Skyfire Avenue Chapter 681-690

Chapter 681: Failure

“Ten, nine, eight, seven…”

“… three, two, one. Fire!”

Kang Hui’s right hand slammed down onto the red button.

Vrrrrrummmmm—

Tyrannosaurus shook violently when suddenly a searing red beam fired from it. It coalesced into an orb at the head of the canon, then shot out as an angry red column – like a spear piercing the blackness of space.

Even before the beam was close, asteroids in its path sizzled and fractured. In only a few seconds the space rocks were disintegrated and cleared a path while the shot was kilometers in the distance.

In Kang Hui’s office, everyone’s eyes were glued to the screens. They held their breath and waited to see what would happen. However much damage this shot caused would spell
out the future of this fight. If it hurt the aliens enough they could breathe a little easier.

The shot moved at nearly the speed of light. The alien planet didn’t react in any way to Tyrannosaurus’ change or the blast from its main gun. It simply continued its slow, inexorable advance.

What happened next stunned everyone into a dumbfounded silence.

Direct hit. The red beam struck right in the center of the planet’s black hole. However, they watched in disbelief as the shot reappeared behind the hostile world, and off into the empty expanse of space.

“Redirection!” Kang Hui reacted fastest. He immediately recognized the planet had changed. It wasn’t an orb, it was a ring. It wasn’t exactly like what the Seventh Fleet had faced, but nonetheless they’d caused no damage!

Tyrannosaurus went about recalibrating as the beam continued.
Tyrannosaurus could only maintain continuous fire for a short time. What they discovered shook them to the core. It was as though the planet knew everything they were doing. It had positioned itself just right to allow the Bastion’s attack to pass straight through.

The red beam was a javelin, and the planet had been a ring for it to harmlessly pass through.

How could this happen? No one – not the Paragons, not the intelligence officers, not the Admiral – no one could have imagined this would happen. And yet the evidence was right in front of their terrified faces.

It was almost inconceivable, but the planet’s hole was large and Tyrannosaurus’ blast was finite. Even as Tyrannosaurus moved to try and reposition the beam, the alien planet moved with it in perfect harmony.

A few seconds later the main gun’s energy was exhausted. The red beam petered away into nothing, having never struck its target.

“Admiral, the planet’s in range of the Capital ships!” One of
the flight officers shouted the news.

Kang Hui didn’t let his surprise impede on his role as commander. “First and Third fleets prepare their Capital ships to fire. Tell them to aim for the edge of the planet and avoid that hole. Lock on before firing cannons. Fleets Six, Eleven and Thirteen hold on my orders.”

In an intergalactic battle you mustn’t show your whole hand all at once. Kang Hui was wise enough to save a few tricks up his sleeve until the right moments.

However, just as the planet was pulling within range of the ships it stopped. The Capital ships preparing to fire scrambled to react. Meanwhile the black hole at the planet’s center began to change. It adopted a deep purple hue and started to rotate like an enormous whirlpool.

A thin curtain of asteroids still whipped about in space between the planet and the human fleets. Unlike Tyrannosaurus’ attack, the rest of the ships couldn’t get passed the asteroids to hit the target behind.

“What is it doing?” Kang Hui glowered at the scene, as curious
as he was frightened.

Lan Jue’s mind raced. There was something, a bolt of inspiration just out of reach.

What could the planet do? It was large, strong, and oppressive; it could swallow energy, devour life, teleport…

It could expand and create a vortex…

Suddenly a light clicked on in Lan Jue’s mind. He sputtered. “I got it. The thing is strong enough to draw the asteroids around and through it. I think it’s going to use these asteroids as weapons. Admiral, tell your ships to watch for the asteroids and prepare to deal with them.”

Kang Hui paused and stared at the Eastern commander. Was he serious? A planet that sucked up asteroids to use as weapons?

Lan Jue spoke urgently to him. “We saw them devour three whole planets and absorb what life they had. We know it can expand, much like what we see now. It’s sucked up all those asteroids because it’s going to spit them out – they don’t have
any life it needs. Admiral!” He was nearly shouting by the end.

Kang Hui sucked in a breath. Whether he believed it or not, the dangers of being wrong were too great. He fired off a string of orders.

“Everyone listen up! All ships draw in close to me and hold your fire. Assume tortoise formation, same as when we moved into the Starfields, a solid line. Capital ships and Tyrannosaurus form up as a spearhead. Everyone else get behind. Tyrannosaurus crew engage secondary weapons systems and put full energy into our shields!”

Lan Jue gave the admiral an appreciative thumbs-up! He hadn’t studied airship command but he knew that this was the best choice if a hail of asteroids did come their way. However, if he was wrong and the planet had something else planned, they’d just broken their defensive formation.

“Admiral, why are we changing formation? What are you hiding?” A deep voice called to them through the communicator, indicated by a blinking yellow light. Only a handful of people had a direct like to Kang Hui, namely fleet commanders. This was the leader of the First Fleet, Admiral Ying Tianlong.
First Fleet was the North’s wild card. They had some of the best training and equipment the North could offer. It was the only fleet with ten Sovereign-class dreadnaughts. They boasted a laundry list of military exploits in the victory column, and more experience on the field than anyone.

Admiral Ying Tianlong was himself a secret weapon. With his experience and capabilities he should have been Fleet Admiral like Kang Hui, but he was obstinate and prideful. He’d offended powerful men, and that meant he’d remain Admiral until he retired. He would be promoted only then, in a show of respect for his exploits.

“Commander Ying, we are in the middle of a war, follow your orders.” Kang Hui was referring to an elder, but in this dire time he wasn’t afraid to pull rank.

Ying Tianlong was silent. He was a soldier, and a soldier followed orders. Still the ships seemed hesitant to move into formation as Kang Hui commanded. They were much slower than before. Fleets Eleven and Thirteen were fasted, since they were under the Fleet Admiral’s direct command. They’d begun to move immediately after receiving the word. Their Capital ships took up the foremost position and drew in close to Tyrannosaurus’ flanks. They were followed by fleets Three and Six, while the celebrated First Fleet was last in the formation.
ζ

“That moron, does he know how to command troops? The enemy is closing in on us and he called tortoise formation? Is he planning to ram us right into them?”

“See, these are the Admiral’s orders. Look…” The Captain of First Fleet’s flagship tried to reign in his commander. Refusing a superior officer’s orders in times of war was a capital offense. They would all be court-marshalled.

Ying Tianlong looked to be in his forties, but the streaks of white at his temples said differently. He still stood tall and straight, however, with the bearing of a much younger man.

He took a couple ragged breaths, then waved his hand dismissively. Rules were rules.

An urgent shout from his radar officer caught the admiral’s attention.

“Something’s up. The alien planet seems to be getting smaller and there are a bunch of small bogies coming out from the
center vortex. They’re fast, and they’re headed our way. They’ll collide with the asteroid belt in twenty seconds.

“What?” Ying Tianlong swung around in surprise and strode to the radar screen in several long steps. After a moment’s glance his face changed. The radar screen was thick with more red dots than he could count, headed right for them.

His pupils contracted and a cold sweat broke out over his body. “Then enemy’s attacking! Fleet, fall in behind. Capital ships up from, shields up, weapons hot. Protect me!”

First Fleet was too slow – there wasn’t time to shield themselves behind Tyrannosaurus. But Ying Tianlon was an experienced commander. It wasn’t ideal, but he chose the next best option. Now wasn’t the time for regrets, he could worry over that if they survived.

Proper reference to elders is very important in  Chinese society. Displays of respect in general are very important, hence the idea of ‘giving face.’ However, why this would be important in the Northern Alliance (which I equate closer to the US) I don’t know. Do we have any soldiers in the audience who experienced a disconnect between age and seniority?

Chapter 682: Asteroid Storm

On Tyrannosaurus, Kang Hui’s face had also gone pale. The ship’s radar was even clearer on the Bastion, revealing in high- definition quality the torrent of asteroids spat from the alien planet. Thousands of tons of rock were hurdling toward them, too fast and too widespread for them to avoid.

“Fleets Three, Six, Eleven, and Thirteen are in formation.
First Fleet hasn’t gotten into position yet.” An officer called.

Kang Hui’s face darkened. “All Capital ships engage full shields. Commander Ying will lead his own fleet’s defenses. Prepare weapons for fire, wait on my command. Secondary weapons systems live, and make sure these asteroids don’t get close. Tell me the moment Tyrannosaurs’ main gun is ready to fire. Find out where Heron and Arachnid are and get that information to me right away.”

Lan Jue’s eyes were fixed to the screen. His breathing came fast, stunned by the suddenness of this asteroid attack. They were everywhere, far as the eye could see. The thin layer of the asteroid belt that remained between them and the alien planet wasn’t going to help. On the contrary, they would likely join in the oncoming attack.
A burst of energy swept toward them, an oppressive force that seemed poised to swallow up everything in its path. The asteroids from the planet crashed into the belt, resulting in dramatic explosions and detritus moving at thousands of kilometers a second. The Asteroid belt gave away and joined the tide of stone as it headed toward the human ships.

Without question, the aliens knew the humans were coming, and from where. They had prepared all of this, even down to the limited alien patrols to limit casualties. The Violet Prince, the asteroids, avoiding Tyrannosaurus…

All of it planned perfectly. The aliens knew much more about humans and their reactions than anyone would have guessed. They even know particulars about Capital ship weaponry, not to mention a Bastion’s main guns!

The nightmare they faced now was a result of underestimation. Even after repelling the Violet Prince and preparing for the asteroid attack, humanity was in a dangerously inferior position.

What could they do in a situation as desperate as this?
It didn’t matter how strong Skyfire Avenue’s people were, this was a full-fledged space battle. A single person, even a Paragon, couldn’t sway the tide. Even something as frightening as the Violet Prince wouldn’t dare reveal itself to Bastion and Capital ship fire for any stretch of time.

Victory or defeat was in the hands of Kang Hui and his army, now.

The Asteroid Storm was here! They barely had time to prepare. The smallest were the size of mountains, and the bigger ones could be mistaken for moons. Simple as they were, they made brutally efficient weapons.

Tyrannosaurus had taken the first shot, but the alien planet aimed to finish the fight before it really got under way.

“Fire!” Kang Hui gave the order.

Tyrannosaurus lit up with thousands of flashes as its secondary weapons systems let loose. Sizzling beams of energy crashed into the asteroids. There was no way the ship would survive relying on shields alone, not to mention the amount of energy it would take to protect a ship of its size. Guns were
turned on the space rocks to reduce their numbers as much as possible before they struck.

For the moment it seemed to work. The overpowering munitions from the ship obliterated the asteroids, turning one after the other into space dust.

From the bridge windows they could hardly see passed the flashes of muzzle fire. The asteroids were many, but once within the kill zone of Tyrannosaurus’ weapons they were destroyed. The ship slowly spun around as the guns – jutting from the surface like so many bamboo shoots – continued to fire.

The weapons issuing from Tyrannosaurus’ surface were its Beta- and Gamma-class railguns. They were strong enough to mar planets! The ship rotated to give the weapons times to vent heat and recharge for another volley while another sector took charge. This way it kept up continuous fire.

Like a well-oiled machine, the North’s Tyrannosaurus-class Bastion ship spun and fired, and not a single asteroid was able to penetrate the crossfire. The four Capital ships from the four fleets were only responsible for the furthest outliers. It meant they could conserve energy and focus fire on where it was needed most. Now it was clear why Kang Hui ordered them to
move in. The smaller their surface area, the less energy was needed in defense and the harder they were to hit.

Kang Hui’s skillful command played an important role in their continued survival.

The only problem was First Fleet. They’d dragged their feet and missed their opportunity. It’s Capital ship and dreadnaughts desperately fired into the encroaching wall of stone to protect themselves.

Smaller ships could play no role here. If they were unfortunate enough to get caught by even the smallest asteroid, they would be reduced to slag.

Countless beams of light lit up space. From a distance it looked like the most incredible light show in the galaxy.

Lan Jue was secretly impressed. Despite all he knew about Bastion ships, this was the first time he’d seen one in full combat. Now he understood just how incredible they were. It was the first time he’d seen this tactic of continuous railgun fire as well. It was especially effective against asteroids since they had no shields or armor.
The stream of asteroids from the alien planet seemed endless.
The ships fired back with just as much tenacity.

“Admiral, we’re losing energy quickly. We’re down thirty percent already.”

“Pay no mind,” Kang Hui muttered. “Continue at full power. Don’t you want to go home to your families? We cannot lose this battle. Give the order to Third and Sixth fleet to prepare their cannons. Tell them to target the enemy planet.”

“Admiral, the asteroids are still too thick. We can’t get a lock.”

“Then hold the attack,” he replied. “Focus on the asteroids. All Capital ships and dreadnaughts go weapons hot. Get ready to switch targets on my command.”

The Skyfire delegation stood to one side of the office, silently nodding. This Kang Hui was a credit to his Chinese ancestry, with a big heart and a sharp eye for making the right decision. His direction might just get them through this definitive battle.

Judging by the planet’s reaction, it was afraid of the Bastion’s lethal main cannon. It was trying to destroy them before they could get another shot off. If this was not the case, a counter- attack like the one they used to destroy the Seventh Fleet would have been more suitable.

Their first priority had to be defending themselves from the flood of deadly rock. Once that threat was dealt with they would engage. If they succeeded, not only would the damage to the enemy be great, but it would show humanity they stood a chance.

Explosions ripped through space as the railguns detonated asteroids, causing the ships to rattle continuously. A shiver went down the spines of all who witnessed the pure destructive capabilities of the Bastion ship. This was the apex of humanity’s capacity for annihilation.

“Where are Arachnid and Heron,” Kang Hui calmly asked.

“Sir, they’re headed our way at full speed. They’ll be here in three hours!”

“Stream our engagement to them in real-time so they know
what to expect. Tell them to expect an ambush.”

“Aye, aye!”

There were three of these evil planets out there, but only one had shown its ugly surface. As for the other two? No one knew where they might be lurking. If the aliens knew about Tyrannosaurus, then it was more than likely they also knew about Heron and Arachnid. Judging by how strong just this one planet was, they would need two Bastions to stand on equal footing.

A strange light flit across Kang Hui’s eyes perpetually as he watched the battle. His attention flashed from one screen to another, informing his constant stream of commands. While it looked like micro-managing, each order was precise and correct.

Under his direction Tyrannosaurus and four of its fleets had drifted sideways toward First Fleet. Meanwhile the two reserve fleets had turned them weapons to the flank to aid the errant fleet, saving it from destruction and sharing its defensive burden.

Ying Tianlong stood on the bridge of his Capital ship, his face
red with rage!

“Get me Admiral Hui on the line!” He roared, then took several deep breaths to try and bring himself under control.

“This is Kang Hui.” After a moment the commander’s face flickered into view on a screen.

Chapter 683: Moonfiend?

Ying Tianlong snapped to attention and saluted his superior. “Admiral Kang, I am willing to accept whatever disciplinary action you deem necessary. But the First Fleet is the backbone of our nation’s security, I beg you to come to our aid.”

“Commander Ying,” Kang Hui began coolly, “you will follow all orders to the letter, do you understand? If we survive this fight, then we can discuss punishment.”

“Aye, aye!” Ying Tianlong stood straight, chest out. Pride had clouded his judgement, but the man was still an outstanding soldier. He understood what was required of him in this moment, and although he was loathe to admit his failing to the admiral he wasn’t willing to gamble with the one hundred thousand lives under his command.

After accepting Ying Tianlong’s apologies, Kan Hui’s face bore no change. In a fighting force this large there were more important things for him to attend to besides a commander’s wounded pride. He was already being pulled in too many directions.

Lan Jue took Qianlin’s hand and they walked over to the
admiral.

“What it is, commander Lan?” Wu Qiu was also standing by Kang Hui, one of many officer in what had become the war room. He waited patiently for orders, along with Ling Ya. When he saw Lan Jue approaching the admiral he stepped in to block his path. Kang Hui could not be disturbed.

Lan Jue’s voice was low. “We can help the admiral keep up his energy.”

Wu Qiu paused, then turned his head to look at Kang Hui stooped over his desk. When he turned back he looked unconvinced. “The admiral has to pay close attention, he’s directing our defenses. He mustn’t be disturbed.”

Little by little the flood of asteroids had started to decrease. The alien planet could spit them out, but had no control over where they went once it did.

First Fleet managed to pull themselves into formation. Ying Tianlong’s Capital ship and the fleet’s ten dreadnaughts had pulled in front as a shield for the smaller ships. The battleships and patrol boats huddled behind their bigger brethren while
they shot apart any asteroids that came their way.

Then, the alien planet began to move.

It picked up speed, approaching the human defenders once more. All the while asteroids were belched from within that rotating vortex.

Kang Hui’s pupils contracted. “All dreadnaught-class ships or higher, prepare main cannons.”

Only a short period of time had passed since the fight began. However, it was so frantic and ferocious no one could tell just how long it’d been. They had waiting for this moment with singular focus, and now that it was here they were almost too stunned to react.

It was getting closer! Meanwhile the asteroid assault was diminishing by the moment. Northern ships repositioned their heavy weapons toward the encroaching enemy powerhouse.

But then, without warning the planet stopped dead in its tracks once again. The asteroids vomited from within stopped
as well.

Was it spent?

No sooner did the thought cross the soldiers’ minds than it was dramatically disproved. They gaped at the madness they witnessed.

The planet began to expand again, even bigger than it had been before. A colossal form emerged from the vortex. It was round, an orb with an entirely purple surface that emerged slowly but picked up speed. As it fired from the planet it began to spin with such speed that its gravity well wracked surrounding space. For good reason – it was ten times the size of Tyrannosaurus!

“Moonfiend!” The shocked gasp came from the woman standing with Lin Guoguo at the back of the room, Su Xiaosu.

No one knew the planet better than she did. She knew it the second she saw its topography. And she was right, this enormous purple planet spat at them from the aliens was the husk of Moonfiend! Nothing lived on its poison surface now, making it nothing but a cosmic corpse turned weapon.
They thought we knew about them, but no one could have imagined the aliens would use a whole planet to attack them. Whether gravity, atmosphere, or sheer mass, a collision with Moonfiend would exterminate anything it came in contact with.

“All ships open fire, give everything you’ve got!” Kang Hui’s cool exterior was broken, he shouted the order. The moment Xiaosu recognized the planet, he understood the danger they were in.

There was only one result if they planet hit them, complete annihilation. The alien planet had come close enough that – at Moonfiend’s speed – they would have no way to escape if they tried to run. What’s more, even if they tried the space around them was still thick with asteroids. Their only option was a single bold gambit, destroy the planet with overwhelming firepower.

If Tyrannosaurus’ main cannon had been charged, even a rogue planet wouldn’t have frightened them. It was strong enough to blast it apart. However it wasn’t ready, wasted on a failed shot against the alien world. Their railguns would have to be enough, or they were doomed.

Boom-boom—boom boom-boom! A ceaseless series of blasts
shook the Bastion ship as its guns fired. They held nothing back.

Third, Sixth, Eleventh and Thirteenth fleets unleashed their Capital ships and dreadnaughts. Cannons that had been trained on the enemy were turned on its weapon instead. Blinding streaks of light swept passed Tyrannosaurus’ flanks.

Luo Xianni, watching from the war room, darted out her hand to grab the Wine Master’s arm. When he turned to look at her, she fixed him with a look and nodded. Jue Di’s partner was strong enough to deal with the planet, but it came at a dangerous cost. There was also the Violet Prince to consider.

It was speeding up! For a terrible moment the humans watched as their cannon fire and Moonfiend closed in on one another. The question was front and center in everyone’s mind. Would it stop the planet? Was this the beginning of a great victory, or their last moments breathing?

Kang Huis’ hands gripped the edges of his desk with enough force to turn his knuckles white. He glared at the screens with hard eyes and a clenched jaw. This was the most important battle of his life, and possibly his last.
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Arachnid sailed through space so quickly it left a wake of displaced meteorites in its path. Since there was no entourage to protect it paid no mind to the detritus swirling around it. Eight enormous mechanical legs hung limp behind the Bastion ship as it charged ahead, enveloped in a faint white light.

If judged by mass, the Arachnid-class Bastion was among the smaller of the North’s mighty ships. However that didn’t speak to its awesome power. Although they looked like a spider’s legs, that was as far as the similarities went. Not only did they make the ship more agile than its larger brothers, they were also invaluable in a fight.

Holmen sat behind his desk with a steaming cup of coffee in his hands. The screen in front of him flashed with scenes of a desperate battle. A life feed from Tyrannosaurus.

“Sir!” A voice spat from the intercom on his desk.

“Speak.” The admiral took a sip from his cup.
“Admiral. We just got word from Tyrannosaurus to engage as soon as we can. They warned us to look out for an ambush.”

“Got it,” he replied tepidly.

Holmen was a leading voice among the more hawkish members of the military, and a senior commander. He’d been promoted to Fleet Admiral for this excursion. He was the same commander who had attempted to blow Lan Jue out of the sky on his trip to the Starfields. Zeus-1 was very nearly destroyed at his order.

Of all the Northern officers he was the most familiar with the Shattered Starfields. It was for this reason he was chosen to join the expedition.

“Ambush? He’s frightened.” Holmen muttered to himself over the rim of his coffee mug. He and Kang Hui had never been friends. In his mind Kang Hui’s lineage was inferior, it made him weak. How was it he’d been promoted faster, he wondered? If he’d been given the same cherry-picked missions Kang Hui had received, he would have been Fleet Admiral years ago.

Competition was in his nature, especially when it came to
Kang Hui. As for the alien threat he had also been vigilant and itching to get his hands dirty. Before being given command of a Bastion, the Seventh Fleet had been under his command. He knew how capable it had been as a fighting force, and thus could see how strong the alien creatures must be.

He’d volunteered for this mission, in part as revenge but also to earn himself a vital crystal. Many high-level military leaders were backed by powerful families. It was how they got their status in the first place.

“Ahead at flank speed, bring us to the battlefield. Make sure the main cannon is charged and prepared to engage.” He wasn’t convinced of any imminent danger, but he knew better than to underestimate an enemy. Although he had no love for Kang Hui, he had to admit the man was competent in some areas. Among them was a comprehensive tactical knowledge on the battlefield.

Engines flared beneath the mechanical spider’s abdomen, thrusting it even faster toward the fight. Holmen’s Bastion was crewed by excellent officers who guided Arachnid through the Starfields deftly, dodging asteroids and small moons as they were encountered. The ship’s mechanical legs would occasionally stretched out to knock obstacles out of the way. It looked more like an octopus than a spider.

Chapter 684: Ares’ Cleaver

Holmen never took his eyes from the screen in front of him. He watched every detail as Tyrannosaurus lead its entourage in battle against the alien planet.

The monsters were crafty, using the galaxy itself as a weapon. Were it him in Kang Hui’s place, Holmen wasn’t sure he would have fared much better. You better hold out Kang Hui, you
miscreant, you better hold the line! Wait for me to come pull
your ass out of the fire.

No matter his personal feelings, protecting the North and its army was their shared goal.

“Admiral! Sensors have picked up a strong pulse of vital energy.” The voice of one of his officers interrupted Holmen’s thoughts.

He and Kang Hui had different styles of command. Tyrannosaurus’ Captain relied on his own superhuman vision to guide his men. Holmen, meanwhile, preferred to delegate when possible. He firmly believed that a single person had limits, no matter how strong. A fighting force was strongest when they worked in unison.
As a result his people were some of the best. Although Holmen was prone to angry outbursts, and was as cold as a man could be, his soldiers loved him dearly. Unless the situation warranted, his staff handled their own business and troubled him only when necessary.

“Continue battle preparations. Where are we with the main cannon?” A glint flashed in Holmen’s eye and his right hand slapped the surface of his desk. As though in response, two large metallic hoops rose from either side of him. His desk separated to reveal several control panels, transforming into a complicated operations control center.

“Sir, main cannon is charged to forty-one percent. It will be ready to fire in eleven minutes and thirty-two seconds.”

“Redirect energy to the guns to hasten the charge. Thirty degrees to port. Reduce speed to standard ahead, forty percent.” He calmly delivered his orders.

Arachnid’s spindly body suddenly lurched to the left. One of its enormous legs crashed down on a larger moon and used it to redirect its forward motion. At the same moment its secondary weapons systems came online. Glimmering railguns with glowing barrels appeared all along the Bastion’s surface.
Suddenly, a large purple sphere appeared not far to one side. They saw it just in time to witness a hail of purple beams launch from its surface. They were headed right for Arachnid.

A small, hard smile broke Holmen’s stony features.

That bastard was right after all. Here you are then? Excellent! Let’s see what you’ve got. Brothers and sisters of the Seventh Fleet, today I make them pay!

The light surrounding Arachnid suddenly swelled. As its railguns took aim at the planet the ship feigned to one side.

A stream of data tumbled across Holmen’s screens. Quick calculations told him the alien planet was  thirty-two  times larger than his ship – quite a bit larger. There were no readings on power levels yet.

Holmen’s reactions were calm and precise. He’d been waiting for this. Come on then, you bastards!

The purple rays were fast and rapidly approaching. Scanners revealed them to large aliens, with umbrella-shaped
monstrosities in the lead. They raced ahead with a clear target, and large as they were they still moved with uncanny agility. They juked and dodged, changing direction so quickly they were hard to lock onto. Strange pulses blasted from the umbrella- aliens as well, confounding Arachnid’s scanning systems.

“First Combat Division, engage!” Holmen called out the order through his intercom.

Panels on the side of the ship split open, and from them gushed a horde of combat ships like angry wasps. They were all silvery-white, no larger than fifty meters from bow to stern, and sleek as missiles. They scattered into the surrounding vacuum of space, darting in all directions.

Stationed forces of a Bastion were different from general army units. A single division boasted a thousand ships. Typically a Bastion had between five thousand and ten thousand fighters ready to be deployed. They were their standard front-line troops.

Tyrannosaurus couldn’t engage the enemy with its troops in the midst of an asteroid storm, but Arachnid’s situation was different. He didn’t have to hold back vital combat resources and deployed them right away. Often in a space battle these
small combat ships were more effective than mechas. Fighter ships worked better together out in space, while mechas were more suitable to ground combat operations. They were more adaptable and had more power and options available to them. Out here among the stars, a full contingent of fighters could erase a whole fleet.

Arachnid’s First Combat Division fighters spread out around the Bastion, but not too far. They gathered into a hundred units of ten ships, unifying agility with firepower. The aliens came at them like bullets fired from the purple planet. By the time First Combat Division was in place, the creatures were on them.

However the aliens weren’t met by the fighters. The first thing in their way was more than five hundred blasts of energy. They burst from between the fighter units, perfectly accurate.

Railgun fire! Arachnid started the fight with a wall of destructive energy from one of humanity’s most potent weapons. Each gun was individually manned, ensuring there was no friendly fire. Meanwhile the fighters hovered in position so as not to get in the way. The battle had begun!

The saucer-shaped aliens reacted quickly. They spun around at incredible speed, flinging out orbs of purple energy. The orbs
spread out and stuck together like a film to warm the aliens from the encroaching attack.

Seconds later a deafening explosion arose. Blinding white and toxic purple met in a cloud of tumultuous energy.

Holmen grinned at his screens, confident that the salvo caused his foes pain. Those looked like normal alien fighters, nothing special, and that blast had come from his Alpha- and Beta- railgun arrays.

But he would be disappointed. As the tempest of energy subsided the aliens reappeared. Enormous, shield-like bodies protected the smaller aliens from the railguns, rendering them useless. Their cumbersome form looked thick and craggy like tortoise shells.

Arachnid’s long-range scanners peered into their midst, revealing the shell-bearing aliens. They were huge, easily two hundred meters in diameter for the big ones, no less than one hundred for their smaller brethren. Their shells were the same sickly purple as the planet and flickered with violet light. They were thick, just as effective as ships’ armor.
All the railguns had managed to do was push them back and cause their shields to ripple. Nothing got through.

Even Lan Jue, with all his experience, would be dumbfounded by the scene. They had been brought along with the saucer- aliens as natural shields. Saucer-aliens remained behind and pushed the shields ahead of them to protect against the railguns. The remaining alien forces followed. Meanwhile the giant alien planet was approaching from the distance!

A dark and seething anger tainted Holmen’s face. He wasn’t upset that they’d survived his first salvo. What troubled him was their intelligence. It was all planned, all deliberate.

“Ares’ Cleaver!” Holmen growled the words into the intercom. He firmly pressed a distinct, angry red button on his panel.

Arachnid’s First Combat Division burst into the fray while even more were dispatched from the Bastion. The bristling railguns swung back into the closed position, leaving Arachnid’s surface an unbroken field of alloy armor.

The atmosphere-like shield around the Bastion receded. While
it seemed to be getting smaller, that was simply because it was condensing. Concurrently the ship’s eight mechanical legs splayed out around it, flipping in the process. Their back ends were thick and sturdy, while the front was sharp as a blade.

Arachnid’s body was thirty-thousand meters around. Its legs were eight thousand meters long and separated into two section. The bottom sections were five thousand four hundred meters long, and were tipped by the second section, each three thousand six hundred meters long. Thus in just a few moment the spider became a deadly sphere with eight razor-sharp blades splayed around it. They called it; Ares’ Cleaver!

Tyrannosaurus relied on its enormous size and impressive weapons suite – a very traditional Bastion. With its large energy stores it was best suited for fighting with other interstellar fleets.

Chapter 685: Heron-Class Bastion

Arachnid was a newer design, incorporating new advances in bionic integration. The North was not called the trailblazers of technological advancement for nothing.

Arachnid didn’t need any backup from an intergalactic fleet, an unstoppable force of war in and of itself. Thus, it traveled without an escort for fear it would impeded on its own ability to wage war.

By the time Arachnid’s legs were fully extended, all seven thousand of its fighter ships were deployed. They quickly dispersed like a cloud, but didn’t rush in to attack. They were like spectators, a net of eyes.

Eight rectangular engines spat tangerine-colored light from behind the Bastion. It looked like a terrible beast birthed from the abyss of space, and it raced ahead hungry for alien blood.

The sudden transformation was an unexpected surprise for the alien attackers, especially when the bladed arms began to swipe through the air.
The simple motion was actually phenomenally precise. Within Arachnid, a host of supercomputers controlled every aspect of the arms. Each swipe was calibrated to avoid collision with the other arms and make every strike as effective as possible. High-frequency ionization, as evidence by the pale blue light that surrounded them, made them incredibly sharp. They were deadly mechanical talons.

Scrrrrgzt! A brief but piercing sound like nails on a chalkboard shuddered through the ship. Outside, the tortoise- shell line of defense that had protected the aliens from Arachnid’s railguns were parted like butter before a hot knife. The three thousand six hundred meter forearm even sliced through the saucer-alien pushing them from behind. Many of the alien forces hiding behind it dispersed, and many others were instantly slain.

In no time, Arachnid’s eight arms carved away the aliens defensive shield.

Panels flipped all along the Bastions surface as the railguns reengaged. Columns of light fires into the alien forces, and from afar Arachnid looked like a bristling hedgehog. Purple mists of caustic fluid hung in the air, remnants of the alien massacre.
For the fighter ships watching from afar, they looked like pleasant clouds.

This was the power of a Bastion ship, the greatest  war machine humans have produced!

The long-planned trap lain by the aliens had been foiled, and now they were exposed to the punishing rain of fire from Arachnid’s railguns.

ζ

Like a bird of prey swooping through the darkness, the Heron- class Bastion ship made its way through the Shattered Starfields. Compared to its brethren, it moved the fasted among the rocks and moons,

Heron was markedly different from all other Bastions. Its constructed look like a fighter ship, only blown up to staggering proportions with a wingspan of thirty five thousand meters. Its hull was thirty seven thousand meters fore to aft and stretched a sleek seven thousand one hundred meters tall.
Heron carried ten thousand smaller copies of itself onboard but lacked a single main cannon like Arachnid or Tyrannosaurus. Instead it had three slightly smaller ones with power equivalent to ten Capital ships each. It was also the fastest Bastion ship ever built.

Northern technology adhered to the idea of ‘build everything and see what works,’ and newer style ships like this were created to push the boundaries of what they were capable of. They were even constructed with elements that gave them the ability to completely change shape. As difficult as it was for a ship like Arachnid to change even part of itself, one could imagine the trouble in finding ways for a whole ship to transform.

Heron was a prototype of this new generation of Bastion ships. Its manufacturing principle was ‘make it faster than any Bastion before it.’ They were successful, and Heron became the preferred Bastion for the North’s long-range missions. While it couldn’t boast the sheer destructive power or defensibility as its predecessors, its speed gave it an advantage the others lacked. Furthermore, it was supplemented by several divisions of fighter groups that could engage swiftly. A ship like this sweeping into a battle could dramatically change the tide!

Yan Yuan stood proudly before the bridge window, watching
the asteroids bounce off Heron’s shields. He was enjoying the view. It made him feel powerful, unstoppable.

He was one of the new generation of Northern military leaders, two years younger than Kang Hui but already an admiral. Where he differed from Tyrannosaurus’ commander was his lineage. Yan Yuan came from a storied Northern family, and was his family’s pride and joy. He leaned on the considerable resources at his disposal to temper himself into the successful soldier he was today. While unconfirmed, he was also considered the future patriarch of his family – a true rising star in the North.

Originally the North hadn’t required Yan Yuan’s participation in this fight, but he’d insisted. He felt humiliated by the fact Kang Hui had risen through the ranks faster and enjoy more prestige. The only way to prove his superiority, he felt, was on the battlefield.

Combat had already broken out, he knew. They’d received the call for aid from Tyrannosaurus and were already advancing as fast as they dared. He had to get there! Yan Yuan would not allow his stellar military record to be stained by inaction – he was a perfectionist.
“Sir!”

“Report.”

“We will reach Tyrannosaurus in one hour, Admiral.”

“Flank speed, and tell the gunnery officers to prepare for immediate combat once we arrive.” Yan Yuan ordered.

“Aye, aye!”

Heron’s construction was such that it didn’t need fear the Starfield’s many obstructions. In fact its wings were made to be weapons, sharp and sturdy. Northern leaders had proposed sending Heron into the Starfields a long time ago to clear out pirate forces, but the cost was deemed untenable. So, when Yan Yuan brought this up to his superiors they approached his request to join the expedition.

It was time to prove his merit! Yan Yuan gripped his hands into tight fists. His career could be described as flawless, all he needed was a fight big enough to get people’s attention. This was it, and he cherished the opportunity. Yan Yuan was
confident in his capabilities, and the capabilities of the ship he commanded.

“Admiral, we’ve just received reports from Arachnid that they’ve been ambushed.” The urgent news brought Yan Yuan back to the present.

“Go to defcon 1!” He barked the order while returning to the commander’s chair.

Heron’s radar swept into through the rocky expanse of space around them. Bow-mounted railguns extended and started target-tracing while the main cannons began to charge.

Although Yan Yuan had never participated in a full-on military campaign, he had a wealth of theoretical knowledge and plentiful experience with small engagements. Tyrannosaurus was locked in a firefight with one of the planets. Arachnid had been waylaid by another. It could only mean the enemy had known they were coming, and assuming Heron would slip by unmolested was foolish. Enemy forces would do whatever they could to prevent them from giving aid to Tyrannosaurus.
Just as Heron was preparing for a fight, a sudden and unexpected pull come from the side. It originated deep in the asteroid belt, strong enough to pull the Bastion off course.

“Cut engines! Prepare to engage!” A beam of dazzling white light shot into the distance from the top of the ship. It was a type of long-range radar that released a pulse after a few moments, revealing a large area to their scanners. Heron used it to uncover enemy positions or confound interference attempts.

However something unexpected happen. As the white light spread farther and grew wider, a flash of imperial purple erased it from being. IT was as though the universe simply swallowed it up.

That was…

Heron didn’t stop to fight an unseen enemy. Its engines blazed in attempts to shed the traction dragging it backward. Speed being the Bastion’s greatest asset, it was a wise choice to escape from their foes attack range and re-engage on their terms. Yan Yuan was an admiral, he knew tactics.

Once the ship got some distance, it turned back around
toward where the sneak attack had come from.

What they saw was a nebula of purple – a swarm of aliens too many to count headed their way. The creatures were pouring in from the surrounding asteroid field, some of them larger than Capital ships.

In the center of the throng was a massive violet planet slowly emerging from the darkness. A swirling whirlpool roiled at its center. Though smaller than the one attacking Tyrannosaurus, it was the same in all other respects.

Chapter 686: Crossing Swords

The aliens spread out like a dragnet, trying to swallow Heron up. An equally large force of them appeared behind the Bastion as well. All of a sudden the ship was caught between two forces; it was a vice and they were caught right in the middle.

Ambush! Yan Yuan’s face fell. For forces to appear behind them, it meant they knew Heron was specialized in speed and planned for it. Fighting while outflanked was asking for desire. They had to get to Tyrannosaurus.

Yan Yuan was desperate for glory, but he didn’t let it cloud his judgement. He knew little about these creatures and was in an unfavorable position. Tactical retreat was the wisest course.

The enemy was no less cunning or intelligent than mankind, the same determination Kang Hui and Holmen had come to. Retreat had been cut off by the time Yan Yuan had made to flee. If he’d have been faster, he might have been able to break the encirclement. Now Heron faced the full strength of the alien planet, and even though Heron was fast it was too large to make a quick escape. Turning took time, time the aliens weren’t likely to give.
A number of strange umbra-like monstrosity came at them, firing smaller aliens that looked like tortoises and pushing them ahead in their charge. Rays of purple light also shot by on their way toward Heron.

However the most frightening was of course the alien planet itself. It wasn’t attacking them yet, but its massive presence was like an ominous star, stifling the breath of soldier and officer alike.

They had to retreat!

Yan Yuan screwed up his courage and gave the order. Heron didn’t release its forces into the fight, instead blasting forward at full speed. Its milky-white shield now blazed bright gold, and in the darkness of space Heron looked like a fiery phoenix come to wreak havoc.

Was he planning to charge through the enemy line?

The aliens continued to close in.

BANG! Heron crashed into the enemy forces with a
shuddering crash. No matter how large the aliens were, compared to the Bastion ship they were hardly worth noting. Herons razor-like wings were supplemented by its shields, which were formed to a blade’s edge. Even tortoise-aliens were unceremoniously cleaved in half as it roared passed.

Nor did Heron keep a direct path. No sooner did it reach top speed then the ship pulled to one side, arcing perilously to one side. They were making a break for it, but it wasn’t going to be easy. Their new trajectory was bleeding their speed and leaving them open to attacks from the side.

Railguns hummed mechanically as they extended. Beams of light flashes at odd intervals, blasting through the  throng  of foes. Heron was baring its talons.

But there were too many. They couldn’t stop the Bastion, but they could at least slow it down. Meanwhile the evil planet was drawing ever closer, the horde of monstrous creatures tightened the net.

“Cannon, clear us a path!”

Heron’s three main guns, affixed it its back, were fully
charged and ready. Although they weren’t as powerful as those on Arachnid or Tyrannosaurus, the trade-off was they primed faster.

Three identical beams of energy tore through the darkness.
Anything caught in its path was immediately disintegrated.

Two of the three guns were aimed straight ahead, opening the way forward. The third one took shots at the alien planet, slowly but surely bearing down on them. In the same instant, Heron’s main engines exploded with columns of angry red light that rocketing the ship forward – signs the engines were overcharged. Its railguns were already firing as quickly as they could. Heron darted forward like a sparrow, desperate to escape its captor.

It broke through! Yan Yuan’s face relaxed ever so slightly. He knew his ship, yes there were aliens that could catch them but none that could do the Bastion any significant damage. There was no way that lumbering planet would be able to stay on their tail.

His eyes were fixed to the radar, watching for any movement from the planet.
Surprisingly, the swarm of aliens stopped their pursuit and turned around. So did the planet, but much to his shock it began to swell with frightening speed. Its change in size also caused Heron’s cannon fire to shoot directly into the central vortex. He shots vanished, leaving no visible damage to the planet itself.

It was less a planet and more a possessed balloon from some nightmare.

What was it planning?

“Redirect all power to shields!” Yan Yuan shouted. Now wasn’t the time to fret over energy reserves.

In their short exchange Yan Yuan realized how strong his foe really was. The planet was like a Bastion ship with a seemingly limitless number of aliens as support. Without a fleet to help, he didn’t like their chances of survival.

As Yan Yuan pondered his dire situation he kept an eye on the planet. It grew and swelled grotesquely into a massive, fleshy red orb. Even from vast distances, one could almost pick out its throbbing arteries.
Heron’s overcharged engines had created some distance between it and the horror behind. For a moment it looked like their escape was a success.

Only just then, without warning, a blood-curdling scream tore through Yan Yuan’s brain. The hellish screech felt like it was tearing through his very soul.

He was stunned by it, and next he knew the planet was practically on top of them.

It was so fast it seemed to violate the laws of physics. Heron was faster than anything humans had built, but this living planet was moving three times as fast!

With some curiosity he noted that the planet appeared to shrink as it got closer. He couldn’t shake an almost comical image; a popped balloon shooting forward.

“Fire at will, keep it off us!” Railguns all along the Bastion swung around to find their target. They let loose in a frenzied salvo, hoping against hope it’d somehow keep them from destruction.

Chapter 687: Defeat and Autotomy

The alien planet was too fast. It came tearing at them like a comet, and strong as Heron’s railguns were they didn’t appear to cause much damage. Most of the shots were deflected by the violet vortex.

The planet made impact, slamming into Heron’s wing.

Boom–!

The wing was torn to pieces, and the impact sent the Bastion ship into an uncontrolled spin. Yan Yuan felt everything spinning around him. Their shields had been practically useless.

They didn’t spin far. Before the Bastion could be blown into the recesses of space, that same terrifying traction returned. It stopped them in place. They were sitting ducks – the planet had hit them right where it knew it’d hurt the most. Their engines were destroyed.

If it’d been Tyrannosaurus it might have avoided damage due to its stronger shields. However Heron was constructed for speed and maneuverability, it was never supposed to get hit like
that. Just think – a Bastion ship appearing quickly out of nowhere to deposit scores of fighter ships. It was enough to end any typical intergalactic battle.

“Bastard!” Yan Yuan grit his teeth. The ship’s gravity-control devices kept him more or less stable as he shouted commands. It was time for quick and hard decision. Hesitation could spell their doom.

A teal light shimmered over Heron’s damaged surface, belts from the engines. Within the ship machinery whirred and shifted. The whole crew cabin lurched toward the front of the ship. In fact, everything part of Heron but its damaged wing started to transform. Large metal segments separated from the main body, glimmering with the same teal hue. The alien planet’s traction immediately pulled them quickly toward the vortex.

A series of staggering blasts ensued. Those metallic canister were bombs, and when they reached the vortex they erupted in dazzling explosions. The back half of the assailed Bastion continued to pummel the enemy with railgun fire, while the front still blazed with teal light. Then there was a burst of color as the front one-third of the ship separated and shot forward. It moved as fast as the planet had during its ‘balloon maneuver,’ and in a blink the surviving part of Heron disappeared into deep
space.

Sacrificing the tail to save the body, a tactic learned from lizards. Northern scientists wanted to have a contingency plan in the event Heron was overwhelmed by enemy Bastions. Even Heron had its limitations in speed, and in the event a battle became too rough its own tail became an explosive weapon. Meanwhile the ship’s personnel were transferred to the front and blasted away like an escape pod. It was a risk that cost Heron dearly, but so long as it had soldiers there was a chance. So long as they had soldiers they had everything.

What was left of the North’s fastest Bastion was crippled. It didn’t have the fighting capabilities of a Capital ship in this condition, and no longer had the benefit of its fighter ships. Still, the alien planet could only watch it vanish into the distance. It didn’t have the energy for a quick pursuit as before, and the explosions forced it to retract its vortex. Heron had escaped.

ζ

“Charge!” Holmen’s eyes blazed with a bloodthirsty light. Witnessing the damage Arachnid’s arms had caused gave him a glimmer of hope. He remembered once using the ship to rip
apart a small moon. The alien planet was much larger, but destroying it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Perhaps hundreds of vital crystals glittered in space among the mangled remains of the alien force. Their purple light was reflect in Holmen’s greedy eyes. He nearly salivated to think of what all of those would buy him! The East’s crystal auction had made it clear how much these were worth.

Arachnid raced ahead with its cannon’s fully charged, and its eight arms ready to carve into the planet. Its shields flared in preparation. Surviving aliens from the first assault had scattered, like they knew the battle was already over. However, the net of fighter ships that followed Arachnid didn’t let them flee. They closed the net tighter and put down whatever grotesque foe crossed their barrels while gathering up vital crystals.

It was starting to look like a ringing victory!

Tyrannosaurus’ dilemma was the farthest thing from Holmen’s mind now. All he could think, was that his time of recognition. All he had to do was destroy the evil planet in his sights – maybe even capture it – then no one in the Northern army would be able to deny his superiority.
Arachnid was certainly smaller than its target, but it was fierce. Maybe even fierce enough.

Holmen always had a talent for command, and years of service tempered it with experience. He was mad with ambition but it didn’t affect his ability to direct the attack. The smaller ships had finished mopping up, and were swinging in behind Arachnid to join its charge toward the planet.

Their victory was nearly complete!

All this time the alien planet was quiet, like it was not aware the fight was still on – a lamb to the slaughter. It seemed incapable of defending itself. It simply hung in space waiting for Arachnid to come put it out of its misery.

The Bastion came closer, closer! Arachnid extended its eight arms, their bladed edges glinting ominously.

“Kill—“ Holmen roared as Arachnid brazenly threw itself against the enemy. Its shields were bright and thick with bolstered power.
The two collided like star-crossed stellar bodies.

Chapter 688: The Splendor of Life!

The first thing Holmen noticed were the odd data readings. No gravity? None whatsoever… what did it mean? Without gravity a planet would break apart like sand. It was smaller than a main sequence star, a white dwarf or a neutral star, but that didn’t excuse it from the laws of the universe!

However the Bastion had already crossed the point of no return, and uncertainly only bred fear at this point. The time was now, and Arachnid reacted by swiping with its massive arms.

The plan wasn’t to smash into the planet directly. With their size discrepancy the Bastion would certainly lose that dogfight. Instead Holmen’s plan was a simple one; tear at it with Arachnid’s arms. The East claimed it was alive, didn’t they?
Very well, then! Then we’ll stab the damn thing to death. Swing
by, chop it up, blast it with the main guns, repeat.

It was Arachnid’s best method against an enemy planet. Holmen knew this, and in fact some had come to call him the World Butcher for his dark skillset. He’d destroyed more than one living planet for the benefit of the North.
Boom–! Impact! Arachnid’s eight bladed arms tore into the planet in no particular order.

However, the gore or grit Arachnid’s Captain hope to see did not appear.

Where Ares’ Cleavers struck the surface of the planet flashes with purple light. The flashes deflected the strikes, leaving not so much as a scratch behind. In responsible the earth surged, spatting enormous purple tentacles that wrapped around Arachnid like boa constrictors.

No! We were drawn in!

“Main cannon, fire!” Though surprise, Holmen wasn’t beaten yet. He shouted the order to his subordinates.

Firing the gun so close put Arachnid in the red zone – it was more than likely it would be damaged by the subsequent blast. Holmen took this into consideration but made the decision anyway. These creatures were dangerous, they needed to be stopped.
The guns were primed, and at his command they were fired. But just then, at precisely the wrong moment, the planet-born tentacles pulled. Arachnid was wrenched to the side just as the cannon released its payload. The beam shot off into space, missing its target entirely.

It was like their foe had planned this from the beginning. Their desperate gambit had failed. But how? How did it know the exact moment they were firing their guns? A haze overcame him, a cold sweat springing up on his forehead.

The fighter ships, seeing Arachnid waylaid, rushed in to its rescue. They opened fire on the planet with everything they had.

Ripples of purple light spread from where their shots met its shield. Arachnid’s railguns continued to fire at whatever target they could reach. Meanwhile its legs fought to free themselves. Nothing was effective.

How could this be? How could its shields be so strong? Those thoughts screamed through Holmen’s head.

But no matter how many times he asked the question, no
answers were forthcoming. More tentacles surged from the planet, groping for Arachnid. Still others lashed through space at the darting fighters.

The tentacles – the smallest three thousand meters, and the largest nearly ten thousand – were covered in countless suction discs. With every swipe the discs caught some unfortunate pilot and either crushed their plane to ruin or threw them into their comrades.

Railguns along Arachnid’s surface fired wildly at the tentacles, blowing many of them apart. But when one fell, ten more appeared. They wrapped around the Bastion to keep it from fleeing, or bashed against its shields with bone-jarring force.

How?! Holmen continued to shout orders while watching the rapidly deteriorating situation pass before his eyes as data on a screen. Their energy stores were being quickly exhausted.

To think, he’d turned his nose up at the East’s intelligence? A living planet? Nonsense.

He would have called tentacles rising from a planet’s surface
nonsense as well, but they were right outside his window trying to rip his ship apart. Shields that made a Bastion envious protected the impossible planet from harm, even from Are’s Cleavers.

“Deploy the mechas!” Holmen’s voice was hoarse, his voice lilting even as he shouted the order. Mechas would make no difference here.

Not only had Arachnid had its victory snatched away, it seemed to be heaving its last gasp.

ζ

“Send me!” Luo Xianni calmly stared at her nephew.

The Wine Master looked back. “I’m going with you.”

“And me.” The Clockmaker let her voice be heard.

Moonfiend’s desiccated corpse was barreling toward them, leaving no time for deliberation. Resolve burned in the
Paragons’ eyes.

It wasn’t hard to imagine how difficult it would be to alter a planet’s trajectory – impossible, under normal circumstances. Luo Xianni possessed this power, but it would cost her, maybe even her life. After all, there was an even more terrible planet waiting for its chance to strike.

Just as the Paragons were preparing to leave, Kang Hui’s voice stopped them in their tracks. “Wait.”

Everyone looked toward the Admiral. They saw his bloodshot eyes looking back.

“First Fleet. First Fleet’s Admiral Ying Tianlong respond. Ying Tianlong, what are you doing?!” He shouted at the monitors.

It was then the Skyfire delegation saw the monitors. A single ship was headed full speed at the planet on a collision course. They could tell by the light from its engines that it was going too fast to change course.

It wasn’t alone. A hot of ships followed, duty-bound to follow
their commander even to certain death.

“Admiral Hui! I am determined to fix my mistake. Please make sure Tyrannosaurus survives. For the North!” Ying Tianlong’s voice crackled on the intercom. His voice wasn’t loud or passionate or prideful. He sounded calm. Resolute.

Kang Hui stood behind his desk with his hands clenched in impotent fists. He’d always known of Ying Tianlong’s contempt for him. He knew it was why he’d dragged his feet to follow orders. But in these final moments they stopped being rivals. They were soldiers, and Kang Hui understood Ying Tianlong’s decision.

First Fleet blazed a path through space on a suicide mission into Moonfiend’s surface. A sacrifice to give Tyrannosaurus a chance at survival.

To face death with an unflinching gaze… the words were simple, but only heroes lived it.

“Ying Tianlong–!” Kang Hui shouted at the monitors.
“Let the world know I was no less than you, Kang Hui! Ha-ha- ha-ha!”

A chorus of laughter answered Kang Hui’s pained shout. When they heard the brave reply, Lan Jue, the Pharmacist and the Driver stood tall in silent respect. The North and East may not always have been allies, but in humanity’s darkest hour they were brothers-in-arms.

Boom—-

First Fleet’s flagship disappeared into a brilliant ball of flame as it and all the energy it contained detonated against Moonfiend’s surface. It was followed by another, then another as every single ship from the First Fleet followed their admiral into oblivion.

They were the North’s mightiest fleet, a band of brothers!
Heroes, to the North and all mankind!

Tears had appeared on Kang Hui’s craggy face. He snatched the cap off of his head as he snapped around to face Lan Jue and his team. “Please, head to the energy core and infuse the main cannon with as much power as you can.”
First Fleet’s sacrifice had significantly slowed Moonfiend’s approach. One hundred thousand souls spilt their blood to give the rest of them a chance.

The Wine Master glanced at the map where Kang Hui was pointing. With a wave of his scepter, he and the rest of Star Division vanished in a flash of light.

Kang Hui didn’t stop to brush the tears from his face and returned to giving orders. Tyrannosaurus began to turn, leading the remaining four fleets in a course to avoid Moonfiend.

But as they started to turn the distant alien planet began to pick up speed, racing toward Moonfiend. It began to swell once again and the whirling vortex at its center sucked at the dead planet it’d spat forth.

ζ

Tyrannosaurus’ Energy Core Room.

They stood in an open circular room with two hundred chambers. Each one housed a metal bar, and someone standing
beside it.

All of them were Adepts, none less than fifth rank. When the battle had turned against them they raced down here to lend their Disciplines to the ship for guns and shields. Even two hundred Adepts didn’t have the power Tyrannosaurus needed, but if they focused their gifts on just one area the benefits were sizeable. Empowering turrets, for instance, or a sector’s shields. Or a cannon.

Chapter 689: The Destruction of Moonfiend

Skyfire Avenue’s representatives appeared in a flash of silver light, deposited into the energy core chamber. Lan Jue, Qianlin, the Pharmacist, Driver, Morning Star, Psychic Tide, and the five Paragons; eleven of them. Their arrival was expected. Eleven positions had been left open for them to occupy.

Lan Jue was distracted. His heart was heavy after witnessing the scene on the bridge. The North’s sacrifice had affected him deeply. In truth he’d never liked Northerners or Westerners. But after what he’d seen, he had developed a respect for them.

Warriors… true warriors! They’d lain down their lives for their country without hesitation. This was what the soul of a soldier really was! His prejudice subsided, his mission the same as every human here: Protect Tyrannosaurus from alien destruction.

Eleven pairs of hands were lain upon metal rods. No words were exchanged – none were needed. The tell-tale pulse of Discipline flooded the room and drew the eyes of the other Adepts. Their eyes were stabbed by the brilliance of their auras.
Lan Jue was only faintly visible in the orb of blue light that surrounded him. His power coursed through the rod before him, causing it to shiver and flooding the ship with excess energy. Nor was he alone as Qianlin, the Pharmacist, the Driver and all the others followed his lead. Needles practically jumped off the charts once the Paragons joined.

Literally. Ship officers stared in shock as monitoring computers failed to record the sudden leap in output. Forced to guess, they suspected a full three hundred percent increase. Incredible! Was there a limit to the power these eleven newcomers possessed? The Adepts failed to understand how their addition was so potent, so outside the norm. It was like witnessing a miracle.

One of them waved a scepter which contained the flood of their power. It was so potent there was legitimate concern for the safety of the spectators.

When they regained their senses the Adepts returned to their duties, coursing their Disciplines through the rods as well. Although it went unspoken, they victory – or at least survival – hinged on how fast the main cannon charged.

ζ
Kang Hui stared at his screen, watching the charge rate spike dramatically. He also watched as the alien planet quickly caught up with Moonfiend. A purple light issued from the planet’s vortex and hung over the former pirate enclave, which was riddled with craters from where First Fleet made impact. Once it had, the planet turned back toward Tyrannosaurus which was pummeling them both with railgun fire. Its main cannon’s second shot was inevitable.

“All fleet break off, attack the planet from the flanks.” Kang Hui ordered. Keeping the fleet close wasn’t just useless now that the asteroids had passed, it influenced Tyrannosaurs’ ability to engage.

“Dino-plate!” The Admiral roared.

At his command the entire ship began to change. Smaller railguns disappeared as the surface became a sea of spiky protrusions. All of a sudden Tyrannosaurus looked like the head of a terrible mace. What’s more, the head of each spike was a Gamma-class railgun.

It was Tyrannosaurus’ supreme transformation. Kang Hui’s bastion wasn’t constructed with the same bionic principles of Arachnid or Heron, its armor and energy stores were its
advantages. As one of the North’s most traditional Bastions, its energy consumption was considerable but its construction was also among the safest.

Moonfiend’s sudden appearance and frightening speed had originally denied this transformation – it took too long. However Ying Tianlong and his soldiers had bought them the time they needed.

Third, Sixth, Eleventh and Thirteenth Fleets spread out to either side of Tyrannosaurus. A buzzing cloud of fighter ships were dispatched from the Bastion to support them. Kang Hui looked on with red eyes. In the course of this short battle one fleet had already met its demise. What would become of the rest, burning toward their overwhelming foe?

The fleets always competing with one another for glory, but First Fleet had always been head and shoulder above the others. It was a fact no one could contest. Especially in its final moments the First Fleet set the bar high, which lit a fire of patriotism and duty in the hearts of the Northern navy. Their hats were off in a sign of respect.

Ying Tianlong had waited to obey orders. He corrected that with his life.
“Where are we on the main cannon?” Kang Hui muttered.

“Admiral, at the current rate we’ll need three minutes to get a full charge.”

“Good!” A fervent light blazed in the admiral’s eyes. He was determined to fight hard, for as long as they could. Ying Tianlong’s sacrifice would not be in vain. Besides the window for retreat was gone. If they wanted to flee they would first have to free themselves from the enemy’s clutches.

Come on then, you bastard!

Moonfiend lurched backward from the alien planet’s vacuum force, but only for a moment. In a blink it was spat forward again on a collision course toward Tyrannosaurus. However, in contrast to its last charge Moonfiend was moving significantly slower.

Tyrannosaurus sped up as though to meet it head-on.

An interstellar fleet lead by Capital ships had enough combined might to destroy a small planet. However, Moonfiend
was anything but small. On the contrary, it had once been the largest stellar body in the galaxy. But under Tyrannosaurus constant assault, blasts from the four fleets and First Fleet’s valiant plunge, parts of its surface had begun to fragment. Great craters and cavernous crevices marred its surface.

Tyrannosaurus blasted forward as its entourage swung around in a pincer maneuver. They blasted away at Moonfiend, slowing it down, while Tyrannosaurus bore down on it like a golden spiked mace!

“Brother Tianlong, may your journey to Valhalla be a smooth one.” Kang Hui stood tall before the window, watching Moonfiend grow larger by the moment. He marked himself with the sign of the cross.

BOOM–!! An explosion to shake the pillars of heaven roared through the Shattered Starfields. Tyrannosaurus, relying on its size and armor, and the aid of its entourage, brazenly rammed into the remains of Moonfiend.

Things appeared to move in slow motion. Moonfiend first stopped, then began to crumble apart. An angry red light cast everything in a stark light as the planet’s core cracked open.
Tyrannosaurus shook from the impact, so violently that for a moment it seemed the whole ship would rattle apart. However, a few moments later it grew stable. Moonfiends explosion tore passed the Bastion’s windows, swallowing everything up in an incandescent red glare. The only sound was the persistent roar of a planet’s ruin.

The angry fires of Moonfiend’s core roared around Tyrannosaurus. The Bastion stood its ground, unmoving even in the face of apocalyptic destruction. Its scale-like protrusions burned in the fires but did not give.

This was in part due to Tyrannosaurus’ energy restoration systems. Through this system the Bastion could supplement its energy reserves and shields at a moment’s notice. However, this required that there was enough energy outside for the system to draw from.

As tremors shivered through the ship Lan Jue held tight to the metal bar in front of him. He never stopped filling the ship with his Discipline. In his mind’s eyes the image of First Fleet crashing into Moonfiend’s surface played over and over.

War was cruel, but it was were heroes were born.
If there came a day I had to make a decision like that, could I make it? Lan Jue quietly mulled over the question.

The alien planet didn’t press the attack. Perhaps it was just as shocked by the scene as the humans were. Tyrannosaurus had bared its fearsome teeth. Meanwhile the four remaining fleets were in position.

Eventually the blazing light of Moonfiend’s demise receded. Fresh slabs of space rock were all that remained of the pirate planet. The alien planet that spat it out wasn’t advancing – it was headed back toward the asteroid field.

It was trying to run!

Kang Hui’s eyes flashed. He was about to give the order when an urgent voice caught his attention.

“Admiral! Heron has had to shed its tail. They’re headed our way. Admiral Yan Yuan wishes to speak with you.”

His heart skipped a beat, cooling the bloodlust that had bubbled up within him. Shed its tail… as one of the highest
ranking military officers in the North he knew what that meant. They’d been ambushed.

Chapter 690: Retreat

“Connect him.”

“Admiral Kang Hui!” Yan Yuan’s stern face appeared on the screen.

“Admiral Yan Yuan, what’s happened?” Kang Hui asked calmly.

Yan Yuan explained. “We were ambushed by one of the planets. It was much stronger than we anticipated. It struck us and we were forced to eject the tail of our ship in order to escape. We recorded the encounter, I’ll send it to you in a moment and we should be arriving at your location in fifteen minutes. What is your current situation?”

Kang Hui’s hands were clenched into fists. “We were in a stalemate until First Fleet sacrificed their lives to buy us a chance. We’re preparing to counter-attack, I’ll speak with you in a moment. Come as fast as you can.”

“Alright.” Yan Yuan nodded. After hearing things were going better for Tyrannosaurus, he was visibly less worried.
Another call was coming through.

“Arachnid-Class Bastion has come under enemy fire and was destroyed. There were no survivors.”

For a moment Kang Hui was stunned. Holmen’s craggy face swam up at him from the depths of his memory.

Holmen’s fallen in battle? Down with his Bastion? How could this happen… He…

Kang Hui felt cold all over his body.

The enemy had separated, waiting for the humans to stumble into their traps. Only Tyrannosaurus managed to stand their ground, but only just barely. Their operation was a failure! Heron was on its way, but so were the two other alien planets.

A harsh and bitter expression darkened the admiral’s face. Ominous as the situation was, however, he still gave his commands.
“Sound the retreat, all hands. Tell Third and Sixth Fleets to bring up the rear. Give Admiral Yan Yuan our fallback position, and have Heron meet us there. We’re getting out of here as fast as we can, and let the Alliance know what’s transpired.”

Retreat was their only option. Live to fight another day. If they let themselves get surrounded by all three alien planets they would be doomed. It didn’t matter how sour the taste of defeat was, withdrawal was the right decision. They’d already lost many to the expedition, further risks were irresponsible.

Tyrannosaurus, guarded by its entourage, slowly began to head back the way it’d come. Even in retreat they kept their guns trained on the distant alien world, while keeping an eye out for the other two.

The enemy planet had stopped once it reached the relative safety of the asteroid belt. It floated in silence, as though it were watching them go with cold, hard eyes.

The main cannon was charged!

Lan Jue let his arms drop, releases the charging rod. He’d also heard the retreat order.
“Let’s head back,” the Wine Master said.

The familiar flash of silver light deposited Lan Jue and the others back into Kang Hui’s office.

The Admiral sat behind his table. He looked like he’d aged sixty years since they last saw him. His hands rested limply on the desk top, pale and weak from overuse. A deep and bitter pain was behind his eyes.

“Admiral, what’s happened? Why are we pulling back?” Lan Jue asked.

Kang Hui’s response was curt. “Heron was defeated and barely managed to escape, but not before jettisoning half the ship. It’s got about as much punch as a Capital ship now. Arachnid was destroyed by one of the planets, leaving no survivors. Admiral Holmen chose to self-destruct, but not before sending us all the information they’d gathered. We learned that the planets are headed back here – if we don’t retreat we’ll be surrounded.”

They’d guessed it would happen, but hearing it from Kang Hui made Skyfire Avenue’s scout team shudder. Their hearts sank.
The North had been defeated. Three Bastions and five fleets, and still the alien planets emerged victorious. From this battle they witnessed firsthand the terrible power of these invaders, the sheer power they were capable of. It wasn’t even a direct engagement.

At first it’d seemed the Bastions were a match for these evil worlds, but was that true? The aliens were wise and cunning, more than humans could ever have thought. For all their boisterous praise, human intelligence was thwarted.

The aliens appeared to know human tactics even before they did, setting up an ambush in the difficult topography of the Starfields. If there was anything this ruinous ordeal revealed, it was that the planets were more than a match for a Bastion ship.

More was being understood about the aliens every day, but humanity still seemed to just be scratching the surface. Only through more encounters could they uncover more secrets about these beasts. Until those secrets were uncovered, though, humanity was at the mercy of these beasts. A planet could transfer wherever it pleased and mankind would have no means to protect itself.

A depressed silence hung over the office, but Kang Hui was
not lost to self-pity. They were still within the dangerous confines of the Shattered Starfields. They’d cleared a path in, but another would be carved to let them out. Asteroids and planetoids were constantly moving here and they’d long ago closed the door Tyrannosaurus had opened.

It slowed them down. That meant the three hungry planet could catch up.

“Make sure our radar is widespread, eyes on every direction. Get me the footage from Arachnid’s final moments as soon as possible.” Kang Hui’s cold and calculating persona had returned. He had to get the remaining forces back safe, no matter what. At the very least these soldiers had some experience fighting the creatures now. It was experience that would undoubtedly serve humanity well in the coming months.

Lan Jue looked out into space, First Fleet’s noble sacrifice still at the forefront of his mind. The aliens power was revealed to them today, but more than that their intellect and guile. From the very beginning they’d been led by the nose into a trap. It’d cost them many lives.

But in Lan Jue’s mind the North had not lost. War with the alien menace was as inevitable as the sunrise. Northern soldiers
had thrown themselves into the fires relying on nothing but their own prowess, in spite of the difficulties. That took strength and courage. Defeat was a bitter pill, but Northern blood had bought invaluable knowledge of the enemy. They’d learned more in one battle than they could have from ten scouting missions.

“Admiral, I want to go back out there. I need to know more about those planets!” Lan Jue turned and fixed Kang Hui with a resolute stare.

Kang Hui paused. “Now?”

Lan Jue nodded a determined response. “Yes, right now!” Now that the fight was over, there was more they could learn about how the planets would react, whether they would disperse or stay in humanity’s backyard. One could never have enough intelligence on the enemy.

Lan Jue had watched Northern soldiers give their lives, helpless to aid them. There was only so much he could do as an individual when combat broke out. But whatever he could accomplish for the future of humanity he had to do, to the best of his ability.
“Very well, take care of yourselves.” After a brief moment of contemplation, Kang Hui gave his blessing.

Lan Jue shook his head. “We won’t all be going. You are an important leader in the fight against these monsters. We’ll be leaving some behind to make sure you get out alive.”

Such a suggestion would have earned him hard looks and bitter words from the Adepts around Kang Hui before, but after the battle the strength of Skyfire’s representatives had been proved. Five Paragons! Together they could turn the tide of battle.

Lan Jue looked toward Luo Xianni. “Mother, you stay with the Gourmet and Pauper to protect the admiral. Wine Master, Clockmaker, if you would come with me.”

Paragons though they were, Lan Jue was Star Division’s commander. Operational decisions rested solely on his shoulders.

Luo Xianni was their strongest, leaving her behind ensured Kang Hui would survive the trip home. The Wine Master could transfer them the same way she could to make sure Zeus-1
stayed safe, he had to come along. As for the Clockmaker, she and the Wine Master were an item so separating them would have been troublesome.

“Very well, you be careful out there.” Luo Xianni was not pleased with the decisions, but she didn’t stop her son from going. He embarked on a righteous cause.

“Then we’re off!”

The non-Paragons would of course join Lan Jue on the tour. Xiaosu was their pilot, Zhou Qianlin couldn’t leave Lan Jue’s side, Lin Guoguo was responsible for obfuscation, and the Driver and Pharmacist were muscle. Although not strong enough to save Tyrannosaurus in battle, this small group was enough to make sure Zeus-1 didn’t bite off more than it could chew.

Ten minutes later, Zeus-1 pulled away from Tyrannosaurus and into the depths of the Shattered Starfields.

Su Xiaosu was at the helm, quietly mulling over her conflicted emotions. She had named Moonfiend herself, those many years ago. It’d been the home of her mighty pirate clan, the seat of her
former power. Now, though, her former home had passed into memory. Gone. The pain she felt was to be expected.

Lin Guoguo was in the captain’s chair, flooding her consciousness through the ship’s systems. She sensed their surroundings and monitored the radar.

Lan Jue ordered a new route this time, swinging wide from where they’d come from. They were still in danger of attack from the alien planets.

This time Star Division didn’t have a clear mission, but Lan Jue had a plan. First he had to know if the planets would rejoin. If they did, what was their next move?”

“Connect me with the admiral,” Lan Jue told Su Xiaosu.

“Aye, aye!” She replied.

After everything they’d gone through it was important to maintain communication with the Northern leader. Kang Hui had opened up a special channel to make sure they stayed in touch.

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