Lan Jue felt as though his body had become very light. In the next instant a silvery doorway of pure light appeared embedded in the crimson world. Countless more streams of light fractured away from the silver glow and spread out from it. Where the light touched, the world of red quickly receded. A new, silver nucleus expanded from their location.
Lan Jue heaved a sigh of relief. “Excellent timing. If you’ waited any longer I’m not sure there’d be anything to save.”
The Wine Master stood calmly, scepter in hand. Disjointed planes of silver light expanded out in fractals around him, and the old man was reflected in each. The toxic red energies without swirled angrily around the border of this silver pocket, but could not invade.
This was a war of Domains. A Paragon’s standoff!
The Pauper appeared from another interdimensional fissure, standing beside Lan Jue. Upon seeing the Jewelry Master, the Pauper gave him a surprised look.
The aura that surrounded Lan Jue was the focus of his shock.
Lan Jue nodded toward the beggar as he appeared. He maintained the same majestic façade, an integral part of his Ascension. After all, empowered with protogenic energy as he was why shouldn’t he be confident in the presence of his allies?
“You should not have come here.” The scratchy, ancient voice echoed all around them. It was as though it bubbled up from the thick world of red surrounding them.
The Wine Master’s eyes flared with silver light, that shone out like a pair of stars. He raised his scepter high and, from the shimmering power gem at it’s crest, a gentle wave of silvery light swept out like a shock wave. In it’s wake countless motes of light swam and danced through the air. They twinkled, they swirled, they rose and fell, and as Lan Jue looked closer he was stunned to discover every one of those hundreds upon thousands of specks was a star. As the swirling mass expanded, they found themselves in the center of a miniature Milky Way.
His Domain was evolving!
As the twinkling universe grew, the world of red receded like a shadow. But more accurately, the red was being devoured, for each individual star was it’s own reality with a powerful vacuum force. Then, as it must have been at the beginning of time, the condensed cluster of stars exploded out in every direction. The reality around them grew until they sat in an entirely separate universe, entirely created of the Wine Master’s will, surrounded by planets that would rival anything they’d seen before.
This was the true projection of a Paragon’s Domain. The Wine Master was facing an unknown foe, who was likely significantly stronger even than himself. He made the right determination; pull out all the stops.
But then, something else was in the domain with them – another life force. As they looked on, a creeping presence like a weed snaked through the starry expanse.
Compared to an entire universe, what was a weed? This weed, however, spread it’s creeping tendrils through the fabric of reality. Slow by cosmic standards, it grew and grew until it began to shock planets. The thickening twigs became wide as meteor belts.
It didn’t matter how large this universe was. It didn’t matter how many stacks of reality existed. The weed existed in all of them.
Both Lan Jue and the Pauper adopted focused, concerned expressions in the face of this threat. The powers of the Paragons were in contest, intertwining like serpents. They would war like this for supremacy. No matter who won, however, Lan Jue and the Pauper would be the ones to suffer the consequence.
Evidence pointed to their opponent as occupying the superior position currently. Their hidden opponent had taken the initiative, which put the Wine Master on the defensive. Worse, he couldn’t stop her.
As they watched, the weeds – now thick as vines – encroached in to the heart of the Wine Master’s domain. They writhes and twisted over one another until they were a dense, living net. Closer and closer they inched, and coiled so tightly that nothing but the vines existed.
Gradually, the vines began to sprout little purple pearl-like grapes, and the heady scent of the fruit filled the air. As the grapes grew plump, they were treated to a beautiful display, hiding the danger beneath.
The silvery eminence of the Wine Master’s powers continued to coil round. He simply watched as the scene unfolded. Stretching out his scepter, the old man still did not engage. He simply felt all that was occurring around him.
Eventually, a dim silvery light gradually arose. The image of a moon, reflecting the light from a nearby star, appeared suspended in the newly made universe. As it grew, its power intensified. The soothing silver glow hung over every minute vine.
The ripening grapes began to waggle of the vine under their own weight. They appeared as they they might fall at any moment.
The image reminded Lan Jue of a special, complicated system of making wine called biodynamics. A small part of it was the belief that grapes should be collected under the light of the moon. This Paragon was simulating the process of a grape harvest, or so it appeared.
So far, Lan Jue could to feel the adverse affects of their battle. However, he knew that if this continued, the situation won’t only get more dire.
The Wine Master remained still, like a statue suspended in space. He was lost in the totality of everything around them, scrutinizing every detail.
The first grape fell. As it tumbled through eternity, it burst open. Energies sealed within were instantly absorbed by the vacuum of the Wine Master’s multiverse. But under the light of that strange moon, even the stars changed. They dimmed, until they themselves became enormous purple grapes.
Then, there was a pulse of energy, as the newly formed grapes broke the Wine Master’s control. Lan Jue and the Pauper exchanged a silent, stunned looked.
Both of them knew how frightening the world of a Paragon could be, but this was beyond expectations. Neither could have suspected that the simple grape could congeal, and drown an entire universe. The vine’s unstoppable expansion was almost predatory, and permanent.
What neither Lan Jue nor the Pauper understood, was why the Wine Master wasn’t doing anything! All he did was watch as that enormous star was lost to his enemy’s power. Flashes of emotional turmoil did appear in his eyes, though.
More and more grapes fell, burst, and their contents covered the star further.
The Wine Master sighed, and waved his scepter. The mass of stars and planets, the entire universe, began to contract. It continued to shrink until the whole of it was reabsorbed back in to the Cosmagus’ body. The three Skyfire Adepts stood now in a field of wild grape vines, stretching far as the eye could see.
The only thing that separated them from that reality was a translucent shell of light. The Wine Master looked out over the fields, and shook his head. “Clearly we aren’t welcome. We should leave.”
He punctuated the sentence with a wave of his scepter. A golden door of light appeared soundlessly before them.
This was the first time Lan Jue witnessed the Wine Master using a portal like this. It felt… steadier, than the silver dimensional fissures the Wine Master usually used.
In the end, a Paragon – even a defeated Paragon – could make their escape. Killing one was no easy task, even among themselves.
As the golden light of their succor filled the area, the nearby grapes became illusory. Gradually, they vanished until the only thing remaining of their presence was a lingering scent. The scene around them cleared as well, revealing them to be floating in the air over the vineyard below.
“Wait a moment. Gates, bring them to me.” The old voice returned, reverberating through the air like the voice of god.
Gates, apparently, was the old man who’d been the focus of Lan Jue’s ire earlier. The Jewelry Master turned an eye to the acting head of Skyfire Avenue. The Wine Master responded to the unspoken concern with a nod of his head. The Cosmagus swept his arm once more, and the portal vanished.
Now that the conflict appeared to be over, Gates dispassionately floated their way. He bowed at the waist. “If the three gentlemen would follow me…”
He wasted no further time in discussion, and headed back to the ground expecting them to follow. They did, once the Paragon felt safe enough to drop his shield.
Lan Jue did not bring Qianlin forth. Her… wardrobe issue would be a problem. Things would have to remain as they were for a while more.
They finally had time to appreciate their surroundings once they reached ground, and what they saw was as picturesque as anyone could ask for. Towering mountains in the distance grasped at lazily wandering clouds. At the peak of these mountains had been constructed great buildings made of stone. They looked worn, and crude, but retained a rural beauty. They were old-style castles, constructed to overlook the vineyards.
Most vineyards were established on the sides of mountains. Although flat-land grapes existed, they were few and far between. Most of the flatter plots were reserved for other crops.
It was like Shangri-La from the tales of old, idyllic and gorgeous. Now that matters weren’t so tense, Lan Jue took a deep breath to enjoy the perfectly clean air. The elemental forces here were stronger than on the surface world, and the vital energies swirling around them were plentiful. It would be a wonderful place to enhance Tan Lingyun’s ability. Wonderful, or terrible, depending on who you asked.
“I imagine this is a separate dimension.” Lan Jue said to the Wine Master.
But the old man shook his head. “No. We really are beneath the lake. Clearly they’ve used tactical employment of power to conceal themselves and keep the lake suspended. It’s the same way they simulate sunlight. Unless I’m mistaken, this place is very much similar to the environment on the Mother world. We have certainly found the right place.”
Lan Jue nodded, then smirked. “It’s a shame our arrival was met with less than stellar hospitality.”
“I’ll guess we’ll learn more in a minute,” the Wine Master replied.
Gates, who was ahead of them, hesitated half a step when he heard the Wine Master’s deductions.
They wandered through the fields, the soil’s fragrance filling their nostrils. Lan Jue noted that the oxygen content was lower here than it was on the surface, but he quickly got used to it.
If it was like the Wine Master said, then why shouldn’t he acclimate quickly? Men were of Mother Earth, and this place was made to emulate her.