9:00 PM. At John's streaming setup in the basement of Myth Inc. HQ.
It had been completely redone. The giant monitors, the PCs... everything was gone. In its place, there were spotlights, crimson curtains, and a raised stage. The place that had looked like a bachelor's mancave had been turned into a proper auditorium... minus the seats.
In the center of it all, on the stage, a Yamaja concert piano stood, the top propped open to let the notes resonate. A moving camera rig... Well, technically just a camera enchanted with formations to move according to John's will, hovered in the air to allow shots to be taken from every angle.
And then there was John himself. Rather than his usual goofy and light-hearted smile, he was serious. A concert tuxedo with trailing coat tails and matching suede pants. White jade cufflinks with the character 'Yue' inscribed on them. His wedding ring in full display on his left hand.
Seated on a bench in front of the piano, he ran his fingers along the keys, playing a few scales to warm up.
But after a few minutes, he frowned and played an actual song.
This had to be right. This had to be sincere. He couldn't let Yue or Meg think he was just messing around.
So, to get in the right mood...
A song about not wanting her to leave...
The piano notes echoed in the room, warm and yet longing, drifting in the air and lingering as if not wanting to fade.
When the song came to an end, light applause echoed.
John opened his eyes to see Qing standing off to the side.
The COO and former Azure Dragon had changed into a suit as well, showing off his charisma in full force. Wearing smart glasses disguised as normal ones and carrying a clipboard tucked under his arm, he said, "Well, Master John. You appear sincere enough."
John shook his head. "Appearing sincere isn't good enough. I have to be sincere." He frowned and started playing some soft chords. "Not only that... what if it doesn't reach them? What if they're somewhere outside my reach, hurt, afraid, or confused?"
He didn't know. He didn't know, and that terrified him.
Qing sighed. "To think a man could change this much..."
Qing smiled. "It's nothing, Master John. And relax. I am certain that your beloved wife and daughter are safe and sound."
"But how do you know that?" John frowned and shook his head. "How do you know they're fine?"
"I don't. But I know of Madam Yue, and I know of you, Master John. While I can't say to know the exact circumstances of your relationship... I am sure that such a divine pairing wouldn't be torn apart so easily."
"That's what I want to believe too. But..." John lowered his gaze.
Things had been going wrong since he arrived on Earth. No, they had been going 'right' in terms of John being able to help other people and even some of his own goals. But in terms of his relationship with his wife and youngest daughter...
"...Is this a tribulation?" John muttered.
Was it the aftereffect of him binding the Realm Source? Was it a result of him coming to a world that wasn't created to accommodate existences like him? Or was it something else?
"It may be." Qing nodded and then cracked a smile. "Perhaps the heavens truly are jealous of pairing such peerless existences and are giving a tribulation to you two in order to test your resolve."
John's eyes grew sharp. "If they are, they had better hope I don't find the source of where they exist."
He wasn't above petty revenge or destroying the foundational order if it meant that his family was safe.
"In any case." Qing pulled out his clipboard and flipped through the pages. "As you requested, I finally finished arranging the local and national networks to stream your broadcast. Bai also negotiated with Googol and other major overseas providers to show snippets of your stream as ads periodically for the next week. In short..." He flipped the page back and said, "I've done as you requested and mobilized all of your resources to spread your message as far as possible throughout this mortal world under its laws and rules. But... are you certain?"
John set his hands down and looked at Qing. "What do you mean?"
"Master John." Qing took off his glasses and then looked at John, his eyes flashing a clear blue, as if trying to peer inside of him. "You are the one and only transcendent of the Three Realms. You obtained the highest position in existence and left to a mortal world, throwing it all away. And you stated that you did all of that just so that you could relax. But now... if you continue on in this way, that will be impossible. You will no longer be able to avoid the public gaze. You will... Once again, you will stand at the peak and gain the attention of the entire world. So I wish to know before I proceed with finalizing this course of action. Are you certain?"
John lowered his gaze, thinking carefully on his response.
The former azure dragon put his smart glasses back on and said, "It is not too late still to change your mind. Bai has already mobilized forces to look for Madam Yue and your daughter. Furthermore, I have spoken with Miss Beta and she has begun her own search. Doing this." Qing waved towards the piano, stage, and recording setup. "...Is unnecessary. If Madam Yue loves you enough to pursue you all the way here... Would a simple apology not be enough?"
A rationale and reasonable point.
John didn't need to go to this length. He didn't need to announce his intentions to the whole world. If he sat down with Yue and talked. If he lowered his head to apologize to Meg and let her vent her frustrations, everything would turn to normal.
"No. It is necessary." John raised his head, his clear blue eyes now a startling and pure shade of jade green. "Enough running away. Enough excuses. Enough play."
How long had it been now? Since the day he first arrived in the Three Realms... No. Before that.
Hadn't he been running away from his responsibilities?
John's parents always nagged him about his career. About how he couldn't mope around forever with those childish games and comics. About how he should get a 'real' job instead of those part-time ones he held to fuel his hobbies.
And he was fed up with it. Without another word, without so much as goodbye, he packed his bags, used his savings, and picked the cheapest flight to anywhere in Asia, landing in China.
Wasn't it the same thing here? Didn't he do the exact same thing to Yue?
She had been thinking about the future. About their future. And John pretended to care, but at the first chance he got, he left, running back home.
Or that was his excuse.
John chuckled and slowly shook his head. "How funny. I thought that I had changed."
The past was heavy. And karma was something that even transcendents couldn't cast off completely.
He thought that he had resolved it. That his dao heart was firm. That he had resolved his lingering regrets through his various tribulations. But...
...This is what they felt back then.
Not knowing if their child was safe. Regretting their actions and wondering if they had done something different that their child would still be there. Worrying if he was eating well, if he was still even alive.
Before, John could never relate to those emotions. After all, he never had any experiences that would be relatable. Even if that karma existed, as a selfish young man who had been running without looking back his entire life, it never attached.
But now... Now that he had people he cared about. Now that he had a family to care for.
That accumulated karma finally exacted its price. Forcing him to hurt those around him. Forcing him to understand the consequences of his selfish actions. Forcing him to see just what a foolish child he had been-
No. It didn't force him at all. That was just him trying to run away again.
All that karma did was set up the situation. Line the pieces up and open the door.
It was him who chose to walk away. It was him who continued to act childish. And it was him who hurt them.
Time to grow up, John.
...It was enough now.
The air around John shifted. But that wasn't all. At the same time, he felt a change from within him.
-The Dao of Accumulation.
It was the path that he walked his entire life since arriving in the Three Realms... No. Even before that.
Constantly consuming, constantly looking for more. Constantly, constantly, constantly seeking out new experiences.
A never-ending sprint without stopping to think about what happened along the way.
Like a blindman running. No, a fool who didn't know the extent of the world. Who believed that his 'world' could only be fulfilled by grabbing everything he could. A man driven mad with hunger for more.
And in John's path to go against the heavens with his cultivation, that sprint had only accelerated. That hunger for more cemented into a law of existence, always drawing things toward him even when he didn't want it.
Because he was still running away from reality.
And as long as he ran, his 'path' would continue giving him more places to run to. More things to use to run away.
He was done running.
The former azure dragon adjusted his glasses. "Yes, Master John."
"We'll record the ad first. And then after that, I'll be counting on you to handle the streaming and Bai to continue the search."
Qing stared at John for a few moments, his face contemplative. But then a faint smile crossed his face and he nodded. "As you wish."
Back in America, a room at the top floor of the JW Marriot hotel with two queen sized beds and an executive lounge.
Yue suddenly staggered in the middle of making a cup of coffee, causing it to splash to the floor.
"Mom!" Omega ran over to catch her. "Are you alright?"
Kai, sipping on his own coffee at a table nearby, stood up and frowned. "Miss Yue-"
"I'm... I'm fine." Yue shook her head and steadied herself against the countertop nearby. "I'm fine." Saying that, she gently pushed Omega away and reached over to pick up her coffee cup.
Tsuki, seated across from Kai, set down her tablet and tilted her head. Her light brown hair shifted and her clear blue eyes were filled with concern. "Miss Yue shouldn't strain herself. Haven't you been sick recently?"
Yue blinked and then narrowed her eyes at Omega.
The young girl flinched and looked away. "I-I'm sorry, Mom, but..."
Yue sighed and then smiled, patting Omega's head. "It's fine, Meggie. I'm glad you've made a good friend."
Omega tensed, but then smiled. But that was short-lived as she stepped back and then looked at her mother with concern in her golden eyes. "Are you sure you're fine, Mom?"
Kai set his coffee cup down and said, "...Should I call an ambulance?"
Yue shook her head. "I'm grateful, but I must have just not rested well enough. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am going to use the washroom."
Ignoring the worried gazes on her, Yue headed towards the bathroom and then closed it behind her. The moment she did, Yue quietly sat down on the floor and placed her hand over her dantian. "I made a breakthrough? Here? But how...?"