Skyfire Avenue Chapter 491-500

Chapter 491: Joint Statement

Zhou Qianlin’s gains through this ordeal were even better than Lan Jue’s. Her Discipline had exploded to ninth level, fourth rank. Lan Jue might have risen by more ranks, but the qualitative change was the same. Passing third rank was the first major bottleneck in a ninth level Adept. Now, she was in the middle ranks.

Zhou Qianlin had never risen so high in rank before. The tribulations of this ordeal had helped her cross the gulf. Months of her life had been saved, that otherwise would have been spent in arduous meditation. Lan Jue had already traversed this path, so the way was clearer.

It was also great that they should break through like this together. Still, Lan Jue didn’t spend too much time marveling over it. He smiled at her, then opened the door of the bathroom and slipped out first.

She watched him go through the closing door. A myriad of conflicting emotions flitted across her face. But she pulled herself together and followed him out.

“Eh? Are we pulling beautiful women out of thin air?” The
Coffee Master blinked at Zhou Qianlin when he saw her.

“Not bad, right? They should call me the Magician.” Lan Jue dodged. The Coffee Master didn’t need to know about his relationship with Qianlin.

The Pharmacist looked to Qianlin for a moment, then waved the Jewelry Master over. He trotted over and sat by her and her daughter.. Jun’er smiled him when he came, and opened her arms to be held.

He snatched her up in to his arms. “What’s up?” He asked the Pharmacist. He reminded himself to be careful how he addressed her in front of Jun’er.

“Aren’t you curious why I forfeit, and pitted you against Jun Yongye?” The Pharmacist asked.

He nodded. “A little. But I know you have my best interest at heart.”

“Indeed,” she replied. “In many ways they really are  my fellow disciples. That wasn’t entirely untrue. The fight you had
with them was also a test, one which you passed. Soon you’ll reap the rewards.”

Lan Jue looked at her. “That submersion technique, to go underground… they must still be on Luo. Will they be safe?”

She shook her head to assure him. “Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to them. In reality, there probably isn’t anyone in the galaxy who could hold them if they didn’t want to be held. I believe they’ll come looking for you soon.”

Lan Jue sighed in relief. “Then we can go home at last. After so long, this trip has become exhausting.”

How could it not be? First it was the Burrows, then from there right to the Holy City of Reims. Luo was only the last stop in a whirlwind tour, culminating in a knock-down, drag-out tournament. It had been more than a month of running, fighting and training. Now that he was finally heading home, he could feel the fatigue settle in to his bones.

The Pharmacist chuckled at his side. “When we get back, be sure to work hard at your cultivation. You’ve learned a lot, and you’ll need time to absorb it all. All of this will help you when it
comes time to break through to Paragon.”

He was suddenly curious. “Sis… could you really become a Paragon whenever you want? Why are you holding back?”

She gave him a wry smirk. “If only it were that easy! I let the Terminator believe a deliberate misconception. He mistook the power of my weapon, with my own strength. It’s true that I am at peak rank. I also know my Path. However, the weapon I use is too much for me. It will take time to master, and until I bring it fully under my control I cannot break through. When we get back I’ll be shutting myself in as well, to see if I can finally succeed.”

The Pharmacist’s weapon was that enormous white sword, spied briefly during the fights. He was only more curious, but it felt inappropriate to press her further on personal matters.

She went on. “Have you decided that your astrum will be a sword?”

He nodded. “Actually, I used a sword when I was younger. Xiuxiu there, she was arranged for by my master. Her Discipline is the sword, and she can become the Asura Godblade. Master
told me that he would teach me the sword when my Taiji was good enough. I guess when I took on the name of Zeus, I just decided to use the spear to keep up appearances. It looks like my first inclination was the right one.

The Pharmacist smiled softly. “Be firm in your conviction and harbor no regrets. Your astrum will help determine your success or failure on the Path to Paragon. In fact you don’t have the luxury for regret, so you need to believe in success with every fiber of your being. Do you understand?”

He nodded. Lan Jue had had the same thought: this sort of decision was final, and he couldn’t afford to feel uncertain. His eyes swung over to Xiuxiu, and there was where the uncertainty lie. To create an astrum, he needed a base – something to build it on. Xiuxiu was perfect, but she wasn’t a weapon, she was a person. If he chose her as his astrum, their fates would be forever linked. That would cause problems. He knew how she felt about him, but sometimes even time couldn’t grant love’s wish.

That wouldn’t work. If he took that path, things were bound to get very messy.

A strange, dim light hung around Lan Jue. An icy-cold
expression sat on his face, while the light in his eyes mimicked his aura. When they would fluctuate, so would the bubble. He pressed his hands before his chest and foxed his gaze. This was a problem he could have to think carefully on.

Zeus-1 cruised along at double subluminal speed. Luo quickly vanished behind them. They were distant now, but the Accountant still kept the radar operational. It was, thankfully, silent.

Interstellar travel was always an arduous and tiring process, but Zeus-1 was a far sight faster than commercial travel ships, and a lot nimbler. They didn’t have to worry about orbital assists or gravitational fields. The Accountant already had them locked into the quickest, safest route home.

Half an hour later, the Keeper and Bookworm returned to the bridge. They were all safely in the depths of space, and were no longer needed on guard. They had busied themselves with the installation of the S-ranked invisibility gem, which was now complete. Nothing short of a Paragon, actively channeling their Domain, could pick them out from the blackness of space.

Autopilot took over. The only thing the crew needed to do was take shifts, watching the radar.
Lan Jue found himself a deserted corner, and dropped cross- legged to the floor to meditate. There was too much to do and not enough time, so every moment would be needed if he really wanted to take advantage of everything he’d learned.

Things would also slow down for a while. This was good – he didn’t want to rise in rank too quickly. The whole point of re- cultivating was stability, and purity. It was not about break- neck advancement. Now he would need to focus on consolidating the strange and mysterious energies he’d come to experience, and join them together.

ζ

While the Avenue delegation hummed through the vacuum of space, the worlds of humanity were thrown in to turmoil. The North, the West and the East all announced plans to prepare for war, plans that they released in a joint statement to the people.

It pledged to fight the alien menace together. The Alliances would turn their strength to the defense of human kind. In the meanwhile, probes would be sent to the three planets, to watch their progress.
In addition, all of the Alliances would be instituting a draft. For the east, their conscription efforts would be overseen by someone who commanded a great deal of respect. He was the Supersoldier of An Lun, the one they called Prometheus. Lan Qing. With the backdrop of the miracle battle, the tournament and the threat of immanent destruction, the recruiting centers had lines out the door.

This was not to say there wasn’t worry. Many feared for their safety. But, if there was one resource humanity never lacked it was hot-blooded, able-bodied youths. The military was always an attractive option, and they were treated well. Especially in times of war, however, they became heroes. This stirred even normal people to take up arms.

Everything raced ahead to the beat of the war drums. The differences between the alliances already seemed to start melting away as they worked to avoid destruction. Humanity would need to become a well-oiled military machine to survive.

The resolve to fight quickly spread to every corner of human- occupied space. Mining planets saw their output surge as demand increased. Military institutes were preparing themselves as well, and recent enlistees were brought in at a higher rank. However, this was also met with a much more stringent training regimen.
ζ

Seven days later, Zeus-1 pulled in to the public air hangar on Skyfire. As he disembarked, Lan Jue couldn’t help but stop and take a deep breath. Really, though, the trip had flown by. He’d spent most of it in quiet contemplation.

Maybe it was because he wasn’t joined with Qianlin, or perhaps it was just that he’d risen too fast, but whatever the case he could sense his Discipline’s progress slowing. There was a change, though nigh imperceptible. He could feel it, but he couldn’t quite describe it. All he knew was it was a good thing.

“Ah! Only the air on Skyfire can make a man feel at home.” The Coffee Master called out what everyone was thinking.

A maglev bus silently awaited passenger a few feet away. When the doors opened, a familiar face peaked out. It was the Seamstress.

Chapter 492: Coming Home

The Seamstress had left Luo shortly after her stint in the tournament. At the time, only the Gourmet knew why. Going to Luo was an opportunity for the Avenue. Not just in the tournament, but it gave them an excuse to purchase goods and military equipment that was only available in the North. They were purchased in good faith, under the edict of mutual aid in the fight against the monsters.

The Seamstress brought the haul back to the Avenue herself. A short time later was when the Paragons began to notice the strength of the East. During the semi-finals, pressure had already begun to mount against them, and leaving would have been difficult. She got out with their purchases before getting swept up in the North’s net. The Great Conclave’s focus had been drawn by Lan Jue, the Pharmacist and the others. The Seamstress was small potatoes, comparatively.

The Gourmet strode forward and wrapped her up in a hug.
The two shared a wordless look and smiled affectionately.

“Homeward,” the Wine Master’s low voice called. Everyone filed on to the bus.
Ever since the Clairvoyant shut himself away, the Wine Master had become the leader of the Avenue. But, the entire ride home he never spoke a word. The old man sat as though in a stupor, with a sour expression on his wrinkled face. No one troubled him, or tried to help. This man was from another generation, and it was the place of youth to pester their elders.

The bus hummed along the road back home.

Lan Jue and Zhou Qianlin sat together. He had his eyes shut, and a neutral expression that made his thoughts hard to guess. Qianlin watched the scenery pass outside her window.

Did you have something you wanted to tell me? Lan Jue asked through the Soulcaller stone.

Qianlin: Give me two days. I promise I’ll tell you everything.

Lan Jue opened his eyes and looked at her.

Two days?
She looked back apologetically.

I need to prepare.

Alright.

Lan Jue hadn’t been able to shake the memory of her rejection. It dug at him like a fishbone caught in his throat.

The bus reached its destination, stopping outside the entrance to the Avenue. Every face on the bus broke in to a smile when the sight of home appeared on the horizon. Even the Wine Master’s.

When they got off the bus, Qianlin turned to Lan Jue. “I haven’t been home for a long time. I’m going to head back.”

“I’ll send you home,” Lan Jue replied.

“No, it’s fine,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ll manage.”
She hurried off in the direction of Mount Tai.

Lan Jue’s brows unconsciously knotted. Ever since his confession, she’d been acting strange. She was disconnected. Had he known, he would have kept it to himself. It was better when the two of them were in harmony.

“Is there something going on between you two?” The Pharmacist’s voice interrupted.

He looked down at Jun’er, tucked in her mother’s arms, and shook his head. “Nothing major.”

She nodded. “Come with me to the shop first. I have something I need to discuss with you.”

“Sure,” he replied.

He then turned to Mika. “You all head back first. I’ll be at the Hall of Supreme Harmony for a while. Get a room set up for Xiaosu, then inventory what we brought back from the North. I’ll be back later.”
“Got it.” Mika nodded, and shot a glance toward the Morning Star. There was a visible glint of hostility in her pretty eyes.

She wasn’t alone. None of the Amazons were tolerant of the former Bloodfiend Empress. How could they be? She had almost gotten Lan Jue killed, and Mika kidnaped. Xiaosu didn’t appear to notice. She was quiet, but warm.

Her Discipline was stronger than all the other Amazons, but the Morning Star was wiser than that. IF she wanted to stay here and serve at their side, she would need to at least be cordial. Otherwise, at their word she would be cast away.

Xiaosu left with the Amazons, and the other Avenue denizens went their separate ways. Lan Jue took Jun’er from her mother and wrapped her in his arms as they left for the Pharmacist’s shop.

When they reached the underground, Lan Jue was amazed at what he saw. There was easily twice as many people now than there used to be – back when he thought it was crowded. Every shop was a buzz of activity. As they entered the Hall, he was floored. The press of humanity was crushing. He slipped on the face mask and gave the sunglasses to the Pharmacist by means of disguise.
After the Pharmacist’s incredible showing, her and her shop had become instantly famous. She was a household name overnight.

Especially in contrast to outside, the inner sanctum of the Hall was blessedly quiet. If Lan Jue was forced to pick his favorite place on the Avenue, it would have to be the secluded, winding paths of the Hall. The old Chinese-style pavilions peppered throughout were all fastidiously crafted to the principles of feng shui, balance of the five elements and internal powers. It was a place rich with culture.

They quietly walked the paths to the back, where they deposited Jun’er in to her room. Then, Lan Jue followed the Pharmacist to a small alcove. It had a strange construction, with eight equilateral walls much like the pavilions they’d passed. The moment he entered, he somehow felt different.

It had a distinct energy within it, while also isolating them from anything outside. The primordial energies of the planet were gathered here. He didn’t need to ask to know this was where the Pharmacist did her cultivation.

She confirmed his thoughts. “This is where I temper myself. Here I have built a conduit of powers, gathering the five
elements and eight trigrams. Even the spirit of heaven and earth can be felt. It is also protective, and even a Paragon’s breakthrough can’t be felt outside of this room.

Lan Jue smiled. “Why all the mystery? Why couldn’t you just tell me on the airship?”

The Pharmacist, by contrast, looked at him with a serious face. “Because we have serious things to discuss. A Paragon could hear us anywhere but in here, so this is the safest place.”

He put his smile away when he saw her expression. Whatever she wanted to tell him, it wasn’t going to be trivial.

She motioned to a cushion on the floor. “Sit.”

He removed his shoes and settled down on the very traditional hassock, legs folded underneath. He felt a little self-conscious in the very sage-like posture.

“This is a pretty incredible place, sis. It has got to have a serious effect on cultivation.” Lan Jue praised.
“You can come practice Taiji here,” she offered. “Taiji, the five elements, the heavenly stems and earthy branches, purple star astrology, they all come from the same root. They were born from the same source and supplement each other.”

This is a complicated system of calculation that’s used to precisely pinpoint the energies of a year, month, day, even down to the minute presumably. We learned the fundamentals of it in school to help inform treatment times.

“It would be disrespectful for me to decline,” he said with a nod. The best way to advance was still to cultivate with Qianlin, however, they had earned tremendous gains this last month – too fast, in fact. They would need some time to themselves, to stabilize their Disciplines. Not to mention, things were a little tense between himself and Qianlin. At present, finding a place to cultivate on his own was a better option.

The Pharmacist went on. “It’s small, but it took five years of labor, and all the profit from the Hall of Supreme Harmony to realize.”

This took Lan Jue by surprise. It was common knowledge that the Hall of Supreme Harmony had the best income, much to the envy of many. Thanks to her personal strength, and the support
of the Clairvoyant, no one caused her any trouble because of their jealousy.

He knew at least that her profits were head and shoulders above Zeus’ Jewelry Shop, but he was still reaping the benefits. What great gains, and he didn’t even have to put in any effort! There was an old saying that claimed ‘you could do nothing that’s better than selling drugs.’ All of that money was hard to imagine.

She saw the surprise on his face. “Do you know why I did it?”

“I imagine creating such a powerful array is difficult to construct and sustain,” he said.

She nodded. “That’s part of the reason. The heart of it is an s- ranked gen, surrounded by a lattice of ten a-ranked. That isn’t all that much money, however. Most of it was spent to suppress my own strength.”

“Huh?” Lan Jue blinked at her, confused. She was half a breath from Paragon, and still she struggled to control her own Discipline. What was she ultimately capable of?
She smirked. “It’s strange, isn’t it? But it’s the truth. It cost me tem times the resources to create an array that would do what I needed. The loss of Jun’er’s father has made my Path longer, but repressing my strength has also been a major hurdle. But it isn’t entirely a bad thing. The results are similar to the re- cultivation process you’re going through. As I keep it down, I can polish and strengthen my Discipline, and master my Domain. When I do ultimately break through, my progress will be much faster than someone like the Gourmet, who broke through normally.”

“I still don’t understand why you’d want to tell me this secret,” Lan Jue apologized. “Does this have something to do with me?”

“Not directly, but there is a correlation that involves you,” she answered. “First, I’ll show you what I am suppressing.”

Her final words were punctuated by a dim light. She spread her hands out, and the light filled the room with a graceful, majestic elegance. Lan Jue looked on as the walls reacted, shimmering with ancient runes. They shimmered, light as air, but there was a sense that their strength ran deep.

Chapter 493: The Legend Of The Godly Blades

The sudden, crushing pressure forced the air out of his lungs. All it once it was like a mountain had landed on him. He’d seen improvement in his Discipline, and by extensive command over his Domain and spirit – but this power was overwhelming.

The Pharmacist didn’t appear at all affected, having long since become used to the pressure. Only her hands moved, fingers dancing through the air. Each swaying motion released a wave of light that fell upon the rune.

All at once the pressure doubled. The room had nothing in the way of ornamentation or furniture, and the only thing he’d seen in it were the cushions. Know he knew why. Anything in here when the Pharmacist let herself loose would be crushed to dust.

The woman’s pretty eyes flared to life, blazing with internal light. But however bright they were, her gaze was ice-cold. The air was thick with a murderous intent so overwhelming that Lan Jue could only stare. He felt like even his soul was frozen.

He fought against himself, forcing himself to remain still and not interrupt. The Pharmacist had had countless opportunities
to harm him in the past, so that was surely not her intention. So he sat, and watched as the Pharmacist continued to reach for something.

Shot pointed with her right hand, and then a flash. The room was filled with an incandescent light. It was so intense that, if Lan Jue were a normal man, he’d have been outright blinded.

Slicing within it was a white light, somehow separate that hung in the air.

Not a light. A sword, one whose every inch blazed with light. Its point was directed to the ground, its handle pointed skyward. When it appeared, the air felt like it turned to liquid. The same suppressive energies that threatened to crush Lan Jue also seemed to work on the sword. Its luminous aura dimmed, ever so slightly. To Lan Jue, the pressure on himself felt more diluted, as well.

Strange lines were etched along the blade’s surface. Looking upon them made Lan Jue’s spirit shudder. He’d seen them before, when the Pharmacist fought against the necromancer Jiang Yuan. It was the same blade that overcame the malefic wyrm, the one they spoke about before – her Astrum!
“Sister, all of this to control your own Astrum?” Lan Jue asked in surprise.

There was a bitterness in her voice when she answered. “It is more accurate to say, all of this to control what I hope to make my Astrum. If I succeed, I will pass the barrier and become a Paragon. This thing is part of the reason Jun’er was born without sight. It is both a great blessing and a terrible curse. It is the thing that keeps me locked in this place. Only after years of painstaking effort have I seen some success in the last few years.

There was certainly a story in all of this, but Lan Jue was silent. He didn’t wish to interrupt the Pharmacist’s explanation.

“I found it the year I discovered Master’s legacy; it was with the medicines, and cultivation teachings. Like them, it was part of the inheritance. But it had a mate. Two swords, and one was taken up by my late husband. We trained together, and improved together, but we still didn’t have the strength to approach the weapons. It took a long time for us to understand, but even the presence of their aura helped us obtain knowledge and strengthen our Disciplines. Little by little, we grew strong.”

“At last, when we had come upon the threshold of ninth level, we took the first steps in claiming the weapons for our own. We
were so happy. Even just being near them had helped us so much, we foresaw such benefit once we could integrate completely with them.”

“We were right. We advanced faster than other Adepts, and were stronger. Eventually, though, we discovered that something wasn’t right. The weapons were actually much stronger than we had at first thought.”

“Master’s teachings speak of them. Inherited blades, artifacts even he couldn’t completely control. He gave these weapons to the future, so that a way to unlock their powers would be revealed. They are a set of four in total. I remember Master telling me once that the swords should never be brought together, even though they are inexorably linked. No human could contain their power, and the result would be outright Armageddon. He never joined with them himself, only studied their power. When he felt as though he didn’t have much longer to leave, he let them loose to find their destiny.

“The weapons are dangerous, he urged. They are as murderous as they are sharp. In the condition he was in, he dare not attempt to command them, lest he cut his diminishing life short. His teachings urge us to be cautious, and only train with them once we achieve Paragon.
“Unfortunately, my husband and I chose not to heed the warning. We were sure that ninth level was strong enough to assert our dominance on the blades. We could do what the Master could not, we thought. When we first joined with them was when we discovered the swords were much more terrifying than we could have imagined.

“The murderous energies, that infernal sharpness… it tore at us. As a couple, as people. It quickly began to carve away our lives. Only great doses of medicine saved us. For the sword, it was like the addition of our life force excited them. The energy they released was stronger than ever. We couldn’t hold it, and it felt like they were trying to slice their ways out from within us. Still we were confident. We had succeeded in joining with our Astrums! How could this be wrong? The only thing that would stop us from mastering these weapons was death itself.

“In order to sustain ourselves, we refined our medicines. Then, we discovered that certain power gems had the ability to suppress the sword’s power. We searched furiously for more gems, and they helped. But we needed more, and in order to afford them my husband joined the army. He enlisted with the exploration fleet to scout of planets for resource mining. He chose the job so he could keep an eye on discoveries that could help. Neither of us knew he’d never come back.”
She paused for a moment, choked by the overwhelming sadness evident in her eyes.

“That was when I became Skyfire Avenue’s Pharmacist, and opened the Hall of Supreme Harmony. With the help of Master’s teachings I persevered. My daughter and I pulled through, day by day. It’s funny, when you think about it. My husband and I were both so attached to those swords, just as they were cutting us apart. I honestly can’t tell you if I love them or hate them. They’ve brought me great strength, but also terrible pain.”

Lan Jue was a good listener. He sat across from her and never made a sound as she told her tale. It was evident this was something she’d held on to for a long time. It was important for her to let it out.

The Pharmacist lifted her head to the ceiling, denying her tears the chance to tumble down her cheeks. It took a moment for her to regain composure.

“I hate thinking back on these things. It’s only gotten better in the last couple years. Jun’er is bigger, and I am slowly asserting my control over the artifact. As long as I don’t try to tap in to its full power, I can suffer it. Little brother, have you
guessed why I’m telling you this?” She suddenly asked.

Lan Jue looked up at her. “You said that there were four blades. I imagine Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi are the other two. They must have also come across Celestial Master Qian’s teachings.”

The Pharmacist smiled. “Not quite, but close. They acquired a part of Master’s legacy. That day, when the Terminator made his threats, he could never have made good on them. What he did not know was that the styles of Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi where actually two parts of what was intended to be a harmonious whole. Once the two of them are in tandem, it’s said to be completely invincible – like magic. Even your Taiji sword style, or the legendary arts like Lonely Blade, would struggle to go toe to toe. That is to say, in a fight with the Terminator they wouldn’t necessarily have the disadvantage. But that would mean letting the swords free, with all their hungry power.”

Lan Jue looked at the Pharmacist, stunned. He’d never heard even a whisper of this before. Where there really dual-style martial arts like this? Unfortunately he had no way of knowing. When he left to see his own master, and learn the way of the Taiji Sword, then he would discover more about the power of the combined weapons.
The Pharmacist continued. “All of these weapons share the same name. You’re a Disciple of Jue Di’s martial expertise. Can you guess what it is?”

Chapter 494: The Four Banishing Blades

A thoughtful expression flit across Lan Jue’s face. In reality, he’d guessed the story of these weapons once the Pharmacist started explaining. From what she told him, it  sounded  as though Celestial Master Qian was not the sword’s creator. Instead they were ancient artifact weapons, old and powerful. But where did they come from?

It was more complicated than that, though. It was common knowledge that an Astrum was destroyed with its owner. How, then, could these swords have survived to be passed on? Perhaps they weren’t really Astrum – maybe it was just that simple.

With such being the case, it must have an ancient heritage. But Lan Jue searched his memory, and could think of nothing about a set of apocalyptic swords. A normal Astrum should be strongest when it’s whole, but the Pharmacist displayed incredible ability with only one fourth of a set. They were so strong, and so old, it didn’t make any sense that they weren’t more widely known. What on earth were they?

He wracked his brain, but came up with nothing. He shook his head. “You’re going to have to tell me. I don’t know.”
Her eyes sparkled. “There is a belief, passed down from early generations of humanity. Back then, they aligned themselves with different schools of thought; the School of Insight, and the School of Interpretation. The founder of the School of Insight was Celestial Master Lingbao. He, along with Celestial Master Yuanshi and the Elder Sage, constituted the Three Pure Ones. They all followed the same Master – Ancestor Hungjun. The great teacher separated a treasure in to four parts, and gave one to each of his disciples. Each of these great artifacts had a name; Ultus, Occisus, Captus, and Demortus. The Banishing Blades!

These refer to fictional schools from a 16th century book called Investiture of the Gods.

“The Banishing Blades?” Lan Jue exhaled upon hearing the names. Was it true? Could they be the Banishing Blades?

Now that she’d told him the name, of course he knew of them. But calling them an artifact was only scratching the surface. The legend of the Banishing Blades talks about the Pure Ones using them in tandem, a style called the Banishing Stance. They would emerge from any conflict unscathed. They were considered among the strongest god weapons.

“Sis… are you telling me that your sword is one of the
Banishing Blades?”

The Pharmacist smiled. “ ’Ultus sharp, Occisus death. Captus naught but blood light left. Demortus’ shifts are limitless. Godly blood spills down my dress.’ The sword I bear is the sword of death – Occisus!”

Lan Jue’s eyes were so wide they threatened to roll out of his head. His pupils were wide in surprise, and he took a hard gulp. The… the Banishing Blades!

Holy shit!

The Pharmacist saw his expression and bubbled a laugh. “And with Celestial Master Qian as strong as he was, how was it even he couldn’t persevere against their power? No one is sure whether Ancestor Hong Jun actually made the swords, but it is clear that they are incomparably mighty. Unfortunately, when Master found the swords he did not also discover the Banishing Diagram – teachings for how to perform the Banishing Stance. Its power is enough to obliterate a Bastion ship, and no man- made object could ever contend with its destructive power.”

Occisus… Occisus, Occisus! The name echoed again and again
in his mind as he struggled to comprehend.

“Hey, come back to me.” The Pharmacist waved a hand in front of his face. He snapped back to the present and looked her way.

“Occisus, that’s really one of the Banishing Blades. Sis, with that in your hands, you could defeat the Terminator even as a first-level Paragon.” Lan Jue said.

The Pharmacist smiled. “That sounds about right. Occisus is the most murderous of them – the Terminator wouldn’t be too much of a problem then.”

Lan Jue’s eyes suddenly narrowed. “So that means, Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi…”

“… are the same. Jun Yongye is Captus, and Xuanyuan Shishi
– the ten thousand swords – is Demortus. The one my husband took with him when he left was the sharpest of them, and the first among the Banishing Blades. Ultus.”

Lan Jue’s breath had become ragged. He tripped over himself
to talk. “So in the tournament, neither of them were able to completely control their blade, either?” Now the strength of these weapons was well established. If those two gentlemen had been able to use the weapon to its fullest, how could he have become champion?

The Pharmacist explained. “Xuanyuan Shishi is a little less advanced than his friend. He cannot control Demortus’ power. Jun Yongye is further along – you’ve experienced what I’m explaining.”

That was indeed true. He had been awash in the unbridled power of it. If it hadn’t been for his sudden comprehension of the nature of yin and yang, he’d have lost. Victory was achieved when, at last, the union of yin and yang lightning was complete.

“You remember, after the round-robin? Those two already knew what power I wielded. That’s why they called me sister, and I call them fellow disciples. They asked me to give up my spot in the final four, so they could have a chance to test you. That’s ultimately why I chose to forfeit against Jun Yongye… and his understanding of the blade is inferior to mine.”

“Test?” He thought back to his fights against the two Eastern swordsmen. He remembered how strange the things they said
seemed. Did this mean…

The Pharmacist continued. “Yes, they were testing you. In fact, that was their whole purpose in coming – to find two people worthy. As it turns out, you were the best candidate. You aren’t just strong, but have an idea of your Domain as well. Once Poseidon shared that story of your heroism, you passed their test.”

There was a hint of doubt in Lan Jue’s face as he answered her. “But why? My teacher was Jue Di, and you can’t build a house on a different foundation. Anyway, no one even knows where Celestial Master Qian is, or if he’s around at all.”

The Pharmacist chuckled and shook her head. “You don’t understand. I just said Jun Yongye is Captus, and Shishi is Demortus. Do you understand?”

“Of course!” He said. “Jun Yongye possesses the one sword and Xuanyuan Shishi has the other, right?”

She shook her head. “No. I said they are the swords, not that they have the swords.”
His eyes widened again. He didn’t believe what he was hearing, but he understood it.

“You mean… they are actually swords?”

“How else do you think there would suddenly appear two young masters?” She asked. “Each of these weapons have a soul, and my own weapon’s spirit has already joined with mine. I am it, and it is me. It’s been like this ever since we discovered Occisus and Ultus. Probably due to the connections between the swords, Jun Yongye and Xuanyuan Shishi would know if the other weapons have chosen a host. Little by little, that sword spirit awakened within them, which allows them to become the image of the sword. They told me, they came out to join the tournament because they were lonely. The Banishing Blades are said to bring tragedy with them wherever they go. This was true the last time they were revealed to the world. It took Celestial Master Qian and the other Elders together to contain the Banishing Stance. Ancestor Tongtian took back the weapons and, in an act of guilt, distributed them among humanity. He bequeathed them to man, so that they may prepare for the next time they’ll be needed. Their arrival is for one purpose, to avert disaster.”

“The Clairvoyant told me this, while convincing me to join the Avenue. He also said that the swords were an omen of
impending doom.”

A shiver ran along Lan Jue’s spine. He suddenly understood. Everything was connected, and there was always a cause and effect. But most terrifying, was that all of it seemed to be the machinations of the Eye of Tomorrow. From he and Qianlin’s run-in with Bize, to the sudden appearance of these mystical blades. The Clairvoyant saw it all.

It was uncomfortable, to feel like someone was playing with your destiny. In the end, though, there wasn’t anything Lan Jue could do about it.

“So I have been chosen, by Captus and Demortus.” Lan Jue tried to control his thudding heart. His question was almost unconscious.

She nodded. “More specifically, they’ve chosen both of you.
After all, you didn’t fight them alone.”

“Qianlin?” Lan Jue looked at her in shock.

She nodded sagely. “Just so.”
He shook his head. “Then, where are they? Why didn’t they come back with us?”

“I can’t say,” she replied. “But I believe it won’t be very long before they come find you. In the meantime, it’s imperative that you refine your Discipline as much as you can. If you don’t, you’ll end up making the same mistake I did. Don’t count on the strength of you and Qianlin together to control them. You have two individual spirits to convince, not just one. Become Paragons. Only then can you control the power they wield.

Chapter 495: The Chance Of Harmonious Swords

The Pharmacist smiled at Lan Jue. “Right now, you don’t need to concern yourself too much with the Banishing Blades. The most important thing is to improve your Discipline. I have been and will continue to search for the Banishing Diagram. If all of this is true, and humanity is in dire straits, then we’ll need to find a way to use this formation to our advantage. That is humanity’s best hope for survival. And if we get it, we can use the diagram to find the location of all four swords. Perhaps…”

She trailed off, but the light of hope in her eyes spoke volumes.

Yes! If they could find Ultus, then they’d find her husband!

“If you get any news about the diagram, let me know. I want to help,” Lan Jue said.

“Alright,” she answered, nodding her head. “I did manage to learn something after running in to the other two swords. But right now your primary focus is perfecting yourself. Tell this to Qianlin, and have her begin preparations as well. Also, if you hope to uncover the lost knowledge of the harmonious swords,
there mustn’t be any barriers between you. The harmonious swords are built on the prerequisite of emotional connection, and a union of the heart. Only then is harmony achieved, and the style effective. If you can master the techniques, and if both of you manage to break through to Paragon before the diagrams are discovered and the aliens arrive, then humanity will be ready to face this terrible threat.”

Lan Jue took a deep breath. “So no pressure, right sis? I don’t know if I can handle this…”

The Pharmacist’s voice suddenly grew hard. “Whether or not we think we can, we must. That is our destiny. Remember that no matter what, I am here to share your burden. Do not worry over whether the Clairvoyant has controlled your destiny, because I know you’re thinking it. Everything the Eye of Tomorrow has ever done was in the best interest of mankind. He has sacrificed more than anyone toward this aim. Compared to what he’s given up, our tribulations are nothing.”

Lan Jue sat up straight at her words. Slowly he nodded.

“Alright,” the Pharmacist said, “you’re tired. Head back and rest. Do not tell anyone other than Qianlin about what we discussed today.”
“Yes.” He nodded resolutely.

Even after he stepped out from the Hall of Supreme Harmony and into Skyfire Underground, his heart was still racing beyond control. The Banishing Blades… legendary artifacts.

The press of complicated issues surrounding him began to feel overwhelming. His thoughts were scattered. The Pharmacist’s voice was clearest, and her words were a reminder of where he was meant to be. Indeed, the feeling of having your future determined by another was unpleasant. But if it was for humanity? What did one person’s concern mean in the face of that?

“Boss! Who do you think you are, King Yu? Thrice to the threshold but never inside?” The hard voice caught Lan Jue’s attention.

This is a reference to the semi-mythical Yu the Great, and the story that he spent years in the ditches with the workers to control floods. He was always near home but never at it.

He snapped his head around to find Ke ‘er standing in front of Zeus’ Jewelry Store with her hands planted on her hips. Her
eyes were wide, and hard with anger. He’d walked right past the door to his shop, lost in his own thoughts.

“Hey, Ke’er. Have you been keeping out of trouble these days?” Lan Jue smirked at her, easily shifting in to a more congenial mood. He was still wearing his face mask for fear of being spotted. Of course, Ke’er would never look past her own boss.

“Hmph!” She sniffed meanly at him. “You’re the one in trouble! Gone for so long, never getting in touch, this is not the behavior of a responsible employer! You all left me here by myself, busy all the time. Ke’er’s so tired! Every day, so many people. I can’t get a moment! Thank goodness An Liu was here to help me.”

An Liu? The security officer?

But of course. Things must have been crazy around here with the sudden increase of traffic. Certainly Ke’er couldn’t have managed by herself.

Lan Jue looked at her apologetically. “I’m so sorry, Ke’er. I had no idea there would be so many people. Name whatever
compensation you want, and you’ve got it.”

Ke’er straightened her shoulders, causing the fabric of her uniform to stretch against her well-endowed figure. “Kiss me, and I’ll forgive you!”

“No!” The door behind KE’er flung open, and three pairs of hangs yanked her in to the shop. Mika’s face appeared around the door frame. “Get in, boss.”

Lan Jue smirked. Ah, home! Where it is always warm and sweet.

Lan Jue almost had to fight his way in. There was a press of people from wall to wall, and the girls were all busy. Lin Guoguo and Xiuxiu were helping customers, and Ke’er had to race back to the counter. A lot of the merchandize was missing from within the display cases, and a line of people were waiting to get more.

Lan Jue gaped at them. Since when was buying power gems like going to the cabbage market?
Farmer’s drive up to a market or neighborhood in dump trucks full of cabbage. The whole neighborhood – hundreds of people – will file out and swarm the truck for cabbage that’s .02 cents cheaper.

Mika looked over at him. “Boss, I think we should close the shop after this wave of guests. We need to organize and restock.”

Lan Jue nodded. He’d been gone for a long time, so he’d need a minute to go over the condition of the shop. While he was out being productive, the business side of things had fallen on the girls’ shoulders. He was out of the loop.

Mika turned off the welcome sign, then set about helping. Meanwhile, the Morning Star stood in a corner and observed the raucous crowd. She looked confused, and a little disappointed.

Lan Jue saw, and pushed through the people to get to her. “What’s wrong? Not really your scene, I bet.”

Su Xiaosu shook her head. “It’s not that I’m uncomfortable, I’m… hopeful. This is such a wonderful feeling, to have a place
so lively and safe. Where you don’t have to constantly be looking over your shoulder, or worrying over problems of life and death. It’s so nice! I always wanted just a day like this. Thank you, boss.”

Lan Jue smiled at her, and didn’t correct her address. She was here, so might as well prepare for her to stay. There wasn’t really any other option. He couldn’t force her to leave, especially now that the Pontiff knew who it was that took her. All eyes were on Skyfire Avenue now, and if it weren’t for the state of things then retaliation would be expected.

“If you like it, then stick around. You’re smart and empathetic. You’ll fit right in.” Lan Jue said with a wide smile.

Lightly shaking her head, Xiaosu said “I want to, and I’ll try my hardest to make the other girls accept me. But I can’t, not now. I have to say goodbye.”

“You’re leaving?” Lan Jue’s heart skipped a beat, but he hid it from his face.

She nodded. “I had good people in the starfields, people who would have followed me through hell and high water. The
Moonfiend Pirates may have been puppets of the Pontiff’s Citadel, but I ran the outfit for years. I have my trusted people. Without me there, things have got to be hard. Gao Yong was the one who came to you, and if he hadn’t I would have died. I wouldn’t be able to help them. So I’m going back, and I’m going to rebuild the Moonfiend Pirates.”

Lan Jue’s brows shot up in surprise. “You’ve changed your mind?” It wasn’t long ago that she was begging to be one of his Amazons!

She answered with a sigh. “You helped me make up my mind. When I saw your heroism on Taihua, I realized that people can’t just live for themselves. Life isn’t a careless walk through the park. I saw those monsters, and when I did I knew that we can’t rely only on our Disciplines. We have to have real strength, inner strength. I have resources out there, and I’ll turn them toward the fight against these alien predators. We will be an arm in the fight against eradication and throw off the shackles of the Citadel.”

The more impassioned she became, the more vociferously Lan Jue nodded his head. He looked delighted. “Seeing you like this makes me very happy. You have my support. But, going out right now by yourself is too dangerous, and I’ve got my hands full.”
Su Xiaosu shook her head. “I’m also not the girl I was before. I was still bound by the training and regulations of the Citadel when they came for me before. I have no such relationship them any longer. With your help, I’m no longer a slave to their faith. Besides, the universe is a big place. Finding me won’t be easy.” There was a bright light of wisdom and confidence in her face.

Lan Jue gave her a big smile. “It looks like our Moonfiend Empress is going to make herself felt. If you’re confident, I certainly won’t stop you. Take Zeus-1 with you, I’m sure it’ll be a big help.”

That was an understatement. The ship had just been modified to include the top-grade Blinding Stone. It was a mini warship that could pop in to existence practically anywhere. It was a telling sign of Lan Jue’s commitment to her cause.

“Boss, I can’t accept that. That ship is too precious.” Her face reddened.

“Who said anything about giving?” Lan Jue said with a chuckle. “I’m lending it to you, you can return it to me later. And actually, there’s something else I think I can help you with…” Lan Jue manipulated his Discipline so that his voice was directed to Xiaosu alone. He spoke a few sentences while she
listened quietly. But with every word, her eyes seemed to get brighter.

“Alright, so it’s decided. Once everything’s said and done, I expected a position here in the shop.” Su Xiaosu said with a smirk.

Lan Jue chuckled. “It would be my honor to employ the Moonfiend Empress. Zeus’ Jewelry Shop will always be open to you.”

Xiaosu dragged her eyes over to the other girls, busily helping customers. “I won’t say goodbye to them, they’re still upset. The next time I come by, I’ll show them that I would be just as good to the boss as they are.” She suddenly spun around and wrapped Lan Jue in to a tight hug. It was just for a moment, then she quickly released him and left the store.

She’d felt soft, almost like she was boneless. This was different than the countless other girls he’d hugged. He stood there stunned for a moment, and when he came to, Xiaosu was gone.

Chapter 496: BOSS!

“Quick as the wind, this girl,” Lan Jue muttered helplessly.

“Boss!” He suddenly realized the customers had all gone. The four amazons all stood at his back, hands on their hips. He awkwardly plucked off his mask and coughed.

“Em, do you girls want a hug, too?”

“Hmph!” They shouted in unison.

“Ladies,” he said, his face spreading in to a winning smile. “It’s so nice to be home, let’s not ruin the mood, am I right? In fact, I think we should have a drink and celebrate, what do you think?”

They couldn’t hold it, and Ke’er bubbled in to laughter. “I don’t care, but I do want a hug. You all going out and leaving me behind… you don’t know how much work it was!”

Mika replied. “It was no cake-walk for us, either. Running this way and that, hiding our identities, making deals and buying
supplies… it wasn’t easy!”

They made their way toward the far counter of the jewelry shop. The ladies were careful to keep Lan Jue captured in the center of them.

His shifty eyes flit in all directions. “I’ll have you know, girls, that I’m a man of integrity!”

“Like this is some sort of rare happening,” Ke’er quipped. She stuck her tongue out at him, and the other girls tittered.

“Alright,” Mika said, “business to discuss. How has the store been these last few days, Ke’er?”

She nodded. “Business has been unusually busy. Our stock is down to forty-three percent. Everything is selling like hotcakes, it doesn’t matter the price.”

Lan Jue bobbed his head in understanding. “To be expected. In the face of a crisis, everyone wants to prepare, and make themselves as strong as possible. These gems are used in ships and mechs, but any Adept worth their salt knows that making
their equipment stronger improves survivability. Down here, the ones who come to buy are the smart ones. You watch, soon these things will be strategic resources for the coming fight. I suspect personal sales will dwindle or stop in the near future. I think we should close the doors for a while, not for any profit reason, but to arm ourselves.”

“Yeah.” The four amazons each nodded their heads. Beyond simply agreeing with their boss, they would follow his decisions unconditionally.

Lan Jue went on. “So now that we know what we’ve sold, Mika, tell us what we got.”

A glimmer of excitement lit up the Stygian Succubus’ eyes. She began with a dark chuckle. “Oh, we got quite the haul. Luo is the capital of the North and is fat with all kinds of resources. Under the boss’ instruction, we went out to go look for power gems to restock. Thanks to the bets we placed on him during the tournament, we had no trouble getting everything we needed. We cleared out about thirty percent of all the stones in their market. Our focus was on A- and B-ranked gems. It’s certain that after the Terminator’s announcement, prices will skyrocket. Meanwhile we’re got plenty of working capital. The boss was right, power gems are going to become a precious commodity, and we’re sitting on a giant cache.”
Lan Jue cut in. “I need you to take stock of everything we have. Make a list, and make sure the Wine Master gets a copy. Whatever the Avenue needs, we sell at cost.”

“Yess, boss,” Mika answered.

“Boss, why did she leave?” Now that the important business was done, Mika switched gears. She scowled out the window to the Avenue outside.

Lan Jue made his face unreadable. “You ran her off.”

Mika’s eyes snapped back to him. “We never did anything to her! We may not like her all that much, but she was the one that set up the trap in the Starfields.”

Xiuxiu interjected. “Boss, don’t be mad. Let me run out and bring her back.”

Lan Jue’s displeased expression turned her way. “You’re the good one, Xiuxiu. When did you start being so insincere?”
This made Lin Guoguo chuckle. She tugged on her arm. “Because we all think four is enough! Any more and you won’t be able to control us!”

Lan Jue’s stern expression collapsed at the joke. “Alright, that’s enough innuendo. I leave and you all gang up on me. Anyway, Xiaosu’s life has been a difficult one – much like all of you. Hell, she’s had it worse.”

He went on to give a brief look in to the pirate leader’s life. The girls listened dutifully, and when they heard about the dark underbelly of the Citadel, their faces changed.

“Boss, we were wrong.” Mika hung her head. “I had no idea the Pontiff’s Citadel was even filthier than Satan! What a hypocritical bastard!”

Lan Jue shrugged. “It’s fine, I don’t blame any of you. I just wanted you to know that Xiaosu’s life wasn’t so easy. So also didn’t leave just because of you all. The remnants of the Moonfiend Pirates are still loyal to her, so she went to help them. I trust in her abilities. She built her clan up to the fiercest group in all of the Shattered Starfields, and they were the unquestioned masters of the place.. She’s had constant battlefield experience, ever since she was young. We have to let
her stand on her own feet. Oh, and I lent her Zeus-1, what do you think?”

“WHAT?!”

ζ

Lan Jue slinked to his room, though perhaps it would be more accurate to say he was cast out of the store. As a boss, the last couple days had been a trail, but in the end a smile was on his face.

Tough work, but comfortable!

When he entered, Lan Jue immediately fell back on to his feet. His eyes stared blankly at the ceiling, and his mind began to wander.

What a trip, and in the end it had been indispensable. He’d found two ancient gods of wine, saved Su Xiaosu, and walked away from the North as Champion of the Great Adept Tournament. His heart, mind and Discipline had all benefited tremendously.
Emotionally, however, there was still uncertainty. Qianlin’s rejection weighed heavily on him, and had his stomach tied in to knots. He was not once to force people, and especially not Qianlin. He needed time to straighten everything out  in  his head, and so did she.

Lan Jue pressed his fingers to his temples and began to rub. His eyes lit up as a sudden thought popped in to his head; he should go see the A.R.C. students. Now they knew his identity. He could no longer continue his etiquette classes, but they insisted on keeping him on as a drillmaster. He would be needed to help these A.R.C. students continue their growth, and anything to help humanity prepare for the invasion was needed.

Lan Jue dialed a number in to his communicator. It rang three times before connecting.

“Yeah.” A deep voice answered.

“I’m back on Skyfire. How are things over there?” Lan Jue asked.

“Right now, everything’s normal. All three Alliances have turned their intelligence resources toward the monsters. The
only thing we’ve been able to determine for sure is that they’re headed our way. Sometimes they speed up, and sometimes they slow down. It makes it impossible for us to know exactly when they’ll get here.” Lan Qing delivered the report in a matter-of- fact tone.

Lan Jue asked, “have we managed to learn anything new?”

“They have surprisingly strong counterintelligence measures. We learned our lesson from the North, and keep our probes at a distance. From what we gathered, this is a deadly race. These three planets aren’t planets at all, they’re living beasts. They invade a world, suck its lifeforce dry, then use its husk to transport it to the next victim. Military personnel have discovered from Taihua that these creatures are capable of pillaging everything from a planet and use it for their own improvement; metal, power gems, anything. However, the energy they get from those is significantly less than from a planet’s vitality. Somehow, they take this life force and convert it in to energy for themselves.”

Lan Jue couldn’t help but suck in a breath at his brother’s report. He knew what this meant. Humanity exploded across the galactic stage, and now sat pretty at five hundred billion strong. Add to that the plethora of flora and fauna on these planets, and it was clear why the pillaging aliens had their eyes
pointed in their direction.

“I want to help,” Lan Jue said.

On the other end, Lan Qing was silent for a moment. After a moment, his voice answered. “Don’t.”

“Huh?” Lan Jue’s eyes widened. It was only a word, but he knew his brother, and he could hear something else behind the word. Could the Supersoldier of An Lun be doubting humanity’s chances? He could hear something different in his mood.

He’d never heard anything like it from his brother before.

Lan Qing changed the subject. “When are you going to see him?”

“In a few days. You?”

“It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to. Too much to do. You should head over there yourself, first.”
“Myself?” Lan Jue sounded almost scared.

Lan Qing answered with some measure of comfort. “You had to go see him sooner or later. Me going would only be to help shore up your courage – I can’t really do anything substantial to help. It’s all on you.”

“Alright. I’ll go see him. At least I won’t show up without something to help me save face,” Lan Jue joked.

“You’ve grown quickly,” Lan Qing affirmed, “have things been alright?”

“Some, here and there,” Lan Jue answered. He didn’t hide things from his brother. He told him all about the issues between him and Qianlin.

Chapter 497: Going Home

“The Clairvoyant? Him again?” Lan Jue could hear his brother sigh on the other end of the line.

“There’s still about a month before we’re supposed to meet the Clairvoyant, like we agreed. You’ll be back around the same time. Remember to remind A-Cheng and A-Li. When you come back make sure you bury any hatchets that have been dug up.”

“Yeah, I know. Brother, I’ve decided to leave tomorrow and meet with him. Honestly, though, I’m afraid I lack the nerve.” Lan Jue’s sudden revelation come out of nowhere.

Lan Qing thought for a moment. “What if you brought that girl with you?”

Lan Jue hesitated. “Nah, I guess I’ll just go myself.” He’d originally wanted to bring her, but with things as they were now he wasn’t sure. If he was going to trouble the old man with a new person, he had to make sure they were close enough to stand it. Qianlin’s uncertainty put him on unsure footing, too.

“Tell him I asked about him,” Lan Qing said.
“Sure thing.”

He hung up with him brother, and immediately dialed in Chu Cheng’s number. Things were strained, he needed to keep in touch.

“You get back?” Chu Cheng’s flippant voice answered.

“Yeah, just got back. You can stop worrying.” Lan Jue said with a smirk.

Chu Cheng was quiet for a moment. “I’m sorry. Can I help?”

Lan Jue chuckled. “We’re brothers, don’t worry about it. You think I don’t see what you’re all about? Now how are things on your end?”

“His Majesty the Terminator is in a sour mood,” Chu Cheng replied. “He’s having a hard time swaying the Poseidon Group. They have incredible influence, more than  you  might  think. Hua Li’s left, back to Europa I think. Oh, and be careful about these bastards from the Pontiff’s Citadel. The Pontiff showing up was a pretty brazen move against you guys.”
Lan Jue nodded. “I know. You be careful, too. Don’t go around corrupting all the women.”

He heard Chu Cheng sniff. “Nah, those days are done. I’ve found my one true love. I’m preparing to go to Europa too and find Lina. This time she’ll know I’m serious.”

Lan Jue stared at his communicator helplessly. “You’re definitely the kind of guy who changes hats half a dozen times a day. I was curious how long you’d be serious about this one.”

“Yeah I get it, I get it. Hang up the damn phone. I’ll see you in a month.”

After conversing with Chu Cheng, it was time to get in touch with Hua Li. Lan Jue dialed in yet another number. Communications point to point like this were difficult on interstellar journeys, unless the ship was specially equipped with high-tech coms units. Hua Li may have still been in transit, but Lan Jue didn’t doubt the financial capital of the Poseidon Group, or the quality of their ships.

Tomorrow, he would be going home!
He heaved a sigh, trying to calm his beating heart. He sat with his arms crossed against his chest, and an uncertain look in his eye.

In Chinese medicine, sighing like this is seen as an attempt to move stagnated qi in the chest, which has stopped due to dysfunction of the Liver meridian’s movement function. Remember that they are talking about the function of the meridian with the name Liver, not the actual organ itself. I’ll write out a post detailing the functions of the meridian systems at some point, as an extension to meridian theory.

The next day, the sunlight peeked timidly over the horizon, painting the horizon with golden light.

The hem of Qianlin’s white dress rippled in the gentle wind as she made her way down the Avenue. In her arms was clutched a weighty black box. She looked torn, and made her way slowly along the flagstone path.

Her eyes were surrounded by rings of black, like she hadn’t slept well. In truth, she’d spent the night going over what was to come, wracking her brain to prepare herself.
The humming sign for Zeus’ Jewelry Shop loomed before her. She could see its garish blue wall and golden lightning bolt. The muscles along her cheek stood out as she set her jaw, and walked in toward the store with determined steps.

Some things get caught in the heart, and you can never run away from them. These were the things you had to face, no matter what. Rather than let it ruin their relationship, it was time to face it head on.

“Ding ding!” The sweet chimes of the doorbell filled the shop. Inside, Xiuxiu and Ke’er both swung their eyes toward the door.

“Welcome.” Ke’er’s pretty face lit up with a smile, and she walked around the counter to greet Qianlin. However, she kept a respectful distance.

Qianlin nodded her greeting and returned her smile. “Hello.
I’m looking for Lan Jue, is he in?”

Ke’er picked out her distracted and uncertain mood  right away. Xiuxiu walked over and stood by her coworker’s side. “I’m sorry, Miss Zhou. The boss isn’t here right now.”
Qianlin blinked, surprised by the news, but also a little relieved. “He isn’t here? Where’d he go? When will he be back?”

Xiuxiu explained. “He went on a trip, left early in the morning. I believe he left for another planet, we’re not even sure where. We’re just employees, we can’t ask so many questions.”

Left? He left? Another planet?

Qianlin stood there, silent, shifting her weight from one leg to the other. She bit her lip to try and fight the tears from rolling down her cheeks. She nodded. “Thank you.”

Ke’er watched her push open the door and leave. She looked toward Xiuxiu. “She looks like something isn’t right! Do you think the boss’ quick departure has something to do with her?”

Xiuxiu shook her head. “I’m not sure. But we can’t tell her what the boss is up to.” The warm, gentle eyes of Xiuxiu were now surprisingly cold.
ζ

As Qianlin left the shop, she felt a sudden wave of exhaustion come over her. She leaned against the building’s façade to help keep her on her feet.

“He’s still angry with me. He probably left to meet Jue Di. Without me.” Of course she knew what his destination was. She had been there when he got the call.

She tried to contact him through the Soulcaller gem, but there was no answer. He wasn’t on Skyfire.

Of course! Turning him down the way I did, how could he not be upset? Her doll-like faced scrunched in to a bitter frown. She shut her eyes, and at last the tears began to carve their paths down her porcelain cheeks.

After a little while, she managed to ger herself under control. She pushed off the wall, and started heading back the way she came.

ζ
Lan Jue had run off early in the morning. Even he felt a little like it was an escape. He sat quietly in Zeus-2 as it quietly raced through the cosmos. The marvelous expanse of the universe spread out before him, so beautiful that sometimes he forgot to breathe.

What was it she wanted to tell me? Lan Jue was piloting the craft by himself, but the onboard computers did most of the work. He had plenty of time to think.

He didn’t know why, but Lan Jue was a little afraid of what Qianlin had to say. He’d left early to avoid having to find out.

Maybe being apart for a little while was for the best. Both of them needed some time, and some peace. Time to think was never bad.

Zeus-2 was a copy of Zeus-1, at least before the upgrades. Aside from the Blinding Stone, the Bookworm had also taken a crack at the ship and upgraded it tremendously. He left Lan Jue with the procedure to do the same with the other ships. However, he hadn’t been in a rush to upgrade. As it stood though, Zeus-2 was still capable of reaching light speed.
Piloting a ship on your own was different. Out in the emptiness of space, the loneliness, everything seemed much quieter. Man couldn’t help but slip in to contemplation when out here along among the stars.

Lan Jue sat at the controls, the sound of his fingers hitting the keys filling the cockpit. Ship components and strings of data outputs flashed across the screens.

Now that he had the time, he was doing things he had been putting off for a while. At present he was designing the blueprints for Thor’s next upgrade. No one knew Thor better than Lan Jue, and he knew his old war buddy needed some polishing. He had the Phylactery stone, and several more power gems that needed to be swapped out. Now his shop was doing well, and the ladies had already built up their suits. He was the last straggler.

First the designs had to be planned, then materials could be collected and installed. Assembly much easier than the upgrade process. Planning involved a great deal of science that the Bookworm and Keeper would be well equipped to deal with, but doing it himself was the only way to ensure perfection.

As Lan Jue lost himself in concentration, time flew by like the
stars outside the window. Before he knew it, two days had passed.

“Beeep! Beeep! Beeeep! Beeeep!” The harsh screech of an alarm woke Lan Jue from his thoughts. His head shot up from the designs to search the screen for answers. What he saw immediately darkened his expression. His pupils contracted to small dark points.

The main screen showed a purple light, racing toward him at incredible speed. The radar had a solid lock.

“Approach, and identify the object. Arm the main cannon!” Lan Jue’s low voice was almost a growl. He could tell by its trajectory that this unknown arrival was headed his way.

Zeus-2 slowed and approached the unidentified object. Its weapons hummed as they charged, but for now he just remained vigilant.

“Attempts to hail the unidentified craft have met with silence. Radar scans indicate life.” The computer’s digitized voice delivered the report. The image on the main screen was enhanced and enlarged.
It was exactly what he expected; one of the purple alien invaders. It looked like an enormous, elongated date pit with purple light expelled from its tail. The creature was moving incredibly fast.

But as Lan Jue watched, he noticed something different about how this one moved. It wasn’t maintaining a constant speed, and instead would sometimes blast forward, then slow time. It looked like it was trying to conserve energy. Sporadic bursts of purple light shot out from its tail, and would subsequently send it barreling ahead.

“The main cannon is ready to fire.” The screens confirmed the computer’s report.

Lan Jue switched to manual control. The ship aligned itself with the creature as the main battery slowly pulled out of its housing. They were coming at each other at break-neck speed, and the closer they got the better read the radar was able to get. Now he could tell that the beast was at least three times bigger than Zeus-2.

Lan Jue narrowed his eyes, and hit the fire button. A beam of harsh sapphire light exploded from the ship’s main cannon, right for the encroaching monster.

Chapter 498: Battle!

Lan Jue and the monstrous alien were already close, and the ship’s main cannon had a total lock. It wouldn’t miss.

It didn’t, but the result was not what he expected. The beam of empowered electric light struck the alien straight on, but instead of obliterating it, the beast instead grew larger. Its seed- like shape morphed before his eyes until it splayed out like an umbrella. It flattened itself out to give the blast more surface area. The only lasting effect seemed to be a halo of blue light that hung over the creature.

His attack was completely useless. The rapidly advancing monster stopped, and only continued  to  advance  through inertia. Lan Jue urged Zeus-2 to the side, veering out in a graceful arc so he could flank it.

Clearly this was a monster and not a machine. If it were a construct, then how could it change shape like that? It relied on its physical abilities for defense, not shields or anything else. All of this only confirmed Lan Jue’s suspicions.

The monster swung around as graceful as a flying saucer, picking up speed as it did. It was getting closer.
Lan Jue kept his eyes on the sensor read-outs. He could now clearly see the scales that ran up and down the length of its body. They appeared to release some kind of strange purple light that hung around them like an atmosphere. Lan Jue figured it must be that light that somehow managed to neutralize his attack. It must be unthinkably strong! The saucer- shaped beast was coming in horizontally, and he could see that its edges were as sharp as the edge of a knife. He didn’t want to imagine what would happen if they crashed.

The ship’s engines roared as he picked up speed. It lurched and pitched as the ship changed direction, burning for an escape trajectory. Relatively speaking, Zeus-2 wasn’t the most heavily armed ship. However, what it lacked in fire power, it more than made up for in maneuverability.

Of course, Lan Jue wasn’t running. He needed some distance so continue the assault. But even though he looked to be retreating, the monster never stopped. Its body collapsed and returned to its former shape, while plumes of purple light were blasted out from behind. Soon it was racing toward him at the speed of light.

Which, for those curious, is – according to google – 299,792,458 meters per second. A turd coming at you that fast would drill a hole through you and the planet you stood on,
much less a giant purple turd monster.

The distance between them was closing. Things were beginning to look bad for the lone blue ship.

Damn things are so hard to deal with! His was the first thought that raced through Lan Jue’s mind. These things were even meaner than he remembered. Running wasn’t an option. There was only one thing to do!

He jabbed at the keyboard, and the ship gained speed. A shell of protective light appeared around him.

“Zeus-2 has entered in to cruise control. Human Delivery Ordinance, stage one, commencing.” The calm, digital voice rang through the cockpit. An electric blue light  sprang  up around Lan Jue, and warped around him to become  a glimmering golden flight suit. Fighting in space was different from fighting in atmosphere, and he had to be ready. Even his head was covered.

“HuDO, stage two commencing!.” Lan Jue’s seat retracted and went flat. Behind him, the wall slowly spread apart and Lan Jue was delivered in to the ordinance room like a torpedo being fit
in to a tube.

“HuDO, stage three commencing!” A  square-shaped protrusion appeared on the surface of Zeus-2.

“Firing.”

A piercing blue light blasted from the ship and back toward the chasing monster. Zeus-2 continued on its course. An egg- shaped orb had been spat out from it like a cannon shot, and within it was Lan Jue. An imposing shadow followed in his wake. Thor!

Zeus-2 wasn’t a combat ship, and it didn’t have the tools necessary to fully express Lan Jue’s abilities. Thor didn’t have that problem.

There was a flash against Thor’s breastplate, and Lan Jue vanished in to the mecha. The war machine’s eyes flared to life. Immediately, waves of energy began to emanate from it.

Thor remained in the pocket of light as it barreled toward the encroaching foe. Lan Jue furiously integrated his Discipline
with the mecha in preparation. A golden sword of energy coalesced in its metallic hands. He’d chosen the sword as his weapon, so he and his mecha needed to adapt.

The beast continued at top speed toward Zeus-2. It of course could sense Lan Jue’s approach, but paid little mind to the irritating speck. It spread open its mouth to reveal four rows of jagged teeth like mountain ranges, ready to swallow the blue light up.

Except that Lan Jue was a smart one. His speed bled to zero, maintaining a safe distance from his target. He then fired thrusters and shot the mecha upward. This both prevented impact damage and cut down on unpredictable outcomes.

But the creature lashed out with its gnashing teeth, and caught the edge of Thor’s booster. Crack! Thor shuddered as the enormous bite force caused the thruster to buckle.

Lan Jue’s combat experience was vast, so he knew how to react. In addition, it could be said that he’d improved in almost every way from his last encounter with these beasts. While his Discipline may not be the same rank it was, it had been tempered, and his control had improved.
His hand speed was now around eighty commands per second. Thor suddenly flared in to a blazing point of light, and drilled in to the creature’s mouth. Its great maw was closed, with the ruined slag of Thor’s thruster in its teeth. Lan Jue and his suit were somewhere in the depths of its mouth.

The creature was big, but its perception was razor sharp. In a matter of moments, it knew that something inside itself was different. The slimy walls of its innards rolled and contracted, trying to dislodge the irritant. Thor’s exterior flood lights revealed the meaty surroundings, which shone back at him with an unsettling luster.

Speed wouldn’t save him from the crushing pressure of the monster’s intestines, but Lan Jue didn’t panic. If he didn’t have a plan, he wouldn’t be here. His previous encounters with these creatures taught him what they were capable of, but everything had its weakness – even if it was three patrol ships long. Nature had rules, and that was that the outside was always tougher than the inside. Even a Bastion ship could be destroyed from the inside.

The peristalsis didn’t come alone. Soon a flood of purple, caustic fluid came rushing through. Thor reacted by releasing a corona of purplish-blue light. The golden sword in its hand swung around, and dug viciously in to the meaty floor.
However, he was shocked to discover resistance. His sword was imbued with traces of protogenia, and yet something still fought back. The rolling waves of contracted became quick and erratic. Still, though, the sword would not cut through.

No wonder this tiny thing allowed me to eat it, the creature must have thought. It thinks it has a way out.

Flickers of intense light flashed in Lan Jue’s eyes. He fearlessly called upon the power of his Discipline to burst out and empower Thor. The violet light it released suddenly lit up and became a dazzling gold. It began to spin, faster and faster until it was a blazing drill bit with all his power directed straight down through the sword.

“Squelch!” At last the sword pierced monster’s flesh, and in that instant a rush of electrical current fired out from Lan Jue in all directions. The current put the beast’s innards into a spasm and stopped the crushing waves.

The light in Lan Jue’s eyes blazed ever brighter, and he fought further through the intractable meat of the creature. Bolts of golden lightning thick as a man continued to barrage the alien from the inside. Its shielding was beginning to show signs of weakening.
It was in pain. Suspended in the vacuum of space, the creature cut off its chase and began to writhe in agony. It appeared its last meal didn’t agree with it, but regret solved nothing. Throwing it up also appeared easier said than done. It thrashed and wretched in attempts to dislodge the painful invader, by this time Thor was already through in to the monster’s organs.

Thor was surrounded by the mangled innards of the beast. Lan Jue looked around for just a moment, then took advantage – as a temporary guest – to fill the inside of the creature with a full-strength Forest of Lightning.

From outside, the alien monster contracted every muscle in its body, twisting itself in to a tortured ball. Beams of golden light began to creep out from fissures in its surface. Lan Jue was filling it with attack power comparable of a battleship, and the enormously powerful beast could do nothing.

The golden light continued to rage inside and flicker without.
Its great girth contracted until it could no longer move.

Several minutes passed in stillness, then…

Poof! An orb of golden light drilled straight through the
monster’s skull. Out in the silence of space, its muscles finally released as it died. Its corpse hung suspended in the darkness, and would remain there for eternity.

Thor cut through the vacuum of space like a blazing star, while errant bolts of lightning erupted from it every which way. Its resplendent surface gleamed with electric power, and no trace of the grimy depths it had just traversed were visible.

Behind it, the great beast heaved, and then the light of its life went out.

Thor cut its thrusters and hung motionless in the air. It lifted its great hand to reveal a crystalline, spindle-like object. It looked similar to the one from Taihua, though smaller. What was strange, however, was what it released. Waves of strange, heterogeneous energy poured from it among a mist of purple vapor.

This just confirmed what Lan Jue already knew. This creature was the same kind that attacked Taihua, but since he has never seen the planets they purportedly came from, he couldn’t say if they were connected.

Chapter 499: Planet Ziluo

It started as a pinprick of blue light, which slowly grew until it was almost on top of Thor before suddenly stopping. It was Zeus-2, returning to the scene. Thor returned to the ship, and soon Zeus-2 was hovering over the corpse of the monster. As it neared, a beam of pale silver light shot out from below it. It enveloped the body, and then soon after the creature vanished.

In order to accommodate large caches of materials, Lan Jue had set up a series of high-grade interdimensional storage gems, set up in a lattice. It seemed the extra installation was coming in useful. OF course, no living thing would survive in this pocket reality. It was made to store inert materials like minerals and mech suits. The capability of this small ship to house a large number of mech suits was actually one of its great advantages. All of it was, of course, quite expensive. Lan Jue paid for it what a country would pay for a battleship. It was not something your average citizen could afford.

It was quite the find. This universe-traversing specimen wasn’t as strong as the progenitor on Taihua, but it wasn’t much weaker. Now that he had another piece to work with, they could learn even more about what these things were and how they ticked.
Zeus-2 continued on its journey, though Lan Jue was more cautious this time. He gave up cultivation in lieu of watching being vigilant. He guessed that the one he ran in to was a scout from the monster planets. It was strong, and fast. It was out here scanning for suitable planets, then would have likely returned to share what it learned.

It was a guess, and one he couldn’t prove without more information. However, this was still human-occupied space he traversed. Finding one of those things out here was at least proof that the alien monsters were getting closer. Also, it had some means of getting around the blockades that protected human space. Space was large, though, and it was impossible to watch everywhere at once. He guessed that whatever the case, this creature must have been highly intelligent.

The encounter brought Lan Jue’s mind back to the images of the seventh fleet. Flashes of destruction flit across his memory, playing against the backdrop of Luo’s horizon. The power of those planets alone was staggering. Add to that the countless hordes of monsters, and the implications were enough to give one nightmares.

At least it was starting to look like humanity would be able to fight back. He’d watched the planet swallow up and spat back the battleship attacks, but at least the smaller creatures were
killable. Humanity was also awash with incredibly destructive weaponry they hadn’t tried yet. Plundering human planets wasn’t going to be an easy task for these creatures when all three Alliances’ Bastion Ships were giving them hell.

Lan Jue split his time between watching the route and finishing the Thor designs. Upgrading an already world-class mecha wasn’t easy. The designs had to not only be precise and make sense, but also had to be theoretically possible. Once it was designed to the right specifications, next he had to gather the needed materials. That was the cheapest way to do it.

Zeus-2 continued on its journey for another three days. Eventually a planet, covered in a purple hue, loomed in the distance. It wasn’t large, in fact dwarf planets were likely a bit bigger, but it was beautiful. It hung against the blackness of space like a gemstone on black velvet. The light from its star filtered through the purple atmosphere, making it appear to glow.

Planet Ziluo, an Administration planet under Eastern jurisdiction. It was about one-sixth the mass of the mother planet, which was small for its function. It had fresh water and all the things human needed, but was otherwise lacking in resources.
This is a very interesting name that is more or less impossible to translate while retaining meaning. Luo is the same Luo as the capital city of the North. The Zi means purple, so this is ‘Planet Purple Luo’ – which is dumb as hell. Instead, I kept it as pinyin, but keep the juxtaposition in mind.

An interesting quirk to this planet, was that every year it was buffeted by intense galactic storms. The near-constant encounters caused the planet’s magnetic field to adapt in a completely unique way, resulting in the condensed shell of elements that it was famous for. The radiation that flooded the planet’s interior was harmful to most humans. Life could only survive in small, shielded pockets on its surface.

To Adepts though, Ziluo was a fine spot for cultivating. This was especially true for Elementalists who’s Disciplines resonated well here. They came in droves every year to train. And, while it wasn’t terribly rich in resources, it did have special power gems unique to itself.

The entire planet had only thirteen cities dotting its surface, but each one was huge. Special biomes were created around these cities so that the denizens could live comfortably. It boasted the highest rate of Adepts of any planet in the East, and aside from Skyfire Avenue, the strongest. There weren’t a wealth of peak-ranked Adepts, but the number of mid-ranged
Talents was impressive. Finally, it was also famous for its mecha R&D and manufacturing plants.

“Cleared for approach!” A sweet and melodious female voice crackled through the speakers. Zeus-2’s credentials had already been scanned and approved. The magnificent, sapphire body of the craft shimmered like a gem as it pierced Ziluo’s atmosphere. It began its descent toward the planet’s capital, also called Ziluo.

Ziluo City was the largest settlement on the planet, and famous in particular for its research facilities. The city was covered with scientists and engineers, all dedicated to the advancement of mecha technology. Many God-ranked mechas were designed here. The obviously invested a lot in this place. So, considering the city’s focus, the most encountered professions were mecha pilots, engineers and construction crew.

Lan Jue guided Zeus-2 in to the public air hangar. Practiced movements urged the ship to a designated, sapphire blue spot in a quiet corner. It looked very much like his private hangar on Skyfire, only much bigger.

Lan Jue’s expression was a little strange, and every meter forward that he moved, he looked less comfortable. He bit back
the distracting feeling and followed the robots guiding him to park.

The warehouse wasn’t empty. As Lan Jue steered Zeus-2 in to place, he passed by another ship of similar hue, though it was two or three times larger than his own. Aerodynamically it looked like a souped-up version of Zeus-2, and polished to where it almost looked like it was made entirely of sapphire. The dim lights of the warehouse interior reflected off its surface.

Lan Jue sucked in a breath. This had to be his latest creation.

He disembarked, and couldn’t help but wander over to the flashy machine and take a closer look. He spent several minutes looking at it, while the fearful expression drained from his face. It was slowly replaced by surprise.

“You’re back.” he voice was deep, and sudden.

Lan Jue spun around before he could even think. He then froze like a statue, hardly even daring to breathe.

Footsteps rang through the enormous warehouse as a figure
approached.

He looked to be around forty, roughly the same age as the Gourmet. Tall, with leathery skin the color of old bronze, his eyes seemed to shine with an unnatural brightness. The man couldn’t be considered handsome, but he exuded a powerful male aura. The black hair on his head was cut short, and stood against his head like countless little black needles.

He was dressed in a worn and tattered jumpsuit with the sleeves cut off. His arms were strong, nothing but muscle. The legs of the jumpsuit were rife with tears and holes. Clearly, it’d been a while since he’d bought new clothes.

A smoldering cigar was caught between the man’s thick fingers. He lifted it to his lips and took a long drag, then slowly exhaled. All the while he simply stared at Lan Jue, saying nothing.

“Come with me.” He motioned curtly with his hand, then turned and left the warehouse.

Lan Jue hadn’t moved a fraction of an inch during the whole exchange, but the moment the command was given Lan Jue was
on the move. He almost ran after the other man. He kept his piece, and didn’t utter a single word. However, it was clear from his stiff gait and trembling hands that he was anything but collected.

The left the warehouse and took a short walk to its outer wall. There, the middle-aged man placed his hand against the plaster. At his touch, a beam of golden light appeared and opened a portal against the warehouse wall. He walked through it without a second thought.

Lan Jue stumbled in on his heels, blindly and without hesitation. He was as obedient and unquestioning as a child.

The older man walked on at an easy pace, as the route brought them down through the earth. After about fifty meters, they arrived at an elevator. They stepped inside, and the man pushed a button.

The elevator shook, then they began their descent. For a moment, Lan Jue felt somewhat weightless.

The man didn’t say anything to Lan Jue during the trek. He stood quietly while Lan Jue watched his every move. The look
in his eyes was conflicted. This went on for about a minute, then the elevator doors opened to a raucous scene.

It was an open room, with a ceiling easily two hundred meters overhead. Lan Jue swept his eyes left and right, but couldn’t find where the room ended. Machinery hummed all around – this was evidently a factory.

The older man walked on. Lan Jue dutifully followed.

“Uncle Chi.’ Each worker they passed respectfully saluted the man. The black-haired man greeted each of them with a gentle smile. He wore the uniform of a normal working man, but his status was clear by the respect the others showed him.

Pronounced ‘Chur’

They walked through the noisy factory to a far wall, where the man led them through another metal door. It shut behind them, and all sound from the outside world ceased. It looked as though they’d entered some sort of office, furnished with simple metal accoutrements. Beyond that, it was pretty sparse.
The man made his way around the single desk, and fell in to the seat behind it. He pointed to a nearby stool. “Sit.”

“Father!” Lan Jue couldn’t hold the silence any longer.

Upon hearing the greeting, the man’s eyes narrowed. “That’s what you call me, but I was certain you’d never come back here.”

Chapter 500: Dad

Lan Jue hung his head, like a child who knew he was wrong. “I… was too ashamed.”

There was a flash in the man’s eye, and suddenly an unseen power warped the air around them. Lan Jue felt like a small bird caught in a hurricane, and the terrible  winds  could  rip  him apart at any moment. His Discipline flared subconsciously to come to his defense. A thin aura of blue hung over him.

As quick as it had come, the inexplicable power vanished. Lan Jue swayed from the sudden change, but quickly regained his footing. A brief but visible swirl of black and white appeared to help keep him stable.

This made the older man nodded in approval. Then, he said the five words Lan Jue least expected to hear. “So long as you’re back.”

Lan Jue quickly lifted his head, overcome by something within him. Tears rippled at the base of his eyes, threatening to fall. “Father, I…”
He shook his head, fighting a despondent look. “I don’t blame you,” he said in that gruff tone. “I was too intractable before.”

Lan Jue would have dealt better with a beating. He’d had countless dreams and nightmares over how this reunion would go. This was never one of them. He had prepared for the harsh, crazed, iron-hard father – this man was very different.

Lan Jue was faced with the reality that he didn’t really understand the man he called his father. This was the first time he’d ever seen him so calm, and yet he felt like this was the man’s true face.

“There was no need to avoid me. I called you home this time just to tell you one thing.” The man’s voice was even and soft.

Lan Jue unconsciously shot to his feet.

Slowly, the other man lifted his head. His eyes were strange, alive with a flowering power, and when he looked at Lan Jue the two held the gaze for a long time without speaking.

Then the older man smiled. Lan Jue thought it looked strange
at first, almost ugly, on this man’s face. He never remembered him smiling once throughout the years. It didn’t fit, but nevertheless it finally caused Lan Jue’s tears to stream down his cheeks.

“I’ve got a good kid! Gone for a while, but still comes home to visit.” The man’s low voice was earnest, and full of pride.

“Dad!” Lan Jue cried out, his face covered in tears. He stumbled forward to fall on his knees, but the other man anticipated this, and used his burly arms to pull Lan Jue in to a hug.

“I’m sorry dad. I’m so sorry.” No matter how thick their armor, everyone had their soft side. Seeing this man, Lan Jue’s was on full display.

To those who may view this as overly dramatic, there are two points to consider. The first involves familiar culture. Asian families are very tight-knit, and in China many have only one child. Children are expected to visit home as often as they can, and at a minimum of once a year. Lan Jue’s actions would make him a pariah in China, and a scoundrel for not taking care of his elders. Second, this is probably one of the biggest Chinese TV tropes out there, and it makes me puke. Many, many, many
dramas center around the struggles of parents as an impetus for the main character to do something or feel bad. Most of the time though, you can tell it’s pigeon-holed in to a story just to make people cry. If you want to make a Chinese person, male or female, immediately begin to ball their eyes out, tell a sad story about your mother.

The other man laughed, deep and happy. “Maybe I am old.
I’ve been learning to let things go.”

And indeed that seemed to be true. In his harder days, this man would never have given a call the way he did. It was also fear of that hard man that had Lan Jue so unwilling to visit for so long.

“Alright, enough crying. You’re not a woman.” He pushed Lan Jue to arm’s length, then clapped a calloused hand on his shoulder. The young Jewelry Master sniffed and wiped the tears away with a laugh. That sort of talk was the father he remembered! But, where before his voice would have been terrifying, now Lan Jue could hear it was full affection.

“Shall we go home, dad?”
“Yes!” He slapped the desk before him, and the wall at the far end of the office split open. It revealed a capsule situated before a long tunnel that could seat four people. It looked like a cannon ball primed for use.

They both filed in to the vehicle. Lan Jue settled in and clicked his seatbelt into place. The other man did not.

Without warning, a thunderous roaring sound assailed them, so loud it shook the capsule. Then, just like a cannon ball, they shot through the tunnel at incredible speed. Without any gravity dampeners, Lan Jue was firmly plastered to his seat.

The other man didn’t budge, instead sitting there with a pleasant smile as though he were taking a Sunday drive. He took another drag of his cigar and slowly exhaled. Soon the interior of the vehicle was thick with scent of cigar smoke.

“Still as extravagant as ever, huh dad. Those 1966’s have a wonderfully rich smell.” Lan Jue said with a smile.

The other man grunted. “This is your old man’s one vice, so don’t you even think about it. None for you.
Lan Jue chortled, but didn’t say anything.

“So talk.” He continued.

Lan Jue quickly put away his smile. He took a breath and composed his thoughts, then proceeded to tell his dad everything.

He listened carefully as Lan Jue spoke, and puffed occasionally on the cigar. There was no climate control in their little ball, so it wasn’t long before even their view of each other became somewhat obstructed. Lan Jue didn’t complain, it was a hobby they both shared.

Lan Jue’s calm recollection of events did not match his hard expression, and though the tale was long, he wasn’t in a hurry to finish. His father listened carefully, but silently. He had no questions, nor comments to share. He just listened.

“Vrrrrrrm!” The vehicle hummed as it slowed and came to a stop. As the doors opened, a plume of cigar smoke heralded their exit. The two men walked to a nearby elevator and took it up. A few minutes later they were back on the surface.
The elevator doors opened, and on the other side was a simple wooden door. The middle-aged man pushed it open, and Lan Jue followed him inside.

They were instantly greeted with a refreshing scent. The whole place smelled like flowers and fresh plants. It was a cabin, constructed entirely of wood and without any trace of metal. The whole place looked very simple in comfort and construction. A practice eye might have noticed that all of the furniture was antique. They were beautiful and elegant pieces.

Outside the window there was a picturesque scene, straight out of an old Chinese painting. Vast fields of green trees and swaying grass met the eye, while chirping birds sang somewhere nearby. This clean and pleasant scent was natural.

There was a long time that Lan Jue hated his father. Those years were torture, in every sense. But, the man always said that if they wanted to be the best, they would have to suffer the worst. The road to greatness was not ordinary, and we would not allow them to be ordinary.

That process forged both Prometheus and Zeus.
Thinking back on it know, Lan Jue knew that his father was right. His methods may have been simple and crude, but yesterday’s pain was today’s strength. To live life to the fullest and experience all the great things the universe had to offer, one had to choose the hard path and get strong. This was something he’d learned many years ago.

The middle-aged man opened another door and stepped out in to the world. Lan Jue was tight behind. As they stepped out, a vast forest stretched out before them.

The log cabin itself was ringed with a field around seven hundred square meters in diameter. After that was where the forest started. It was almost like a fence that hid and protected the small home.

Lan Jue took in great lung-fulls of fresh air. He could feel the elemental forces that permeated this place. All of these plants, he remembered, had been planted by his father. Ever since living here, gardening had been his way to relax.

No one would believe him if he said it: Jue Di, who could bend the fabric of heaven and earth, who single-handedly took on the Alliance’s greatest fighters and won, was living out here as a part-time farmer and scientist.
He remembered that once he father said his dream was to experience as much as he could. He didn’t just want interludes of experience, he wanted to throw himself in to every effort.

He’d worn many hats through the years, and used his extended lifespan in pursuit of study. Lan Qing and Lan Jue both saw him as a vast sea of knowledge that knew no bottom. He was a living repository of all the greatest things humanity had produced. Sometimes he seemed almost omnipotent.

“I cherish my memories of this place,” Lan Jue said quietly.

“And yet you didn’t come back for so long?” Jue Di said. “Am I really that frightening?”

Lan Jue gave him a sidelong glance. “Do you want the truth?”

Jue Di nodded.

“Absolutely.” He didn’t even need to think twice.

Jue Di’s lips turned down in a scowl. “Then maybe I should
just kick your ass.”

Lan Jue chuckled. “That would be a normal day. You’ve already scared me with this new you. It’s uncomfortable.”

This made the Paragon chuckle. I guess I’ll never end up a good man, if you all prefer me from before.”

Lan Jue shook his head. “No, not that. I like the new you. It’s just hard to watch you get old.”

Jue Di was quiet for a time, and then sighed. “Be they a normal human or the strongest Paragon, no one can escape getting old. I may have a long future yet, but my heart is old. You know, sometimes now I get lonely and frighten myself. Eventually that fear was so much that I had to give some things up.”

Lan Jue looked at him with surprise in his eyes. His ‘father’ had never once shared such intimate thoughts with him. He was the indomitable Jue Di!

Now he had become an old man, happy to lose himself in old
memories, even if he did still look young.

“You know, dad, the world’s changed a lot. If you’re lonely then you should go and take a look! Humanity still needs you.” Lan Jue said.

Jue Di smirked. “What does it matter what they need, or what they don’t need? Once you reach a certain degree of power, there is only fear. It’s not just your enemies, but your companions, your friends. They all come to be afraid of what you can do. I like it here, and although I’m lonely I live a life of freedom. The people here know Engineer Chi, and they have no cause to fear Jue Di. I have what I need, and it’s a life I’ve become accustomed to. Saving the world I’ll leave to you young folk.”

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