Satan burst in to a fit of uproarious laughter. “She is my daughter. From the moment she was born, her life belonged to me – to the Satan bloodline. She has no choice, she can only obey. One day, she will be the next Satan, and when that time comes she will dominate the world of darkness. You, who mean nothing in the scale of things, what makes you think you can help her at all?”
The Paragon then turned his attention unto the Wine Master. “Bring my daughter to me, Cosmagus. Me and my people are leaving. I will forget what’s occurred between our two organizations, but Mika is my sole successor. She is the last of my bloodline, and is destined to carry it on. She must come with me, there is no other way this plays out. If my demands are not met, I will have no choice but to take her by force, without hesitation.”
Satan’s arrogant, domineering voice rumbled through the skies. His oppressing aura was so strong that the color drained from Lan Jue’s face.
Satan had only two daughters. This wasn’t from lack of interest, but his Bloodline diluted with each subsequent generation. The trials of the Satan Bloodline where in the methods used to purify the blood, and subsequently how they’ve managed to remain in conflict with the Hades Bloodline for so long while maintaining dominance.
Lan Jue’s face was hard, and his voice came cold and threatening. “You’ll be stepping over my corpse to get her.”
Satan snorted disdainfully. “That’s your decision?”
“Your conflict wouldn’t be with him alone, Satan.” The Wine Master remained poised, calm, but firm as he stared at the Dark Citadel’s master. “Do you really want Skyfire Avenue as your enemy?”
Tendrils of purple crept in to the King of Devil’s eyes once more, until it consumed them, turned them in to dual vortexes of madness. “And? What of it, if the Avenue should become my enemy? Do you think you can fight me off? Your prophet is gone and dead, his final prophecies concerning mankind and not the continuance of your pitiful street. That leaves… you, and him? Maybe the Magnate. Even if you manage to harm me, your precious Avenue will be reduced to ash and rubble. Is this a price you’re willing to pay?”
A dangerous light crept in to the Cosmagus’ eyes. “You would create an enduring hatred, that could only end in death.”
“What does some feud mean in the face of my Bloodline’s extinction?” Satan replied. “The Hades Bloodline now has a Paragon, and if I lose a second successor, the Dark Citadel will change hand within a hundred years. I am shocked I have to explain the importance of this to you.”
The imposing atmosphere thickened, for below the warriors of the Pontiff’s citadel stood in vigil. From the Archangels to their holy knights, they watched the exchange. In their eyes, a war between the Avenue and the Dark Citadel would be quite a boon.
A voice called up from below. “I’ll go with you.”
The voice was quiet, calm, but firm.
Lan Jue felt his heart leap in to his throat, and even before his eyes cast downward he knew that voice. Mika was flying towards them, a fiery red contrail in her wake.
She was clad in the uniform the women wore for the jewelry shop. Her red hair was not tied in to a bun, as was her preference, but flowed freely and fluttered in the wind. Her glasses were gone, leaving nothing to hinder the view of her pretty face and moving eyes.
“Mika, what are you doing here?” Knowing that the Dark Citadel was coming, Lan Jue had had her transferred to West Hill by the NEU. Her appearance here was an unpleasant surprise.
Mika gave her long-time protector a sad smile. “I can’t be so selfish, boss. You’ve undergone too much for me already, and all I’ve brought you is trouble. Let me go. I promise nothing will happen to me. I’ll always be your Amazon.”
Upon seeing his daughter, the madness in Satan’s eyes immediately abated. He didn’t utter a sound and, folding his hands behind his back, simply watched and waited.
“What is this bullshit?!” Lan Jue shot back, his anger and frustration bubbling to the surface. “When you left with me back in the beginning I swore to always protect you. No matter what or who or why, no one would ever steal your freedom again. You’ve made your choice, all you have to do is follow it. No matter what you say, I will not allow you to leave with him.”
“And what of you, Cosmagus?” Satan called over.
The Wine Master’s answer was quick and decisive. “If we were to sacrifice a woman to protect the Avenue, that wouldn’t be a Skyfire Avenue worth saving. Satan, you will not – not now, nor ever – take one of my people from this place. Like our Jewelry Master, my body will have to be your threshold.”
As he spoke a dazzling light flared in to existence around his scepter. With terrifying speed, reality around the Wine Master appeared to fracture like a broken mirror, leaving cracks in space-time radiating out around him.
The Gourmet appeared beside him in a flash of light, once more surrounded by the grey eminence of his Bloodline. The two of them stood shoulder to shoulder, blocking Mika from Satan.
Indecision was clear on the King of Devil’s face. Had he a choice, he would never dare openly offend the Avenue in this way. Especially after his private discussion with the Clairvoyant.
But now there was a Paragon for the Hades Bloodline, and the threat was far too large to ignore. Satan’s own Bloodline was jeopardized, and the last best hope for him pumped through this girl’s veins. He had no choice. As he’d said, without her the Dark Citadel would be lost.
Skyfire Avenue, street side.
Metatron leaned closer to the Pontiff, speaking in furtive whispers. “What should we do, Your Holiness?”
“Wait, and watch,” the Paragon responded in calm tones. “This conflict is their own. We have no cause to interfere.”
Metatron nodded and said nothing further. As for the Dark Citadel’s representatives, they were already airborne and arrived at Satan’s back as he faced off with the two Skyfire Paragons.
All of those who’d arrived with Satan stood by, roughly ten of his number. However, despite their small numbers these were the elite of the Dark Citadel. Not a one was below ninth ranked, which was power enough to fly for those without a Discipline permitting it. It was three on a dozen.
But that would change.
Much to the surprise of Satan’s henchmen, many others began to appear around them, encircling the small group. One after the other faces appeared, hard, angry and ready for conflict. The Barber, the Beautician, the Seamstress… every Council member – nay, every shop owner of the Avenue appeared and surrounded them. They circled like sharks preparing to strike.
All told, a hundred Adepts now hung in the skies over their Avenue.
By now, it wasn’t just Satan’s men who were rethinking their choices, but the Pontiff’s as well.
They were the two leaders of all the West’s Adepts. The Pontiff, and Satan, were the pinnacle of Western Discipline, and with them had come their strongest soldiers. One of their reasons for coming had been to put pressure on the Avenue, and to uncover information about the Magnate and Clairvoyant.
Once Skyfire Avenue had achieved the status of being the greatest Adept haven, there was no shortage of Talent that flocked to them. The display now was the reason this place was feared. They held the advantage in their number of Paragons as well. If this trend were to continue, how long would the Northern and Western Alliances be able to claim dominance over the East?
An Alliance’s strength or weakness when it came to their Adepts was reflected in their military. The inevitable march of human progress meant humanity and technology were inseparable at this point. But as their weapons became more and more fatal, they required stronger and stronger men to bear them. As it had been for so long, and will continue to be, a weapon was only as mighty as the one who used it.
The West and North had always focused on finding ways to make normal men capable of bearing these weapons. Through research and experimentation, they’ve molded humanity to their whim. But their unnatural methods always came with a ceiling, for an average human’s body didn’t have the physical requirements necessary to sustain this power. This was true from control of the simplest mecha suit to piloting the strongest battleship.
Put simply, a powerful Adept, piloting a battleship, could increase its combat effectiveness by three to five times. An Adept’s will and fortitude meant fewer people would be needed to pilot it effectively. The fewer people needed to perform a task, the more efficient it became. It was a marriage of power and cooperation.
It was the same for mechas. Normal men and women could pilot one, but an Adept could turn it in to a force to rival an armada. From power to energy utility, a normal human was inferior.
And so, there was a saying that was used through all the Alliances to reflect this simple truth: Gain Adepts, and you gain the universe.
The East was inferior to its Western and Northern counterparts when it came to science and technology – this was a widely known fact. But for strength of the individual soldier, the East reigned supreme.
Anlun was a fine example. With Prometheus at the head of the Anlun army, they were an outstanding force to be reckoned with. This was proven when they beat back the North’s assault, outnumbered seven to one.
As a result, both the North and the West had spent an inordinate amount of time and money in the hopes they could attract more Adepts.
The average for normal humans and Adepts was about ten to one. Middle-range Adepts – from about fourth ranked to sixth – was about a hundred to one. That number became thousands when you reached the higher echelons of Discipline control.
The East, by comparison, had been spending the last few years on their own research and development programs. Due to the Avenue’s appeal they had had no trouble in recruiting Talents to help them with their technology. With the government’s concerns in regards to Adepts settled, their technological development has improved quickly.
This constituted a crisis for the other two Alliances. They would have to respond or risk losing supremacy.
But in this moment they knew, even if Satan and the Pontiff joined together, they faced a threat they may not be able to overcome. The hundred or so faces watching their every move confirmed that.