Skyfire Avenue Chapter 131-140

Chapter 131: Planet Taihua

The bus-sized verti-car rumbled to a start, then began it’s journey. They still had to travel to the university’s exclusive space ship, which would then deliver them to Planet Taihua.

Wu Junyi stood near the driver’s seat. His ordinarily serious Director’s face was gone, and he had a small smile as he addressed the teachers. “Professors one and all, you’ve worked hard. For this trip, I will be your guide. I hope it will be a pleasant and relaxing experience for all of you. In a little while we’ll be on our way, and from then it’s twenty hours  to Skyfire’s closest neighbor, Taihua. Once we arrive, the next five days will be spent enjoying one another’s company. For now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.”

Lan Jue responded by slipping on his sunglasses and headphones. He sank back in to his chair, and closed his eyes. The sound that filled his ears was pleasant, a sudden gift from Hua Li as he was preparing to leave. It was, in fact, Sounds of Nature – his soon-to-be-released album.

It wasn’t long until their bus arrived at the public ship hangar.

The university’s ship was bright silver. The NEU identification symbols shimmered on it’s sides. The teachers filed out of the bus, and on to the ship directly. Then, off they went to Taihua.

As they boarded, Tan Lingyun chose a corner to herself, distancing herself in apparent disgust. Though Lan Jue was thankful for her departure, his pride was further bruised by her hateful attitude. He wondered what was so despicable about him that caused her to act that way.

Jin Yan wasn’t aware of his mood, and so chose once more to sit beside him. She asked a few questions about how Jin Tao was doing, but noticed Lan Jue was tired. She knew how to behave in social situations and let the subject lie.

Lan Jue closed his eyes. He felt a shudder rumble through the ship, heard the noise of it’s engines firing. It brought a sense of calm to him. In truth he was enjoying this university lifestyle. It was simple, and quiet. Although there were things that required his attention every day, and although he had concerns for his students and what to teach, it was a life he felt was happy and enriching.

Lan Jue slipped in to a meditative state, spurred on by the

quietude of his mind and the contentment he felt. His consciousness turned inward, expanding out within him.

Unlike normal people, his own meridians were a light blue color. His skeleton, silver. The flow of his blood and fluids was the same as any normal man, but close examination would reveal sparks of electricity flashing between the erythrocytes.

This was a mark of the ninth ranked talent, the strange conditions of their body. The only way an Adept could control these levels of power, was if they conditioned themselves as conduits of this energy.

To put it simply, there were distinct similarities between a high level Adept and an power gem. Some said that Adepts were little more than intelligent gems themselves. Of course it wasn’t that simple, but in a sense it wasn’t entirely false.

Every Adept had a Core, the center of their powers. For innate Talents they had it at birth, and it expanded with time and training. For them, the strength or lack thereof was determined by genetics.

When Adepts first appeared among the ranks of humanity,

the very strongest were ninth ranked. The Paragons of today all arose from that basic metric, reaching their lofty heights through unending cultivation.

Having an innate Talent was best, as was widely considered, though they didn’t have their supreme power from birth. If they did, their own raging energies would destroy them. Like anyone they else they, too, required training. Through cultivation they could inspire their Core to grow, to expand and interact with the external energies that make up the world around them. With time, their power expands to great heights.

But the training regimens were difficult, and boring. Many average Talents were stuck in mediocrity because they couldn’t bear the process. They squandered their opportunities, and the time for proper training passed them by. The foundation was never built, and thus they remained average, for the rest of their lives.

The Core of an Adept wasn’t set, and it’s location was different for each person. The Psychic Tide, for instance, had her Core between her eyebrows. It was the optimal location for her particular Talent. For many high-level Adepts, their Core was fixed in the pit of their stomachs. Mika and Ke’er were counted among them. Then there were special cases, like Xiuxiu. Her core was actually in her right arm. So, in combat,

she led with her right.

Lan Jue’s own Core was in the pit of his stomach. However, in contrast to most Adepts, his Core was different.

His was diamond shaped, suspended in the exact center of his torso. It was a deep, endless blue. It twinkled with light as Lan Jue breathed, firing off in all directions with each inhalation, and shimmering as he exhaled. How often it did so was a result of his heart rate and respiration.

Surrounding the diamond core, a pure white light shone. It was a bolt of white lightning that flickered rapidly with power, faster than the normal human eye could fathom. However, it’s instability was clear.

Both his Core and that bolt of lightning seemed dimmer than they should be. Their flickers, slow. This was undoubtedly a result of Lan Jue’s careful control.

Thunder and lightning were the most explosive of the Disciplines. In combat, their strength was renowned. The drawback was it’s instability, for it was just as volatile as it was potent. To protect himself from this, the first thing Lan Jue did

after his injury was block his Core’s power. Had he not, the fluctuating force of his Discipline would have undoubtedly turned on his own body.

“When you are able to bring your lightning and thunder together, blended as one, that is the moment you will be a Paragon! When you do, that will be your opportunity to follow in my footsteps.”

The aged voice reverberated in Lan Jue’s ears. Any time that voice came to him, a dull pain followed. The unhappy memories of his youth came rushing back on the tides of that hateful sound.

The tribulations of Tang Xiao and Jin Tao were serious, but compared to the suffering of his own youth they were the lucky ones. For him and his brother, their younger years were spent in hell! The fact they lived through it was damn near miraculous.

Lan Jue gently shook his head, and awoke from his meditation. The motion also served to help him shake off those unwanted memories.

To help wipe the bitter thoughts away his eyes peered out of the porthole to the universe beyond. Thanks to the relatively short distance between their destination and departure, there was no need for wormholes or Deep Sleep. He could sit and enjoy the view.

The boundless horizons of the universe spread out before him. It didn’t matter how lofty your status, how great your powers, or how terrible your troubles… in the vastness of space they were less than nothing.

In the distance a pale blue orb spun silently in the dark. Even from out here it was easy to see Taihua’s allure. Blues and greens melded together as the dominant hues. It appeared as though Lan Jue’s silent ruminations were not brief. They would soon arrive at their destination.

“It really is just full of vitality!” Jin Yan sighed in admiration as she stared at the nearing planet.

Lan Jue nodded slowly. “Just so. Certainly worthy of being a tourist destination. I hope it’s a rewarding trip.”

“You’ve never been to Taihua before?” Jin Yan asked,

somewhat puzzled.

He shook his head. “I’m not actually from Skyfire. I haven’t really visited the surrounding areas.”

This captured Jin Yan’s interest. “Oh, so where does our Professor Lan hail from?”

“The home world.”

“Home world? Isn’t the environment there  already unbearable? The destruction of the previous area was terrible. If it weren’t for the following interstellar migration, then the homeworld…” Jin Yan stopped, winced apologetically, and sneaked a peek at Lan jue.

He grinned, the expression making it clear he didn’t mind. “You’re right! The ignorance of our race almost completely destroyed our ancestral home. But that’s our home, the origin of our lineage. In fact Taihua looks a little like our home world once did. If the home world had never suffered the scars of that chaos, it’d be just as beautiful.”

“Attention please. We’ll be entering Taihua’s atmosphere shortly. Please fasten your seat belts.” The warning and subsequent beeps aroused the travelers from their slumber. Jin Yan pressed the buckles together until that tell-tale snap greeted her. Everyone settled firmly in their seats.

The ship was rocked with a violent jolt, and the porthole became obscured by a fiery red light. The interior lights of the ship flickered on and off as they tore through Taihua’s upper atmosphere.

The journey through the thickening air was a short one, and as the friction eased so did the violent shaking. The ship stabilized, and the scenery returned to view outside the porthole. Moisture dotted the glass as they tore through the clouds, followed by a slight tremble as the ship began to reduce it’s speed.

As the mist cleared the dazzling blue ocean was revealed. Where it ended a vast expanse of green met the sea. For many of the teachers it wasn’t their first time visiting the planet, but they still had their faces glued to the porthole. One after the other they sighed in appreciation.

“It’s beautiful.” Lan Jue, too, could not stop himself from

speaking his mind.

“It is! So pretty. If I could move here after I retire it would be incredible.” Jin Yan’s voice was full of yearning.

“I thought development was banned,” Lan Jue said, “You can still settle here?”

“There’s a small section open for development, to benefit tourism,” Jin Yan explained. “And you know as well as I that in the East there’s nothing money can’t accomplish. If you really wanted to live here it wouldn’t be impossible, just very, very expensive. At any rate it’s more than any of us could afford.”

“I see,” Lan Jue replied.

The ship began to descend. It was slow, in order to allow the passenger to adept to the change in cabin pressure. Half an hour later the ship was touching down on a tarmac surrounded by verdant green forests.

As the doors opened they were struck by the moist, fresh winds.

Chapter 132: Group Leader Tan

Ah, moist, fresh, full of life. It’s a place very suitable for a master of the Water element! Were Hua Li here for his cultivation, he’d definitely get more out of it. Lan Jue quietly considered the surroundings as he thought back to his friend. Taihua was, as promised, a beautiful place.

This assertation only increased as he left the confines of the space ship. His eyes filled with greens of every shade imaginable. Scores of vegetation both known and unknown surrounded them on all sides. The air was thick with fresh oxygen, so much that it took a moment to acclimate. It certainly would have a restorative effect on the body.

He took a deep breath, and indeed felt his injured meridians relaxing as the energies of the world around him flowed through them.

Wu Junyi clapped his hands, demanding the attention of the gathered employees. “Alright. We’ve arrived at our destination, Planet Taihua. Keep in mind that the oxygen concentration here is one hundred and twenty percent of our own back on Skyfire. If you’re finding it difficult to get used to, there are oxygen masks available. Try to avoid getting punch-drunk from the excess oxygen. In a moment we’ll be heading for the

encampment. Starting tomorrow, you all will have some free time to wander around at your leisure. We’ve come today with forty teachers, half of whom are mecha instructors. After we arrive at the encampment, we’ll be separating you in to groups of eight. Stay within your ‘team’ as you wander, enjoy each others’ company, take pictures and so on.”

Eight people per team? Hearing this, Lan Jue felt an inexplicable sense of foreboding fill him.

These ‘encampments’ were in fact so crude as to make the more prudish among them want to spit. It was a single, simple log cabin. As they arrived, the various materials they would need for their stay were handed out.

“So what are the guidelines for tourism here, Professor Jin?” Lan Jue gathered up his offered materials as he asked the woman, as ever close to his side.

Jin Yan huffed. “I thought you’d never ask. Because the authorities wish to protect the environment on Taihua, the East has created a special set of ‘cautions’ here. As a result things here are a little different, for tourism. The most common thing to do is go on a hike. You must rely entirely on your own feet to do so. We’ll be passing through dense, old-growth forests. You

also don’t need to go too far – just enough to appreciate where we are. Take it easy, Professor Lan, everywhere we’ll be going has been checked and surveyed. There is no danger.”

Now Lan Jue understood. Originally he thought they’d be staying in a hotel. However, looking again at the goods in his arms, a hotel was not what was in store for them.

A single-person tent, a sleeping bag, a kettle, knife, telescope and MRE. Among a few other things, this was his basic survival kit. A walkabout. This certainly caught his interest.

A soldier in camouflage attire had been the one to give them their gear. He wore a squad leader badge on his shoulder. He looked to be in his thirties. He addressed this with a loud voice. “You have all now arrived at Planet Taihua. Please ensure you adhere to the planet’s laws and regulations. In your kits, you’ve been given a heating unit. However, it does not employ an open fire. ANY use of fire in these forests is strictly prohibited. Also, teachers from the National Eastern University, please do not stray too far from the campsite. In a moment, we ask you to come and register your personal communicators with us. In this way, if you are in any danger we will be able to get to you promptly. We will also input our campsite’s coordinates. So long as you ensure you are back here within five days, everything will go smoothly.”

“If you’re able, you are permitted to hunt and consume any wild animals you come across on Taihua. But do refrain from indiscriminate killing. Only kill what you’re going to eat.”

Hunting, too? Interesting indeed. Must be a special characteristic of Taihua.

Wu Junyi lent his own voice to the announcement. “Ok. Next, groups. When we’re done, the groups are free to go their own way. The MREs you’re carrying are enough to sustain you for five days, but if you’re looking for wilder fare you’ll have to rely on your own abilities. There are no toxic critters in the tour zone, so feel free to munch on whatever you can catch. However, they aren’t going to lay down for you. Some animals are aggressive. When you’re out there, keep an eye out and be careful. If any of you feel like the things that were given to you aren’t enough, you’re free to head to the lodge window and buy some more. Alright, let’s split you all up.”

Lan Jue looked at the window the teaching director had indicated. He wandered over for a look. The woman manning the place looked like any normal young girl. Spying the tall and handsome Lan Jue approaching, she smiled sweetly.

“What are you looking for?”

“Do you have flavoring?”

“Yup, we offer all sorts. It looks like this isn’t your first foray in to the wilds. You’ve got some experience!” She smiled pleasantly, praising her newest customer.

Lan Jue looked over the inventory. Inwardly he was pleasantly surprised with the stock. As she said, they had pretty much anything he could want. But the prices… at least five times what you’d find on Skyfire. And as he just learned, Taihua didn’t allow any food from the outside. The rations they were given weren’t cheap either, about all the university could afford.

He stuffed his purchases in to his back and headed back. Returning to the fray, he came across Jin Yan, an odd look in her eyes.

“What is it, Professor Jin? Are the groups set?”

She nodded, and replied in quiet tones. “Professor Tan was chosen as our group leader.”

“Ah? That savage lady?” Lan Jue was taken aback, and his volume was a smidge higher than he’d have liked. A few of the nearby teachers looked his way.

“Am I savage, or are you just garbage?” That hateful, familiar voice called out to him.

Lan Jue looked helplessly towards Tan Lingyun as she approached. Lan Jue attempted to recover. “What I meant –“

She cut him off with a disdainful sniff. “A waste of height and space. I hope you don’t hold us up.”

Lan Jue had nothing to say, and could only shrug his shoulders. The ghost of a smile cracked on Jin Yan’s face.

Tan Lingyun moved to the side and began to organize her things. She smacked in to her shoulder in her passage.

“Director Wu.”

Wu Junyi beamed a smile. “What is it, Professor Lan? Do you

agree with your group assignment? Professor Tan is quite the looker, eh? ”

Lan Jue smiled as well, but his was a forced one. “Deliberate, I suspect?”

Wu Junyi chuckled knowingly. “In fact she’s a good woman. It’s just that temper of hers. That little matter from before was really unfortunate. So, I decided to put you two together. I’m hoping this trip will help you two reconcile your differences. I’ve got a lot of faith in you, Professor! Every class of yours has more students than the one before. You’re developing a very good reputation. I’m working in your corner at the university, and if you keep up these numbers you’ll be a syndicated teacher in no time.”

“Thank you very much.” Once more, there wasn’t anything Lan Jue could say. Things were as they were, and complaining about it wasn’t going to do any good. Anyway, it was vacation. So long as he didn’t provoke that psychotic woman, everything would be fine.

His group was more than just he and Professor Tan, of course. It also boasted Jin Yan, Wu Hongyuan, and four others. Two men and two women. The two other gentlemen were also, like

them, electives teachers. The two women were mecha instructors. Four each, men and women. But, considering the addition of Professor Tan, the group was decidedly tilted in the ladies’ favor. Judging by looks alone, it certainly didn’t appear that the two male electives teachers were powerhouses.

It wasn’t long after they finished orientating their communicators that Tan Lingyun started showing her leadership prowess. She shouted for her team to gather together.

Lan Jue was already there, beside Jin Yan. Still, he was trying his best to remain on the outskirts of their little expeditionary team.

“It’s still early, and I’m sure you all had a good rest on the ship. Our goal is to get ten ‘k’ in to the forest and pitch camp. We’ll rest for a bit afterward, then start looking for food. Any questions?” Her words entreated dialogue, but her tone didn’t. Her sharp eyes pierced the gathered men specifically.

In trepidation of the Savage Goddess’ reputation, the men of the group nearly tripped over each other to express their agreement with her plan. Lan Jue also nodded his approval. The other ladies were just as quick to acquiesce. It appeared as

though the women as the mecha department were on good terms with Professor Tan. They’ve been at her side the whole time.

“Alright, then let’s get going!” Tan Lingyun waved them onward, walking at the head of the pack. She made a direct line for the edge of the forest.

Jin Yan and Lan Jue took up the rear. As they followed, Lan Jue leaned in and spoke quietly to his fellow teacher. “Is this really supposed to be a vacation? It seems more like a military expedition!”

Jin Yan’s laugh was low and constrained. “Professor Tan teaches mecha combat. She’d reputed to be an Emperor-Class pilot herself. She treats all her students like soldiers, so I guess it’s a habit.”

As expected, there were no paths or trails in the ancient forest. It was no problem, however, as the one who led them used her machete to make quick and violent work of any limb or vine that dared impede her path. Their forward progress wasn’t hindered in the least. She was loud, coarse, and violent, but she’d chosen the most grueling task for herself.

Lan Jue followed along at a leisurely pace – after all, how fast could they go through a forest as dense as this?

This forest was considerably different from other indigenous forests Lan Jue had visited. For a start, there were far fewer insects than he’d expected. In large forests there were sure to be clouds of flying insects, but not here. The air was clean, fresh. The surrounding flora were enormous, towering towards the canopy, even the bushes. They did need to cut a path to follow, but in the end it wasn’t too much trouble to do so.

The deeper they traveled in to the forests, the heavier the air became with fresh oxygen. With each breath Lan Jue was recovering from his injuries. He felt pretty good, all things considered.

After about two kilometers in to their trek, the discrepancies in the different teachers began to show. Professor Tan remained in front, full of vigor and vivaciousness. Behind her, the two other mecha instructors continued in similar fashion. The lack in physical preparedness of the electives teachers was becoming quite clear.

Jin Yan was already out of breath, while Lan Jue and Wang Hongyun were in better shape. The two other teachers in their

department were already drenched in sweat, their breaths ragged. Were it not for that overriding fear of their group leader, the fellas would have cried for a rest long ago.

Chapter 133: Fantascia Injection

Tan Lingyun shot a glance of her shoulder, her brows wrinkling at what she saw. “Take a break,” she said, finally stopping.

The two male teachers and Jin Yan sighed, finally given quarter. They immediately sought places to sit and drink in the air with deep, gasping breaths.

Tan Lingyun extricated her canteen from her pack and took a swig, taking the time to peer at their surroundings. Her two female counterparts stood at either side of their impromptu leader. They were in cover formation, looking after the five electives teachers – very much in military fashion.

Wang Hongyuan settled beside Jin Yan. “How are you doing, Professor Jin? Sit a while and I’ll help you up.”

Jin Yan shook her head. “I’m fine. Though it looks like I really need to get in shape. I’m already tired after only this little while.”

Wang Hongyuan frowned. “We’ve all been sitting in a ship for

the past few hours. That’s no rest. It’s natural for the body to get exhausted. Leader Tan, it looks like we’re in the neighborhood of a campsite. We’re here on vacation, we shouldn’t tire ourselves out so much. You three are mecha teachers, but us electives teachers are just normal people.”

Tan Lingyun huffed at him. “Professor Jin I can understand, but you guys are also struggling? At this pace, we’re barely moving. Even your average person shouldn’t find this tiring. You all a bunch of soft-footed weaklings?”

“It’s fine, it’s fine. Professor Wang, I’m ok really.” Jin Yan hurriedly pushed herself to her feet with the aid of Wang Hongyuan, stopping him from speaking further.

Their group leader approached regardless. Stopping in front of Jin Yan, her features softened perceptibly. “Professor Jin, are you really alright? If not we can ease up.”

Jin Yan smiled thankfully. “I’m fine, honestly. Sadly our stamina really isn’t where it should be. Perhaps, if possible, we shouldn’t rush so much on the first day.”

Tan Lingyun hesitated for just a moment, then nodded. “Five

kilometers then, then we pitch camp. You guys can make it, yeah?”

Jin Yan turned her head to look at Lan Jue. Their ‘etiquette teacher’ stood nearby, hands stuffed in the pockets of his pants. He looked unfazed. Seeing her eyes dart his way, he shrugged. “I’m fine.”

The two other gentlemen hurried to agree with Tan Lingyun’s new plan.

At last Tan Lingyun swept her eyes towards Wang Hongyuan. “Gain a little masculinity, why don’t you. And don’t pull any of that ‘orchid fingers’ crap in front of me.” [1] She spoke to him, but her general displeasure was surely with all the men before her.

[tl: [1] = ‘Orchid fingers’ is a hand motion used in traditional Chinese dancing where the middle finger presses against the thumb, and the other fingers are splayed out, not unlike  an orchid flower… ostensibly. ]

“You!” Wang Hongyun jabbed a finger angrily at her, but he couldn’t help the dainty motions derived form years of dance

training from creeping in to the motion. His face immediately reddened and he dropped his hand.

The other two women couldn’t help but titter at the display.

There in the forest, none of those gathered could know that the satellites far above Taihua were picking up something more interesting than their squabble. Several small dark red dots appeared in their images, spreading out over Taihua and bathing it in dim light.

**

“Jin Tao, are you prepared?” Hua Li’s question was solemn, serious.

The young man nodded. He was clad in only a pair of underpants, and sat within a nourishment pod. Maybe he really did have a problem with his head, because there was no sense of trepidation in him at all.

“Teacher, why are you always wearing that mask? Isn’t that uncomfortable?” Jin Tao watched Hua Li, his curiosity getting

the better of him.

Hua Li lifted the exceptionally large surgical tubing in his hand. “This kid… are you really an idiot or are you just pretending? You actually care about this shit right now?”

Jin Tao chuckled. “Wouldn’t this count as my greatest ability, to remain calm? Fatty Tang got absolutely ruined, and Professor Lan said I would face greater risk. I know what’s coming, and how hard it’ll be to get passed it. But we have to face the things that scare us. If I’m relaxed, the nerves can’t get to me.”

Hua Li looked at him in utter amazement. “It’s no wonder A- Jue chose you. You’ve got some real insight. Fine, I’ll take the mask off and you can have a look.” With that, he used his free hand to pluck the mask free, revealing his features.

“Ah!” Jin Tao cried out in alarm.

Hua Li took pride in the sudden reaction. He spoke with a quiet self-confidence. “What are you screaming about. You know me, eh?”

Jin Tao bobbed his head up and down like a chicken. “Y-y-y- your Poseidon, right? Ah man, you really are a good lookin fella. No wonder you’re everyone’s idol.”

An infinitely suave smile spread across Hua Li’s face. “Alright, time to lie back. Let’s get started. The decoction will be absorbed in three steps. This is the first. The other two will be once a month.”

“Oh.” He settled back in the pod. “Teach… actually Poseidon, man. Hey, looking like that, you aren’t actually a woman dressed as a man, are you? If you are, you’d probably fall for a handsome guy like me, huh!”

“Damnit!” Hua Li’s pleasant smile was gone, dead on his face. He angrily scrunched his face and lifted his head, jabbing a finger pointedly at his neck. “Are you a moron?! You know what this is? YOU’RE a damn woman!” He slammed the lid of the nourishment pod shut, crushing Jin Tao in to a lying position.

The pod was full of a thick, transparent gel. Jin Tao lay within, eyes wide.

Hua Li took a few angry breaths. Finding some semblance of

calm, he injected the contents of the nearby syringe in to the pod port, and jammed a button. Now that things were started, his face became calm. He carefully watched the pod for any changes.

“Jin Tao, relax your body. No matter how bad this hurts, you have to stay conscious. You absolutely must stay awake through the whole process. You need to feel every change in your body. Only this way will you make sure the Fantascia Genetica’s effect reaches it’s full potential. Your teacher wanted me to tell you.. if you persevere, stick to it, you’ll come out a real man. Strong. A hero. If you don’t… well, then you’re doomed to life of mediocrity. A life where the disdain and disregard of others will follow you for the rest of your days. You understand what I’m saying?”

Jin Tao’s smile faded, disappeared. He forced himself to nod, displacing the gel around him.

A myriad of luminescent colors began to appear within the gel. The injection of the decoction wasn’t quick, but these spectral lights and colors quickly overtook the interior of the box.

At first, Jin Tao simply felt as though his body were going

slightly numb, a sensation that appeared to be coming from all directions and affecting every part of him. The way he was settled in the pod, however, ensured his breathing wasn’t affected.

Suddenly, in the next instant, he felt as though his very pores were sucking in oxygen from outside. It was a strange but wonderful sensation.

The sense of paralysis increased, slowly spreading throughout his form. As he looked on in shock, he noticed his body begin to quake and jerk uncontrollably. They were small at first, but as time went on they grew more and more severe. With it came the terrible sensation that he was being torn apart; his skin, his muscles, ripped away. From the inside out, it felt like he was being flayed alive.

But it wasn’t pain, necessarily. It felt more like, the forces of energy that made up his being were being separated.

He groaned, as he felt his body suddenly go stiff as a board. He remained so for several seconds, with the nourishing gel surrounding him quivering with each tremble of his form.

Looking on, Hua Li saw him undergo a change. Thin white hairs were sprouting all over him, sprouting from every pore. His twitching mouth revealed elongated canines fighting past his lips.

It was his innate ability, brought to the surface. Cynanthropy.

Through the external forces that assailed him, Jin Tao’s Discipline was reacting and manifesting on the surface. The fear was, with his abilities as weak as they were, could Jin Tao resist the dangers of the Western Alliance’s greatest genetic manipulator?

Hua Li was glued to the pod, watching Jin Tao carefully, his every move and jerk. He adhered to Lan Jue’s wishes, making this kid’s safety his primary concern. He was also quite clear on the risks and suffering involved in playing with one’s genetics. He himself was from the Western Alliance!

He could recall several times he’d witnessed the Fantascia Genetica decoction being used. Each time, the recipient was no less than a level five Talent. Jin Tao’s was no greater  than second level. More than just his discipline, it meant his physical endurance was also much weaker than was necessary. In the West, there was no way he would be permitted to use the

decoction. He didn’t have the strength, and failure meant terrible things.

But here he was, through virtue of some lucky star, given his chance at becoming great. Still the decoction would be given in three stages, and this was just the first. Indeed, his suffering would be great. His willpower would be the decided factor in victory or failure. If he failed he would have a nervous breakdown. All of his pain and efforts would be wasted. The priceless formula would be lost. All Hua Li could do was watch, and protect him from the worst of it.

The shaking became worse. His metamorphosis continued, and in the gel he became more and more dog-like. Streaks of blood escaped from his pores along with the dog hair.

However, despite what he was seeing, Hua Li was most surprised by what the instruments were telling him. Not only was this kid lucid, but he was taking the whole thing in stride! There were no dangerous fluctuations in his nervous pathways. On the contrary, there were hardly any fluctuations at all. This was indeed a very rare kind of willpower!

ζ

“Here at last.” Li Wei was one of the other gentlemen in Lan jue’s group. He plopped to the floor with a defeated sigh. He was done, any the end of the world wouldn’t get him standing again. He fished his canteen from his pack and took several long gulps. He looked set to fall to pieces.

Five kilometers through a rainforest and five kilometers in the outside world were entirely different things. The terrain was uneven, sometimes high sometimes low. Though Tan Lingyun was in the font clearing a path, it was no picnic for them either. Li Wei was just a normal guy, and without any background in physical fitness it felt like he’d just spent half his life in energy reserves.

Tan Lingyun and the two other mecha instructors had already begun pitching their tents. They’d chosen to set up their spots on the periphery, creating a triangle. The other teachers would camp within.

Professor Tan had chosen well. A small brook gurgled nearby, and after a brief examination it was determined they could drink freely from it. For now, this was to be there campsite.

Lan Jue was also busying himself with erecting his tent. To him, it was quite a fun and relaxing activity. It didn’t take long

for him to finish up, and once he threw his sleeping bag in there he’d be ready to rest.

“I’m off to look for dinner. You all stay here, don’t leave the triangle.” Standing before them with  her  machete,  Tan Longyun struck quite the commanding presence.

But before she left, something curious came over her. Without entirely knowing why, she jabbed her knife towards Lan Jue, who’d already finished with his tent. “You’re coming with.”

Chapter 134: Some Unknown Danger

“Me?” Lan Jue pointed a finger at his nose.

Tan Lingyun only grunted, then turned and started off. Lan Jue smiled wryly and followed.

Li Wei shuffled to Wang Hongyuan, who’d recently finished setting up his own tent, and grumbled towards him. “Professor Wang, you’re right. Is this a trip or some sort of  military survival training?”

Wang Hongyuan scowled. “This savage woman, she’ll probably never find a husband.”

Jin Yan furrowed her brow at the two men. “Don’t be so malicious. She’s a good woman! It’s just what happened years ago…”

ζ

Lan Jue followed close on Tan Lingyun’s heels as they made their way back in to the forests. The mecha instructor was in

the lead, her pace slow. Her eyes swept along the brush, in constant motion.

“You look like you’re in decent shape. Do you exercise?” She didn’t look at him as she asked her question, continuing her earnest surveillance.

“Yeah,” he replied. His response was brief, curt. He had no kindness prepared for this woman – the way she’d treated him earlier was unforgivable.

So Tan Lingyun just went on, talking to herself. “It’s strange. I don’t remember the wildlife on Taihua being this sparse. We’re five kilometers in and we haven’t seen anything.”

“You’ve been here before?”

She nodded. “I come every year. Hunting’s always permitted, the air is good, it’s relaxing. It’s a good way to reconnect with nature. By the way, what was your name? Flat-foot?”

Lan Jue considered silence, but went on. “Lan Jue. You can call me Professor Lan, or my full name if you must. You’ve

probably hated men your whole life, huh. Something must’ve happened.”

Tan Lingyun stopped, and spun suddenly to face him. She nearly speared Lan Jue to a tree with her cutting stare. “Shut. Your. Mouth.”

Lan Jue only smiled indifferently in the face of her anger. “If you’re so predisposed to hating guys, why’d you make me come along?”

Tan Lingyun hissed chillingly at him. “I needed a pack mule.
Stay here, and don’t move. I’ll take a look around.”

She hefted her machete, and stuck it in to the trunk of a nearby tree. She shut her eyes. After a moment, a faint green light began to emanate from her.

As the viridian halo expanded Lan Jue was surprised to discover that she had begun to completely blend in with her surroundings. Hm? What was this Discipline? Despite all Lan Jue’s experience, he couldn’t guess her Discipline at a glance. The dim light she was releasing was gentle, almost cozy. Her own aura vanished, and it seemed she was almost a tree or

shrub herself – not a woman at all.

It was no surprise she liked it here. It appeared her Discipline somehow had a connection with nature. Considering his unfortunate run-in with her before, perhaps physical power as well. So was it that power?

As Lan Jue was lost in his thoughts, Tan Lingyun’s eyes suddenly shot open. Shock shone brightly within them.

“They’re afraid!”

“Whose afraid?” Lan Jue asked, inquisitively.

“Everything.” Tan Lingyun’s voice had grown perceptibly softer. “All of them, all the plants here are afraid. At my level of cultivation I can feel the mood of every living thing within three thousand meters. There isn’t a single wild animal in that diameter, just plants. Not coming across any wildlife on our trip out here could be written off as a coincidence, but nothing in three kilometers? There’s something wrong. Quick, let’s head back.”

She grabbed Lan Jue, and the two raced back to the campsite.

Lan Jue felt an intense power coming from her hand, and suddenly he felt himself literally being dragged through the air. The physical power exuded from Tan Lingyun expanded and enveloped him within it, like a protective shield. Any plant or insect that was unfortunate enough to draw near was cast away in their wake. He feared even trees wouldn’t be able to stand against them.

This…

Lan Jue didn’t speak. But if he had to describe the situation, visually it was like flying a kite. He was the kite.

“Base, come in. This is NEU Group Seven Leader Tan Lingyun. There’s something strange going on, come in.” As Tan Lingyun dragged Lan Jue behind her, she called in to the communicator on her wrist.

“Hello Group Leader. What is it?” A calm voice answered.

She responded, her voice low. “We’re five kilometers in to the

forest. Trekking in we didn’t come across any wildlife. I used my discipline to search, and found nothing. There’s definitely something going on here, requested satellite survey immediately. We’re heading back to the encampment.”

“No wildlife? Alright, we’ll take a look. We’ll let the other groups know. Come on back. Be careful on the return trek. We’ll send out a reinforcement recon team, they’ll link up with the coordinates on your communicator.”

“Roger.”

Lan Jue was not enjoying being the kite. However he had to admire Tan Lingyun’s handling of the situation. She was certainly a competent mecha instructor. From the instant she discovered something wrong, her responses were clear, calculated and not in the least wasteful.

They had not gone out far, so by the time her report was finished they were already back at the campsite. Her hand shook, and Lan Jue tumbled to the floor. She called out to the others.

“Alright everyone we’re breaking camp and moving out now.

There’s something wrong out here. Drop all excess weight, we’re only bringing solid foods. Hurry it up!”

By this time all the tents had been constructed. The physically beat electives teachers were already resting within. Tan Lingyun’s sudden and vocal declaration took them all by surprise.

The other two mecha instructors rushed to her side. “Lingyun, what is it?”

“I don’t know yet. There isn’t any wildlife in these rainforests, I checked. The plants are also giving off a palpable fear. There must be some unknown danger. We have to rush back to base camp. And then immediately back to Skyfire. No delay.”

“How do you know this isn’t some guess or mistake on your part?” Wang Hongyuan glared at her, rising from the interior of his tent.

That withering gaze she wielded so well fell upon the dance instructor. “It is a guess. But it’s well-founded. We have to get out of here. As group leader I have to keep the safety of the

group as my first concern.”

“Professor Wang, I believe her. Let’s get out of here first, then we’ll see. I also feel like something isn’t right.” Lan Jue felt the need to interject.

Lan Jue’s sudden agreement was unexpected, and Tan Lingyun shot him a curious glance.

“You?!” Wang Hongyuan barked suddenly at him like a dog who’d had his tail trampled. “And what are you? Just some new face, fresh and worthless. Why don’t you just PISS. OFF!”

“Professor Wang! What are you saying?!” By this time Jin Yan had also left her tent and, seeing Wang Hongyuan address Lan Jue this way, couldn’t help but shout angrily at him.

The dance teacher only shot her a hateful glare, and stomped back in to his tent.

A dangerous glint flickered through Tan Lingyun’s eyes. She turned to speak to the two other female teachers. “Get them out of here. Now!” She didn’t wait for an answer, she was already

making for Wang Hongyuan’s tent. She flicked her wrist, the machete in her palm glinting ominously.

Rrrrip! A great tear appeared in the side of Wang Hongyuan’s tent.

“You bitch! I’ve tolerated you long enough!” The man’s tittery voice screeched from the entrance. Then, a figure emerged from newly created opening.

A clawed hand reached out, grabbing at the knife in Tan Lingyun’s hand.

“Wha-?” She cried out in surprise and retreated a step. She yanked her wrist to free it from his grip. Her left hand curled in to a fist, a punched at the origin of the hand.

The moment she threw that punch, Lan Jue felt a powerful wave of energy expanding outward from the attack.

Bang! A muffled thud preceded Wang Hongyuan unceremoniously tumbling from the tent. Tan Lingyun stood in the same spot, looking down at him. The only change in her was

five white marks on her knuckles.

The dance instructor was a sight different than normal, now. Long, sharp nails had extended from each of his fingertips. His face had grown pale, stretching longer and more slender than before. His effeminate aura was gone, replaced with an unsettling chill.

“An adept? Your power has a darkness to it…” Tan Lingyun’s features were confused, almost trembling, as she looked on his hideous face.

Wang Hongyuan’s voice had become higher still, screechy. “Tan Lingyun, you’re a powerful woman. I didn’t want to strike out at you. But the way you speak, the things you say, and this groundless assumption of danger to make us retreat. We’re here on vacation! Nothing else. If you want to leave, then go, but don’t drag us electives teachers behind you like mules! I have power enough to protect myself!”

Jin Yan was also shocked, looking at the change that had overcome Wang Hongyuan. She hadn’t realized that this man she came across every day, greeted in the office, and sat beside was in fact an adept. And a powerful one at that, it appeared.

The only one who didn’t appear surprised at the revelation was the man standing a few short meters away: Lan Jue.

They couldn’t see it, but how could he not recognize Wang Hongyuan’s hidden powers? Lan Jue’s own thunderbolt Discipline was in direct opposition to such dark powers. So, the moment he met Wang Hongyuan he felt the energies pulsing from him. Wang Hongyuan may not know about Lan Jue’s own powers, but the fact that they were opposed meant they were destined to dislike one another from the start.

Tan Lingyun dropped her arm. “Now that I know you’re an adept, that’s better. I don’t want to sit here and argue with you
– you’re right, we’re here on vacation. Still, safety has to be our primary concern. If in the end we find there indeed was no danger, I’ll happily accept whatever punishment the school sees fit to levy against me. But, right now, I am the group leader, and you must listen to me. We’re leaving right – now.”

“And if I don’t want to?” Wang Hongyuan challenged.

Chapter 135: The Violet Creature

Tan Lingyun laughed scornfully. “Men only care about face. If you can beat me, then you go ahead and be group leader.” Suddenly, without any further discussion she launched herself at Wang Hongyuan. Like a great bird of prey, she lashed out at the twisted man.

As her figure rose in to the air, that sensation of gathering energy returned anew. It surrounded her like the moments before an explosion.

Lan Jue’s conjectures were finally confirmed, and he knew her ability; Sapurnatural!

It was an exceedingly rare and equally special Discipline to possess. It allowed her to employ the energies of the environment around her – any environment – to augment her own physical abilities. Even in the vacuum of space she’d be able to draw the radiation of the universe in to herself, making her stronger. It meant no matter where she found herself in a fight, she was ready to manipulate the environment to her advantage. She was never not on home turf.

This was the first time Lan Jue had encountered someone

with a real Supernatural Discipline. He’d heard that, fifty years ago, there once was a Paragon with such an ability. Though he eventually suffered his own downfall, in his prime he was among the most powerful people to ever live.

This ability of hers explained how she was able to communicate with the land around her, to feel the fear she claimed the plants were feeling. Hers was clearly a very powerful ability. She had spread her power out through the environment, becoming one with it. So it wasn’t merely her, but everything around them, that gave her such capabilities.

Wang Hongyuan stood directly in the face of her onslaught, unmoving. He spread his arms, and two large black wings extended from his back. They beat once, and suddenly he was at Tan Lingyun’s side. His clawed hands reached for her shoulders.

This was a conflict, but his attacks were measured. He wasn’t aiming to kill her. Tan Lingyun was surprised at the sudden shift, her reaction slow. Just slow enough for Wang Hongyuan to get her in his grasp.

The man’s pride was suddenly upset when he got the sudden sensation he was holding some indestructible metal thing. As his hands found their mark, Tan Lingyun’s shoulder reversed,

slamming directly in to his chest.

His reaction was swift, dropping his chest and collapsing his abdomen. The wings at his back beat furiously. He looked for a moment as though he were flying upside down, but in fact it was just the speed of his retreat that caused the illusion. It wasn’t a solid hit, but he still felt the spasm in the pit of his stomach.

Sure enough, this was the power of the Savage Goddess. Wang Hongyuan felt a tremor of fear snake through him. He knew he was no weak thing, but the abilities this woman possessed were far beyond his own.

Tan Lingyun grunted. She reached a hand out towards him, her fist squeezing in the air. Wang Hongyuan felt, moments later, as though the very space around him was condensing. The speed he took so much pride in was being sapped away.

The Savage Goddess took a deep breath. The fresh green aura that surrounded her bloomed to life in a dazzling display, As it did, it congealed at her back to reveal an enormous viridian phantasm. The towering beast raised it’s hand, and sent it crashing down towards the black-winged electives instructor.

Boooom!

Lan Jue unconsciously winced, shutting his eyes. It was like Wang Hongyuan was little more than a fly, smooshed by a giant invisible swatter. He crumpled to the ground.

The green light around her faded. She turned her head to look at the rest of them. “Anyone else want to give it a shot?”

Not a peep.

Tan Lingyun’s growling voice continued. “We are leaving. Now. Back to base camp.” She gave no further room for argument. Jin Yan yelped as their  group  leader unceremoniously threw her over her shoulder. The two other electives teachers were then caught in her grip, one hand for each. Just like that, she was off at a good pace.

The two other mecha instructors hastened to follow. Lan Jue took one look at Wang Hongyuan, then followed their lead.

“Professor Tan, what are we going to do about Professor Wang?” Jin Yan asked, bouncing against Tan Lingyun’s back.

“Relax,” she said, “He’s a stubborn one. He’ll be fine. He’ll be coming along shortly I’m sure.”

Lan Jue remained in the back. Secretly he harbored criticisms, for although Wang Hongyuan’s vampiric discipline was indeed one hard to kill, that slap he’d received definitely wasn’t gentle! Poor guy…

Not along after the others left – a few minutes perhaps – Wang Hongyuan finally managed to pull himself up. The  ground below him was actually indented with an outline of his body.

So recently devastated by his opponent, the pride and arrogance had left the man’s eyes. It was replaced with a clear sense of anxiety, doubt.

“An eighth ranked Talent? That woman’s actually that strong?”

He ground his teeth. With a few beats of his leathery wings, he was off chasing after the others.

ζ

A great, earth-shaking boom tore across the horizon, not long after Lan Jue and his party had begun their escape.

Hooooouuhhmm! From the depths of the rainforest, a blinding red light arose. Within it was an oval, a massive scarlet cocoon. Where it made landfall, the area around it has also turned a strange sort of violet. An unhealthy-looking fog of similar color snaked close to the ground.

A small animal, some strange nameless beast, made it’s way over from a distance. In the grips of curiosity it stumbled in to the mist, but the moment the strange tendrils touched it, it’s hair began to fall out. Then skin, muscle, organs, and finally bones. It dissolved in to a primordial ooze. With the creatures death a faint red light wafted from it, which was drawn in to the nearby cocoon and vanished.

Brrrrmmm! A low growl emitted from the strange object. The cocoon swelled larger, reaching outward, then returned to normal.

Pffftt. The ratting release of air followed, and then a blade- thin object jabbed out from within it. As the egg was pierced, a flood of thick violet fluid was excreted.

Again and again the oval was pierced, shredded, as though some enormous beast was trying to cut it’s way free.

Scenes very similar to this one were occurring throughout Taihua’s pristine rainforests.

Lan Jue ran after the group ahead of him. But as he did, a strange sensation came over him and he lifted his eyes to the sky. The dense vegetation cover made it indistinct, but it was clear that somehow in the last few moments the sky had grown dark. An ethereal grey hue crept across the planet.

Tan Lingyun’s judgments were correct. There was definitely something happening here.

Lan Jue deliberately began to slow his pace, falling back from the others. He raised his left hand, and pointed the shimmering green ring on his pinky fingers towards the forest. The green light within shot out in to the leafy depths.

“What’s up with you, out of strength?” Tan Lingyun had turned around to call back at him.

“Huh? No, I’m fine. Coming.” Lan Jue quickly shouted back, and picked up the pace.

Eeee! Eeee! Eeee! Just then, the ear-splitting screeches of an alarm were issued from the communicators of each teacher’s wrist.

“Red alert, red alert. Taihua has come under attack from an unidentified source. All tourists make your way to the quickest base camp as quickly as possible. Repeat, red alert…”

The alarm confirmed, without a doubt, Tan Lingyun’s suspicions. The two electives teachers who’s earlier struggled to keep up found no such troubles now. As they raced along, panic was written clear as day on their faces.

ζ

Aaaaaahhh! A shrill cry suddenly filled the air. The sound caused Wu Junyi’s face to slacken.

He dropped in to a slight crouch, then sprung in to the air. He effortlessly soared a dozen meters before pulling himself against

the top of a towering tree.

He saw the scene unfold, not far away. A scowl carved lines in his face.

An enormous creature stood in the forests. It’s violet figure was perhaps ten meters tall, with three heads and six razor- sharp wings. It stood on four enormous, sturdy legs. It’s abdomen was a layered field of magenta, alternating in intensity. It’s torso was triangular, and from the sides six great arms like a mantis’ claws swept at the air like vicious scythes. The articulated pincers were each seven meters long, and as Wu Junyi looked on, the beast cleared a ten meters area of land around it with them. The giant, sturdy trees were felled like butter before a warm knife.

More unsettling than it’s appearance was the mist that was expelled from it. The violet wisps changed everything it came in to contact with, tinting them that same sickly color. Any plant or animal that came in to contact with it immediately withered and died. Whatever it was, the mist devoured whatever life it touched. From where he watched, Director Wu could see a figure, human, lying on the ground as the mist crept over. A teacher, and before his eyes they melted away under the noxious cloud.

“Bastard!” Wu Junyi shouted at the monstrous thing in a rage. His curled fists rose nearly of their own accord and beat against his chest. He brazenly roared, and leapt from the tree.

Wu Junyi’s normally unimpressive stature swelled as he soared towards the beast. His clothes split and fell away, and before long the teaching director had become a towering, six- meter tall baboon.

His entire body was covered in a dark copper light, and each hair stood on end. His arms were particularly strong, and they reached out as he shot like a cannonball towards the creature.

“Go, hurry! Get back to camp and board the plane!” Wu Junyi’s thunderous voice echoed across the rainforests. Nearby instructors almost tumbled over themselves to flee.

Roughly half of the teachers who’d arrived for the trip taught electives. Most possessed no real combat abilities. And though the others were mecha instructors, naturally none brought mechas with them on vacation!

Now, all they could do was run around like headless chickens.

The mantis-like monstrosity spied Wu Junyi barreling towards it through the air. It’s six razor-like appendages lashed out at him.

“Raaaaaggghh!!” The enormous baboon howled threateningly, bashing his fists against his chest. As he careened nearer, a dull golden light fired out from him. As it crashed against the beast’s pincers, they were cast away. Unimpeded, Wu Junyi headed straight for the monster’s three hideous heads.

But the mantis-beast was surprisingly nimble, it’s four legs strong. It sidestepped and avoiding the attack.

Boom! Wu Junyi crashed to the ground instead. His two strong legs carved deep trenches where he made landfall.

Clank, chink, screech! A series of metallic squeals arose. The beast had made a move of it’s own, and was swiping murderously at Wu Junyi’s back.

Chapter 136: Thor’s Watch

Under the mantis-creature’s assault, Director Wu did not react. In truth his own powers were far and away a match for the beast. Strike after strike from it’s scythe-like arms left no trace on the baboon’s body.

Without looking back, Wu Junyi’s powerful legs grew taught, then launched him backwards against his attacker.

Crack! Snap! Two of the mantis-creature’s six arms broke and fell away. It reeled back, tumbling away from the impact.

King Kong, a baboon metamorphosis. This was Wu Junyi’s Discipline. Director of the Teaching Department, and eight ranked Talent. He was among the best Adepts the school possessed.

One rippling arm supported him against the ground, pushing him up to somersault back in to action. In the blink of an eye he was striking once again at the monstrous intruder. It was startled by his ferocity, but it’s reaction was quick nonetheless. Fending off the great baboon, six great wings unfurled from it’s back and pushed it into the air.

Wu Junyi scowled at the unpleasant discovery. The damn thing could fly! Already he could feel a sort of numbness creeping up through his body, a result of the strange violet mist the monster was releasing. Whatever it was, it was clearly intensely toxic. For the moment, he was able to mostly isolate the poisons from affecting him, but it’s effects would grow stronger the more of his discipline he expended.

The King Kong Baboon couldn’t fly, but this didn’t mean he was out of options against flying opponents. Wu Junyi had spent decades cultivating and understanding his powers. Both his strengths and weaknesses – and how to overcome them – were very clear to him.

“Aaaagghhoooo!” He roared towards the heavens, spreading his arms wide and baring his chest. Suddenly, he twisted back, preparing for something. In the same instant, a dim golden orb congealed in his left palm. He twisted back around ,and flung the shimmering projectile like a canon ball.

The mantis-creature had suffered significantly already under Wu Junyi’s attacks. Though it was held aloft by it’s wings, the injuries it had sustained made maneuvering more difficult. It couldn’t get out of the way fast enough, and the golden orb collided in a direct hit.

Booommmm! The rumbling thunder of impact echoed through the forests. The monster fell to ground, reduced to countless smoldering pieces.

Wu Junyi did not stop to bask in victory. Immediately he was racing towards his teachers. There was no way of knowing how many of the things were still out there. He had to protect his people.

He had made relatively quick work of it, but still a haze of anxiety and depression filled him. There were forty teachers, separated in to various groups. Luckily his own had him to protect them, but what of the others? Lingyun’s group may be fine, but the other three…

ζ

Tan Lingyun raced ahead of the others at break-neck speed. As she did, her perception was expanded outward to read the changes in the environment. She couldn’t stop for the quiet necessary to feel vast distances, but her Supernatural Discipline allowed her to maintain a five hundred meter diameter around them without issue.

Suddenly, somewhere to her right, she sensed the appearance of a fierce and violent thing. It moved with incomparable speed. Just as she was preparing to react, however, the presence vanished as quickly as it had come. She was decidedly unsettled by the situation. But, she didn’t stop, couldn’t stop – she just kept going.

ζ

Overhead, a gigantic blue figure raced by like a bolt of lightning, a dangerous-looking spear in hand. It was racing towards another monstrous violet beast. This  one  was  more akin to a scorpion. It was perhaps fifty meters long, but facing the mighty blue figure it might as well have been an toy. The stench of something burning wafted from the creature’s body. Like the other, a purplish-red mist oozed from it, killing the surrounding wildlife. But it simply  snaked  around  the enormous newcomer, having no effect.

Suddenly that bolt-like blue spear was in flight, cutting a deadly path towards the scorpion, then pinning it to the ground. As it did, the blue figure was in motion. A dazzling, dangerous blue light shone from it’s head to fan out in a semi- circle. A moment later, it vanished like a bolt of lightning in to the distance.

ζ

Lan Jue followed close behind Tan Lingyun, his brows furrowed. Flickering bolts of electricity raced just behind his eyes.

It was Thor who tore through the heavens around them, called forth by Lan Jue through Thor’s Promise. The ring allowed him to communicate with his mecha, not unlike the spirit-caller gem he used with Qianlin. Everything the suit saw, Lan Jue did too. He could see the horrendous things, and the damage they were dealing.

Like Junyi, his priority was the safe evacuation of all those on the planet. He made sure Thor was there to watch, and protect.

Luckily they hadn’t entered too deep in to the rainforests before things went south. In fact, Tan Lingyun’s group had been the one to venture farthest in. The various teachers were still relatively fresh, so their retreat was a speedy one.

“We made it!” The base camp spread out before them. Finally, the slightest sense of relief crept in to Tan Lingyun’s heart. They rushed forward towards it, and spied a host of uniformed

soldiers rushing to the forests around them. They each carried laser weapons, and spread out to face the encroaching threat.

“You all don’t have any heavier artillery?” Lan Jue grabbed a passing soldier to ask.

“No, the soldier responded with a wry smile, “the environmental restrictions mean no artillery emplacements. We’re restricted from using any high-yield weaponry here. Machinery, too, like mechas. All we got is what we can carry.”

“Then don’t go rushing out on a fool’s errand,” Lan Jue said, “Whatever the hell these things are, they’re strong. You’ll need mechas if you want to stand a chance at wiping them out. Just pull everyone back.”

The soldier reacted with a hard stare. “Our obligation is the safety of the public. There are still many tourists who haven’t made it back. It’s our job to go out and protect them.” With that, the soldier raced in to the jungle. However, a few feet in to the dense overgrowth he stopped. He turned back towards Lan Jue.

“Hey guy… thanks for the concern. I hope we have an

opportunity to meet again.”

With that, he snapped to attention, and raced off in to the jungle.

Lan Jue’s eyes followed him as he disappeared in to the trees. This was the quality of the East’s soldiers. They were full of pride, almost arrogance, but an arrogance born of their life of service. Their pride was worthy of respect.

“Hurry, get on the ship!” The commanding voice brought him back to the present. He was suddenly wrenched around by a powerful hand. The scenery around him went lopsided, pulled through the air by Tan Lingyun until they arrived at the ship’s loading doors.

“Hurry up, no wasting time. Get on the plane and wait for evac.” Tan Lingyun’s pretty face was hard and serious. She released Lan Jue from her grip, then raced off to find more teachers.

“Professor Lan, hurry and get on.” Jin Tan’s timid voice called from behind him. Lan Jue turned to see her already on board, urgently waving for him to follow.

Lan Jue took a deep breath. He watched the teachers racing towards the ship, then decided to board as well. The interior of their transport was nearly as chaotic as the outside. Nearly a dozen teachers had already arrived, They panted and stammered about what was happening outside.

Lan Jue returned to the seat that took him here. He shut his eyes, reaching his consciousness out to Thor.

Thor’s advantage lied largely with it’s speed. It’s power and rapid response ensured that most of the NEU’s teachers returned, more scared than hurt. In around twenty minutes, more or less all of the remaining teachers had found their way back.

But Lan Jue could see others, tourists from other parts of the East who’d come to sample Taihua’s beauty. There were ten other sites like their own encampment, with perhaps a hundred other ships parked about. That meant there could be another ninety thousand tourists still running for their lives.

Worse, from Thor’s vantage, that ominous magenta coloration had spread to cover almost the entire planet.

It was a disaster… not just for the Eastern Alliance, but a true catastrophe for all of mankind.

“Our obligation is the safety of the public.” The soldier’s words – likely his last – rang in his ears. He looked like he was young, in his early twenties perhaps. There was a resolution in his smile. He had been calm, and arrogant, as he ran headlong to his death.

Obligation!

Lan Jue’s eyes shot open. Fixed in determination, he shot to his feet and made for the door. As he reached the exit, a clearly dumbfounded Wang Hongyuan was just boarding.

“Where are you going?” He looked at Lan Jue in a shocked curiosity.

“To help,” he replied softly.

“To help? And just how can you help?” The dance instructor’s voice was thick with scorn.

Lan Jue stepped out of the way and let him enter. “However I can. There are still many, many people who haven’t returned.”

He didn’t wait for any more of Wang Hongyuan’s doubts, and ran towards the forests.

The haughty man watched him go. He shook his head as a strange feeling overcame him. Is this guy crazy? He thought. He’s actually running in to the forest. What the hell is he going to do?

And yet he didn’t move, fixed at the cabin entrance. He watched as Lan Jue slowly disappeared in to the distance.

He’s for real… not just for show? He was genuinely surprised. In a flash, he was racing down the steps and after the etiquette instructor.

“Where are you going?” The hard voice shouted at him from nearby. He slid to a stop and turned a dark glare towards Tan Lingyun. “You’ve done enough! This is not the time for your nonsense. Professor Lan just ran off in to the forest, going to help more people. I’m going to make sure he doesn’t get himself killed.”

“What?!” Tan Lingyun stamped her foot in anger. “Who the hell does that waste of space think he can help? All he’s doing is bringing trouble by not staying on the ship like instructed! Don’t just stand there, go drag his ass back here!”

Wang Hongyuan grunted. He was off again, following Lan Jue’s footsteps in to the rainforests.

Tan Lingyun wasted no further time in speculation over these events. She was off in another direction. There were others to bring back.

Gradually the remaining teachers were gathered together, returning with Wu Junyi. Upon seeing Tan Lingyun, he stopped her. “What’s going on,” he said, “what state is your group in?”

Chapter 137: Peace of mind

Tan Lingyun spat her report. “They’re all back. All but that Lan Jue. I don’t know what his problem was, he said he wanted to help and ran out in to the forest. I sent Wang Hongyuan after him. Oh, right – and it turns out our dance instructor is a powerful adept. His discipline is vampirism and darkness. Around level seven. I don’t think he’ll have any problems.”

“Alright. Get on the ship, do a headcount. When we’re all together we’re on the move. We need to get the hell out of here. Suddenly this place is crawling with monsters. It’s unclear where they came from, but they release some sort of poison that eats away at everything it touches. The one I encountered was comparable to a level six adept.

“Got it.” Tan Lingyun nodded and made her way in to the cabin. She busied herself with settling the teachers and counting how many remained.

Ten minutes later Wu Junyi joined them.

“Lingyun, how many?” He asked the mecha instructor.

“Including the two of us,” she said, “thirty seven. Three are missing. Wang Hongyuan and Lan Jue aren’t back yet. There’s only one entirety unaccounted for.”

Wu Junyi’s eyes were heavy with regret. “That teacher’s dead, killed by the monster’s poison. Now we’re just waiting for the other two to get back. Have you tried their communicators?”

Tan Lingyun growled angrily. “These two morons. Their coms are turned off. I haven’t been able to reach them.”

Wu Junyi felt his heart tighten. “We’re out of time. Just now I spotted another one of those things headed our way. Get the flight crew to prep lift-off. I’ll go get those two, and you bring the rest back to Skyfire.” He nearly leapt from the cabin entrance to go search for the others.

“Director, wait a moment,” Tan Lingyun called after him.

“Huh?” He stopped and turns his head back to look at her. Suddenly the world was spinning, and when he got his bearings, he was smashing against the interior cabin wall.

“I’m sorry, Director. When I get back you can expect my formal apology. But those two belonged to my group, and I’m responsible for their safety. Hurry and bring the others safely back home.” Her voice grew quiet with every word, as she shouted back at him while running towards the tree line.

“This damn woman!” Wu Junyi was livid, but there was no time to chase after her and argue. Standing at the cabin hatch he could see that magenta light creeping upon the horizon.

He looked back at the teachers behind him; scared, tired, and still in danger. He stomped a foot in impotent anger. “Close the doors! We’re getting out of here.”

Wu Junyi was the Teaching Director. He cared for each of his teachers, but he had to keep the health and safety of the majority in mind. Right now, he had no other choice: Getting most of his employees to safety was the other thing he could do.

ζ

Lan Jue tore through the forests. Flickering bolts of electricity snaked just behind his eyes. Thor’s Promise glowed upon the pinky finger of his left hand, calling out to the massive mecha.

Lan Jue’s condition meant he had to rely on his control over Thor. That would be his greatest chance  at  combat effectiveness. Even now, the sapphire mecha was defending a group of tourists from two alien beasts. It would be a moment before it could come fetch it’s master.

“You idiot, head back to the ship! What do you think you can do for these people?” The angry voice shouted at him from behind. Someone grabbed the collar of his shirt.

“Let go! You’ve already got enough enemies, don’t give me a reason to kick your ass,” Lan Jue snarled.

“You, beat me?” Wang Hongyuan only laughed. “You have your own problems too. Ever since you got here Jin Yan hasn’t given me the time of day. It’s I who should beat the piss out of you.”

Wang Hongyuan stopped when he felt his grasping hand suddenly go numb. Before him Lan Jue’s body became indistinct, then vanished. He reappeared five meters away.

“You’re an adept?” Wang Hongyuan stared at him in surprise.

How could he not be? Ever since Lan Jue had arrived at the college Wang Hongyuan had been furtively watching him. But in the time since he’d felt no evidence of Discipline from him. He assumed he was just a normal man. Only now, in this moment, was his power revealed. For him to be capable  of hiding his abilities for so long – not only from Wang Hongyuan but from everyone… he didn’t know what it meant.

There were only two possibilities. Perhaps Lan jue’s Discipline was specifically tailored towards concealment. Or, perhaps, he was that much stronger than Wang Hongyuan himself.

Lan Jue regarded him calmly, and spoke in a quiet voice. “Please return to the ship, Professor Wang. I have no interest in Professor Jin, just a normal working relationship. How you feel about her is your business, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t vent your anger on me in the future. Right now Taihua is experiencing a crisis, and I can’t in good conscience turn tail and flee. I need to go and help those who are still in danger. When you do return, I ask that you keep my secret.”

He truly did not like Wang Hongyuan in the least, but whatever the man’s attitude towards him he’d chased after Lan Jue to ensure his safety. When it came to making the right moral decision, Professor Wang had made the proper choice. His estimation of the man had risen considerably as a result.

“What can you, one person, do?” Wang Hongyuan shot back, anger written on his face.

Lan Jue smiled at him in reply. “Sometimes a single person’s power simply isn’t enough. But if we all thought that way, we’d only ever be able to suffer problems – not rise against them. I don’t know how much I can accomplish, but by doing what I can at least I wont have any regrets. Peace of mind.”

Lan Jue rose in to the air, surrounded by electrical flashes of light. They flickered, and suddenly he was soaring towards the recesses of the forest.

Wang Hongyuan stood frozen, staring blankly at the space where the man had been. Lan Jue’s words fought through his stubborn head, and suddenly he stomped a foot. A strange red light crept up through his eyes. His right hand rose, and fished a necklace out from within his collar. He yanked viciously, snapping the chain.

He slowly stretched out his hand, and revealed the pendent therein. More accurately, it was a ring – silver, with a blood red gemstone set within it. It was no ruby, for as he watched it pulsed with a gentle red light.

Wang Hongyuan solemnly slipped the ring onto the index finger of his left hand. He lifted his arm high overhead.

A column of red light burst towards the heavens, and where it passed space seemed to ripple. Lan Jue, not far off, felt the powerful wave bloom behind him. He turned his face back in surprise in time to see the beam fire off in to space.

As he watched, a sanguine-colored figure slowly appeared from the light, growing to enormous proportions.

A mecha, it’s body a shimmering blood red, rose perhaps eighteen meters in to the sky. It was slender, and from it’s back flowed a scarlet cloak. It fluttered with the wind, composed of some unknown material that flowed like a waterfall of blood. The whole thing emitted a cocoon of crimson light.

The sanguine mecha was joined with two black halos. They were seamless, and where the mecha stood it was as though they sucked the surrounding light within them. It made everywhere the machine passed appreciably darker.

A beam of red light shown down on it from the heavens. Within it, his bat-like wings beating against the wind, Lan Jue

spied Wang Hongyuan making his way towards the mecha’s open cockpit.

An emperor-class mecha?

Lan Jue knew instinctively the class of mecha by virtue of his experience. What he did not expect was that Wang Hongyuan was actually capable of piloting one. It meant he, too, was likely emperor-ranked.

“You aren’t the only one who can display gallantry,” Wan Hongyuan muttered. His voice sounded like it was right by Lan Jue’s ear, carried by a beam of red light.

A small smile spread across the contours of Lan Jue’s face. He stretched out his right hand, giving the distant mecha a big thumbs up. “A true man, Professor Wang.”

“You’re still looking to get thrashed?” Wang Hongyuan shot back, indignant. “Hurry up. If you want to help stop wasting time talking nonsense. It looks like mine is the only mecha on this planet anyway…”

As the final syllable left his lips, the red mecha shuddered to life and lifted it’s head. A dazzling blue light met it’s assertions with a thunderous boom, crashing to the floor not thirty meters from where Wang Hongyuan stood.

“Two mechas.” Lan Jue’s smile turned in to a self-satisfied smirk. An azure blue light burst from the center of Thor’s chest and enveloped Lan Jue.

Wang Hongyuan only saw the polished blue surface undulate somewhat, then both Lan Jue and that beam were gone.

The guy actually brought a mecha also? And using space technology power gems. This mecha…

Wang Hongyuan was rather proud of his own mecha, Idoloclast. But his own thin, eighteen-meter mecha looked minute next to the twenty-two meter beast beside it.

Bolts of undulating lightning snaked up Thor’s conductive surface. It’s very presence was almost stiflingly oppressive. Waves of powerful energy came and went from it like the tide. The world around it seemed to warp from the unstable energies it released.

This… this can’t be…

Wang Hongyuan stared slackjawed at the towering Thor.

“Professor Wang, let’s get going. No time to waste. Follow me!” Lan jue’s powerful voice echoed forth from Thor. In a flash of light, the sapphire mecha was barreling in to the distance.

Wang Hongyuan was nearly struck dumb in amazement, but he did as instructed and urged Idoloclast in to flight.

“Incoming communication.” The mecha’s A.I. filled Idoloclast’s cockpit, and Wang Hongyuan answered.

Chapter 138: Army Of Two

“It looks like you’ve been hiding a lot from us, Professor Wang! We had an emperor-class mecha pilot teaching dance at our school, right under our noses. Who’d have imagined.” Lan Jue’s easy, flippant face appeared in Idoloclast’s cockpit.

Wang Hongyuan’s response was less friendly. “And you’ve been totally forthcoming? At any rate I’m teaching something that actually has some use, something I can’t say for your ‘etiquette’ class. And this mecha, what, god-class?”

Lan Jue chortled. “You make it tough to like you, but no matter what if we can bring things in line here I’ll count you as a friend. Let’s move out!” As he said so, a sweeping blue light shot out from Thor’s head in to the distance.

“Acquiring radar detection information.” A metallic  voice once more called to Wang Hongyuan. He immediately began the data download.

The main screen flashed to life with the wide-area probe results. The situation as it was, Wang Hongyuan couldn’t spare the time to keep marveling at Thor’s capabilities, though they weren’t lost on him. He focused on the numerous magenta spots

that dotted the screen. How many were there? At least a thousand, according to Thor’s long-range scanners.

“Don’t separate farther than one kilometer. If we want to help others, we have to make sure to protect ourselves first.” Lan Jue’s easy voice had turned serious by this point. Suddenly, Thor was off like a lightning bolt towards the nearest target.

“Got it.” Idoloclast was then hot on Thor’s heels. His mecha had been built to mirror his own abilities, so speed was it’s forte. With a flash it was racing through the sky towards another nearby enemy.

ζ

A small team of tourists were racing through the forests, and between them were rifle-toting soldiers firing wildly in to the trees. A seven-meter long monstrosity oozing that caustic mist bounded after them.

This particular beast could be likened to a toad. A giant, murderous toad. Numerous purple spines ridged it’s back, and the path behind them was littered with soldiers who’d been impaled by the barbs – which could be fired off like projectiles.

There their corpses would remain, pinned to the forest floor.

“Go, go!” A sublieutenant hollered at the others, urging them to make their retreat. Of his eight remaining soldiers, three were burdened with civilians slung over their back, slowing them down. One child and two women.

“Laosan, Qianzi, come with me and bring up the rear. Everyone else keep it moving.” The commander glared at the beast as it drew nearer. His jaw tightened.

“Sir, let me stay behind.” A young man, looking a week out of puberty called out to volunteer.

“Stop talking nonsense. Get out of here. That’s an order.” The lieutenant shoved at him with the butt of his rifle, causing the young man to stagger backwards. Then, he smiled at him, flashing a set of white teeth.

With that he turned, and scrambled up a tree. He clambered to the lower branches and pulled the laser rifle from his shoulder. Slowly, calmly, he aimed towards he approaching beast.

Just then, a dazzling bolt of blue light came crashing to earth, followed by a peal of thunder. The toad-monster felt it, and turned to look. It hopped around, opened it’s massive mouth and belched. A violet photosphere shot from it’s maw towards the light.

A dispassionate grunt sounded from the light, and then it vanished. For a moment, it was as though time stood still. Then, not far away, there came a violent howl like an oncoming train.

Boooom!

A column of sapphire light barreled through the forest and completely devoured the toad. The ensuing blast of air nearly knocked the lieutenant from his tree.

He winced against the blast then looked again. A tall, dazzling mecha stood where there hadn’t been one before. The verdant green trees rustled around it’s imposing, azure figure. It was an image that would forever be imprinted on the soldier’s heart.

“Mecha? What’s a mecha doing here?” The other two soldiers standing rear guard couldn’t help but shout out in surprise.

It took a moment for the lieutenant to regain some semblance of stability. His own eyes watched with joy and excitement at the new circumstance. He didn’t care where the thing had come from, because it had come just in time to save all their lives. Whoever they were he knew they’d help, because only a human could command a mecha. He knew this majestic machine was going to help them get out alive.

The surrounding vegetation had been pulverized, like it’d be hit with a road roller. The devastation stopped just before the three soldiers.

“Lieutenant, what is the current status of Taihua, I need information.” The commanding voice wafted towards them from the mecha.

“It’s damn good you came, pilot!” The team leader scrambled to his feet on the tree limb and snapped a salute.

“According to our most recent satellite images, a large host of unidentified creatures have landed all over Taihua. They’re hostile, and ooze some sort of corrosive mist that kills everything it touches. Plant or animal, nothing lives once one of these things gets to you. The area we’re in now has a higher concentration. If you can, help defend the closest encampment.

We need their airship to get the survivors out of here.”

“Alright, got it. You three make for evac.” The mecha was off again, like a bolt towards the sky and off in search of it’s next objective.

Were one to look on from overhead, they would see two figures dancing through the sky; a shimmering blue gem, and a crimson red shadow. They raced through the forests, and where they landed another magenta monster was exterminated.

“These things are strong, but nothing we can’t handle, Professor Lan. But there seems to be more and more of them cropping up. At this rate the encampment will be surrounded before long.”

“You’re right, they just keep coming. How’s your mecha’s energy capacitors?”

“Sixty-one percent. No problem for the moment.”

“Alright, then we keep fighting. Make sure not to get that mist on your machine.”

“Got it.”

“Rooooaaggh!” Their exchange was interrupted when an earth-rumbling howl filled the air around them. Thor turned towards the origin of the sound. What Lan Jue saw made his pupils contract.

Another monster stood among the trees. Or, more accurately, far above them, for this one rose a hundred meters in to the air. It looked almost prehistoric, a Tyrannosaurus. But there were differences, like the dozen or so hideous eyes that dotted it’s head. It’s body looked like it was slapped together with chunks of rotten meat. Like the others, this one released an intensely thick violet mist. With it’s heaven-shaking roar, more of the caustic fumes had been spat forth. In the blink of an eye everything within five hundred meters of the beast turned dark and rotted away.

Wang Hongyuan slammed a fist against the control panel. “I just finished saying there wasn’t anything to worry about, and then this thing shows up!”

“Leave this one to me,” Lan Jue replied. “Keep the encampment safe.” With that Thor launched itself high in to the air.

Coiling bolts of electricity surrounded Thor, filling the sky with flashes of azure light. Lan Jue’s own eyes flickered with electrical power. The previous engagements had relied entirely on Thor’s own A.I. combat parameters, but the energy fluctuations he sensed from  this  monstrosity  far  outstripped any of the beasts they’d faced so far. Lan Jue knew it was time to employ his own Discipline, and released it in to the mecha. Like this, Thor would be at peak effectiveness.

A dull pain throbbed within Lan Jue, but it wasn’t more than he could stand. Thor’s right arm rose.

White light mixed with blue, coagulating in to a  familiar shape. A crackling bolt-shaped spear appeared in the mecha’s hand. Thor pointed towards it’s target, and  the  twenty-two meter tall mecha began to descend. As it tore through the air, gaining speed, twisting trails of light followed.

The behemoth certainly noticed Thor’s approach. It roared at the blue spec, and the dozen eyes on it’s head flashed with power. Twelve magenta bolts of energy fired from them, colliding with the flashing sapphire beam.

A violent blast shook the treetops as the powers clashed. A corona of light and wind roiled in the air overhead. Thor’s

figure flashed, appearing outside the blast radius. The behemoth’s body began to shake

Lan Jue had seen the beast in it’s entirety, saw the massive tail it was dragging behind it. It supported it’s massive girth with six thick legs, and four clawed arms sprouted from it’s torso. From it’s back, hundred meter long wings began to spread outward. They beat furiously against the air, yanking the monstrous thing upward.

Thor remained still, hovering in the air. As the behemoth started to rise, a blue light shone from deep within the mecha. Threads of sapphire light emanated outward and wormed themselves around it.

Lan Jue’s own body radiated a powerful electric light. Since his battle against Archangel Michael, this was the first step in his battle plan. Thankfully, with Hua Li’s help, he’d already recovered to perhaps fifty percent. If not, he doubted he’d able to command his mecha, much less this level of power.

It wasn’t long before the entire mecha was covered in flashing electric light. From a distance, it must have looked like it was carved entirely of sapphire. On it’s back a golden thunderbolt shone. Overhead the sky grew black and heavy with clouds,

pregnant with roaring bolts of lightning.

“Ugh!” Lan Jue coughed suddenly, splattering the cockpit with blood. Commanding this level of Thor’s power, manipulating weather phenomena… under normal conditions these weren’t easy tasks, but they were much more dangerous considering his injured state.

Bolt after bolt of electricity crashed down from the clouds, striking Thor. The mecha was like a lightning rod, devouring the electric powers as they covered it.

“Damn! Is this guy totally insane?” Wang Hongyuan stared in disbelief at the scene unfolding in the sky above him. The pride he’d felt earlier for Idoloclast seemed a whole lot less in this moment.

Chapter 139: A Forest Of Lightning!

This guy’s actually able to manipulate the weather to amplify his mecha. What kind of strength does that require?! Could that… does it mean he’s really a ninth level Talent?

It wasn’t only Wang Hongyuan who was affected by the sight. The massive creature, too, was aware of what it faced. Still the vicious monstrosity fearlessly beat it’s wings until, with some effort, it lifted free from the ground. It roared madly at Thor, vomiting a beam of violet energy towards it.

But before the beam could pierce Thor, it scattered and dissolves upon contact with the flashing lightning that surrounded it. Thor was entirely unfazed. In the interim before the beam struck, Thor had changed from a dazzling blue to a blinding gold. Squinting through the blazing light one could see the mecha was blanketed in tightly compacted golden lightning bolts.

“Die!” Lan Jue shouted back at the roaring behemoth, and Thor met the impromptu battle-cry with a forward charge. From where Wang Hongyuan watched, he could see the spear of golden light crashing earthbound. It’s glow covering everything within dozens of square kilometers.

The behemoth hadn’t risen a thousand metes above ground before it lurched to a stop. It’s skin began to split, and from somewhere within it’s rotten body rays of golden light escaped. It reeled, roaring towards the heavens, before it burst apart in a searing blaze.

A shimmering figure stood in the air where fragments of the creature were falling away. Around it, the skies opened up and hundreds upon hundreds of golden bolts of lightning came crashing from the dark clouds on high. The world became a dazzling forest of lightning.

Thor released the power it had stored unto it’s enemies, the devastating Forest of Lightning.

Below in the tainted forests the multitude of hideous creatures were quickly turning to coal, burnt to oblivion by the lightning. In the space of an instant, hundreds of the monsters were turned to ash or blown apart. It was like a blast from the gods themselves, turning against the evil pestilence.

Wang Hongyuan swallowed hard. “Glad I’m on his side!”

Even the soldiers and tourists in their headlong rush for

escaped were inspired to stop and stare at the scene above them. Not a soul knew what had happened, even the satellites couldn’t penetrate the cloud cover to run their scans. All the fleeing masses knew was turning their monstrous assailants to fried carcasses.

Even atheists were on their knees, shouting praises to whatever god would listen. For it could only be a god who possessed this level of power.

Eventually the golden light receded. The large figure at it’s core descended until it connected once again with the ground.

“Are you alright, Zeus?” Thor’s metallic voice rumbled through the cockpit.

Lan Jue, his face pale and sunken, shook his head. “I’m fine. Just made the wound flare up, that’s all. You? How much energy do we have remaining?”

“Fifty-seven percent.”

“Then continue on auto, I need a breather.”

“Very well.” Without pause, Thor’s thrusters sent it up and away towards the next enemy.

Thor’s Forest of Lightning had temporarily eased the immediate danger of the encampment being overrun. Already there were more and more tourists under soldier care rushing towards the airship tarmac. They took off, one after the other, as they were stuffed full of evacuees. They reeled and raced skyward in any direction, just desperate to flee the nightmare they’d found themselves in.

A flash of red, and Idoloclast appeared behind another one of the creatures. Dual crimson blades shimmered in it’s hands. As the seven meter weapons cut through, a dark light remained in the air it passed through.

The creature slowly fell away in to countless chunks of chopped meat.

Wang Hongyuan had already lost count of the number of creatures he’d dispatched. It had been two hours since he’d called Idoloclast and their work begun. He figured at least a hundred, but compared to that guy… he was behind perhaps ten times Thor’s kill count.

And yet the creatures kept coming. It was like they were an endless wave. It almost seemed like their numbers were increasing instead. Fortunately it appeared most of the ships in this encampment had already set off, and radar revealed fewer and fewer fleeing tourists.

“How you holding up, Professor Lan?” Wang Hongyuan called through the mech’s communicators, somewhat out of breath.

“I’m all good,” his voice responded, cool and collected. At present he was controlling the mecha manually to conserve power.

“Reserves are down to less than thirty percent. Nearing the warning line. I count twenty eight ships still remaining at the encampment.”

“Alright,” Lan Ju replied. “Fall back to the encampment, guard the strip. I’ll join you there in about twenty minutes. We need to prep our own evac.”

“Got it!” Wang Hongyuan immediately left for his new post.

The two of them had done all they could. Now, they had to get themselves out before it was too late.

Thor paused, hovering in the air. It raised it’s metallic head. At this point the whole of Taihua was enveloped in a grey mist. Although Thor was capable of replenishing it’s own energy stores, it could only be done through cosmic radiation. Even if some could get through the dense fog, he’d still require time they didn’t have.

With how much Thor had endured, it’s own stores were only about thirty percent as well. Still the radar reached out.

Beep! Lan Jue looked at the information, and was shocked to find someone taking one of the beasts by themselves. The power fluctuations were intense.

ζ

Tan Lingyun half squatted under the canopy, an arm stretched out for balance and gasping heavily. Her clothes were almost rags, but it only enhanced the ferocity glinting behind her eyes.

Before her a giant python coiled, watching her with it’s lidless gaze.

Their fight had been raging for a little while already. She’d raced headlong in to the forests to search for Lan Jue and Wang Hongyuan, killing perhaps a dozen of the beasts barehanded along the way. But she was reaching the end of her limit. In fact, were it not for the restorative and vibrant qualities of the environment she was linked to, she’d have been a goner long ago.

The entire beast was a sort of mulberry color, stretching twenty meters long. It was covered in tough scales and thick flesh, and although Tan Lingyun had already managed to put several holes in the thing none of them were grievous injuries. Worse, their last exchange had done some internal damage to herself.

Her eyes were growing dim. The world before her was slowly becoming blurry like staring through dirty water. Tan Lingyun knew this was the result of stretching herself beyond her limit.

She couldn’t hold on much longer. Although she knew her decision to remain behind would likely lead to disaster, she had no regrets. She may not have been able to find Lan Jue and

Wang Hongyuan, but she’d managed to help at least eight other tourists escape.

She’d die fighting, if it came to it!

With another deep breath Tan Lingyun launched herself forward. A glowing green light shone in the center of her forehead – her core. As it revealed itself, wisps of green energy appeared from the surrounding forests and merged with her. She was urged on, powered by the supernatural essence of the forest she protected.

Her right arm lifted, and clutched in her hand was a glittering and translucent emerald blade. She gripped the pommel with both hands. In this instant her thoughts turned to her mecha. If only Druidess were here, exhaustion wouldn’t be a concern. But it wasn’t, so she had to make do. And even if she died, she was going to make sure this damn snake choked on her corpse.

The anaconda keenly felt the approaching threat. It’s scales began to peel away, opening up and allowing a thick cloud of mist to envelope everything around itself. First it was like a spectre, a dangerous silhouette. And then it vanished.

The natural mana sustaining Tan Lingyun had reached it’s peak. There was no more room for hesitation. She blindly lashed out with the shimmering green sword.

Where the blade passed, the magenta mist parted like snow before a flame. The green flash revealed, just briefly, the mighty beast. It’s howl of pain said the rest.

Strike? Tan Lingyun’s heart skipped a beat. And yet, a moment later, she was met with the exact thing she didn’t want to see.

She had landed a strike, but what she’d hit was the damn thing’s tail. A three meter section of the monster had been cleaved free, belching pools of purplish liquid. A strike, but hardy a lethal blow.

The snake-monster’s distended maw lashed out with horrendous speed. At this point the mecha teacher was too exhausted to dodge. She watched the fanged mouth barreling towards her, helpless.

This was to be her end! Tan Lingyun bitterly shut her eyes. Memories of the past twenty eight years flooded her mind’s eye.

In that time she’d experienced so much, endured so much. She suddenly felt…. liberated. At peace.

She felt her whole body tighten. Next she heard the violent blast of a thunderbolt, and suddenly the earth was spinning.

Her eyes opened, almost of their own accord. She was greeted with the sight of a massive blue mecha, which held her in it’s giant hand. Blinding flares of blue light burst forth, casting the snake away like it was nothing more than a pesky insect. The mecha twisted in the air, firing once more upon the beast from an impossible angle. The monster’s head was split open.

As she watched, caught in it’s grip, the sapphire mecha moved once again. It hung in the air long enough to spin about, heading to ground in a perfectly executed inverted V-shape.

It twisted and rolled, pressing Tan Lingyun tight against the metal palm. The pressure, and her exhausted, colluded to blanket the world around her in darkness. In the moment before she fainted, all she could remember where the frightening yellow eyes of the mecha.

Boom! Thor landed amidst flying debris and foliage.

Seeing Tan Lingyun clutched safely in Thor’s hand, Lan Jue couldn’t help but feel a surge of warmth fill his heart.

Chapter 140: Drink Medicine! Break Out!

The calls Tan Lingyun had sent to Lan Jue and Wang Hongyuan were in fact received, only they’d chosen not to answer. He hadn’t expected she would stay behind on Taihua – and judging by the sheer number of curse words in her messages to them, he judged the only reason she did remain, was to find them.

The woman was cold as ice on the outside, but did indeed have a good heart as Jin Yan assured.

A dim blue light reached from Thor’s chest. When it receded, Tan Lingyun was gone, safe inside the mecha. Thor’s cockpit wasn’t small, easily big enough to accommodate two people. Years ago he’d built it that way for when he rambled with Hera.

Tan Lingyun was covered in grime, passed out, and stinking up his cockpit – but Lan Jue didn’t concern himself with that. He reached out to feel her pulse. When he was sure it was simply exhaustion, he breathed a sigh of relief.

For her to last so long out there without a mecha was testament to her strength and ability.

It was time to retreat. It meant conceding Taihua to these beasts, but even something as strong as Thor could get exhausted. He was off again, flying towards the encampment. Idoloclast was already waiting.

There were still a number of empty airships remaining. Wang Hongyuan chose one without a pilot. These ships were mostly run automatically, so piloting one was nothing difficult.

“Professor Lan, on your way back? We’ve got to get out of here as soon as possible. Radar’s picking up several more of the monsters heading our way. **** [1], do all these things know we’re here?!”

[tl: [1] = The Chinese calque here is very funny, the mandarin equivalent of the f-word, 法克 for those interested. ]

“I’ll be there in a moment,” Lan Jue replied. “And I’m bringing Tan Lingyun along for the ride. I think she came to save us. She pushed too hard and lost consciousness.”

“You’re not talking about the Savage Goddess…”

“That’s her,” he said. Thor continued towards the encampment, only stopping to dispatch two more monsters on the way.

The stabbing pain in his chest was worse. Lan Jue once more cursed the damn angel Michael for what he’d done. If he were at peak condition he’d have been able to sustain the fight for at least twice as long without issue.

Wang Hongyuan tapped in their intended coordinates and lifted off, first towards Lan Jue’s location. Idoloclast had already withdrawn, so he was only waiting for the etiquette teacher to make their escape.

Lan Jue appeared in a sudden flash of light. That mecha’s speed! A light reached out from it’s chest and deposited Lan Jue on the ground. He carried Tan Lingyun on to the waiting airship.

He turned once on board and motioned with Thor’s Promise. It flashed, and Thor vanished through interdimensional space. “Let’s get out of here!”

“Got it!” Wang Hongyuan roared with maniacal laughter [2]

and blasted off towards space. But the laugh was short lived, as suddenly the ship pitched to the side.

[tl: [2] = I dunno, that’s what the translation says. Brings to mind images of KSP. ]

Lan Jue, just managing to shut the doors, then slammed against the cabin wall. He shouted angrily towards the pilot. “What the hell are you doing?!”

Wang Hongyuan’s tense voice responded. “Look for yourself.”

Lan Jue stuck his face against the nearest porthole, and his heart sank.

Their escape was cut off by the erratic flight of a colossal monstrosity. Volley after volley of energy salvos launched at them from the creature’s head. Ten ships had taken off before them, and already two were falling to earth as flaming debris. The terrifying attack was as impressive as Thor’s Forest of Lightning.

This was easily the deadliest beast they’d encountered so far,

worse than the Tyrannosaurus Lan Jue had dispatched. From what they were seeing, he estimated the beast to be equivalent to a ninth level Talent. More than a match for an average mecha.

“We’ve done enough,” Wang Hongyuan said, his voice low and defeated.

They were still quite a distance from the behemoth. The earlier roll was made to avoid an errant beam of energy that had swung their way. So far they hadn’t captured the monster’s attention. Now was their chance to get clear.

Wang Hongyuan’s words reminded Lan Jue of something. A small smile spread across his face. His eyes were clear and sharp.

“My wife died, three years ago. When she left she took my heart with her. You really don’t need to worry about Jin Yan and I. I know everyone who’s lost a loved one hurts. I might not be able to save everyone, but even saving one more person means I spare someone the pain I feel. I can save a family.”

“When you get back, if the Savage Goddess wakes up, don’t

tell her it was I who saved her. Promise you’ll keep my secret. Now get out of here.”

His left hand had risen, and that familiar green glow once more called Thor from the abyss. He waved towards the cockpit, then yanked open the cabin door and leapt out before Wang Hongyuan could lock it shut.

Almost immediately he was caught in a beam of light, and found himself in Thor’s cockpit. He settled in, then reached in to jacket. He pulled a small vial from within, and took a deep breath.

Lan Jue poured the contents down his throat. Almost immediately his power began to pulse erratically. His gloomy expression became alive with vitality. The aura that surrounded him was magnificent and terrifying.

Thor trembled from the unstable bursts of energy from it’s pilot. “Zeus, in consuming this unknown medicine your body’s energy is swelling. Estimates read you can only sustain this level of power for thirty minutes. Your body will be unable to endure the medicine’s effects after that. Your Core will be in danger of being annihilated.”

“Thirty minutes eh?” Lan Jue fixed his eyes on the distant monster. “That’s enough. Thor, time for a real fight!”

Lights of all shades and hues were seeping from Lan Jue’s pores. The energy surrounding him was growing more unstable by the second. But in the same instant an intense flood of energy was welling up inside him. It washed over his Core, injecting it with power.

Thor had already passed critical energy levels, but suddenly it’s energy reserves began to quickly replenish. A shimmering azure light bloomed out around it, stark against the grey sky.

If Wang Hongyuan had understood what Lan Jue had chosen to do, then he’d have seen true insanity.

If Jin Tao had known what was to occur, he’d understand the suffering he was enduring amounted to nothing.

Piao Hong had given him two Fantascia Genetica decoctions for his promise to aid them. He’d diluted one, and given in to Hua Li for use with Jin Tao. Three doses, spread three months apart.

He’d just taken the entire vial of highly concentrated Fantascia.

Lan Jue knew precisely what he’d done, and what it meant. He also knew what the decoction was capable of. It’s basic function was to catalyze a person’s inner potential, and increase their genetic capabilities.

It was a useful decoction for anyone below ninth level. Taken successively it was sure to increase one’s abilities. Of course something that powerful didn’t come without risks. The sudden rearrangement of one’s DNA sequence meant the future trials involved in becoming a Paragon were almost impossible. What’s more, ninth level adepts were not permitted to take it.

Ninth level Adepts were already in possession of energy levels no normal human could sustain. Taking the decoction meant their power levels instantly catapulted them in to the realm of the Paragons. It was a level of power they had no foundation to keep in check, and as a result their power eventually spun out of control and exploded outward.

Lan Jue knew all this, but he had no other option. Of course he could have left with Wang Hongyuan, but they’d only be able to watch helplessly as boatloads of innocents were slaughtered.

Hera was already gone. Like he’d said, these last three years he’d been living without hope or purpose. At this very moment he faced the circumstances with a calm heart. Almost cold. His earlier encounter with that young soldier still swam in his memory. Responsibility, guardians of humanity. Were these not the marks of a true man? Nobility?

Lan Jue didn’t know what fate was in store for him, whether or not he’d succumb to the overwhelming power of the decoction. He didn’t care. He’d taken the vial, it’s effects were already under way. His weakened Discipline, stagnate for these three years, writhed within. It surged up, unprecedented levels of power bursting forth.

It came paired with a blinding pain. Indescribably agony wracked his body, so bad it threatened to suffocate him. But his eyes were sharp, and his hands were steady. His discipline surged through him and into Thor, filling it as well.

The beast had become aware of something in the distance. It turned it’s massive girth through the air and, upon seeing the glimmering jewel that was Thor racing directly towards it, opened it’s hideous maw in a bloodcurdling roar!

Lan Jue stared back at it with hard eyes. With a flash, Thor

was suddenly behind the beast.

The monster’s roars faded in to the wind. It remained rooted in place, hanging in the air. Waves of staggering energy pulsed outward, and it’s body began to glow. Piercing rays of blue light began to shoot out from it as great tears appeared over its flesh.

Booooommmm!

One moment the beast was there, it’s cruel jaws poised. In the next it was a fine red mist, scattering with the winds.

“Go!” Thor’s thunderous and majestic voice rang out through the cabin of each and every ship remaining. Their engines fired up, flinging them towards the heavens. Thor was right behind them.

Lan Jue sat within the sapphire mecha, clad in golden robes, a golden mask, and a golden mantle, watching the sky race by dispassionately.

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