“Ones, tens, hundreds, thousands. The three forces; Heaven, Earth, Man – the Three Luminaries; the Sun, Moon and Stars. So, too, are there Three bonds: The First – Obligation of Sovereign to Subject. The Second – The Love between Father and Child. The Third – Harmony between Husband and Wife.”
Dozens of twinkling white lights appeared around the massive scholar. Each one was a small child enveloped in light, hunched down and diligently reading from books in their tiny hands. They revolved around the scholar as though in orbit, reciting from the text.
The Confucian wise man smiled, a smile full of satisfaction, then clapped his hands together. The dots of light rose in to the heavens and vanished.
Overhead white light still spread out over the horizon, as though the universe were made of white gold. A single ray of errant light descended from on high to illuminate the book opened within the scholar’s hand. A single word appeared within the tome, large and blazing on the parchment.
The Keeper cackled merrily. “Hah! A fine display. A hundred years of penance, and the reward is immortality. As Paragon, you will need a new name; I name you, the Karmic Scholar.”
“Hahahaha!” The ringing laughter came from everywhere, and the massive spectral scholar dissolved in to a massive column of light. It condensed, shrunk, until a figure appeared within it rising from Skyfire Avenue.
As the light dimmed, it revealed an elderly man clad in the white robes of an academician.
Despite his age the old man was alive with a vibrant aura, his face pink and cheeks ruddy. His eyes twinkled with a lively spirit that reflected the pure light of knowledge that encompassed everything. He gripped a book in his hands, one identical to the one the massive Confucian scholar had held.
Though Lan Jue had his suspicions, he was still surprised when the figure was finally revealed.
The one who’d broken through to Paragon status, the one who’d shocked both the Western Citadels, was none other than the cantankerous man he’d brought back from planet Lyr; the Bookworm.
Compared to when they’d met, he seemed much more pleasant. He seemed so much younger for it, full of life and positivity. And not only him, but the Keeper seemed to have changed similarly. It was as though they were ten years younger over night.
The Bookworm took a step forward, and a wake of white light fanned out behind him. With a flash, he appeared beside the Keeper.
“A fine name… I shall be known as the Karmic Scholar.” His face was brightened by a smile, and he nodded in satisfaction. He didn’t seem to pay any mind to Satan, he scowled dangerously at them.
“Congratulations, Honorable Karmic Scholar.” The Pontiff’s deep voice called out to the newly anointed Paragon. By now he was also aloft with the others, but not with intention to fight. This fight would be one they lost, he knew. The Avenue’s strength was far and beyond what they’d anticipated. Without even considering the many powerful Adepts that surrounded them, there were now five Paragons. Four, with the passing of the Clairvoyant.
The Gourmet may have been on the weaker side of the scale, but the Karmic Scholar’s aura was startling to say the least. He didn’t seem at all weaker than these established leaders who stood before. And as far as the Pontiff could remember, he had absolutely no information on this man. And the vigor he and the Keeper emitted certainly didn’t seem like a couple of old men nearing their final days.
Once again Skyfire Avenue proved its superiority in force. Even without the presence of the Clairvoyant, their pillar, the Avenue still had enough paragons to match the West and North together!
The Karmic Scholar, Bookworm of the Avenue, snorted derisively. “Enough, do not try to curry favor here. You mean just as little as this uncouth visitor. If you have no other business, you all are free to leave. Skyfire Avenue does not tolerate impolite guests.”
Neither he nor the Keeper appeared to be in a very forgiving mood. In fact, it was the Keeper’s famously poor temper that had kept the Pontiff from enraging him further when he visited the Citadel. Both of these elderly men gained Paragon status through knowledge and scientific discovery, and though their actual combat prowess was difficult to discern at least the Keeper’s pure destructive power was fabled. No one wanted to have this sort of man as their enemy.
The Wine Master fixed Satan with a hard glare. “What say you, King of Devils?”
Satan’s eyes swept toward Mika. “Why… why do you want to leave? Why do you refuse to return home with me? Is being the master of the underworld really such a terrible destiny? You are the last of my bloodline – your sister, dead in a foreign land. Would you leave me with nothing but corpses as family? An elder should never have to see their children’s funerals.”
Satan’s remark was met with the surprised stares of all the gathered Adepts. This was the man who feared nothing, who could tear a hole in the heavens and will the earth to his bidding. This was the true Satan?
He was a supremely arrogant man, and as lethal as he was self-absorbed. But he, like the other adepts of the Dark Citadel, were tools of the West and were bound by the Alliance’s support. This contemporary Satan had earned a particularly close relationship with the politicians of his home. As a result, despite his iron-fisted control over the dark underbelly of humanity, he never had his people lift a hand against the common man. It was the only fact keeping them from the hangman’s noose. Further, it gave them enough wiggle-room to grow in strength. Currently, they were on track to surpass the Pontiff’s Citadel.
Mika regarded her father with a calm expression. “I wanted to leave because I don’t want to lose myself to this power. The blood of the King of Devils changes you, corrupts your spirit. Do you still remember, father? Do you remember what you were like when I was young? You were fair, merciful, peace-loving. I loved you more than anything. You were the pride of me and my sister, and our role-model. You were our idol, the greatest man we’d ever known. Do you remember what you told us, then? You said you would become master of the darkness so that we wouldn’t have to grow up in that world. You had more control than any Satan who had ever lived, you had the ability and it only strengthened after becoming a Paragon.”
“Then it all changed one day. We saw it, the madness that overcame you when you murdered our mother. That’s when we knew, in the end you lost your soul to the darkness. You could only suppress it for so long, and even with all your power the blood won out. What did my sister and I have to live up to then? From then on you were more frightening, strange and monstrous. More like the Satans of old. The Dark Citadel rejoiced at your submission, but your children wept. We didn’t want that. We didn’t want you! So my sister left. She chose exile, but she told me before she left, that she would return with someone who could bring you back to the man you were.”
“We never blamed you for mother. We understood that you weren’t yourself. All we ever wanted was our father back! I used to pay every day that she’d come back soon, and then we could be a whole family again. I longed for that loving father we’d lost. He would hug me like he did when I was small, kiss my cheeks, tell me he loved me more than anyone else in the whole universe. I waited, and waited.”
“Then one day my sister did come back. She came back in a box. Her body was so cold, and I could see the pain on her face she must have felt before she died. The marks of your power were all over her, and I trembled as I realized that it had been you. You killed your daughter. You killed my sister. It’s true, isn’t it? It’s true! Why would you want to kill her, when all she wanted was our father back!?”
“All that was left after that was me. I didn’t want to become like you, to have my children crying for the return of their mother – only to die at their mother’s hand. I had to leave, to escape from the Dark Citadel and the poison that coursed through it. So I ran, fled far away. I didn’t care about power – the only power I needed was control over this curse within me. That’s all, was that too much to ask? Dad… if there is any part of you the darkness hasn’t touched, if there’s any love for me and my sister left then I’m begging you… please, let me go.”
Mika’s voice was choked with sobs. One hundred adepts from Skyfire Avenue and the two Citadels looked on in silence.
The Pontiff’s eyes were closed, and he pressed a fingertip to his forehead. A shimmering cross glimmered to life, stretching across his chest and arms. His lips moved in silent prayer.
Satan stared at his young daughter, stunned and without words. His eyes betrayed internal struggle.
The Gourmet’s hands had unconsciously curled in to white-knuckled fists. His own eyes bore the threat of revenge, and he watched in deathly silence.
The power of death was what Hades offered to his descendants. It was a power that did not erode the bearer’s soul. This was in contrast to Satans, whose demonic powers were a constant threat. The price of such power was selling your soul to the darkness. It was the doom of every King of Devils, and in his own heart Satan had already become a monster.
It was him, he was revealed as Mina’s killer! Murderous intent roiled like a volcano within the Gourmet, threatening to burst free.
“No, it wasn’t me.” Satan gently shook his head. There was no rage, no explosion, no fit… there was only a bone-deep sadness, as he stared with pained expression at his daughter.
“Mika. The father you loved is gone, and yes my soul has been lost to the corrupted. I even killed your mother, I can’t deny that. But never… never would I harm Mina. It doesn’t matter if you believe me, but what happened to your mother woke me up from the madness. It took me twenty years from that day to control it again, and master the power. It is still a dark power, but it is not invincible. I am the King of Devils, and all darkness falls under my purview. Mina did not die by my hand, this I swear. I’m… I’m so sorry. Your father owes you and your sister so much. Hearing you now, though, and listening to what you have to say makes me happy. Now, I finally understand what pushed you two away. It wasn’t that you didn’t love me – it’s because you loved me so much. I apologize for what I’ve done. I beg forgiveness, from you and from Mina.”