barely audible. The area around his head appeared brighter than its surroundings.
Opposite the golden motorcade was its mirror, black as pitch. The dark cars also parked, and from within exited a series of equally inky figures.
Their clothing was a motley array of blacks and crimsons and moss greens. The aura that surrounded them filled the area with a sense of darkness, in direct contrast with the bright light of the Pontiff’s entourage.
The first to make their presence known was an enormous and powerful man with silvery-grey hair. His eyes were a bright, sickly yellow with vertical pupils. His black clothing was stretched taught over his intensely muscular frame, and looked as though it might split at the seams any moment.
Immediately after his appearance, another figure exited from the car. This one was a woman, with an alluring and enchanting figure. She wore a pine green gown, and a flowing cloak that hid her face from view. She was voluptuous and tall, perhaps even reaching two meters. She, too, bore a scepter in her delicate hand.
It was a curious object in and of itself, fashioned in the likeness of a serpent. A forked tongue stretched from it’s carved face, while two eyes of crushed emeralds twinkled in the dim light. Compared to untamed menace of the large man who’d come before her, she seemed far more sinister.
The next to exit the dark vehicles was a tall, thin man. He was exquisitely dressed in a fine tuxedo, blood red, with a black tie and white shirt. His dark hair was slicked back and oiled so that the light reflected off of it, contrasting against a pale white face. His eyes were a pale red, but despite their appearance were handsome and gentlemanly.
Like their golden counterparts, these three also moved to one side and waited silent as the grave. The next to exit did so from the motorcades middle car.
He was an attractive man, easily a match for the on who’d come second to last on the Pontiff’s side. Flowing robes, black as the depths of night, covered him. Dark crimson lines were threaded to it, swirling around each other to form numerous patterns.
Strangest was the fact that his eyes were entirely black; two orbs of darkness in a pale face. Peering in to them was like staring in to abyss, like losing your soul.
After exiting the car he, too, took two steps to the side. The car’s final occupant stepped out.
He was young, and of average build. Compared to the others who appeared before him, the man was largely inconspicuous. He wore a gown the color of tarnished brass, and appeared largely normal in comparison to the others. Red hair, normal eyes clearly separated in black and white… but if you looked closely, his pupils were the same unsettling black as the other man’s.
As he exited the vehicle, the world around him was visibly darker. The sun seemed dimmer, and the air dropped several degrees.
The young man in black, and the old man in white, exchanged a long look. One was warm, the other ice cold.
Neither spoke and, surrounded by their soldiers, approached Skyfire Avenue. Their gait was easy, their pace almost practiced, and the others fell in behind like it had been one a million times – in utter silence.
Finally, the Wine Master took a few steps forward until he reached the border of the Avenue. His eyes remained calm, impassive. Once the two contrasting groups drew near, they stopped.
“It’s been quite a long time,” the Wine Master greeted them.
The black eyes youth was first to speak. Strangely, his voice sounded much older than he appeared. “Indeed it has… Ages. And yet only you come to greet us. It’s surprising that the presence of myself and this old zealot still isn’t enough to inspire all three of you old fellows to come say hello.”
The Wine Master didn’t react to the younger man’s complaint. He replied in soft, even tones. “The Clairvoyant waits for both of our illustrious guests in the Museum.”
The older man smiled pleasantly. “Thank you for taking the trouble.”
The Wine Master retreated one step to the side, and motioned them towards the avenue with a sweeping gesture. “Please.” He refused to address them by name, as he knew their contentious nature.
Undoubtedly, the older man was the Pontiff himself. That would make the second man, the one with the younger face, the master of the Dark Citadel – Satan.
The two citadels had never known an era of peace. Each was the others’ greatest threat. However, they both were still part of the same Western Alliance.
Lan Jue stood now beside the Cosmagus, and sure enough every one of the Pontiff’s Archangels had their eyes on him. None of them looked pleased.
The Archangel Michael’s absence didn’t go unnoticed, and spoke to the poor state of his health. Lan Jue acted as though nothing were amiss, under their intense stares. How could this not rankle them?
The resplendent and handsome gentlemen stood at the forefront of the Archangels. This one had to be second in command of the Pontiff’s forces – The Lord of Archangels, Metatron.
He shot Lan Jue a look, his eyes full of interest, sizing him up. With a small smile on his face, he nodded politely to the Jewelry Master.
Lan Jue, courteous as ever, returned the smile.
As they slowly made their way down the Avenue, the Pontiff idly spoke through a smile. “Ah, it’s been a very long time since last I visited. Wine Master… that’s how I am to refer to you, yes?”
The Paragon nodded. “One of several ways to describe me, I suppose.”
“This is true,” Satan responded in a chilly voice. “I call this one the old zealot. The two of us have been trying to murder one another for years innumerable, but couldn’t help but visit together his time. I heard the Arcane Magnate recently made a visit to your Citadel, Pontiff. I’m honestly surprised he didn’t reduce it to rubble.”
His words caused a cascade of angry glances from the Pontiff’s followers. Satan’s own coterie glared right back.
The Pontiff simply raised his scepter, ever so slightly. His angels fell in line.
“Let’s leave our problems in the Western Alliance, Satan. We shouldn’t burden our hosts with it, “the Pontiff sagely instructed.
Satan responded with a hearty laugh. “Zealot seems inappropriate these days, yes? I should call you general.”
The Wine Master walked slowly on the Pontiff’s other side. He never spoke a word as the two powerful men bickered, knowing that their barbs were very unlikely to result in a showdown just this moment. Where that a risk, the two wouldn’t have come together to Skyfire Avenue.
The giant doors of Skyfire Museum were open wide to receive its guests. Eight young people in spotless white robes stood at either side. Standing in the center of the portal, was the Clairvoyant himself clad in all his regalia. His own white robes shone brilliantly with every errant beam of light, as they danced and refracted off of the multitude of gems sewn upon it. His face bore an easy smile.
Upon seeing him before them, both the Pontiff and Satan couldn’t hide the awe and respect they held for the man.
There were seven Paragons in all the Three Alliances. Among all seven, the greatest of their number stood before them now.
The Paragons all had titles by which they were known; the Cosmagus, Arcane Magistrate, and so forth. The Clairvoyant was no exception. Among the greatest adepts in the world, he was known as the Eye of Tomorrow.
In truth they were ten Paragons that were known, though who the top two were often discounted. The Eye of Tomorrow was third of all the cosmos’ Paragons.
The fourth and fifth of their rank were denizens of the Northern Alliance. They, too, were masters of the Adept organization there – the Great Conclave.
The Pontiff was sixth in line. He was called the Hand of God.
Satan was seventh, and people called him the King of the Abyss.
The Arcane Magistrate was eighth, known to the residents of Skyfire as the Keeper.
The Wine Master – the Cosmagus – was ninth.
At last there was the tenth Paragon. He had also made his presence known on the Avenue once, when he attempted to assassinate Lan Qing. The Astral Phantom. He bore no alliance but to himself, and was lauded – and feared – as the greatest living assassin.
Each of the Paragons were master of their sphere of influence, and each was different. However, the rankings were universally accepted and adhered to.
Both the Pontiff and Satan, therefore, knew very well that the ancient man before them had power enough to obliterate both of them. He was among the greatest Adepts ever to have lived.
“It’s been a very long time, my old friends,” the Clairvoyant said.
The Pontiff offered a rare display of respect, and nodded. “It has indeed, Your Majesty.”
Satan nodded also, his face a frigid and haughty mask. But something else was hidden in the depths of those unsettling eyes.
“Please, enter.” The Clairvoyant turned his back, and stepped through the doorway in to the Museum. The Pontiff, Satan, and Cosmagus were directly behind. Everyone else lined up to follow.