Chapter 481: The Aftermath, My Own Yin-Yang
“It looks like the tournament is over.” Mo Xiao had fled the near-explosion, but returned now. Her voice sounded strange, a reflection of her surprise. She couldn’t believe Lan Jue was so strong.
The Terminator looked at her, then shouted out across the Arena. “Announcing the Champions of this year’s Great Adept Tournament; Zeus!” His final declaration was the end of the games.
Now it crossed the minds of the audience to cheer. However, back East, every corner of every Eastern Alliance planet had been cheering for ages. Most especially, the National Eastern University sounded like it was host to a riot. The administration had been quick to abuse Lan Jue’s image. The moment his face was revealed, the NEU made sure everyone knew he was one of their instructors. The news had spread all across the East.
Jun Yongye and Zeus clambered from the crater on wobbly legs. They both looked like the battle had cost them a lot. But while their bodies were hammered, their spirits were high. Lan Jue couldn’t shake that sense he’d felt, in those last moments. It was a taste of what it was to be a Paragon, a hint of what was to
It had been a move of desperation. That fissure created by Jun Yongye had been so overwhelming, that a bold leap had been necessary.
The nine thrusts were the might of his yang lightning, overlaid with the Taiji powers as enhancement. Under his ministrations, his Discipline was empowered and concentrated by it – resulting in one of the strange rules of yin-yang; when Yang rose to its peak, Yin is born.
This is indeed one of the tenets of yin-yang theory. Neither one can ever be complete, because it would result in the destruction of the other and thus the destruction of itself through interpromotion (yang motivates yin and yin nourishes yang). This is why you will see the black and white dots in the image of yin-yang, indicating that there is never purely yang or yin.
That final moment, that crucial point, Lan Jue felt the yang- force of his thunderbolt flare outward. With his own yin-yang powers as a base, his lightning was catapulted in strength. Just like when he fought the Driver. The joining of his Yang- and the Driver’s Yin-Discipline had been a brief glimpse at the
possibilities. The combination of Lan Jue’s subsequent cultivation, and the refinement by Taiji had recreated that explosion a hundred times over.
For a moment, somewhere in that cataclysmic blast, he’d seen it again. Like before, the Path to Paragon – he sensed the direction now. But it was also far beyond his control. Even before the yin-yang powers merged, in that second where Yang was at its peak, he couldn’t control it. Only once he reached Paragon was that level of mastery capable.
Every inch felt like a mile as the two heroes struggled from the ring. The crowds cheered in admiration.
There was no question that the fight had been frightening for them. However, at the very least that was testament to the strength of the fighters! These two men were worthy to fight for the Championship.
The Great Adept tournament had wowed spectators for more than a month. Now, whether they were there in person or watched on their screens, people didn’t quite know what to do with themselves.
As they sat, lost reverie over the last few weeks, the floodlights dimmed. The arena was plunged in to an inky darkness. But, before anyone could panic, a single column of light burst in to existence. In the surrounding darkness, it was particularly eye-catching.
The beam fell upon a figure, dressed in a dark red suit. It made the man look gloomy, set stark beneath the light, but his unparalleled features were the focus of every spectator. Deep notes wafted through the black, but muffled as though locked away.
Poseidon! It’s Poseidon!
Indeed it was, the God of the Sea, suspended in the middle of the Great Conclave Arena.
He looked like the field sounded, broken and repressed. The white light gradually died, and was replaced by a crimson light that seemed to come from everywhere. He was suddenly immersed in a sea of red.
The melody rose in volume. It was pleasing to the ear, but none could say it was peaceful. The trudging notes were thick
with oppression and grief.
A new song from Poseidon! The screens in frtonf of every seat flashed with four dark-red words: The Sea of Blood.
It was a tale told through song, about when humanity left for the stars. It showed the progress of humanity through the Stellar Migration, and the glory of its achievements. The story went on to detail man’s journey up to now, with both its victories and blemishes.
The scene changed. The red became green, and the sea was a forest. Sprite-like figures of green light danced through the air of the arena, unhindered. The crippling sadness was gone, replaced with an atmosphere of sunlight and joy. The sudden shift made the audience gasp.
Poseidon’s song shifted gears as well, becoming softer. He sang like it was the story of his life, with all its peaks and valleys, but nonetheless a glorious landscape.
The image scaled back and suddenly, the audience was looking over a majestic forest vista. As they looked on, toxic spots of purplish-black appeared within the green. With startling speed,
the corrosive hue spread.
It was familiar, and many in the audience recognized the scene; Taihua.
The Taihua Massacre, the worst disaster for humanity in recent memory, and the worst in Eastern Alliance history.
Flashes of light. Enormous, monstrous creatures appeared in the hologram eating at those green sprites: travelers, out enjoying nature. The monsters consumed everything, never stopping. All they wanted was more.
The terrifying images caught the audience’s breath in their throat. They’d seen the images of these monsters when the reports first came, but never to scale. They were huge, and close enough that it seemed those jagged purple claws could reach out and grab them. They could feel their insatiable hunger.
It was too much – too frightening. So frightening, in fact, that several of the audience members looked as though they may faint. Was this what really happened on Taihua?
Poseidon’s voice became impassioned. A streak of blue raced across the scene, a sapphire figure at its head. Boom! The blue silhouette clashed with a beast in midair, reducing it to ash. There was a crackling electric energy that flowed in its wake. Every bolt lashed out at a creature, destroying them outright and saving tourists from a hell of suffering.
Back and forth the blue figure danced. Each pass littered the forest below with the ruined bodies of the monsters. Poseidon’s song followed the hero’s trajectory, punctuating every life saved, every beast destroyed.
When the blue bolt eventually slowed down, it was revealed to be a sapphire—blue mecha, massive and dignified. Blinding bolts of lightning danced across its polished surface, attacking the creatures of its own volition. But even machines tire, and eventually that blue mecha came to a stop.
A monster, much larger than any of those that had come before, rose in to the air over the forest. It lumbered toward a fleet of escaping transport ships in a last-ditch attempt to swallow them up. Though drained, the guardian mecha threw itself at the beast with the last of its strength. The monster fell before the might of the hero, but he did not escape unscathed. The mecha tumbled to ground.
Calm came over Poseidon’s tone. The image swept back, and again the audience was looking over the forest. Only now, it was acres of poisoned, purple wasteland.
“The invasion of an unknown species was a tragedy for mankind.” Poseidon’s regretful voice rang clear in the air.
“Many helpless travelers lost their lives, to the monstrous threat.”
“Where did they come from? These vicious beasts, where do they call home?”
“But humanity has a chance.”
“Not one, but legion. All of you, are the guardians of humanity.”
“In the face of this nightmare, we can only survive if we band together. As one, we can protect the things we love from annihilation. Together, we can carry the light of humanity far out past the stars.”
“Today, I will share with all of you a secret.”
A soothing blue light surrounded Poseidon. The beam of blue light followed him as he settled back to ground. The audience followed his every move.
When his foot touched the floor, another light sprang to life. It painted him stark against the bleak landscape. It also revealed the figures of Jun Yongye and Zeus, who stood before him.
Poseidon turned around to face the audience. His voice was full, and bubbled with pride. “All of you saw that warrior, who fought incessantly to save the lives of those travelers on Taihua. This nameless savior defended the lives of thousands, by killing thousands of foes.”
“But there is something you don’t know. In his valiant attempt, this unsung hero nearly gave his life. The sapphire mecha battled against that evil titan until the end, refusing to give in until the Cosmagus – Paragon of Skyfire Avenue – arrived to offer support. As you all know, even a God-ranked pilot has his limits.”
“So how is it that this one man was able to fight for so long, so
hard? That is the secret I am going to share with you today.”
Lan Jue stepped forward and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Poseidon turned to look. Then, with a smile, he pulled his fellow Monarch forward to stand at his side.
“Don’t stop me. I want everyone to know. And anyone who tries to cut me off will have the Gobi Entertainment Group to deal with.” This sentence was lower, reserved for Lan Jue, but the last words were loud enough for all to hear. Poseidon wasn’t just the most famous rock star of humanity – he was also the heir to its richest organization! Whatever Poseidon had to say, the audience knew it was going to be something good.
Chapter 482: A Heroic Tale
“The secret to the blue mechas success wasn’t equipment, and it wasn’t skill. The power he had that day was from an entire bottle of Fantascia Genetica the pilot drank before the fight.”
“Some of you might not know what Fantascia Genetica is. I’ll tell you. It is the greatest DNA-altering substance the West has produced. Taking any amount will help one’s Discipline. The most important question is; can one handle the strength of the medicine? The single exception to this are ninth-level Adepts. Popular knowledge holds that a ninth-level who takes a bottle of Genetica will outright explode. His powers would be too strong for him or her to control.”
“The pilot of this majestic war machine is indeed a ninth-level Adept. He knew the risks, and yet he drank that decoction, so that he could save more lives. He burned away his body for his people, burned away his life until only the faintest spark was left. If the Cosmagus hadn’t had arrived just then, that hero would be lost to us. We would never have the opportunity to know them. But now you do!”
Poseidon stopped, grabbed Lan Jue’s left hand, and thrust it into the air!
“A-Jue, let the people learn who Zeus really is.” Poseidon’s eyes were alive with excitement, burning with it. His fervor had infected the crowd who shouted down at them.
Lan Jue returned his look with a serious one of his own. His brother wasn’t doing this to turn him into a hero.
Chu Cheng had used his own methods to alert Lan Jue of the potential dangers surrounding him. Hua Li was giving him another tool to protect him. None of this was part of the earlier rehearsals. The only purpose was to protect his friend.
Lan Jue heaved a deep sigh. Silent as a statue, he simply extended his pinky finger. Thor’s promise glimmered in the floodlights. A flash, and a towering figure appeared before Lan Jue and Hua Li.
Thor! It was, Thor!
The mecha slowly descended from the sky, encased in blue light. The sleek, metallic surface cast of blinding rays of refracted light. The air around it writhed with images of the battle on Taihua.
Thor, Zeus, Thunderbolt Discipline… it all added up. Now they understood. That mysterious hero, who had saved so many lives, was Zeus. That Sapphire guardian angel had been Thor. And although this Thor wasn’t exactly like the Thor in DreamNet, it was close enough for the audience to connect the dots. There was a single word bouncing through the collective consciousness; heroic!
This was the hero of Taihua, before their eyes. Short though the crowd’s memory was, several still remembered Zeus’ rise. He was an Easterner, an outsider, who had belittled a woman on interstellar television. They couldn’t understand why a woman like the Pharmacist would consent to be seen with him.
Now they knew. Or so they thought.
Shock wasn’t reserved for the audience alone. Many of the tournament competitors were just as stunned by the revelation. They were Adepts, they all understood the risks of a ninth level using the Fantascia Genetica. Yet, somehow, this man had done it and survived. Now he was the tournament Champion – hero and victor! Despite all that had come before, that was how the crowd saw him now.
His Eastern Alliance companions were no less impressed.
With the Gourmet first among them, the Avenue delegation looked upon him with profound respect. Jun’er was the only one not struck dumb by the news. “That’s my daddy!” She cried, never looking away from him. “That’s my daddy!”
The Pharmacist’s eyes welled with tears to hear her little girl’s happy cries. Her face revealed appreciation. His efforts gave Jun’er the complete childhood she so desperately needed.
Jun Yongye stood a few meters behind the tournament champion. His face was a mask of shifting emotion.
“Can we give our hero some cheers and applause?!” Hua LI’s excited voice cried out to the masses. Their response was thunderous. It sounded like a bomb went off in the stands, shaking its foundation.
No… not just the Great Adept Arena. This was being streamed to every household on every planet throughout human civilization. What they were hearing now was echoed on Luo, Lyr, Skyfire, and everywhere else humans inhabited. In the East, spectators stoically faced the projection of their hero, and bowed.
Lan Jue wasn’t prepared for this. A strange sensation washed over him just like the adoration of the audience. He couldn’t describe it, but there were words for it. If he had been born a believer of the Pontiff, someone would have told him it was the power of faith.
He could feel, much to his surprise, that his already solid Discipline had been refined even further. The progress was much faster than anticipated. He’d never experienced anything like it before. Somewhere in there was also the arrow of compassion, shining its pale light on his soul.
Improvement. Every day, improvement. Lan Jue was a product of the environment, tempered by it.
He was joined with Qianlin, so he couldn’t feel if his own Discipline had risen in rank. All he knew was that everything he’d experienced since coming to the tournament had coalesced to help him get better. In addition, he could sense similar improvements in Qianlin’s abilities.
The cheers rang for over ten minutes before petering out. “Say something… to me, to all of humanity.”
Lan Jue looked at him in silence for a moment. Then, slow and deliberate, he swung his arms open and enveloped his brother in a hug.
Poseidon smiled and hugged him back.
When they separated, Lan Jue gave them both a distance of a few meters. Thor then reached down, whereupon Lan Jue’s stepped up onto the mechanical hand before being lifting up into the air. Thor’s hand hovered at heart length, and Lan Jue stood easily in the palm.
“Thank you everyone, for your cheers and applause. I really never expected I would be here. On that day, on Taihua… everything happened so fast. I am a teacher, and went with my coworkers on a retreat. Disaster struck, suddenly and without warning. When fleeing to the camp, our group came across a soldier running out to meet the monsters.
“They fought with every fiber of their being, sacrificing everything they had to protect these innocent tourists. I caught the soldier before he left and told him that only a mecha would be able to beat these things. He was throwing his life away. What he said stuck with me; he said that it was his duty, the duty of his brothers, to protect the people. There were still
scared, hurt tourists out there. We have to protect them.
“After that he left, no hesitation or fear. I have a decent memory, and I can still recall his ID. When the dust settled I looked him up. He gave up his life so that others might live. If we want to survive as a species, then we need to be like that soldier. Not just a few of us – all of us. We will colonize the stars, but only if we adopt that spirit. Really, there are countless heroes every day. You call me a hero, but I can’t be considered among them.
“Taihua was no accident. The creatures that devastated that planet are coming. We must band together, and contribute what we can to the strength of humanity. All I am doing is the best that I can, the same that anyone else would. This is my responsibility, as a part of humanity.”
He finished his short speech with a bow. The hero of Taihua dropped from between Thor’s fingers as the mecha became light and disappeared into Thor’s Promise.
The effect, if not the sound of Lan Jue’s speech persisted in the air. It rang in the listeners’ chests, igniting their spirits.
The floodlights illuminating the ring darkened, like a planet eclipsing the sun. It was the Terminator, whose mountainous figure was suspended in the air. The lights flicked away from the ring and converged on the Paragon. He looked at the cameras with solemn expression.
“Yes, citizens, they speak the truth. Humanity needs more heroes. The reason behind this tournament was just this, to find champions for the human race. Our rewards were to attract the best.
“Unfortunately, events have reached the point where they need to be discussed. Tonight we will. Ladies and gentlemen, please turn your attention to the screens.”
With that the Terminator vanished. A three-dimensional holographic image took up the arena’s interior. When it first appeared it looked like an image of the night sky, a blanket of twinkling stars. A lumbering space ship heaved into view, though from this perspective it looked like a toy.
Military enthusiasts recognized it right away. It was a Monarch-Class Mothership, followed by its strike group. There were four battleships, twelve expedition cruisers, and other a hundred other support ships. The whole fleet slowly wandered
Chapter 483: The Seventh Fleet
The markings on the ships revealed them as the North’s Seventh Fleet. It was the North’s strongest battle group.
“An entire exploratory mission was wiped out while exploring an uninhabited part of the galaxy. All we got were ambiguous transmissions when we tried to get in contact.” The Terminator’s voice grew louder. “Now we are aware of what they encountered out there in space. When we learned of it, we sent out three battle groups to deal with the problem. Each wave of ships was stronger than the last. In the end it didn’t matter what we sent out, the results were the same. They would simply vanish, most without a trace. Judging by the time it has taken for the ships to stop transmitting, we believe this threat is getting closer. This was why we have sent out the seventh fleet. We will use this opportunity to show you what I mean.”
The Terminator did a fine job explaining the situation as it stood. He did not do so well in putting the crowds at ease. In fact, his words made them all quite nervous.
There were only a few people who knew the threat facing humanity before now. If not for the Terminator’s revelations, then it was likely the average man would never learn until it was too late. Even the Avenue wasn’t completely sure of what
the Seventh Fleet found out there. It was delivered at the perfect time, too, while the attention of humanity was fixed in one place.
As though on cue, the faces of the Skyfire Avenue delegation became stern. For the North to do this, the situation was far beyond their ability to control. If they could, they’d avoid the potential panic of letting everyone in on the danger.
The recording went on to show the Seventh Fleet making its way through the vacuum of space. In the horizon one could make out three strange planets. They were massive in size, and were covered in a thin atmosphere of purple light. In the enormous and inky darkness of the cosmos, they were very hard to pick out.
Lan Jue had never seen images of the three planets before. Although the planets were too far away for him to pick out any surface features, that shade of purple was one he’d never forget.
When the three planets appeared in their field of vision, the Seventh Fleet began to slow. The entourage began to fan out in a battle array to bolster attack. They would need space to employ the full force of their arsenal.
The four battleships splayed out as well around a near- stationary Mothership. Cargo doors hissed oxygen out in to space before belching with scores of mecha suits. The flagship itself hummed and glowed with blue light that surrounded it like a halo. Part of its forward armor plating split, revealing an enormous main gun.
The diameter of the gun was ten times larger than the Great Conclave Arena. That was even just what the hologram showed, but it was enough to have the crowds marvel at man’s destructive power.
This was the main gun of a Mothership. The only other man- made instrument of destructive more powerful, was the attack force of a Bastion ship. A direct blast from a Mothership was strong enough to obliterate a small planet. That was the target of the Seventh Fleet’s flagship. It slowly positioned until it faced the middle of the three alien planets, all the while spooling up its doomsday weapon.
But under the surprised gaze of the crowd, that target planet actually began to grow. In what seemed like only a moment, the planet was ten time the size it had been. In the center of it, appeared an inexplicable black hole like a gaping maw. It swallowed up all the light around them, making the Seventh Fleet look like ghosts in a dream.
At last, the Mothership’s guns were ready to fire. A blinding orb of energy was emitted, stretching over time to a piercing beam of white light. The rest of the battlegroup followed suit, and aimed their weapons. Only specifics artillery could attack a target from this distance, so they instead prepared for the inevitable offensive.
The crowds couldn’t help but have faith in the power of their technology. Although these planets were strange, they couldn’t possibly be a match for something like a Mothership. The gun was enough to deal with the problem.
The enormous planet hovered against the bleak backdrop of space. Aside from being a planet, it had grown to a much larger target. There was no avoiding the blast. Everyone watched with quiet satisfaction as the energy blast ten times the size of the arena drilled in to the planet. But that wasn’t right. It never struck the planet. Instead, it was swallowed wholesale in to the depths of that black hole.
Blast delay? The silent hope was on the mind of the commanders as they waited. At the distance they were to these planets, even light would need time to arrive. Perhaps there was a shield, but the clash of energies would definitely enough for them to get a reading.
The silence stretched on. Then, from the depths of that black hole, the gathered energies switched direction.
And then erupted outwards!
The Mothership began to react right away. Now it was clear that these planets were an enemy to humanity. Safety had to be a priority above colonization, so these foes would need to be destroyed. This was the duty for any soldier – destroy that which threatens mankind.
As the audience watched the alien planet shrug off the cannon blast. Their pupils were wide with fear and disbelief. What was this light? Was that from the Mothership? But, how could it simply turn it around like that?
The Seventh Fleet never had a chance to react. The Mothership was immediately swallowed up in the cleansing white fire.
They watched as the shields began to fail. That thin shield of energy grew dimmer by the second.
It was rare for a Mothership to engage in conflict. A single shot from its main battery was enormously draining, and required a lattice of high-grade power gems. That was the price of near incomparable destructive power. Its shields had to be equally impressive.
The Northern battle group fought with terrible fervor, a cohesive and deadly unit. More blasts came from the battleships, while the expedition cruisers threw themselves in the line of fire to protect the flagship. The remaining ships could only stand by, with no practical combat use this far out.
The fleet pulled it together just enough to survive the alien counterattack. But, before the spectators could even recover, another wave of red light was ejected from the planet’s mouth. It rolled toward them like a cosmic storm of purple and red.
The image zoomed in, and sharpened. That wasn’t a cloud….
Those were the alien beasts.
Lan Jue’s pupils contracted. Weren’t these the same monsters he fought on Taihua? But none of them were tiny, and the smallest of them was larger than the progenitor he killed. Some of them beat wings more than a hundred meters across. Some were twisted and strange like enormous purple cauliflowers,
and others were comprised of spiky angles. They hurdled though the air no faster than the expedition ships, and blotted out space.
The battle group opened fire on the horde. They didn’t have the benefit of the Mothership’s main gun, but secondary turrets were still operational. A wall of fire converged on the monsters’ path.
Thankfully the individual beasts didn’t share their home planet’s ability to grow, at least without the benefit of something to consume. However, their personal armor was intensely strong. Only a few of the blasts were strong enough to penetrate and kill the creatures. With their numbers, the humans just weren’t causing enough damage.
The monsters in the font ranks of the horde swallowed up many of the turret rounds. They encroached upon the human position in a crescent shape. They continued to flank them, with dedicated beasts to return and deflect fire. Soon they were surrounded.
Even the overwhelming destructive force of the Seventh Fleet wasn’t enough to destroy them. At present, it was barely enough to keep them at bay. From the holographic recording,
they could see the fleet trying to retreat. But their evacuation route was overrun with purplish-red monstrosities. Their retreat was cut off.
These aliens worked together. Just like an army.
Scenes from the next; Skyfire Avenue!
Waves of crimson blot out the distant galaxies – reinforcements.
The ragged breathing of the crowd was audible from everywhere. Households all over human occupied space were incensed, frightened, and shocked by what they were witnessing
“Everything you’ve seen is true.”
Jun Yongye pulled away the cloth to reveal a box that looked to be made for crystal
fade to black
Chapter 484: The Emperor Jewel
The enemy forces came nearer. Much to the shock and fear of the audience, they saw that the monsters outnumbered the Seventh Fleet at least ten to one. Some of those beasts had a mass to rival warships. These were truly the things of nightmare!
The fleet circled the wagons in a defensive maneuver. Once the ships were safe, they launched their counterattack.
Fighters were expelled from their hangers and joined the mech suits, battling the monsters as they descended upon them. The thick-skinned aliens were well-defended, but individually couldn’t contend with a warship’s armor. Their numbers made up for it.
In the ultimate insult, each kill became the creatures’ food. Everything was consumed and used for more destruction. The other two distant planets were also quick to take advantage of the food source. Waves of crimson blotted out the twinkling distant galaxies – reinforcements. The creatures were too many to count, stretching to the distant horizon.
The fleet continued to fire wildly as the creatures came closer
and closer. Each one killed was replaced by ten. A blast from the mothership ripped open a vast swath, but it shut half a heartbeat later.
The recording froze.
The ragged breathing of the crowd was audible from everywhere. Households all over human occupied space were incensed, frightened, and shocked by what they were witnessing. The tournament competitors watched with solemn faces. Lan Jue had known of this for some time, being seeing it like this caused a storm of emotions to appear on his face.
The North was the strongest human Alliance to date, but even their entire armada counted only around ten battle fleets. A single one could conquer a galaxy. Whether it was distance, strength, or energy renewal, there was no naval body that could match them. People called it invincible.
This harshly underlined how arrogant humanity really was. This terror from the depths of space was unimaginable. Their soldiers were swallowed up by the invaders. The aliens were stronger than the fleet. It looked stronger than ten of them.
This was also just the tip of the iceberg. These three planets were beyond comprehension. Whatever destructive capabilities they had, the crowds still couldn’t guess. But, who would go out to learn more? Who could they ask to sacrifice themselves like that?
The Terminator’s voice called out again. His tone was no different, but in the thick atmosphere it sounded much lower.
“Everything you’ve seen is true. The Seventh Fleet has valiantly given their lives for their Alliance. They died to give us this information. They bought it with blood. Now we know the strength of our hostile neighbor, thanks to them.
“We’ve learned that these three planets are living entities. They move at the speed of a Bastion, and are getting closer. At least a year, as long as three… that’s how long before they reach our homes.
“Thanks to the information gleaned by the East, we’ve discovered that these monsters consume essence. They use what they devour to evolve – and not just life, but anything with energy. Make no mistake, these beasts are out for our destruction. What you saw was not a single event.
“When these alien planets arrive, we will be faced with the possible destruction of our species. But don’t be hopeless. We held this tournament to show you that humanity has a chance. Make no mistake, fellow human citizens… we have entered a dire era. Starting immediately, we need to muster all of our strength. We need to make preparations to meet these enemies and stop them at the gates. They will be greeted with our greatest weapons and be lain to waste. If we can do this, then there will be nothing to stop humanity from prospering in to the distant future. There will be no threat to our continued existence among the stars.
Silence hung over the arena, as the spectators let the news sink in. Those images were frightening, the moment that a hundred thousand people died. Before the news had been kept confidential, and even family members didn’t know the circumstances behind their loved ones’ death, though the government compensated them. Many in the audience cried openly as memories of their loss came flooding back.
The pictures vanished and the floodlights returned. The excitement of earlier was gone, replaced with a thick and somber atmosphere. It stretched on for some time, until Mo Xiao’s voice returned.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Great Adept Tournament has
come to a close. Please join us for the awards ceremony, where our Northern hosts will be presenting the finalists with their prizes.”
It was the moment they had been waiting for, but the mood had soured. Excitement was in short supply. It proceeded under the dark threat of alien destruction. Finalists were assured at least an S-ranked gemstone, and because there was no fight Xuanyuan Shishi and the Pharmacist received the same s- ranked gem.
The second part of the awards ceremony followed. Jun Yongye and Lan Jue stood before the two Paragons. They had been given no time to change clothes and looked pretty beat up.
There had been two main reasons for the Great Adept Tournament. The first – as mentioned – was to inspire the youth of today to work for strength. The second was to announce what the Terminator had dubbed ‘the Dire Era.’ These goals had been achieved, so the rest was keeping promises. They didn’t need to make a fuss.
The Epochrion floated to the space before Jun Yong ye. She bore a tray in her hands, with a box-shaped item beneath a red cloth
“Open it. Congratulations!” She sounded like a young woman, but there was no emotion in her voice.
Jun Yongye pulled away the cloth to reveal a box that looked to be made of crystal. Within, a twinkling gem stone the size of a man’s fist sat. It’s faceted, oval-cut surface glowed with a golden light. The box was still clothed, thus constraining its aura, but it nonetheless caught every Adept’s attention.
Lan Jue saw it clearest, standing right beside the Blademaster. He couldn’t help but gasp, like he was looking upon a masterpiece. He was in the power gem business, after all, he knew what he was looking at. It was an s-ranked gem, of course, and a rare one.
It was called the Emperor. That’s right, the Emperor Jewel!
It was a lofty name, but it was not one given lightly. The functions of the gem earned it the title. The Emperor Jewel didn’t contain a great deal of energy, not did it possess the ability to ingest more. It did, however, have a very special ability. That was capitulation. Through some means, the power gem forced other gems to submit to a new master.
Not all power gems were safe. There was a level of uncertainty when using certain types. Some contained wild energies, or emitted harmful radiation. That was why there was a saying in the world of power gem trade; the brighter it twinkles, the stronger it booms.
There were always exceptions. The Phylactery stone imbedded in Lan Jue’s hand was an example. It had the ability to draw in outside energy, but its primary use was containment. The Tear of Neptune filtered energy and removed impurities. But these were outliers. Most power gems were dangerous or unstable, and steps needed to be taken before they could be used personally or in construction.
This was true, unless you had an Emperor Jewel. With one in hand, those problems cease to be problems. The crystal pacified whatever unstable gem was placed before it, removing downsides and constraining radiation. There were no known gems that were resistant to the Emperor Jewel’s domination.
Aside from that, it had other stunning applications. Most warships sat on complex lattice arrays of power gems that had the destructive force of a supernova. With an Emperor Gem, it made them much better than normal energy reactors.
Chapter 485: The Blinding Stone
In those cases, many power gems were joined together. The result was greatly augmented or joined capabilities. Without something to bring them in line, so many power gems together would result in mutual destruction. However, putting an Emperor Stone in its center served to stabilize these erratic energies. It made them safe and effective. Even particularly powerful – and, thus, dangerous – gems were not a threat when the Emperor Stone was part of the picture. In short, it made whatever it was equipped to better – that was its purpose, stability and strength.
Judging by the size of Jun Yongye’s prize, it was good enough to power the gem lattice of a scout ship. It was worth more money than most people would see in their lifetimes.
Emperor Stones were only produced in the Northern Alliance, and it was one of their chief strategic products. If the governments of the East and West needed them for their ships, they would need to pay the North for the privilege. Often the price didn’t come in dollars, and instead were traded for resources or other gems.
This was the second-place prize. What did they have in store for the champion?
Lan Jue was a little speechless when he noted that Jun Yongye didn’t appear to know what it was he was looking at. He took up in his hand with a blank look on his face.
He swallowed nervously. Lan Jue wasn’t a greedy man, but after seeing what his opponent earned, he couldn’t wait to see what he would be going home with. The things he could do with Zeus-1 if it was equipped with an Emperor Stone, not to mention Thor. It would be something out of his wildest dreams. He had to think about whether there was anything he could offer the Blademaster.
Lan Jue, lost in thought, almost didn’t notice when the Terminator stepped in front of him. He also had a tray, with a red cloth hiding something a little smaller than Jun Yongye’s award. It looked almost tiny in the eight-foot-tall man’s hands. Size didn’t matter, though, the worth of a thing did not always equate to its size. Second place had been given a top-of-the-line, S-rank power gem. What could his prize be?
An anxious light blazed behind Lan Jue’s eyes.
“Congratulations on your victory, Champion. It looks like your daughter was right all along. You are the strongest.” The Terminator’s look had more meaning in it than the words let
Inwardly Lan Jue felt his chest tighten. He smiled back at the Paragon. “A daughter’s praise for her father is never honest. She guessed, and I got lucky.” The cloth was removed as they spoke, revealing the crystal box beneath.
At last the final award was about to be given. The crowd gave the Terminator their full attention. Their screens zoomed in on the prize.
“Eh?” Lan Jue couldn’t help but exclaim when he saw what it was. Surprised mutters rippled through the audience as well.
The crystal box was the same as the one Jun Yongye’s award had come in. But this one was empty.
Lan Jue swallowed again, this time in apprehension. He offered a nervous laugh. “Is the Champion’s reward the crisp Northern air, your majesty?”
Laughter rippled through the stands, but there were was also some disgruntled chatter. Could the North be stiffing the
tournament Champion on his reward? Would they dare? Hua Li had just finished telling everyone how their Lan Jue wasn’t just the tournament champion, but a bona fide hero!
The Terminator’s meaty hand released the tray and pulled the top of the box open. There were no waves of energy, no sensation: the box was empty. But he reached in, and pulled his hand out again with his fingers wrapped around… nothing. He extended his hand toward Lan Jue.
The Terminator sighed as he looked down at it. “If I had known you would be the champion we would have chosen something else. We prepared this for Titan. You do indeed have good luck.”
There was nothing there… he couldn’t see anything. He when the Terminator put it in his hands, he could feel it. It was round and smooth like a power gem, slightly smaller than the one than had been given to Jun Yongye. He could hide it in his fist. However, he could feel absolutely nothing coming from it – no energies at all.
Lan Jue’s face lit up. “Thank you very much, Your Majesty. And I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to the Great Conclave as a whole.” He said it with sincerity.
The Paragon nodded. “The Champions prize! It is the Blinding Stone. Perhaps you could give us a demonstration, champion?”
He’d suspected before the Terminator said it, but now that Lan Jue was certain his excitement catapulted.
The Blinding Stone was an S-ranked power gem whose concealing properties were unparalleled. Emperor Stones were produced at least to some degree, but Blinding Stones had only ever been discovered a handful of times. It was the third rarest power gem on record.
In lieu of a flashier display, Lan Jue simply lifted his hand in to the air. His fingers, wrapped around the invisible treasure, were the first things to become transparent. It spread to his arm, his shoulder, and then he vanished completely in to thin air.
Jun Yongye was standing but a few inches from the spot where Lan Jue had been, but he felt no trace of the man.
The Terminator’s booming voice rattled the arena. “Channeling energy through the Blinding Stone will enable its concealing affects. There are no current technologies that can
penetrate this cloak – making them effectively, blind. Only a Paragon’s reflection of their Domain can recognize its use. It is a power gem of the highest grade. Unfortunately, this stone is too small to conceal an entire ship – but installed to a mecha, it would completely wipe it from radar. This will make Thor a ghost.”
He needn’t explain any further. Lan Jue reappeared, and bowed toward the Paragon to show his appreciation.
This was a truly deserving gift! The implications of a mecha completely undetectable to radar were staggering. He could also use it on himself and no one but a Paragon would be able to find him – and even then, only if they were channeling their Domain! It wasn’t like they walked around with it ‘turned on’ all the time.
Of course, this didn’t overcome a Paragon’s crisis awareness. If he used the stone to try and conceal an attack, a Paragon would recognize the threat immediately.
Lan Jue was satisfied. But, if he could get an Emperor Stone like Jun Yongye’s, then his planned upgrades for Thor would be complete. The miracle battle against Star Alliance had underlined the need for new hardware. After all, he had gotten
stronger. Thor would need to be stronger to handle it.
The tournament had come to a close. The final prizes had been given out. Once Lan Jue and Jun Yongye collected their prizes, the announcement was made that the festivities were over. The audience left in orderly fashion, without fuss. Any residual excitement they had was gone. Humanity was under threat, and even the military didn’t seem capable of handling it. An entire fleet had been destroyed in moments, and those same planets were headed their way. What sort of havoc could they wreak on civilians?
At least on Luo they felt a degree of safety. The news had reached hundreds of planets, though, and many of them did not enjoy the same protections the Northern capitol did. All three Alliance governments had been made aware of this early, and so measures had been taken to ensure the crowds remained peaceful. For their safety.
“If you don’t have any pressing business, I’d appreciate a talk with the two of you,” Lan Jue said to the White Blademaster. Jun Yongye immediately agreed, to Lan Jue’s surprise. Xuanyuan Shishi said nothing. He appeared happy to follow Jun Yongye’s lead.
Lan Jue, the Pharmacist, Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi left together. They followed the route designated for them to exit the arena.
“We’re returning to the East. What about you two?” Lan Jue turned his head to ask Jun Yongye.
He nodded. “Let’s go back together.”
Lan Jue felt the whole thing a little strange, but nodded nonetheless. “Perfect.”
They couldn’t leave right away, so they hung around for a minute until the Gourmet came. Jun’er bounced in his arms. The rest of the Skyfire delegation was close behind. They filed on a maglev bus that had been arranged beforehand, then made their way to the public air hangar.
They’d planned this before the tournament’s end. The North’s influence stretched far, and the earlier they left the better. The Northern government could, if they desired, blow them out of orbit. But the Avenue had prepared for this eventuality as well.
When they got on the bus, Lan Jue went to the back and changed his clothes. Jun Yongye hadn’t brought any, so he lent the Blademaster some of his own.
Qianlin was still joined with him, and he didn’t want to release her so soon. He would wait for more safety and privacy.
The streets were clogged with traffic, making their trek to the hangar slow going. The mood within was solemn, though it wasn’t because of the potential danger. They’d seen the same thing the audience had in that arena.
The Barber was the first one to break the silence. He turned to the Gourmet. “Are they really that dangerous?”
The Avenue’s Paragon nodded slowly. “It’s real. They’d kept this little bit hidden, but it only highlights how life-threatening the situation has become. The Clairvoyant was right as always. We’ve entered a dark period of human crisis.”
The Gourmet looked at Lan Jue. The Clairvoyant had also told him that their Jewelry Master would be humanity’s only chance.
Chapter 486: The Big Send-Off
Lan Jue leaned back against the bus seat, with his eyes closed. As the bus hummed along, the passengers all seemed lost in their own world. He could hear the Pharmacist and Jun’er beside him. The young one displayed her uncanny cleverness by sticking close to her mother.
Eventually the traffic cleared up and the bus made it to the airship hangar. It was the largest one in Luo, and could accommodate nearly any class of ship. Private or commercial, most air traffic came through this place.
The road widened up and the hangar spread out in front of them. But what he saw through the windshield widened the Gourmet’s eyes.
Before them, stretching back to the gates of the hangar, row upon row of mechas were revealed. They lumbered up from a downhill slope, and their vanguard was a heavy defense suit. A cadre of flying suits hovered above for support for the main force that followed.
Their eyes were the only tool they had to count them, but it looked like over a thousand suits had been assembled.
A thousand suits was a standard mecha division. If this was some kind of training maneuver, they wouldn’t be doing it in front of the public air field.
The bus was rented, and their driver stared at the scene with unbridled shock. So stunned was he that his first reaction was to bring the bus to a sudden stop.
The Gourmet’s face spread in to a bitter grin. “That’s a big send-off.”
A murderous light simmered behind the Barber’s eyes. The Beautician picked at her nails as though she hadn’t noticed anything. The Driver and the Bartender were fighting over a glass of alcohol while the Coffee Master fiddled with his fingers. They tapped incessantly, so fast they blurred.
Reminder, this guy was one of the foremost assassins from the North.
“Open the door.” The Gourmet said to the driver. “Then get as far as you can.”
The driver did as he was told. He didn’t know what was going on, but he was no fool. Whatever was going on here was not going to be good. It was a problem he didn’t want to be involved in.
The encroaching mech suits had spread in to formation. All at once they stopped, as though nailed in place. Their guns rose and the telling buzz of charging cannons filled the air. A v- formation of flying suits hung overhead, but did not engage. They quietly awaited orders.
The Skyfire Avenue delegation, together with Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi, filed off the bus. The Ten Thousand Swords rolled his shoulders. “Well, this isn’t the best outcome we could have hoped for. It looks like traveling with you all will bring trouble.”
“Enough.” Jun Yongye shot his companion a look, but said nothing else. Shishi seemed to fear him on some level, and kept silent.
Lan Jue was apologetic. “I’m very sorry. We didn’t know this would happen, either. It looks like we don’t have a choice, though – we have to face them.”
Jun Yongye smiled. “Shoulder to shoulder.”
The Driver appeared beside Lan Jue. He glowered at the enemy, with his arms crossed before his chest. “I like the odds. It’s better when things get noisy.”
The adepts lined up to facing their enemy. They quietly surveyed the mechs, knowing that these were no ordinary soldiers. The pilots would be some of the best, and in a straight- on battle it was unlikely they would win. However, that was not counting the Paragon among them. What’s more, what Adept would be silly enough to fight a mech toe to toe? They had methods for facing off against mechanical enemies.
Gusts of wind pulled at their clothes, born from the engines of the airborne mechas. Lan Jue looked to his left and to his right, peering down the line of his compatriots. He was excited to stand by their side in conflict. He was proud to have allies-in- arms. Together, they were a unified force.
“The tournament just ended? Why are you in such a rush to leave?” The deep voice seemed to come from all around them. The day went from pleasantly sunny to a gloomy dark, without warning. A shadow fell over them Avenue denizens as a massive figure descended from the sky. It was the Terminator.
The Gourmet, his pupils contracting, took a step forward. “Terminator. What is the meaning of this?”
The enormous man’s voice was low and passionless. “I’ve never been one to beat around the bush. I was very surprised, not least to discover that your Jewelry Master saved so many on Taihua. Our priorities are aligned – we do it for the species. I don’t want to hurt an ally.
“Leave Jun’er here and you can go peaceably. I give you my word as a Paragon that the North will not impede you on your journey home.”
Jun ‘er… his target was the little girl.
But that hadn’t been his only goal. Before news of his heroics had gotten out, the Terminator had desired to keep the Jewelry Master from fleeing as well. That was no longer an option.
It didn’t take him long to notice the two swordsmen in their party. He nodded to them. “I would ask you two to remain as well. We would certainly like for you to join the Great Conclave. Here you would have access to limitless resources. With your Talent, you are sure to become Paragons, and the Conclave will
come under your leadership. If you agree, I ask that you come stand at my side.”
Xuanyuan Shishi answered with a jovial laugh. “Big man, don’t think your stature frightens anyone. You think you can force us to stay by yourself?”
The Terminator grinned. “I’m not by myself. I have no desire to do this, but I am a Northerner. I must do what’s best for the future of my Alliance. Gourmet, what is your answer?”
That was all the acknowledgement Shishi would receive. The only one who could be counted his contemporary was the Infernal Vanguard. The Paragon returned the Terminator’s gaze.
“Jun’er said you weren’t a bad man. Are you going to disappoint a little girl?”
The enormous man sighed. “I am sorry, I do what I must for the North. The Avenue is already too strong. If you are led by another Clairvoyant we will have no leg to stand on, so my only choice is to keep her here. I promise you she will be treated like an heir. We don’t have any soothsayers, but there are many
with knowledge of the craft. We will spare no expense to train her, and I swear her abilities will never be turned against the East. Gourmet, don’t let this be an end to an era of peace. Leave the girl, and go. In the future we will fight again side by side, when it matters.”
The Terminator had thought a great deal about this. Were it not for the threat of invasion from the aliens, then the North would have tried to keep every one of the Avenue’s young Talents. It would have crippled the next generation of Eastern leaders.
Chapter 487: Good Enough?
It was true that the Avenue was powerful. However, a closer look inspired less awe. Two of its Paragons were newly ascended, and their powerful Clairvoyant had reached the end of his days. Even with the backing of the East, the North could take what they wanted. There was too great a gulf in strength between them.
However, circumstances were different than before. Now a foreign enemy was bearing down upon them. The tournament, like the miracle battle before it, was meant to inspire the next generation of soldiers. DreamNet’s upgrade achieved the same aim. Everything was designed to help humanity prepare for the inevitable battle.
The Terminator feared the future of the Avenue, but he couldn’t go to the extreme. The Clairvoyant’s successor was the greatest threat.
Lan Jue would be a Paragon, but rising to the level of his Master, Jue Di, would be no easy feat. Still, if Jue Di were alive he wouldn’t appreciate a disciple in trouble. Besides Lan Jue was a hero. The East’s response to having such a luminary kidnapped would be intense. The North would have trouble keeping its head above water. In the end Hua LI’s move had
been wise; the North couldn’t stop Lan Jue from leaving now that everyone knew who he was.
Jun’er was a different story, and once she grew in to her powers she would be the darling of the North. He came upon this decision because he felt that taking one would avoid a multitude of problems in the future. To him, there was nothing more important! It was also the least harmful path for relations between the Conclave and the Avenue.
There was also the Pharmacist, a woman of great strength and Talent herself. If he had her daughter, how could she leave? With those two under Northern control, the others could leave and it would still be a resounding victory. If only they would come peaceably, he thought. With the North’s advanced technology and strength, the opportunities available to them would be many. All he would need is time to win them over. The Epochrion was not a Northerner, but she had chosen them
– and so would they.
The Pharmacist glared at the Paragon with eyes that glimmered with a frigid light. “If you want my daughter, you better think about what it will cost you.” She wasn’t the least bit disturbed by the power of the man, and faced him with the same imposing air she was famous for.
“You’re all intelligent people,” the Terminator pleaded. “So am I. I didn’t come here alone.”
They were suddenly aware of another figure, descended from the sky in to their field of vision. The Epochrion.
She hovered in the air, her face concealed behind a veil. Like a statue, the second Northern Paragon regarded them with a dispassionate gaze. In the same moment several other figures began to emerge from their surroundings.
Over a hundred Adepts from the Great Conclave surrounded them. Among them were Titan, Yan Ningya and several other Northerners who’d performed well during the tournament. More mechas arrived with them, both by land and air. The Skyfire Avenue Adepts had nowhere to turn.
The situation was beginning to look as hopeless as it was inescapable. And yet, in the face of a thousand mechas, a hundred Adepts and two Paragons, the Easterners were calm.
The Gourmet answered him, calmly. “It’s pretty telling how much firepower you’ve brought. Mechas, warriors, disciples… The Great Conclave must have quite the impression of us.”
“Just enough firepower to show you what the consequences are,” the Terminator rumbled. “I brought the show of force because I had hoped I wouldn’t need to use it. I know you have plans, but don’t think they’ll be enough. I’ll say it again: Leave the girl and the two swordsmen, then you can leave. We won’t stop you.”
The Gourmet laughed. “The Avenue’s government may not be as strict as yours, but don’t mistake that for weakness. As a Paragon of Skyfire, no partner will be left behind so long as I draw breath. Did you really believe that any show of strength would make us bow to you?”
A dangerous light flashed in the Terminator’s eyes. “Still not enough? Then we’ll up the stakes.”
He punctuated the sentence with a clap. Several figures hidden behind the line of mechs extricated themselves from the crowd and moved to the Terminator’s side.
The Gourmet watched. He was calm, but then, a change.
Metatron, Constantine, Sariel and a cadre of lackies appeared. Lucifer also made his presence known, with the Lich-
descendant Jiang Yuan, the Wolf King, and even the vampire Princess Lina in tow. Chu Cheng’s former crush looked pained to be there, but was bound by her commitment to the Dark Citadel.
The Great Conclave had joined with both of the West’s houses. They were joined in their nefarious plot to overcome these few foreign Talents. Clearly, the Avenue hadn’t been the only one making plans! The Terminator had been busy as well. He seemed better prepared.
“Good enough?” The Terminator asked sarcastically.
At last, the Gourmet’s calm expression broke. His features turned in to a dark, threatening scowl. He began to walk slowly forward. “Are you prepared to make an enemy out of Skyfire Avenue, Terminator? An enemy of the East?”
The Terminator’s deep voice replied. “I’ve told you, our only enemies are those who are coming to destroy all of humanity. We’re allies.”
This made the Infernal Vanguard bubble with laughter. “Allies? This is how you think an ally behaves? What’s more –
this still isn’t enough. There’s a lot of potential destruction standing here. I pause to think of the damage it’d cause this planet.”
This did cause the Terminator to hesitate. The Gourmet had just reached Paragon, but he was harder to deal with than the Terminator could have guessed.
Chapter 488: Four Paragons Meet
The Gourmet’s threat was not an empty one. If a Paragon consumed their own life force, the destruction they were capable of was unimaginable. Even both the Terminator and the Epochrion wouldn’t be able to contain it all. None of the many mechs surrounding them could survive the ensuing power. The North would pay dearly if they chose that route.
What’s more, the Avenue’s representatives were few, but strong. All four of the tournament’s finalists were present, and everyone had seen the strength that they possessed. Each of them could touch the border of Paragon, even now.
The tournament had forbade the use of protogenia, too, and that was no longer a restriction. Who could say what these fighters were fully capable of? The North’s timing was good, though. At least Lan Jue and Jun Yongye were not at full strength. They hadn’t had enough time to recover after the championship battle.
“And if we include me?” The cracking, aged voice was followed by a piercing beam of holy light. It illuminated the area around them from overhead, revealing a new silhouette beside the Terminator. A bejeweled crown sat upon his head that looked resplendent against the plane white cassock that covered
him. It was the Eye of God, the Pontiff!
This was a real shock to the Gourmet’s small party. It blindsided them, more than any of the faces that appeared before.
The Pontiff was a lower level than the Epochrion and Terminator, but his power was no less terrible. With him here the combat effectiveness of the Citadel was increased a hundred fold. The Pontiff was the final straw to break the camel’s back. The Gourmet stopped his advance.
Three Paragons against one, each one stronger than he. The Gourmet was very quickly running out of options.
The Terminator watched his Eastern counterpart earnestly. “Make your choice, Infernal Vanguard.” It was the first time he addressed the man by his respectful title.
An inexplicable look came over the chef. “Such bully tactics – bringing so many against so few.”
None of the other Paragons reacted. However, he could see it
in the eyes of those many soldiers who followed them. They thought the same. This was robbery.
The Terminator’s goal had always been to get what he wanted without bloodshed. At last, it was starting to look like he would have his way. He watched as the faces of the Eastern Adepts darkened with realization.
“There’s nothing worse than trying to win a fight by relying on all your friends. Pontiff, you’re everywhere like a damn cockroach. No fear that I’ll tear apart that rat’s nest you call home?” A voice, filled with range and indignation, joined the conversation.
Common practice in China. There is never a one on one fight. Sometimes you’ll see full on gang wars, complete with battle lines and everything.
The Pontiff’s face froze.
The holy light blazing in the sky was suddenly gone, like someone flipped a switch. Everything was plunged in to darkness and a hundred millions stars twinkled overhead. They shone so brightly that the Adepts below could see everything. It
was different from that holy light, though, like all of Luo had been plunged in to eternal night.
“The Arcane Magnate!” The Terminator cried. The Avenue had another Paragon, who’d arrived somehow on Luo completely unannounced. No wonder… no wonder the Gourmet was so calm. His backup was already here.
“Yes, it is I, you enormous iron pimple. Come, let’s see who’s stronger, out in space!” The Arcane Magnate wasn’t the strongest of the Paragons, but he was – without a doubt – the meanest. His present also struck fear in to the hearts of those present. There was no man alive capable of more destruction than the mad scientist.
It was necessarily advantages in combat that made him such a frightening foe. Instead, it was because his attacks were so all- encompassing. The North definitely couldn’t handle the aftermath of such a confrontation if it meant sacrificing Luo! It was the same tactic he’d used on the Pontiff in his own citadel.
The power the Gourmet would command if he sacrificed his body was enough to give the Terminator pause. What the the Arcane Magnate was capable of, would terrify the whole nation.
The Terminator’s voice grew cold. “I thought there was a saying where you’re from, scholar. ‘When the old don’t die it’s like thievery.’ You’re brave to come out here at your age. Aren’t you afraid you won’t be able to return? That you’ll lose the chance at a peaceful, natural death?” The sudden and menacing arrival of the Keeper caused him to lose his composure. The stress of the last few days was becoming evident, and a suddenly oppressive atmosphere descended around them.
The Terminator clapped his hands again, and the ring of mechs retreated.
Any contest between Paragons was no place for mechs. Removing them from play was saving their lives. It also looked like preparations for combat.
The Pontiff stood passively by the Terminator’s side. To him, conflict wasn’t something to fear. This wasn’t Reims, he wasn’t responsible for what would come. On the contrary, he was eager to teach the Keeper a lesson for past transgressions.
“Someone said bully?! Just the three of you? We’ve got numbers, too!” Another voice interrupted their exchange. This one was heavy with disdain, thick with contempt. He sounded even more ornery than the Keeper.
The skies were again the canvas for displays of power, as a sea of shooting stars burned across the heavens. The spectacular meteor shower filled the world with undulating silvery light.
A Paragon! Another Paragon!
The Terminator sucked in a breath. He was seeing just how important Jun’er was to Skyfire Avenue. Two more Paragons had come to fetch her apart from the Gourmet. This new Paragon was not one he was familiar with, but he could immediate feel his energy. It mingled with the Keepers, and their synergy birthed a dictatorial air. The Terminator could feel it constraining his Domain, fighting to keep it contained.
“The Karmic Scholar.” He growled.
“Correct, it is I – your elder brother. What was all this about old people dying? Let me tell you something, q-tip, we two old geezers will be kicking around long after you’re dead.”
The Karmic Scholar, once the mortal enemy of the Keeper, and in a former life called the Bookworm! Now, they were the twin pillars of strength underpinning the Avenue.
Towering images, each a thousand meters tall, stretched high in to the air. They were the projected images of the Arcane Magnate, and the Karmic Scholar. They stood in majestic pose, peering in to the distance like a pair of old heroes. To put it succinctly, they were peacocking.
Now it was even; three world-destroying super humans against three more.
In terms of pure numbers, the North still looked to have the upper hand. The Ecpohrion and Terminator were both in the Reflection stage of Paragon. Each of them individually were strong enough to handle both old men together. Strength wasn’t the problem… except it was. If they used their full strength, it would be the people of Luo who would suffer. The cost was unthinkable. Already, regret had wormed in to the Terminator’s mind. If he’d had known, the ambush would have been set in space. Out there it didn’t matter how devastating their clash became.
“You’ve done your homework, Terminator,” the Keeper said proudly. “In pure strength, we can’t compete. But I promise that the East’s memory is long. You will never know another peaceful day. And perhaps, sometime, I’ll appear around one of your Northern Planets. I’m sure a Positron Cannon blast through its core would be satisfying to watch.”
The Bookworm followed on his heels. “You know, I’ve been fiddling with a new device, and I’m fairly sure it can strip a planet of its atmosphere. I’ve yet to test it, though, for lack of an adequate test subject. The North does have the most planets, which makes it an excellent test environment.”
“Enough… it’s clear you two old madmen don’t have any shame. Do you have any integrity?” The Epochrion could no longer hold her peace. Her pretty voice was hard with anger. “You two are Paragons. They are called that for a reason – paragons of integrity, and honor. You should act like it.”
The sharp rebuke earned a rare moment of silence from the two crotchety old men. They exchange a look, but said nothing.
And then there was another voice. “You are no longer the Avenue’s Clockmaker. You are not the assistant to the Clairvoyant, or the Chairwoman of the Avenue Council. Not anymore. You are the Epochrion, and you belong to the Great Conclave.”
When she heard the voice, the Epochrion went rigid. The Pontiff, too, was visible shaken. They turned, and saw the man standing a few feet away, bathed in silver light. He held aloft a glimmering scepter.
The Cosmagus! The Wine Master! All four of Skyfire Avenue’s Paragons were gathered for war!
“Bold, bringing all four of you here. Aren’t you afraid to leave the Avenue unprotected, Cosmagus?” the Terminator asked.
The sudden arrival of the Karmic Scholar, Arcane Magnate and Cosmagus was no accident. They hadn’t even just arrived. Skyfire Avenue must have had time to prepare for this, and did so amply. Three Paragons were sent for a handful of Adepts and a little girl. The Terminator hadn’t counted on that.
Now the Northerners were outnumbered. The Terminator was confident they could still win, even down a man. After all, the Karmic Scholar and the Infernal Vanguard were only recently ascended. However, their appearance meant that his plan had been thoroughly ruined – there was no hope for a bloodless resolution.
Chapter 489: The Cosmagus And The Epochrion
The Avenue’s four Paragons didn’t only represent their organization. They represented their whole Alliance. If something were to happen to them here on Northern soil, then the entire government of the East would be forced to retaliate.
Things would have played out differently if the alien threat didn’t exist, but they did, and they were coming. Once again the North would be first to suffer. It was unwise to start a war with the East under these circumstances.
Hearing the query, the Wine Master’s cold gaze fell upon the Epochrion. His voice was soft, but unfriendly. “The Clairvoyant isn’t dead. That’s hardly leaving the Avenue undefended.”
The Terminator was slow to react. He may have only been one level of Paragon beneath the Clairvoyant, but the gulf between them was immense. That was as true in their contributions to humanity as it was to their strength. This was also why he feared the idea of another Clairvoyant so much.
The Terminator’s voice was hard by contrast. “You thought bringing so many people here would frighten me in to letting
her go, Wine Master? You forget – this is the North!”
“That is exactly what I think,” the Wine Master tepidly replied. “And now that I’m here, do you think we would put Jun’er in harm’s way? Pharmacist… show him.”
A smile spread across her pretty face, and she set the bundle in her arms to the ground. Jun’er began to walk forward with a stiff and awkward gait.
Everyone here was among the best Adepts of humanity. With their incredible powers of perception, it only took half a moment to realize the truth: this was a robot!
The Terminator’s face fell. “Impossible. I felt her powers myself in the Arena. I know she was real.”
“Of course she is,” the Wine Master replied. “If she weren’t why would we go through all this trouble? I was waiting in the corridors when the tournament finished. A quick exchange, and that was that. The details aren’t important.”
Indeed they weren’t, and to explain any further would be an
insult to the Paragon’s intelligence. The Wine Master’s powers lie in interdimensional manipulation. Absconding Jun’er to safety was a simple matter, as was replacing her with this metallic substitute.
Defeat was evident to the Terminator, and it was starting to fray his nerves. He’d been outsmarted, and all his strength couldn’t change the fact. The Avenue had prepared well.
Their objective wasn’t here. What was the point of any further conflict? Especially when the Bookworm and Keeper seemed to have such little regard for Northern life. They were already prepared to inflict massive damage to Luo if provoked. They had defensive measures in place, of course, but who knew how well they’d fare against a cadre of Paragons.
“Good, fine! You may go. But Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi are not your responsibility.” The Terminator was grasping for a victory.
“They are not part of the Avenue,” the Wine Master confirmed.
“But they are my fellow apprentices,” the Pharmacist
The Terminator’s face darkened even further. The art of the sword was an ancient technique passed from master to student, so her assertions were plausible. It made him furious.
Jun Yongye languidly sauntered over to the Pharmacist’s side. He smiled. “You won’t be keeping us here either, even if you’re Paragons. Xuayuna, let’s head out. We don’t want to bring our friends anymore trouble. Sister, we’ll find you when you get back.” He nodded once toward his companion. Then, pausing for a moment, the swordsman looked toward Lan Jue and nodded as well.
Xuanyuan Shishi arrived at his friend’s side. There was an odd flash, and then the two changed before everyone’s eyes. Two swords – one red, one blue – hung suspended in air. They glimmered brilliantly and then, piercing effortlessly through the ground, vanished.
It was an unanticipated exit, to be sure. Neither the Terminator nor the Epochrion knew they could do that.
The Pontiff waved his scepter, and an aura of holy light spread
out around him. He looked prepared for battle. The Epochrion fixed the Wine Master with her silent, shimmering gaze.
The Terminator’s chest heaved, fighting his anger. After a moment, though, he eased. His voice was hard as iron. “I am honored to have so many illustrious Paragon guests on Luo, but you’ve taxed my hospitality. I ask that you leave as quickly as you’re able. Men! Send them off!”
The Terminator dissolved in to a jet black column of energy, then vanished. It had seemed frank, but it was more fatal than the Easterner’s had known. He could feel the Pontiff’s lust for blood, and letting that loose would have hurt his people as well as theirs. Everything would have been thrown in to chaos. In light of these unfortunate revelations, fighting would have achieved nothing. After all, there was their common enemy to consider. He would have to swallow the bitter pill of today’s embarrassment.
With the Terminator gone, it signaled the North’s defeat.
The Pontiff didn’t stick around. He took his entourage and left. The Dark Citadel made their exit as well, in another direction. The Pontiff was here and Satan was not, so they weren’t interested in starting trouble. They knew what kind of
man the Pontiff really was, and given half a chance he would destroy them all.
They had been on a razor’s edge, but now the atmosphere cooled. The Avenue delegation could breathe a sigh of relief. The skies overhead brightened anew, which signaled the departure of the Keeper and the Bookworm.
The Arcane Magnate’s voice hung in the air after his figure disappeared. “We’ll wait for you on the airship. Hurry up.” It was also Jun’er’s hiding place. They would need to get there quickly to protect her. Those last two words were deliberate.
Lan Jue also heaved a sigh. Thanks to the Pharmacist’s medicines he was recovering, but the fight against Jun Yongye had drained him. Complete recovery would take time. This was a much preferred alternative to fighting.
The Gourmet broke his reverie. “Let’s go. We’ll have to fly there ourselves.” Without regarding the Wine Master, he led them in to the air and toward the air hangar. Only two remained.
The Wine Master and the Epochrion exchanged looks. The old
man’s calm face was belied by emotive eyes. They looked pained.
“Have you been alright?” The Epochrion spoke first.
“Very well.” He answered.
The Epochrion’s small voice was almost a whisper. “It’s been a long time. You haven’t changed at all.”
A sad smile spread his lips. “Just older. But really it is you who hasn’t changed. As young and beautiful as you ever were.”
“You should go, too,” she quickly interjected. “The Terminator can calmly deal with a situation, but the military isn’t so level-headed. You should be careful, even on the way home.”
A silvery flash sprang out from the Wine Master’s hand, and the scepter it clutched vanished. “I didn’t only come here to protect my people. I’ve had questions on my mind for the last forty-two years, and today I’m going to get answers. We may never get another chance.”
There was a moment of silence, before the Epochrion looked up at him. “Ask.”
The Wine Master took his time. His hands slowly clenched in to white-knuckled fists. “Why did you leave? Was it really just a disagreement in philosophy? Did you take our relationship in to account?”
She didn’t answer. The Wine Master couldn’t hide the emotion from his face any longer.
“My whole life I’ve only ever loved two things; wine… and the Clockmaker.” “He fought to calm himself, managing to a degree. “There are a few shops on the Avenue that lie empty. The Horologium, and the photography studio still await the day their owner returns.
There was a clear note of disappointment in her voice. “Go back? I’m sorry, Wine Master. I know how you feel about me. That’s part of the reason I left.”
The Wine Master looked at her, shocked. “Because of me?”
She sighed. “Time passes so quickly. People think I control it, but do I? I sure don’t think so. No one is the master of time, because it cannot be controlled. Forty-two years… neither of us are young anymore.
“There’s a lot I never said for fear of hurting you. But you’re insistent. The truth is, I never loved you. My heart always belonged to someone else, someone who loved my sister instead. I couldn’t accept it and left. It wasn’t all you, either. You were too good to me, and I couldn’t repay you the way you wanted. I felt I had no choice but to go.
“Those disagreements of vision were just an excuse. The real reason was I couldn’t stand to face you, or even face myself. That’s when I met the Terminator and decided to leave. Perhaps it was the best decision for me, at the time.”
The Wine Master was at a loss for words. He didn’t know how convoluted the truth had been – or how cruel.
Chapter 490: Absconding
The Wine Master took a step back and staggered, almost falling over. His ruddy features were now a ghastly pale, and twisted in agony. “I was a clown and nothing more. I’m sorry I troubled you. Had I known, I wouldn’t have been around all the time. I apologize. I won’t bother you any further, but I will say that the Horologium is still just the same as it was. Come by, if you’re feeling nostalgic. It’s been forty-two years, your store is the same but many other things are different. Otherwise, I promise that I won’t disturb you anymore.”
A pain difficult to put in to words struck at the old man’s heart. Over forty years of waiting, only to discover this. He felt empty, like his dimensional rifts had carved away the inside.
The former Clockmaker looked at him in stunned silence. She watched as he retreated a few steps, then turned as though to leave. His shrunken frame quivered, and an amorphous light splayed out around him.
Forty-two years, and he still…
Zeus-1 was tucked in to an unassuming corner of the public air hangar. None of the newly arrived Paragons had used it to get here, though. The Gourmet had informed the Wine Master of Jun’er’s abilities at the earliest chance he could. The Cosmagus then immediately alerted the other two and made for Luo. This was not simply a matter of bringing back the little one safely. The entire future of the Avenue was altogether, not least Lan Jue who the Clairvoyant placed such high hopes on.
A great deal went in getting in to the North undetected so quickly. It required a series of secret identities to confound would-be defenses. They’d refused Lan Jue’s offer to use Zeus-1 to maintain secrecy.
The Accountant kept them abreast of the situation with a special frequency their communicators were attuned to, to hide the messengers from curious ears. For minds like the Karmic Scholar and the Arcane Magnate, it was a laughably easy network to set-up.
The three Paragons watched closely as the East began to dominate the tournament. Lan Jue’s miracle victory over Titan put him in the finals, and swept potential victory from the other two Alliances. With each passing moment, they knew their haste and secrecy was warranted.
They knew the North, its domineering style. To be faced with such an excellent showing by the Avenue and the East, it would have been strange for him not to try something.
The Gourmet covered their retreat in conjunction with the other three. No one need fear any longer, with nearly all of the Avenue’s strength at their back.
Their painstaking preparations had paid off in the end. And what’s more, even with four Paragons they had not overdone it. Without them, the Gourmet and his party would have been at the Terminator’s mercy.
They without fuss, and made no attempts to hide their tracks. They were sufficiently protected and even if they’d tried, the North was the biggest Alliance in the galaxy. If they wanted to track them, they could.
Jun’er was waiting on the ship, as promised. She was in the middle of playing, surrounded by a ring of beautiful women.
They were familiar figures: the Stygian Succubus Mika, the Asura Blademaiden Xiuxiu, and the Psychic Tide Lin Guoguo. Ke’er was the only amazon not present. Due to her history with
the North, Lan Jue thought it best she remain behind and tend shop. His accomplices during the tournament, responsible for the bets, were Mika and Xiuxiu. They’d be coming back to the Avenue tremendously wealthy people.
Su Xiaosu, the Morning Star, was of course with them. She had helped the two amazons during the tournament before busying herself with their escape plans.
The Accountant sat at the controls, fidgeting. He turned to look at Lan Jue. “Everyone here, Jewelry Master?”
He shot the twitchy man a thumbs-up, to which the Accountant chuckled deviously. “Then let’s get the hell outta here! Ladies and gentlemen, the fasten seatbelt sign has been illuminated!”
Zeus-1 slowly pulled out of the hangar and on to the runway. The delegate were perched awkwardly around the cabin, as it hadn’t been equipped for luxury travel. The seats were the ones he’d had installed for the ARC students. Discomfort was a staple of that training, so he hadn’t spent very much on amenities. The passengers had to make do with limited elbow room.
Every moment on Luo was a risk, so when the Accountant got the airship lined up, take-off was swift. The engines roared as Zeus-1 streaked across the sky and through the atmosphere. The ship’s state-of-the-art dampening equipment made the acceleration feel no more uncomfortable than a bus ride. Jun’er almost didn’t notice they were moving.
Almost the entire Avenue leadership was on Luo, and it was no longer a secret. They needed to get back to Skyfire as quick as possible, or they left themselves exposed to danger. In reality, however, they knew the chances of something happening while they were away was small. Short of a Paragon attack, they would be safe.
Flickering reds and oranges filled the cabin as the atmosphere burned just outside the cabin windows. Soon it faded away as Zeus-1 thrust itself in to the empty embrace of space. Lan Jue sat in his usual seat, with the control helmet perched on his head. They weren’t completely out of the proverbial woods. The North had the strongest fleet in the galaxy, with bastions and warships that could destroy them without much effort. Whatever the likelihood of that happening, he had to be ready.
The wrinkled face of the Keeper slipped in to his field of vision. The old man patted him on the shoulder. “The Blinding Stone. Let’s have a look.”
Lan Jue wasn’t sure what he wanted, but hastily produced it from interdimensional storage. It still sat in its crystal box. Presumably. He handed it to the Keeper.
A gem like this was a rare thing to see, even for him.
He weighed the box in his gnarled hands, and chuckled. “That idiot baldy has suffered a hell of a lot to safe face! This sort of gem is not cheap. A worthy reward. I’ll take a closer look at it while you’re bringing us home.”
“I’ll go, too!” The Bookworm spryly leapt to his feet and made to follow his colleague. Upon breaking through to Paragon and assuming the mantle of Karmic Mantle, the dispute between them withered and died. Now the two were practically attached at the hip. They spent their days trading theories and testing hypotheses. Through it they had made pretty amazing advances.
Those two were a large part of what made the Terminator back down. With their powers joined, they were as strong as a second level Paragon. That was likely to change, though, as both had begun their path to second level individually.
The two old researches left, while the Wine Master kept to himself in a corner. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking about by his face. The Gourmet stood at Lan Jue’s side, ready to offer assistance if needed.
The Jewelry Master allowed his psychic energies to flow through the helmet and in to the ship. He used it was a conduit, to spread his perception out through space. There was nothing out of the ordinary. Soon they were moving at light speed, toward safety on the route the Accountant had designed.
After about fifteen minutes, Lan Jue took the helmet off. He smiled. “It looks like the Terminator is a man of restraint. There doesn’t appear to be anyone in pursuit.”
He could hear the audible sighs of relief from the passengers.
He couldn’t blame them, it was a tense situation.
“I need to visit the bathroom,” he said before standing. “Accountant, watch the radar.”
“Count on me, I got this.” He was piloting the ship, but when needed he had almost superhuman focus. It also helped that his two worst nightmares were a few feet away.
Lan Jue made his way to the bathroom, the safest place to release Qianlin from within him. It wasn’t a state they could maintain forever.
“I see nothing! Can’t see anything!” Lan Jue shut his eyes tight and turned away from her.
Qianlin, modestly covering what she could, pepped Lan Jue with his eyes screwed shut. Her clothes were in his hands, held out to her. She gave a little giggle before taking them from him and quickly changing.
“All set.” She said, when she was finished.
Lan Jue opened his eyes, and saw the blushing face of Zhou Qianlin. He greeted her with a friendly smile. “Did you get hurt in today’s fight?”
She shook her head. “No. You took all the attacks. Are you alright?”
He, too, shook his head. “After sis’ medicine, I’m fine. Check, what’s your Discipline at, now? I’ll check as well.”
He knew that after Hus Li’s announcement, something was different. He felt stronger. The faith and appreciation of the masses had infused him. Qianlin was with him through the whole process, so her improvement was just as impressive.
But when he closed his eyes and turned his perception inward, he discovered just how much of an improvement it had been. He was ninth level third rank before, recently risen upon finding his Path to Paragon. Still, that process would need time.
It was everything else – that pure flood of faith and power – that bolstered both him and Qianlin. His Discipline had exploded to fifth rank, tempered through the whirlwind events of the tournament. It felt solid, too. His foundation was strong. His Core was maintaining its condensed state, and its energies remained pure. This tournament probably saved him several months of hard cultivation.