Skyfire Avenue Chapter 691-700

Chapter 691: Death of a Spider

“Commander, what have you found?” Kang Hui said.

“We haven’t seen any aliens yet,” Lan Jue replied. “But we’ve steered clear of your exfiltration route. We’ll be proceeding with the reconnaissance from a different path. Admiral, we ask that you share the data from Arachnid and Heron when they get clear of combat.”

Under normal conditions Kang Hui would never even consider sharing combat information with a foreign national. All of it was confidential and classified as a state secret. Everything that was learned was paid for by the blood of Northern soldiers. However, after everything that had transpired Kang Hui didn’t refuse their appeal. He told Lan Jue the data was already available.

The data transfer was quick. On Zeus-1’s screens appeared the Bastion that had once tried to destroy Lan Jue. Star Division’s commander – along with the Wine Master and Clockmaker – absorbed everything they saw.

Arachnid’s mechanical arms were a stunning revelation to them, and they watched in awe as the Bastion cut through the
alien forces as though it were invincible. Tortoise-aliens were slashed down like they were made of bean curd.

A ship worthy of the North’s reputation! Only humanity’s most technologically advanced Alliance could create such an awesome monstrosity.

But their admiration quickly turned to dread.

They watched Arachnid charge the planet and crash into its surface with baited breath. Arachnid’s deadly arms and mass had to make that alien world reel. But it didn’t, instead they watched in stunned silence as the mighty ship was ignored like a gnat. Their faces fell.

Kang Hui didn’t edit anything from the video, all that had transpired was given to them. Even Arachnid’s internal systems data was provided like the size and attack power of the mechanical arms.

Each one of Arachnid’s arms was equivalent in power to Heron’s main cannons. They were considered inferior only because the ship needed to get in close to use them. Still, it succeeded where all other cannon fire had failed and actually
struck the alien! The result? No more than ripples on a pond. Arachnid’s great slashing arms left no damage, much to everyone’s disbelief. From the outside no shields were evident around the planet, but Arachnid’s failed attack raised the question; how strong was this planet’s defense?

Could a cannon blast from Tyrannosaurus even break its shields?

Lan Jue’s mind raced as he watched the recording. Arachnid’s attempt reminded him of something. “The planet never risked taking a shot from the main guns. It either evaded them or used deception to protect itself. But even if it did how much damage would it do?”

The Wine Master spoke, his voice low. “If Arachnid’s inability to crack its shield is any indication, even a cannon blast seems like it would have little effect. The planet it encountered looks smaller than the one we fought as well. We can assume their close-combat abilities – their natural abilities – are very formidable.”

Lan Jue nodded. “Father said he sensed a power even stronger than his coming from a planet. What does that say when he’s the strongest human alive? The limit of human capabilities, in
fact. He’s also told me that it’s impossible to grow power beyond the Infinite because universal law prohibits it. But if that’s true for us, it should also be true for the aliens… it must have found some way to hide itself from the universe’s restrictions. The Violet Prince referred to the King and Queen, the strongest of the aliens. We know the planets are alive, so it’s safe to assume the planets are what he was talking about? The Prince himself is equivalent to a Paragon who’s reached the Infinite. He was holding back in our fight so the universe wouldn’t recognize his power.”

“So you’re saying these planets are somehow tricking the universe into ignoring them?” The Wine Master asked.

“Or something like that, at least that’s my guess,” Lan Jue replied. “It’s the only explanation that makes sense and it answers many questions. These planets are large as Bastions but change readily when needed. If they were simply weapons they couldn’t react so fast. But if they were akin to a physical body then you could say it’s like instinct.”

“If this is a possibility we should try to confirm it during this mission,” the Wine Master offered.

“Look.” The  Clockmaker  cut  them  off  and  pointed  to  the
screen.

Arachnid was struggling against the tentacles that had emerged from the planet’s surface. Thick as mountains they wrapped tight around the ship and rendered its weapons useless. There was no escape, and every tentacle it cut down was replaced by several more.

The fighter ships were trying to flee once it was  clear Arachnid was doomed, but the planet’s central vortex denied them the chance. None of the smaller ships had enough power to resist the vacuum, and they were all  swallowed  up. Twinkling purple lights followed, those being the vital crystals left behind by slain aliens.

Lan Jue narrowed his eyes. Apparently these crystals were just as cherished by the planets as they were to humans.

The screen briefly went white as a mammoth explosion burst from Arachnid’s location. The screen went dark, then all that was left was white noise.

Self-destruction! Once it was clear escape was impossible, Holmen made the valiant choice and chose to detonate the ship
against the planet’s surface.

There was no data to confirm it, but a Bastion’s self- destruction had to be apocalyptic in its devastation. It had to have done some damage to that planet. What’s more, it denied the life force of the hundred-thousand plus soldiers aboard the ship.

First Fleet’s Ying Tianlong led his troops to a fiery death. Arachnid’s Holmen chose self-destruction over a pointless death. Together they were a potent demonstration of the North’s strength of character. They’d died defending the honor of their homeland, the first victims in the war against alien invasion.

Lan Jue took a deep, shuddering breath. His eyes were red. Arachnid had once tried to kill him, but none of that mattered in the face of their sacrifice.

The screens flickered and the snowy picture was replaced by summary data. It was everything learned by Tyrannosaurus from the recording. It included a preliminary analysis of the planet’s defenses, but since Arachnid couldn’t overcome them it was simply a projection. Things were not optimistic. Even Arachnid’s main cannon wouldn’t have done much of anything,
they posited, though without more data it was hard to be sure.

This was the strength of their enemy… even those tentacles were well protected.

Lan Jue guessed the planet already knew Arachnid was more than a match for its alien forces. It waited for the Bastion to get close enough to deal with the ship itself. But perhaps it didn’t anticipate self-destruction – part of their mission would have to be uncovering the aftermath.

Next was the recording of Heron’s tribulations. More surprises were forthcoming, like the planet’s ability to launch itself forward like the much smaller shuttle aliens. It was so fast even the North’s swiftest Bastion couldn’t escape! A terrifying revelation!

All of this told them one thing: The alien planets had no weakness. Close-combat, long-ranged attacks, defense, intelligence, speed… each one stronger than the last. Humanity had more than ten Bastions, but from what they saw even if they gathered them all together it may not get them the advantage. None of them were as agile, nor could they teleport like the planets could. Putting all of humanity’s proverbial eggs in one basket was reckless. Moreover, the limit of these aliens’
powers was still a mystery – whether or not human could even fight back with any effectiveness. Not to mention there were planets to protect and gathering their Bastions left those planets exposed.

They still needed to know more.

The atmosphere aboard Zeus-1 was melancholy, its crew was dispirited by the result of their expedition. For all their efforts humanity seemed doomed to extinction!

“It’s evident to everyone these creatures are especially well defended against human technology.” It was the Pharmacist, who’d rarely opened her mouth, who made the observation.

Lan Jue turned his head to look at her. “What you mean to say is non-biological attacks can’t break its defenses?”

Chapter 692: The Verdict

The Pharmacist answered with a small nod. “We’ve had several dealings with aliens ourselves, and they haven’t been so impossible to overcome. However, now they seem particularly impervious. This is true for their awareness and combat prowess.”

Lan Jue nodded, thinking back to the many aliens he’d personally cut down.

The Pharmacist went on. “There’s no such thing as a flawless creature. We are governed by the same rules they are – we just haven’t found their flaw yet. I believe that discovering this should be the focus of our reconnaissance mission, and even test it.”

“That makes sense. For example, we can use the same level natural strength and technological strength and see which has the better results.” They were all intelligent people. The Wine Master puzzled out her meaning quickly.

Zeus-1 made the journey quickly. Not long after leaving Tyrannosaurus they were back at the heart of the Starfields. Empty space greeted them where the system’s three primary
planets had been.

Lin Guoguo, seated beneath the helmet as usual, stared into the distance with eyes that glittered gold. She continuously cloaked them in psychic obfuscation, while the Blinding Stone kept Zeus-1 out of sight. They stood out as much as space dust.

In the distance they spotted a group of aliens, all headed in one direction. All the various breeds were represented, but most notable were the saucer-aliens – the kind that carried other smaller creatures with it as it traveled. The host of  alien creatures thickly dotted that far region of space as they moved together toward some unseen target.

Star Division looked on in surprise.

Lan Jue shook his head. “Last time we came looking there were so few. I thought they were back within the planet, but that doesn’t appear to have been the case. It looks like they’d been sent out… somehow outside of the Starfields.”

That would mean they had been dispatched with some sort of goal. They did not, after all, use these smaller monstrosities in the battle against the Bastions. So what was going on?
Many in the alien horde were strong, strong enough to go toe- to-toe with human Capital ships and with about the same numbers. Why had they been sent out? And to where?

A break in the throng revealed an alien planet. It was the same one that had attacked Tyrannosaurus.

Its central vortex had vanished and a thick purple atmosphere hung over the whole planet. Somehow it seemed smaller than it had not long before – probably from the loss of Moonfiend. The alien creatures converged on it from all sides and vanished into the hazy light, like bees returning to the hive.

Lan Jue and the others watched from a distance. With Lin Guoguo’s help they could remain for about an hour without fear of being discovered. Immediately evident was the fact nothing seemed eager to chase after Tyrannosaurus. However Lan Jue didn’t dare send this information to Kang Hui, for fear the energy use would attract attention.

Star Division continued to watch, but as they did the sense something wasn’t right began to nag at them.

As the aliens continued to flow into the planet, the
atmosphere around it darkened and it grew in size. The more aliens that came, the larger it got, and the darker its hue became until it was a deep violet. A suffocating sense of oppression could clearly be felt.

“Could it have been pretending to be weak?” When the words left Su Xiaosu’s lips, a cold chill ran up everyone’s spine. Strong as they were, could the aliens really have been concealing their real strength? How powerful were they really? It had to be a trick, to lull the humans into believing they knew the truth when clearly they didn’t. It would play to their benefit in the next fight, revealing strength the humans didn’t think they had.

“No… it can’t be that simple.” The Pharmacist watched with furrowed brow. “It’s not just about deception. It could just as easily have held back instead of wasting energy to make aliens. There’s another reason. Jue Di said that there are limits to how much power any living thing can possess – surpass that and the universe tries to… redistribute that power. If this planet is alive, like we suspect, it must be at or near that limit. It would mean that it had to limit itself by diffusing its energy into those aliens or it risked passing the threshold. This is a tool, an important means of controlling its own growth. What’s more, the North’s three Bastions could destroy these smaller ones easily. The planets probably sent them out because they cherish the energy these smaller ones contain. They rely on it.”
Lan Jue nodded as the Pharmacist gave her hypothesis. “All of that is a possibility. Let’s keep watching.”

The aliens continued to return in an unending flow of purple bodies. Suddenly, their conversation was cut short by a heady burst of power. They looked back at the scene, and in the distance they saw another enormous silhouette come into view.

Another planet!

Everyone unconsciously held their breath. Where they going to gather here? It would prove everything they’d guessed. The aliens weren’t planning on leaving the Starfields just yet, they would continue to sup on the vital energies of the system while enjoying its protection.

The second planet was visibly smaller than the first. Its massive purple body slowly came to a stop not far from its twin.

“Let’s go,” Lan Jue said. “We have to see if this is the one that destroyed Arachnid.”

Zeus-1 began its approach, slowly closing the distance.
No scar! The planet showed no signs whatsoever of being in a fight. Either this wasn’t the planet Holmen faced or the admiral’s sacrifice had been in vain.

Before they could tell for sure, another tyrannical aura made their hearts skip a beat. The third planet had arrived.

It radiated an angry violet light, and a deep crater revealed discolored terrain beneath. It looked like a round piece of chocolate some enormous cosmic beast had taken a bite out of. Slowly it approached the other two while a strange and sick fluid flowed in the wound.

Zeus-1 didn’t need to do any more searching for the planet that’d destroyed Arachnid. At least they could confirm that Holmen’s final order had caused some damage.

Here they were, all together. As the humans quietly watched, they witnessed aliens leave from the largest of the planets and head toward the other two, changing them.

“Boss, I can’t hold for much longer.” They’d been here for a while, and Lin Guoguo was starting to become exhausted.
“Let’s go,” Lan Jue answered. Su Xiaosu swung Zeus-1 around and calmly brought them to a safe distance.

The last few minutes had been very telling. For the North, it would be a relief to discover they weren’t being chased. They were also able to confirm damage to one of them, though at the same time it was clear they could aid one another.

Zeus-1 made its way to a larger asteroid and settled on its surface. Lin Guoguo immediately sank into meditation to recover her strength.

“What do we do now?” The Wine Master asked Lan Jue.

He pondered for a moment. “I want to grab one, bring it back. Like the Pharmacist says, we need to learn more about them if we’re going to craft an effective strategy. If things keep going as they are now, we’re just waiting for death – far too passive.”

The Wine Master looked at him. “Are you going yourself?”

Lan Jue nodded. “We’ve got no Bastion as support and only ourselves to rely on. Without mother here you are the only one
that can get us out of harm’s way in a hurry, and you’ll need time to prepare in that event. It would be too risky to put Zeus-1 in that position. I go out alone, secure a target, and come back – simple. Then we get out of here.”

The Wine Master frowned at the prospect. “You know the Violet Princess has you in her sights. Don’t you think this is too dangerous? You don’t have Guoguo’s psionic pulse to shield you, making you easier to spot to the enemy.”

“It’s the same for everyone,” Lan Jue countered. “Anybody who goes out there runs the risk of being discovered. That’s why you’re staying here to prepare for a quick exit. We teleport out of here the moment I get back, no matter what’s after me. That’s how we stay safe and get out with  mission accomplished.”

At last the Wine Master acquiesced. “Very well, just be careful.”

Lan Jue nodded. “Relax, I’ll make sure I’ve got my head on a swivel. You don’t think I can take care of myself?”

“I’m going.” The Pharmacist spoke up.
Lan Jue looked her way, ready to deny her request. But he saw that there was no room for argument in the look she gave him. And there was something else.

“Alright!”

Lan Jue took Zhou Qianlin’s hand and brought her to the back of the ship. She followed meekly, with no light of consciousness in her expression.

When he looked at her beautiful face, Lan Jue couldn’t help but sigh. He hesitated for just a moment, then spoke softly to her in a warm voice. “You need to stay here on the ship. You can’t come with me this time.” He gave her a gentle hug and alight kiss on the forehead.

He helped her stand to one side. “Wait for me right here, I’ll be back soon.” He ran a hand along her silken hair, then left.

Chapter 693: Life and Death

Just then Lan Jue felt his shirt tightened. When he turned around, he saw a pair of lilly-white hands gripping his clothes.

“Qianlin!” Lan Jue gasped in surprise.

Ever since falling into this state Qianlin could perform basic functions, but this was the first time she’d taken the initiative. However, her eyes still bore that dull look.

Lan Jue tried to loosen her grip but she just held on tighter. He tried to convince her to let him go but she would not be swayed.

Tears had begun to well up in Lan Jue’s eyes. He pursed his lips, and after a moment sighed. “Alright, we stay together. Life or death, no matter what happens, we don’t separate.” He dropped his head and kissed her lips. The tell-tale light surrounded them and when it was gone, so was Zhou Qianlin. Lan Jue felt his Discipline surge to its peak.

A few minutes later Zeus-1’s cargo hold opened and two figures emerged; Lan Jue and the Pharmacist. They didn’t wear
their mechas, they would be too conspicuous. Instead they relied on their protogenic understanding to protect them from the vacuum of space.

“Sis, why did you want to come? Did you sense something?” Lan Jue asked her.

The Pharmacist’s calm expression fractured, revealing uncertainty beneath. Her body shook ever so slightly.

“What is it?” Lan Jue asked, concerned.

She was silent for a time, fighting with herself to maintain calm. She bit her lower lip. “I felt… I felt it.”

He didn’t understand. “It? What do you mean?”

She sighed. “Ultus!”

“Ultus?” Lan Jue gaped at her. “First of the Banishing Blades… the one your husband bore?”
She nodded.

Lan Jue stared at her in shock. “One of the planets?”

Again, she nodded. “The largest one. I’m sure of it, Ultus is somewhere inside. If you don’t believe me, channel your consciousness through Captus. You’ll feel it, too.”

Lan Jue nodded and shut his eyes, searching his feelings.

His mind sunk into the mystical blade. Therein was a world of marvels, thick with the sword’s power. Reality existed in tiers, constantly emerging and collapsing before his eyes. Among it all was a faint sense, immortal essence so broad and profound that it seemed to permeate everything, its end and beginning.

This was the root of the Banishing Blades’ power. Therein he found Captus, shivering. He sensed it, felt it calling to something far away in the ethereal reality they inhabited. He could also sense Occisus and Demortus close by.

Lan Jue gasped. She was right, the sword was there. But that meant her husband…
His eyes opened and he turned his attention toward the Pharmacist. Her eyes were wet, and tears were suspended in space between them.

She had spent so many years, desperately searching for any news of her lost love. Now she had it, but it was news of his death. If Ultus was somewhere inside the alien planet then the chances her husband still lived were minuscule.

“Sis, it’s alright. Maybe –“ Lan Jue tried to find the words to comfort her.

She waved her hand. “It’s fine, I’ve prepared for this day. I knew I was just lying to myself by hoping he’d come home. How could he still live? I just never thought it would be these cursed aliens that killed him! No matter the cost, I am going to get that sword back. It’s the only thing he left behind.”

“I’ll help you!” Lan Jue replied without hesitation.

She paused, staring at him with glistening eyes. Three simple words, but they were a solemn promise. Both of them had seen the strength of these monsters with their own eyes and still Lan Jue was eager to help. It was moving beyond words.
Lan Jue went on. “Do you have a plan? Maybe some way to awaken the sword?”

“No one would know better than Yongye or Xuanyuan, you should ask them,” she replied.

“Alright!” Lan Jue wasted no time in seeking out the White Blademaster and asking for his help.

Jun Yongye appeared at his side in a flash of light. His first action was to stare at the distant planets. He had been awakened when Lan Jue entered the sword’s dimension and had also felt Ultus’ presence.

“Yongye, we believe Ultus is inside the alien planet. Is there any way we could call it out?” Lan Jue’s voice was low and serious.

Jun Yongye furrowed his eyebrows in thought. “Ultus… yes. That is Ultus’ aura I sense. But it is sealed by some great power. I can also feel that the whole of its power has been stimulated. Strong… Ultus is the first of us. Individually it is just as powerful as any of the other blades, but it is the only one with knowledge of the Banishing Stance. If you could recapture it,
the Stance may be achievable.”

“I’ve only ever heard of the Banishing Stance in tales and legends,” Lan Jue said. “Is it really that strong?”

Yongye chuckled politely. “The realms of gods have gone from this universe, but I can tell you that even the Three Pure Ones would be turned to dust if faced with the Banishing Stance. With the Blades at its center this Stance could create an entirely new universe. Is that ‘strong’?”

Lan Jur gaped at him. He could see the fervent light glint in Jun Yongye’s eyes.

“So how do we get it back?” He asked.

Yongye replied in low, even tones. “It’s difficult. We can locate its specific location by tracking its aura, but only a sword’s master can control it. We can find it, but we can’t take it away, to do so you would need to kill its master. The one spot of good news is that the swords cannot harm each other. You’re protected from Ultus’ power.”
Lan Jue was going to continue his line of questioning when suddenly he stopped. The Pharmacist had grabbed his arm, and he turned to look at her.

She had recovered from her momentary sadness. “There’s no rush. Now we know Ultus has fallen into the hands of the enemy. Once we break through to Paragon and can command the swords’ power more fully it won’t be difficult to track this planet down. If we reach the level of Jue Di, with our three Banishing Blades the planets would not seem so insurmountable.”

Inwardly, Lan Jue was moved by her words. After discovering her husband’s weapon, no one would be more eager to recover it than her. She knew it was a terrible risk to try it now! To attempt it at their level of power would be like a moth leaping into the flames.

“Sister, no matter what and no matter when, when you’re ready to get that sword I’ll be right by your side.” Lan Jue’s promise was full of determination and passion.

She smiled at him and gently nodded her head. “Alright, we have a mission to complete. Let’s get back as soon as we can, we have a lot of information to share with the East. Everything we
experienced out here will be important.”

“Yeah,” he said with a nod.

The two of them raced ahead, approaching the planet while being careful to keep their approach hidden. But their target wasn’t one of the planets, but a straggling alien. If they could grab one and bring it back alive their mission would be a success. At their strength it shouldn’t be very difficult. The key was not to attract the attention of the planets.

In the vast expanse of the universe, humans were infinitesimally small and hard to pick out. Lan Jue and the Pharmacist found a suitable place to lay in wait for their prey. Their protogenic mastery was more than enough to hide from an alien, even a wave or two.

Their chance came a little more than an hour later.

A saucer-type alien came floating by, majestically flitting through space like a jellyfish in the ocean. In its wake was another, smaller creature. It looked like a beetle with a dark purple shell, and stretched ten meters long.
Lan Jue had seen this kind before. Compared to its other interplanetary cousins it was very small and easy to overlook. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate it because of its size. Its armor was strong, and moved quick as lightning. In battle three spines jutted from its mouth that it used as weapons. Lan Jue had seen one bite through an asteroid three hundred meters across.

That seemed to be their specialty, cutting through asteroids. They were like mites that hid themselves on the bodies of larger aliens.

It was formidable in both attack and defense, certainly nod bottom of the barrel when it came to the alien hierarchy. But it was small, and that made it easier to capture.

“That’s the one,” Lan Jue gestured toward it.

“Alright, I’ll follow your lead.” The Pharmacist replied.

The Pharmacist and Occisus were potent killers – not best suited for taking prisoners. Lan Jue would have to do most of the work.
He wasted no time. In a blink he was racing forward toward their target.

Chapter 694: The Pharmacist Advances!

Ten meters was miniscule when compared with stars and planets. Lan Jue, standing at roughly two meters, was even less deserving of attention. Even so Lan Jue didn’t give the beetle- alien a chance to discover him. As he raced ahead an angry red light lashed out.

From the beetle’s perspective, reality collapsed in front of it, creating a powerful vacuum. It immediately reacted by retracting its wings and trying to get free, but the pull was too strong. Its body was surrounded by a crimson light.

The red aura flickered and flared. The alien had no control over itself, and the strange power caused it to pitch wildly from side to side. Lan Jue appeared suddenly on top of it, and as he pressed his hands to its back a dim blue light joined the red. Flecks of silver light hung in an orb around the beast.

There wasn’t a single sound. The beetle writhed and raged until, suddenly, it stopped. It hung limply in the darkness. From start to finish, the exchange had lasted no more than a few seconds. Captus locked it down, Lan Jue’s All-Heaven lightning suppressed it. Together it was enough to overwhelm the beast and knock it out. Perfectly executed.
The alien’s agility was counteracted by Captus’ power, as well as its psychic projection. It couldn’t even call for help.

Wavering blue light brightened the area for a moment as Lan Jue deposited the creature into Thor’s Promise. He waved to the Pharmacist to let her know it was done. He began to head back where they’d come from as a beam of light.

As he headed back to the ship, the Pharmacist was silently impressed with her companion. Lan Jue was no less capable than she was now. It’d take her ten years to reach a level of understanding with Occisus. How long had Lan Jue had his Blade? Yet it seemed there was nothing preventing him from a deeper comprehension of the sword’s power. Part of it was his innate talent, but a fair bit was also hard work and determination.

She opened her mouth and spat forth the seven-star blade.
She stood atop it and let the weapon bring her back to Zeus-1.

Their mission had ended, it was time to return and share the story of what had happened. Who knew how much news of this clash would affect the human worlds.
The Pharmacist and Lan Jue raced back side by side. Both of them knew how dangerous it was to stay any longer than they had to.

Suddenly, Lan Jue sensed something and quickly turned toward the Pharmacist by his side. Her reactions were quick, and she turned the blade beneath her feet like a surfboard to change course.

Ting! A pretty crystalline sound arose while simultaneously the universe contracted in upon them. To the humans it felt like an enormous hand caught them in its grip and was trying to squish them into paste.

The Pharmacist’s eyes flashed, and the sword beneath her feet erupted into a hundred thousand cutting lights. They blasted out from her in all directions. Lan Jue proceeded to swing his arms around in a circle, and the black-white power of Taiji appeared before him. Crackling sky-blue manifestations of All- Heaven lightning roiled within.

A strange and disconcerting dizziness swept passed, like the universe was rotating on an invisible axis. It cut Lan Jue and the Pharmacist off from the crushing pressure.
A violet figure appeared in space before them.

When they saw her, the expression on Lan Jue and the Pharmacist’s faces fell. They knew who she was, a familiar face they’d encountered several times before. The Violet Princess.

Jue Di had told Lan Jue that the Princess was a part of the Infinite, just as he was. She was new to the level of power, but nonetheless was even more powerful than Luo Xianni. Lan Jue and the Pharmacist weren’t even Paragons yet. One could imagine their trepidation.

The universe had been painted violet. Although Lan Jue had managed to separate them from the Princess’ power, they were still trapped.

Two swords descended from the darkness of space, one red and one white. Their light was cast upon the two humans; Captus and Occisus, respectfully.

IT was clear the Violet Princess had been ready to attack, but when the swords appeared and she felt their aura it gave her pause. Fear painted her eyes.
Lan Jue’s greatest worry had been realized. He thought he was quick, but clearly the Princess was quicker.

“I felt you long ago but I couldn’t tell precisely where. I didn’t think you would deliver yourself to me. Come, let’s return.” The Violet Princess spoke calmly, and her eyes never left Lan Jue.

Lan Jue looked defeated. “Violet Princess!” This was clearly not his day. The Wine Master couldn’t sense them here, but even if he could it was hopeless. Even together they were no match for this creature! What’s more they were far too close to the planets, and even if they didn’t get involved the Violet Prince was not far away.

“Let her go. I’ll go back with you.” Lan Jue spoke softly, like he was narrating someone else’s misfortune.

A light flashed in the monster’s eyes. “Why should I? You both can come with me. She is also suitable for mating and giving birth to the next generation!”

The Pharmacist’s pupils contracted to two angry black dots.
She looked back at the Princess with a terribly cold glare.
“Answer my question. Many years ago there was a man who bore a sword like ours. You captured him. Does he still live?” The Pharmacist’s words were chilly and firm. They had no way of learning what went on inside those planets, but there was a chance they could learn something from the Princess herself.

The alien leader paused, and she looked at the human woman with a deep curiosity. Then her attention turned to the weapon suspended by her side, and for a moment she looked like she recognized it. “That human? He refused to couple with our Queen and took his own life. Our Queen felt it was a terrible waste. He would have given her very powerful offspring.”

Took his own life!

When she heard the words, the Pharmacist felt like she was frozen solid. Tears welled up in her eyes. Scenes of the past raced through her mind, days when they were young and growing up together. He’d been older than she was and carried her on his back to go play. They studied together, trained together, pushing one another to be better. They’d been together when the trove of Celestial Master Qian’s teachings had been uncovered. They were together when they obtained the Banishing Blades.
As time went on they had a child together. Shortly after he left on that fateful mission and never returned. At the time he was a rising star in the Eastern army, a future Paragon! He was supposed to get a promotion to general when he got back.

At the time he had been praised as a contemporary to the An Lun super soldier – no less talented and capable. Together they were the bright future of the Eastern military. He had even more potential than Lan Qing.

He had been a man of integrity, and gentle as water to her. A perfect man, a perfect husband. Just when she thought he’d make a perfect father, he vanished. All of that was gone now, as she finally learned of her partner’s fate.

Her body began to sway, as did the sword beside her. A stifling, murderous aura bloomed from Occisus. It poured with a blinding light that made the violet realm around them begin to crack. Even the Princess’ powers didn’t seem capable of restricting this unparalleled bloodlust.

The Pharmacist’s eyes had turned crimson and waves  of power from her flooded the area – more than ever before. A wave of sword light cut right through the Violet Princess’ Domain.
The creature stood in shock, frightened of the power Occisus and Captus bore. When the savage force of Occisus was released that fear grew, freezing her in place.

Mystical lotuses appeared in tiered layers around the Pharmacist, each one white as polished jade. Set against her beautiful figure she looked like an immortal returned to the universe.

Occisus – the deadliest of the Banishing Blades – blazed as though it were on fire. Beams of white light issued from it and poured into the Pharmacist, pushing her daunting aura to even greater heights. Meanwhile the surreal lotus flowers spread out around her, and though they were beautiful to behold their deadly sharp power was palpable.

Domain… this was her Domain.

Lan Jue knew what was happening, but how? Breaking through and immediately summoning one’s Domain? This was true talent!

Like him, the Pharmacist had been constraining her powers, delaying her breakthrough for the chance to advance farther
with time. But facing the Princess and hearing of her lover’s fate caused her brutality to explode beyond her control. It awakened the blade, and the two together joined as one terrible presence, thrusting her into the realm of the Paragons and calling forth her Domain.

It had been Occisus’ hidden dangers that made her most reticent to breaking through. She and her husband had been hasty, and joined with the Banishing blades before they were ready. They were scoured by the limitless power of the weapons. She feared these dangers would impede her progress when becoming a Paragon.

This was not a problem for Lan Jue. This was due to the fact that Captus’ sword spirit was strong, as was Lan Jue at the time of joining. With a good foundation and the help of the thunder essence’s immortal qi, he had been able to assimilate the gentler Captus without issue.

Chapter 695: Gates of Slaughter

In this instant, Occisus finally accepted its master and propelled her into the realm of the Paragons. The power of her Domain was inferior to that of the Violet Princess, but even the terrible alien’s strength couldn’t hold thirst for carnage back. Even the universe seemed to shrink away from the fearful sense.

The Violet Princess, for all her power, hesitated to engage.

Captus also seemed galvanized by Occisus’ display and began to quiver. Ripples of angry red light pulsed from it, weaving among its companion’s violent display. A strange, uncomfortable sensation swept across the area.

The Violet Princess screamed. Her howl still hung in the air as she dissolves into a violet stream of light and vanished into space.

As she did the blinding red and white lights mingled to create a towering gate. Three words were etched into reality at its apex:

Gates of Slaughter!
All around them the universe was a tapestry of red and white, separate but woven together. Time and space collapsed at their borders and any asteroid within 5 kilometers splintered into dust. Nothing was capable of denying the pure destructive force that threatened to devour this pocket of the universe.

Captus swelled to enormous size. It writhed and cut through the air, wildly casting squalls of power every which way. Occisus continued to burn with a pure white fire, and its light embraced the newly ascended Pharmacist.

“What are you waiting for, flee!” Jun Yongye’s voice rang in Lan Jue’s mind. It brought him back to his senses. He reached out his right hand and Captus shrunk as it fell into his palm. Blade and man as one, Lan Jue became a ray of red light that streaked into the distance. The Pharmacist followed close behind.

Eventually the trail of light they left behind faded into nothing. They were gone.

The Gates of Slaughter remained behind, but began to fade after ten seconds. Even so the calamitous sensation remained. Waves of its power continued to wreak havoc through the area and fluctuated frantically as though universal protogenia itself
was forced to submit.

After another ten seconds a different power swept through, strong and constraining. Two flashes of purple cut through the pale white light, depositing the Violet Prince and Princess.

The Princess still looked anxious and apprehensive. Her pretty face pouted in disbelief. “It was so frightening,” she said. “It was like my mind and power were in danger of being shattered. How could such boundless power exist? It is in defiance of universal rules, beyond what should be allowed! But I felt it clearly, well beyond that limit – beyond what Monarch can safely use.”

The Violet Prince furrowed his brow, perceiving some invisible thing. After a moment he spoke again. “Monarch says it is not real… it is a simulation of a real force, like the one in the blade left behind by the human. Monarch has managed to control some measure of the human weapon’s power, perhaps He will learn more about this. Princess, you are too cowardly.”

The Violet Princess stood tall and regarded him with prideful incredulity. “I am to be Queen, I must protect myself from danger. That human is also of great interest to me. I wish to take him as my mate, our offspring would be very strong.”
The Prince narrowed his eyes. “What of the female? Maybe she is a suitable breeder.”

A flash of purple lit up the Princess’ eyes. Before her, an image of the Pharmacist appeared complete with a near-perfect representation of her aura.

ζ

Twinkling motes of silver filled an empty tract of space. Silken threads of silver grew from them, connecting them. All of a sudden they cracked like a fractures mirror, and from the fissure in space-time there emerged a sapphire blue battleship.

Any energy signature was constrained. In fact all was quiet, like nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all. Within Zeus-1 the Wine Master sat down on the floor, exhausted. Transferring them over such a long distance by himself was a stretch of his abilities, not to mention the size of the ship. The Starfields were also rife with disrupting energies that made it all the more difficult.

Lan Jue’s face still showed his shock. Captus had disappeared back into its place between dimensions, but Occisus remained
suspended in air. It flickered in and out of existence, surrounded by white light. Thankfully, with Captus’ help, its unbridled murderous power was contained. Were that not the case he feared for the safety of those onboard the ship.

No trace was seen of the Pharmacist, who had joined with her blade. However Lan Jue could feel waves of power coming from Occisus that felt familiar.

At last she had broken through. He couldn’t know whether she would rise to be a Reflection of Heaven and Earth like his brother, but it wasn’t out of the question. After all, she had the benefit of a Banishing Blade. She would inevitable be integral in the fight against the aliens.

Lan Jue couldn’t say he wasn’t a little envious of the Pharmacist’s breakthrough. It seemed like everyone around him had been advancing while he remained behind. His brother was especially impressive, leaping to second degree  and commanding Varochana as his dharmic reflection. In the course of a single day he had become one of humanity’s  most promising Paragons.

Hua Li had also received the rights of his ancestors and ascended to Paragon status. He was now truly His Majesty
Poseidon. Chu Cheng had yet to take that step, but was separated by only the thinnest margin. Now, the Pharmacist had joined the ranks of Eastern powerhouses.

But himself?

Lan Jue’s individual Discipline had risen to ninth level eighth rank. If he wanted he could reach peak rank in very little time, even break through to Paragon. His body was imbued with immortal qi from the thunder essence, and he had command of the mighty All-Heaven lightning. Although he could not be called a Paragon, the truth was he wasn’t a typical Adept, either.

The restriction that had been imposed upon him – by Bize, by the arrow of compassion, by his connection to Qianlin – they held him back. The only way he would rise to Paragon was with Qianlin by his side. Her Discipline was only slightly less than his own, yet Lan Jue was still uneasy. IF she didn’t come to before it was time for her breakthrough, it may result in problems. If she couldn’t sense the flows of protogenia as she crossed the barrier, how could she advance? It wasn’t even certain the process wouldn’t come with unseen dangers.

After all, a Paragon’s growth depended on their comprehension of the universe.
Lan Jue glowered helplessly, but he knew he couldn’t rush. He had to find a way to rouse Qianlin from the hell the Astral Phantom had put her in.

He thought back to Qianlin’s small hands gripping his shirt. He took it as a sign that maybe the day she came back to him wasn’t far off.

Each time they cultivated Lan Jue channeled the immortal qi he absorbed from the thunder essence into her body. He hoped it would nourish her. It was the reason she appeared more and more ethereal, like a fairy from the old tales. Whatever awful toxin the Astral Phantom had used, it could not be more powerful than the essence of the immortals. It had to be strong enough to bring her mind back.

“What did you find out?” The Clockmaker asked, alarmed at Lan Jue’s panicked bearing.

He snapped back to the present and faced her with a bitter smirk. “The aliens’ reactions are better than we thought. We captured an alien as fast as we could, but the Violet Princess still tracked us down. Faced with her Domain, the Pharmacist broke through. Then our weapons somehow created this power, on their own. It was powerful enough to scare the Princess away
and give us an opportunity to run. I think she’s still in the process of her breakthrough now.”

“The Pharmacist broke through, that’s incredible! Meditate, learn from the power she releases. I’ll protect the ship.” Zeus-1 was distant by this point. Unless the three alien planets were headed right for them, there was nothing to worry about.

In fact the Clockmaker’s permission wasn’t needed. Su Xiaosu, Lin Guoguo and the Driver were already immersed in meditation. Xiaosu and Guoguo still had a ways to go before it was their time to break through, but the Driver tread nearer every day. His moment would be when the evolution of his Discipline. The primordial lightning he commanded was strengthening fast, though it still couldn’t compare to Lan Jue’s. At any rate, his ascension was all but assured.

Lan Jue sat and crossed his legs, slipping into introspective silence as he felt the flows of the Pharmacist’s protogenia. It was easy for him to understand its secrets because they were issued from Occisus – a pair to Captus which he bore. When the bearers of the Banishing Blades ascended these weapons would channel their powers, more potent than any astrum. It was something they all had in common.
Of course, Lan Jue had his own unique potential. His All- Heaven lightning and the thunder essence continued to amalgamate, boosting his cultivation. Most importantly, it gave him a sense of the immortal realm that had passed into legend.

Chapter 696: Simulated Strategy

Although the meaning of Occisus was ‘immortal executor’, it was actually created by the greatest of the immortals, Celestial Master Hongjun. However, the swords came under the control of the fiend Tongtian. It was he who created the Banishing Strategy, and thus gave the blades their ominous names.

The immortal qi Lan Jue had absorbed helped him greatly in commanding the power of Captus. What he needed now to solidify that power, was to break through and keep improving his own strength. Jun Yongye had told him long ago that becoming a Paragon would vastly enhance his control of the blade. This would be especially true for the Pharmacist since her Discipline was laden with immortal qi.

However, helpful as the Pharmacist’s breakthrough was Lan Jue could not ease his heart enough to meditate on it. The gate that was created was there every time he closed his eyes, at the forefront of his mind. Those three words were burned into memory

Gates of Slaughter!

At first he didn’t know why the Violet Princess had fled so
readily, but then he felt what came out of that gate. The power it bore was even more catastrophic than his father’s Up-ender attack.

Strangely it hadn’t affected him or the Pharmacist in the least. Could it be this was a taste of the power Occisus bore now that its master was a Paragon? If this were true, to what heights was the Pharmacist capable? Could she unveil the secrets of the Infinite?

“Ease your heart and meditate. It is not so simple as you think.” Jun Yongye’s voice was serious and impatient.

“Yongye, guide me. That whole experience was beyond my understanding. The confusing is stopping me from focusing.” Lan Jue pleaded.

Yongye replied. “The Gates of Slaughter is one of the principles of the Banishing Strategy. It is so powerful the greatest immortals shiver at its mention.”

“The Banishing Strategy?” Lan Jue gasped. “But we don’t have the formation. How could any part of the Strategy manifest?”
The sword-spirit went on. “The Pharmacist’s breakthrough invigorated the base elements of her sword. In that moment, Occisus and Captus resonated with one another – part of that is the Gates of Slaughter. Altogether, the Banishing Strategy has eight Gates. Because we don’t have the formation all I could produce was a counterfeit of the Gates, but its aura was enough to frighten the Princess. Even a copy of the real thing is incredibly difficult to produce, and if the Pharmacist hadn’t broken through in just that moment I wouldn’t have been able to complete it. If we were in possession of the formation, and could employ the Strategy, do you think the Princess would be able to flee? Even with only three swords the Strategy would be enough to reduce her to ash.”

An arrogance had crept into Jun Yongye’s voice as he described the power the swords possessed.

So that’s what it was! Lan Jue’s heart raced.

Though his time with Captus was brief, he knew the power this god-blade held. Or, he thought he knew. Upon feeling even the mimicry of power from the Gates of Slaughter, he began to understand.

He burned for the knowledge of the Banishing Strategy!
“We must recapture Ultus! Spare no effort, for once the formation is obtained even those terrible planets will be cut down before these swords.” Excitement was evident in Jun Yongye’s appeal.

“When the Gates appeared I could feel Ultus more clearly. It may be under alien control, but they can’t suppress the blade’s will. If you can find it, awaken it, then there is a chance you can take Ultus from their clutches. With the four Banishing Blades together again, you’ll have a mighty force in hand that these monsters will struggle to oppose, even without the Strategy.”

Lan Jue gave a bitter smirk. “Easier said than done! If we want that sword back we’ll need to walk into the lion’s den. That planet is the one the Princess calls Monarch, and it’s even stronger than father. You saw the fate of Arachnid just as we did, there’s no way we can get close enough. How can we get the sword back if we can’t even get close enough to find it?”

Jun Yongye replied with a small, mysterious smile. “The Princess did mention she was interested in coupling with you…”

“You… I’m not prostituting myself!” Lan Jue balked.
Gradually his doubt and confusion subsided, enough to focus on Occisus’ power. It was pure and strong, and although it was unerringly brutal there was a righteousness to it. It was a sword of reckoning, here to pass judgement on all things foul and eliminate evil.

Lan Jue’s powers were also just, fair and good. His rapport with the essence of the sword deepened his comprehension of its secrets. Soon a profound focus consumed him. Qianlin, joined with him, enjoyed the same abiding level of wisdom.

The Clockmaker looked on, and she witnessed the changes coming over Lan Jue’s aura; first blue, then red. They flickered back and forth while behind him the Banishing Blades’ lights roiled like dancing auroras.

Three of the god-blades had been gathered. Their splendor dominated the laws of nature.

A divine light shone from within Lan Jue, and every change that came over him caused reality to ripple.

The first one to arise from meditation was Lin Guoguo. Psychics like her were rare, and although the Pharmacist’s
breakthrough tempered her abilities they didn’t offer any insights. She would only be gifted insight from a Paragon with powers like hers – a very unlikely scenario.

Of the four Adepts it was Lan Jue and the Driver who sank deepest into meditation. He was near to Paragon already, and his evolved Primordial Lightning was another righteous display of the immortal realm. There was some faint parallels with the Pharmacist’s legendary weapon. He learned much.

Lan Jue had even more of a connection with the Banishing Blade. He, too, felt the flows of protogenia deeply.

The Wine Master was the third one to awaken, recovered from teleporting them to safety.

“How are you? Better?” The Clockmaker asked.

The Wine Master glanced at the sword and nodded. “I’m fine. The hardest hit was my pocket-book, teleportation is expensive! But, I feel as though I may make a breakthrough soon.”

The Clockmaker’s face lit up. “You have a sense?”
He chuckled. “Skyfire Avenue has Paragons popping up like weeds after a spring shower. As its chairman, how could I show my face if I don’t work to keep up! With my aunt’s help and my years of experience it is nearly time. When we return I’ll cloister myself in preparation.”

She seemed a little disappointed. “In our time the rise of a Paragon was a rare and wonderful thing. How many does Skyfire Avenue have now?”

The Wine Master sighed. “In fact, I would rather it was like it had been in the old days. It is a sign of looming tragedy that we should have so many now. These aliens have come to end our species, and they are so strong as to make it a real possibility. They come on a foul wind, and I shudder to think of the destruction they’ll cause when they invade the human galaxies.”

The Clockmaker tried to reassure him. “There is no point in worrying over it now. All we can do is continue to give our best. We will fight, and cast the beasts from our homes. Humanity has survived since ancient times, and I believe it was all in preparation for a time like this.”

“I hope so,” he replied. “The Clairvoyant’s prophecies are
coming true, but the one I wish for most desperately is the Jewelry Master. They say destiny is a strange and marvelous thing. Ever since that young man shed his troubled past, Skyfire Avenue has been swept up in his every act. Like the Clairvoyant said – he is the hinge. A bridge, and because of him Skyfire Avenue will play an important role in humanity’s future.”

The Clockmaker looked at Lan Jue. “Then we must be even more vigilant in protecting him. I didn’t agree with this trip to help the North, I know how they operate. They are fierce on the battlefield, with valiant soldiers and wise commanders. However, they will sell the deepest core of themselves for their Alliance. Were the outcome different and their campaign a success, I would not be surprised to find them turning their guns on us.”

The Wine Master nodded. “That’s why we set the teleportation array on Tyrannosaurus. In the end we didn’t need it to save ourselves, but to save them.”

The Clockmaker turned to him, looking him deep in the eyes. “The only person you can ever really trust in this universe is yourself. Do not believe that saving Kang Hui’s life has made him an ally. When it comes to the benefit of the nation, one man’s feelings mean nothing. Kang Hui is their highest ranking military officer, he lives that fact. Give the North a wide margin
as we go back, it’s safest to return straight to Skyfire.”

The Wine Master nodded again in agreement. He’d originally planned to catch up with the Bastion  and  share  their intelligence before returning home. But the Clockmaker was right, it may very well be a path toward danger.

It is.

So my wife threw me down one hell of a rabbit hole. There is an old and famous book called Fengshen Yanyi, and in it the writer described a battle among the immortals – using the Banishing Blades Stance (henceforth I’ll refer to it as Strategy, it’s a better term). Tongtian is an immortal who joins two of the three Pure Ones to fight against their master which is why it’s called ‘The Immortal Killing Battle Array’ (direct translation). The interesting take away here is that TJSS is borrowing from a very famous old novel that perverted Taoist teachings. Interestingly, the alien planets are three, while the main immortals who were trying to kill the other immortals also numbered three. It isn’t impossible to imagine that TJSS is replicating that battle – in space!

Chapter 697: End Of The Expedition

“Xiaosu, send our data to Tyrannosaurus. Ask if they need anything more from us.” The Wine Master, after thinking for a moment, spoke to the ship’s driver.

She confirmed, then turned on the ship’s communications and did as instructed. The North’s equipment was top of the line, and they were connected immediately.

“We’re sending the data,” Xiaosu said.

“Did you get any feedback?” The Wine Master asked.

Xiaosu stared at the screens. “Hold on, waiting for a response now. We’re pretty far away so the signal isn’t very clear.”

She spoke again after a moment. “They want us to meet up with them as soon as possible.”

“Got it.” The Wine Master’s mouth turned into a slight frown. He looked toward the Clockmaker. “So you think that if we go back, there’s a chance…”
She smiled. “I’m not sure, but there is always a chance. The safest choice is not to go back. We’ve already completed our mission.”

“Alright.” He understood her sentiment. Out in the Starfields, Zeus-1 didn’t have a way to communicate directly with Skyfire Avenue, and the loss of a single patrol boat during a massive alien battle was completely feasible. The North only needed to claim that was the case if their aims were less than wholesome. While the Wine Master thought well of Admiral Kang Hui, he wasn’t prepared to stake the lives of his companions on a feeling. Returning to Tyrannosaurus was risking more than he was comfortable with.

ζ

Tyrannosaurus-Class Bastion Ship

“We’ve obtained the data. According to the starmaps we’ve received, the three planets have gathered at the former location of Moonfiend. They don’t appear to be giving chase.” Ling Ya read out the report.

Kang Hui heaved a sigh of relief and leaned back against his
chair, His frayed nerves could rest, at least a little. But there was also sadness; Holmen was dead, his ship destroyed and the one hundred thousand souls on board committed to the stars. First Fleet had also sacrificed itself for Tyrannosaurus’ safety. Heron did not escape unscathed, either. It was the greatest loss the North had suffered since humanity’s stellar migration. As the highest ranking military officer, everything that had happened was his responsibility.

“Get in touch with headquarters and share the information with them.” Kang Hui sounded tired as he gave the order to Ling Ya, and shut his eyes.

“Aye, aye!” She replied.

“Admiral, you need to make up your mind.” Wu Qiu stood beside Kang Hui, speaking softly to him.

Kang Hui’s eyes popped back open, and his response was thick with anger. “They are allies, not to mention I’d be dead without their help – this whole mission would have ended in worse disaster than it already is. You honestly want me to turn on them?”
Wu Qiu sighed. “Yes, Skyfire Avenue has helped us greatly but their council chairman is on that ship, along with four other Paragons. There’s also commander Lan Jue, and if we can get them to defect or take them out of the equation the results would be catastrophic to the Avenue. According to our information, Lan Jue has been chosen as the Clairvoyant’s successor to lead and we have an opportunity that may never come again. Headquarters also didn’t make it clear…”

Kang Hui’s breathing had quickened and his hands were clenched into fists. After a moment, though, they relaxed. “No! They may not be a group we like, but they are brothers in arms against the alien threat! Without them Tyrannosaurus would have ended up like Arachnid. I will not betray their aid with treachery, and you will never make another suggestion like it again. Do you understand!”

Another sighed heaved Wu Qiu’s shoulders. “Admiral, we do as you order, but you put too much faith in friendship.” As he spoke the officer opened his hand and pressed down.

Kang Hui, already exhausted and with his guard down, grunted. He collapsed on top of his desk.

The admiral’s guards stared in shock, but were about to lunge
at Wu Qiu when the secretary grunted. A powerful aura burst from him. Against an Avenue Paragon he didn’t amount to much, but aboard this ship he was the strongest Adept.

“I am working in the Admiral’s best interest. After this expedition’s failure he will be court martialed. He will need something to show for it if he wants to evade charges. Little Ya, tell the Avenue scouts that we want them to return as quickly as possible, but we won’t wait long.”

When Ling Ya looked at the secretary she saw the murderous light in his eyes. Her heart skipped a beat, and for a moment a handsome face flitted through her mind. She was conflicted, but her hands typed out what Wu Qiu demanded…

ζ

Zeus-1 quietly slipped through the darkness of space. While Lan Jue and the Driver cultivated, the Wine Master concealed the waves of protogenia from the ship with his own abilities. He was pleased with the Pharmacist’s breakthrough. The Avenue would have another Paragon, and one with robust combat ability. As an Adept she bore extraordinary strength, which would only increase as she deepened her understanding.
ζ

The explosive news spread across the human words like wildfire. The North had thrown themselves at the aliens in a full offensive, with three bastion ships and five fleets – yet still they’d lost. Arachnid was destroyed, Heron mangled, and although Tyrannosaurus had suffered no damage it’d returning with four fleets instead of five.

Overnight, the alien planets became humanity’s new boogeymen.

The Northern army gave Ying Tianlin the posthumous title of general. Holmen received no honors, but his family was generously compensated for their loss. Due to Kang Hui’s failed leadership which resulted in a devastating loss for the North, Kang Hui was awaiting removal from command. Meanwhile, humanity worried over its future. It was a constant point of discussion. When would the aliens arrive?

On An Lun, Lan Qing quietly sat behind a screen. He silently reviewed all the data from the North’s expedition, though the most comprehensive intelligence had come from Star Division’s scouting team.
His face was dark. Leathery hands clenched tight and released, again and again in a sign of his agitated state.

The North was defeated! Humanity’s most powerful Alliance had failed. What’s more, the power they’d brought to bear against the aliens was equivalent to the East’s total military power.

What’s more, according to Star Division the aliens  hadn’t even used their full power. If this was the result at reduced power, what would happen when their foe no longer felt the need to hold back?

Lan Qing had the same concerns as the civilian public. When were these aliens going to appear in their backyard? Where? They could teleport wherever they liked without any notice. They wouldn’t be able to muster forces fast enough if they didn’t know where their enemy would be. Wherever the planets appeared, humanity would lose at least one planet.

“Sir, Skyfire Avenue on the line.” An officer quickly trotted over and delivered the news.

“Connect them,” he answered calmly.
A familiar face soon appeared on his screen.

“Admiral Lan Qing.” The address was formal and polite.

Lan Qing nodded. “What is it?”

It was, of course, Lan Jue. “The Eastern lawmakers have passed a bill ordering people to evacuate to the largest planets. I wanted to ask what the plans were for An Lun. I’m not asking for any sensitive information, just trying to plan what’s next for Star Division.”

Lan Qing’s face was a stone. “We’ll go where we’re needed.”

This caused his brother to roll his eyes. “Perhaps something a little less vague? Humanity’s only got about ten Bastions ready for battle, and although they were defeated the expedition did prove one thing. Bastions are how you fight those things.”

Lan Qing replied in cool tones. “What we need to know is how often the alien planet can transfer. Perhaps you don’t understand that the only way to use the advantage of our Bastions is to surround the enemy. Right now we’ve been forced
into a passive position while we wait for more information.”

“I know,” Lan Jue replied. “That’s why I’m asking. I heard through the grapevine that you’ve already reorganized the troops after receiving the ships we won at auction. As I understand it you’ve got two fleets now. But the East is still weak, I think you need to let the army know we need to gather our forces.”

Lan Qing frowned. “I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job. If there’s nothing else I have matters to attend to.”

Lan Jue paused, struck by his brother’s foul mood. It was the first time he’d seen Lan Qing like this. “Brother…” he said.

Lan Qing sat in silence for a moment, then visibly relaxed a little. “What?”

“If I don’t came back from one of these trips, I need you to look after dad.”

A hardness overcame Lan Qing’s face. “What are you thinking?”
Lan Jue responded with a grin. “Nothing, I’m just saying.
Don’t get emotional.”

Lan Qing’s eyes were piercing as he stared at his younger brother on the screen. He knew Lan Jue better than anyone. He wouldn’t have said something like that unless there was a reason.

“What are you planning?” He calmly asked.

But Lan Jue just shook his head. “Nothing – alright, that’s all I needed. I’m off to cultivate.”

The connection was cut, and for some reason Lan Qing felt even more unsettled than he had a moment ago. The look in his brother’s eyes seemed carefree, but he knew Lan Jue. When he got that look, it meant he was plotting.

Chapter 698: Ninth Level, Ninth Rank

Skyfire Avenue,

A month had passed since the failed attempt to destroy the alien planets. Humanity had fallen into a bleak despair, a fear that their foe could appear at any moment. The North’s defeat was too large to go unnoticed, so they didn’t even attempt to hide it from the public.

Each alliance – be in the North, West or East – all adhered to the suggestion Lan Jue had made at the Eastern parliament. The resource-oriented and smaller planets were abandoned, and their populations were gathered closer together for protection.

It was a large operation, but a necessary one. It was clear the aliens could appear anywhere, at any moment. The outlying planets were most vulnerable and thus had to be given up.

Representatives from all three alliances met several times for high-level meetings, with aims to coordinate their military power. At least they had come to some agreements over mutual defense.
When the scout team got back to Skyfire Avenue, Lan Jue continued to cultivate religiously with Zhou Qianlin. The Driver had completed the transformation of his Discipline and sheltered himself away. The Wine Master did as well, in preparation for ascension to Reflection of Heaven and Earth.

As for the alien Lan Jue had recovered, it was in the capable hands of the Bookworm and Keeper.

Preliminary analysis revealed what Lan Jue and the others had expected. The aliens’ defenses were weaker against biological attacks, and more potent against engineered power. According to the Keeper their weakness lay in their complicated DNA. Somehow, the power of an Adept’s Discipline broke apart the bonds that held their DNA together and subjected them to terrible consequences.

“Boss, you seem pretty lethargic today.” Ke’er saw her employer resting idly behind the counter of the Jewelry Shop and couldn’t contain her curiosity.

Everything seemed business as usual on the Avenue. Few normal humans were permitted to enter, so it was like the troubles of outside didn’t exist here, at least on the surface.
Lan Jue smirked at her. “Constant preparation is going to get the work done faster. I need time to rest like anyone else!”

Ke’er giggled and trotted over to him. She hopped up onto the counter. “So what’s your plan today, boss?”

“No plan,” he answered. “Rest, cultivate. How are things underground?”

She beamed at him. “Couldn’t be better! Who isn’t interested in making themselves stronger? We’re low on  inventory, though. Most has been given to Star Division.”

Star Division’s numbers had grown to over one thousand five hundred soldiers, including the unfortunate experiments Lan Jue had rescued from the Pontiffs clutches at Moonfiend. Their abilities had all been boosted by fantascia genetica, though, which made their progress slow and fraught with hidden dangers.

Meanwhile Skyfire Avenue boasted more Paragons than anyone else, and only continued to add to their dominant position. It had always been their trump card, and they were finally reaping the benefits.
In terms of military strength, the North was still the strongest even after their defeat at the hands of the aliens. The West had thrown all their resources into the creation of more Bastions to keep up, and their total martial capabilities had improved markedly.

War had come to all corners of human space. They felt it like a dark cloud on the horizon.

The communicator on Lan Jue’s wrist began to buzz. He looked down and was surprised by what he saw.

“Wine Master, you’ve finished?” He’d been locked away in meditation ever since they returned. It’d been forty days.

“Yes.” The Wine Master’s voice replied from the other end.

“Did you break through?”

“Luckily,” he replied. “Come, there’s something I wish to speak with you about.”
“Alright.” Lan Jue rose, waved goodbye to Ke’er, then left the jewelry shop.

Lan Jue took a minute to appreciate Skyfire Avenue. He loved standing on its stone pathways and looking at the buildings lining the street. It felt like stepping back in time.

“Hurry up!” The Wine Master’s voice shouted in his ear. Lan Jue grinned then crossed the distance to the Gothic Winery in long strides.

When he pushed the door open, the Wine Master was waiting for him inside.

“I assume we’re here to raise a glass or two for your good fortune? In congratulations for ascending to the next degree?” Lan Jue said with a grin.

The Wine Master just looked at him. “It seems you’re awfully relaxed.”

He shrugged. “If we don’t take time for ourselves how can we get anything done? If I don’t relax the alien planets will
disappear on their own?”

The Wine Master’s eyes flashed. “Have you improved? Ninth level ninth rank?”

Lan Jue nodded. “As expected. I’ve continued to absorb the thunder essence. With the Driver and Qianlin’s help in cultivating, it’s getting hard to hold back.”

Just yesterday he had reached peak rank. Now he bore the same power as he did when joined with Qianlin. She had risen to eighth rank, not far behind him. However, due to their connection Lan Jue had to stop cultivating. Now that he was at his peak he couldn’t press himself any further. The next step was Paragon, and he had to cross that threshold with Qianlin.

Until Qianlin reached her peak, he couldn’t progress. What he hated before was now helping him to keep his Discipline constrained, purifying it.

The Wine Master went on. “The Pharmacist still hasn’t come out from meditation?”
The process of the Pharmacist’s breakthrough continued all the way back to Skyfire. Once they got back she announced that she would sequester herself in her shop to solidify her new powers. However, Lan Jue knew it was in part because of what she’d learned about her husband.

She had waited for years, desperate for any news of him only to learn the news was sad. Ultus’ energies could not be faked – the final shred of hope in her heart had died.

It was hard to imagine the pain she was feeling. Lan Jue didn’t know what he should do or say. All he knew was that she had changed somehow.

“She isn’t doing well. I’m worried she’ll make a rash decision.” Lan Jue sighed.

He’d told the Wine Master everything that had transpired. The Wine Master nodded. “Who could have anticipated we’d learn of this connection. Whatever her decision, Skyfire Avenue will support her as much as it is able.”

For a moment he was silent, then quietly spoke again. “I called you here for something else. The Clairvoyant once called
you a bridge, a hero to humanity who would defeat the aliens. He said you would help gather the strong.”

“Star Division is working toward that purpose, so I have decided to ask the Paragons to join as well. This would include the Keeper and Bookworm, though of course their focus will be research. Anyway, this decision will certainly strengthen the Division tremendously.”

Lan Jue furrowed his brows in thought. “You’re planning to have Star Division join the war directly? Individually our men are strong, but are of little use in a battle in outer space. What if they get hit by a Bastion cannon?”

The Wine Master waved a hand contemptuously. “I’ve already been in contact with the military. Of course it won’t be that simple. We aren’t going to be the brunt of the force, but we can be the tip of the spear. Simply put, we’d act like Arachnid – at the right moment, we strike fast and hard.”

Lan Jue’s face darkened. “I think you need to find a better example. Arachnid was destroyed.”

The Wine Master sighed. “Anyway, you know what I mean.
The military has already given us a lot of resources. Zeus-1, 2, 3 and Majesty have all been upgraded and refitted to give us everything we need. More importantly are the mecha suits, which will supplement our Disciplines and harm the aliens. Once we get in close, we can do some real damage.”

“The reason I called you here was to see if we can’t convince more Paragons to join our cause.”

“More Paragons?” Lan Jue repeated. “Who do you mean? A- Li?” It was the first name he thought of. Other than him and those on the Avenue there was just the Pontiff, Satan, and the Terminator.

But Hua Li was already commanding his own unit, the Poseidon Corps. On the surface they belonged to the West, but according to what Hua Li had told him they were largely free of outside control. They even had their own bastion – called Poseidon. It was patrolling space around their planet, now. As the commander of his own army there was no way he would join another, no matter how good their relationship was.

As for the Pontiff, Satan and the Terminator, they were all leaders of their own organizations. Kang Hui’s sneak attack was front-page news all across human space, and who wouldn’t
want to play warlord? Right now Adepts were a hot commodity everywhere.

“Have you forgotten? We have a couple old friends in the West.” The Wine Master replied with a smirk.

Chapter 699: The Eight Great Paragons

Lan Jue’s heart jumped. “You mean the two gods of wine?” Lan Jue’s mind conjured up images of Lalou Bize and Aubert de Villaine.

Those two gods of wine had been the source of a great deal of trouble for the Avenue.

The Wine Master nodded. “Their planet is verdant, and will likely be abandoned by the west since it’s primarily a tourist destination. It has a small population so evacuations will be quick and easy. If the aliens show up, they won’t let a planet so full of life pass them by. I plan to offer my help in transporting their underground world to someplace safer. Perhaps that will be enough to convince them to help us. If humanity is destroyed what good would their vineyard serve?”

Lan Jue gave him a piercing look. “Why do I get the feeling there are selfish ulterior motives involved?”

“What do you mean, ulterior motives?” The Wine Master snapped. “All I do, I do for the good of humanity.”
Lan Jue pointed out the obvious. “But they’re Westerners.
What makes you think they’ll agree to defect?”

The elderly sommelier waved a hand dismissively. “The West doesn’t even know they exist. At any rate, do you think they care about national loyalty at their age? I suspect their grapes are their biggest concern.”

“No harm in trying,” Lan Jue acquiesced. “They’re Paragons, after all. So you want me to make the trip?”

But the Wine Master shook his head. “No, I’ll go. I need you to stay here and look after the Avenue while I’m gone. Star Division, and all the Paragons that are part of it now, are yours to command.”

All of a sudden Lan Jue felt like he’d been caught in a trap. “No way. At the very least you’re going to be the worst kind of back-seat driver!”

This earned a chuckle. “I’ve been chairman of the council for too long already. The Clairvoyant had always intended for the position to go to you. It’s also a spot well-deserved. Everything’s been decided – you have a lot to do, so you better get started.”
“You…” This old fox is too damn cunning! Lan Jue’s face drained of color. Getting a moment of rest in the  last  few months had been a herculean task he’d only accomplished by leaving Star Division’s day to day with Su Xiaosu. Thankfully she was good at it.

Now that the Wine Master was leaving, the pressures of leadership fell squarely on his own shoulders. Telling a bunch of Paragons what to do was easier said than done – how was he to expect any commands to be followed?

The Wine Master chuckled at Lan Jue’s crestfallen look. “Oh don’t pull that face, I know you’ll be great. In fact I think you’ll do a better job than I did. You have a fine relationship with all of our Paragons, and Star Division will become a part of the Eastern army. We’ve been in contact with the military already and they’ve pledged them to An Lun’s forces. Can you think of anyone more qualified for the position?”

The Wine Master’s insistence only made him feel more helpless. But was he wrong? He did have a decent standing among the Avenue’s Paragons.

Altogether, Skyfire Avenue had eight powerful Paragons as its mighty protectors; Luo Xianni, the Photographer; the Wine
Master, Cosmagus; the Clockmaker, Epochrion; the Gourmet, Infernal Vanguard; the Keeper, Arcane Magnate; the Bookworm, Karmic Scholar; the Pauper, Arhat of the Descending Dragon; and finally the newly ascending Pharmacist, the Siren of Slaughter.

Luo Xianni he didn’t need to worry about. He didn’t know her Paragon title but it didn’t matter – he called her mother. The Wine Master was an insufferable busybody, but also an old drinking buddy. Lan Jue’s relationship with the Clockmaker wasn’t especially close, but the Wine Master and she were intimate. She was also a confidante of the Clairvoyant, and Lan Jue didn’t have to worry about her support.

The Gourmet was an old friend and their roots ran deep, not to mention their connection through Chu Cheng. The Keeper and Bookworm looked at him like a nephew, and a protector to the Accountant. The Pauper and he had many ties that tangled them together. As for the Pharmacist, Lan Jue called her sister.

After thinking it over he could say that it was true, he had good connections with each of the Paragons despite not being one himself. It would continue to be true for the Driver when he eventually broke through.
“Your main job will be to coordinate everyone’s efforts. Don’t worry, I’ll be back before you know it. I’ve also spoken with the Keeper and he’ll help you where he can. With that psychopath in your corner what else do you need? The Eastern government has also pledged its full support to the Avenue, so you don’t have to fret over them. Once you feel good about Star Division, we’ll link them up with An Lun’s army, and one of their main tasks will be the protection of this planet.”

Lan Jue frowned at nothing in particular. “An Lun’s army will be protecting Skyfire? What about An Lun itself? That’s one of our most important planets guarding the border. Besides, what are two fleets going to accomplish if an alien planet appears in local space?”

Grinning, the Wine Master responded. “Now you’re getting into national secrets. Once Star Division is ready and on its way to An Lun, you’ll see. Ah, right – I’ve managed to convince the army to give you an official rank. What do you think, Rear Admiral?”

Lan Jue rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Lan Qing outranks me by a mile. Star Division has eight Paragons, being led by a Rear Admiral makes it sound weak. Why not make me a fleet admiral!”
The Wine Master gave him a flat stare. “It’s that easy, is it? Nevermind, hang the title then. You should be focusing on breaking through anyway, the earlier the better. That will shore up confidence and respect.”

“So I’m supposed to lead Star Division, the Avenue, and become a Paragon? What do you think I am, a god?” Lan Jue whined.

“That’s your problem,” the Wine Master retorted. “I’m just responsible for assigning tasks. I think you can handle it.”

Lan Jue outright scowled. “My heart can’t take this. I need a drink. If you’re going to be handing down directives and running off to drink with the wine gods I don’t think my request is unreasonable. Open up that vault you keep your wine in and let me pick a bottle, then I’ll accept.”

The Wine Master’s face twitched. “Don’t even think about it, you shameless punk. The moment I let you in you’ll ferret out my best bottle and drink it before I have a sip. We’re done here, you can go. We’ll convene the council tonight and make the announcement. I’ll be leaving in the morning – oh, and the Clockmaker will be coming with me. The combined strength of the Avenue is now in your hands, we’ll come back when we’re
done.”

Lan Jue just stared at him. “So you just kick me out, eh? Aren’t you afraid I’ll find your stash while you’re gone, walk away with a sack of ill-gotten loot?”

“You wouldn’t dare!” The Wine Master gasped. Before the claim wouldn’t have worried him – he was confident in his power. But with Captus in Lan Jue’s hand and  power comparable to many Paragons even without breaking through, the threat was real. His treasures might really be in danger if Lan Jue lost his mind!

Lan Jue grunted. “I guess we’ll drink once you get back. I’m leaving!” He shot to his feet and headed for the exit.”

“Alright, alright! You scare me!” The Wine Master complained.

Lan Jue hadn’t really planned to leave, but he’d made a good show of it. He stopped and turned his head back to look at the stingy old man.
The Wine Master stooped and pulled something from beneath the table. It was a bottle. “Take it, call me when you plan to open it up.”

The bottle was pitch black and smooth, simple but for its label which bore intricate orange scrollwork.

“This is…” Lan Jue actually didn’t know, he wasn’t familiar with the bottle. But he knew quality the moment he saw it.

The bottle was porcelain. Not wine, then. Spirits?

He took it from the Wine Master, and immediately his eyes lit up.

“Whisky… King of the isle of Islay, Bowmore 30 limited- edition? You actually have a bottle of this? Wine Master, if I were a woman I’d marry you right away – you’re a damn treasure! Thank you, thank you.” Lan Jue nearly cackled as he committed the bottle to Thor’s Promise. He turned and left, absent the animosity he’d started with.

As he watched him go, the Wine Master couldn’t help but
shake his head. The Clockmaker entered from a nearby doorway. “Since when did you become so generous?”

The Wine Master bleakly responded. “What makes you think I wanted to give him that bottle? This kid’s mood affects his decisions deeply. Leaving on this trip puts a lot of stress on him, he needed a little encouragement. At any rate the wine in my cellar is more than a single man can drink in a lifetime, and he’ll get it when it’s time for me to pass it on. In fact I’m rather helpless.”

“Helpless?” The Clockmaker asked.

The old man sighed. “The kid has a natural affinity for wine, and is the Clairvoyant’s chosen one. I’d actually had plans to adopt him, but who could have known about my aunt. She’s an elder, who am I to contest?”

The Clockmaker couldn’t help but laugh. “He’s an interesting boy, the Jewelry Master. If he breaks through and ends up like his brother, you wouldn’t have been a suitable adopted father anyway. He’s Jue Di’s son.”

“So I guess I’m more an older brother,” the Wine Master
replied. “It’s uncomfortable. Giving him a hard time helps my mood. Alright, we have things to prepare, you and I. We’ll make this trip to the Barrows a honeymoon, what do you think? It’s a beautiful place.”

Chapter 700: Skyfire Council

The Clockmaker’s face reddened. “Who’d want to go with you on a honeymoon?”

ζ

When Lan Jue returned to Zeus’ Jewelry Store, his smirk was gone. In the space between his shop and the Gothic Winery, a depression had set in.

He understood what the Wine Master meant. He wanted to gather all of Skyfire Avenue’s strength for when it was needed. Really, Star Division was already just that. Skyfire’s greatest Adepts made up the heart of the organization. But Paragons were difficult to manage. What duties could he assign to them befitting of their station?

They weren’t suited to being Division leaders necessarily, since personal strength wasn’t what made a good leader. None of them were particularly good mecha pilots, either. These were problems.

Lan Jue mulled over the problems until Ke’er greeted him.
He had to break through soon, Lan Jue told himself. Things would be easier to manage once he could count himself among the Paragons. It was rather silly for him to assume people would listen, even as vice-chairman, when they bore so much power. And yet, becoming a Paragon wasn’t something you could just choose to do and make it happen. Ascending to such lofty heights didn’t happen in the course of a day.

He also wondered how his father was doing.

Jue Di had remained on Skyfire Avenue, locked away within the Photographer’s shop to cultivate. Since coming back Lan Jue still hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him. He only knew his father was cultivating thanks to Luo Xianni.

When his father came out of his hermitage he would ask him for more instruction. Lan Jue already had his feet firmly planted on the road of the inheritance his father promised, but only Jue Di knew the specifics.

ζ

Night fell upon the Avenue.
Skyfire Avenue’s councilors gathered for their meeting in the depths of Skyfire Museum. Nowadays the Clairvoyant was Jun’er. She had inherited the Eye of Tomorrow’s legacy and powers, and she was growing stronger every day. All of this had been told to him by the Wine Master.

Meanwhile, the higher-ups in Skyfire Avenue had already determined Jun’er would ultimately be successor to the Avenue’s leadership. Once the Wine Master formally stepped down the title of chairman would pass to Lan Jue. Then, when she was ready, Jun’er would assume the mantle.

The Wine Master had told Lan Jue something the Clairvoyant had told him before his death. He’d said that Jun’er talents were even stronger than his own when he was her age. She would one day become a truly incredible Seer.

Skyfire Avenue’s future looked very good indeed. Part of this was due to luck, otherwise Star Division’s growth wouldn’t have been so quick. It was staggering to think that in only a short time, the Avenue had gone from three Paragons to eight.

Stepping into the museum – with its refined atmosphere and the scent of books – makes visitors feel as though they were awash in a sea of knowledge. This place was filled with
treasures, including tomes passed down from the ages. It was this extensive library that had attracted the likes of the Bookworm and Keeper. Most of them were eventually relocated to Skyfire Library, but some still remained here.

Lan Jue had come early, yet already all the councilors but those in seclusion had arrived. The Wine Master sat at the head of the long table with the Keeper to his right. The space on his left was empty, then came the procession of Paragons and finally the Avenue’s councilors.

As Lan Jue approach, they each greeted him in turn. He walked over to the Wine Master and sat in the unoccupied seat to his left. He returned the hails as he walked across the room.

The council chambers were thick with a sense of solemn duty. It was no wonder, the alien threat was a burden on everyone’s mind. Skyfire Avenue was in as much risk of destruction as anywhere else.

Lan Jue spotted Jun’er quickly. She was seated in the back, away from the others. Although she could not see, her little face broke into a warm smile when Lan Jue looked her way.
He smiled back. Lan Jue fought the urge to walk over and give her a hug – now wasn’t the time.

“Daddy will speak with you when the meeting’s over, clever Jun’er.” Lan Jue called out to her.

“Alright! I haven’t seen you in a long time.” Much to Lan Jue’s surprise Jun’er didn’t call out, but relayed her response directly to his ears alone. Transferring sound like that required the Adept to compress the sound waves and release them within the desired scope. It was impressive enough that she could do this without the gift of sight, but remember how old she was!

An inexplicable feeling surged within Lan Jue’s heart as he looked on Jun’er beaming face. No matter what, he had to protect the Avenue – protect mankind. He had to leave something good for future generations to build upon.

Everyone who would be participating had arrived and taken their seats.

The Wine Master cleared his throat, drawing all eyes his way. “Hello everyone. I am happy that you were all able to make it. It has been quite a while since we’ve had a gathering like this.
Besides the Pharmacist and the Driver, who have locked themselves away, everyone else has managed to come.”

Everyone was silent, listening carefully as their chairman spoke.

“I would like to begin with the Keeper. If you would please tell us the results of your research?” The Wine Master turned to address the scientist.

The Keeper nodded his head. “We have undergone a series of experiments using the alien specimen our Jewelry Master has acquired. Preliminary results have already been aggregated.”

“We have determined that these creatures – like us – are composed of vital energy. However, where they differ is in an ability I have called genetic assimilation. Through our research we have noted that alien breeds can differ wildly, but their cores retain the same traits. Namely, their ability to absorb and assimilate genetic code from whatever they devour.”

“To oversimplify, by consuming a living creature the aliens are able to take specific traits from their DNA and apply it to themselves. In this way their genetic make-up becomes very
complicated. However, there is no doubt that this is the process by which their species evolves and strengthens. It is their most terrifying ability, taking what they wish from their victims and transferring it into their genetic material through their cores. Thus it affects every aspect of their live; combat, feeding, breeding and so forth.”

“An alien’s strength is directly correlated to the genetic assimilation process. Through constant modification they perfect themselves and their offspring. They are living representations of ‘Survival of the Fittest.’ Frankly speaking, I continue to be amazed by the perfection of their genetic strands. Through it you can clearly map the evolution of each alien and what they consumed. Each one is unique, risen from the ranks of their weaker kin to become the apex of their species.”

“The Jewelry Master and others have encountered some of the most potent examples of this process. They have chosen to assume human form because – according to them – the potential of the human body surpasses their assimilating capabilities. We suspect this is their ultimate motivation in coming in such large numbers to consume us. It is the enemy’s hope that in devouring us they can reach new heights of genetic perfection. Their appearance was not a fluke – it was premeditated. Put another way, the conflict between our two species is inevitable.”
For a moment, the Keeper paused as though to collect his thoughts. “All of these are the advantages we’ve managed to uncover. This does not mean they are without flaw. Their genetic composition is complicated, and the speed with which they can adjust their DNA structure makes them strong and adaptable. However, by the same vein the complexity of their DNA is a weakness. It is susceptible to mutations and other problems. Because of the immediacy of their evolution, damage to their DNA is immediately reflected through their bodies as a whole.”

“An Adept’s Discipline is itself a type of vital energy, inexorably joined with our own ancestral make-up. When it comes in contact with alien genetic structure, the bonds become uncertain – sort of confused. In a sense, our Disciplines are a genetic weapon. Conventional weapons are well-defended against, even mechas. However, if they are infused with Discipline they can bypass the creature’s’ natural guard and throw their bodies into chaos on a genetic level, causing catastrophic damage.”

At last some good news. The gathered Adepts breathed a little easier knowing their powers’ efficacy was backed up by science.

The Gourmet interrupted. “So you’re saying that our Disciplines are these monsters’ bane?”
The Keeper nodded. “In more ways than one. However, this is not an absolute truth. Penetrating an alien deep enough to affect genetic change isn’t as easy as it sounds. They have perfected their defenses through constant evolution. They have acquired the ability to isolate their inner environment from all manner of external forces. So, in order to make the most of our inherent advantages, we must discover their vulnerabilities. Once we discover how to bypass their natural defenses, we can better attack them on a genetic level. As is typical with all creatures their brains and eyes are vulnerable.”

The Gourmet nodded thoughtfully.

The Pauper interjected. “Are we able to create some sort of genetic weapon to fight these things? Do we have the technology?”

“In theory, yes,” the Keeper said. “But it needs to be affixed to some sort of delivery system that gets it passed their defenses, or can affect them mentally. The first option is difficult because getting around their guard is a problem, as we discussed. The weapon needs to be effective already to deliver the anti-gene payload. So far Adepts are more effective than weapons, which is why they must be at the forefront of future weapons design. Ultimately the Jewelry Master’s suggestion is best – we use mecha suits to supplement and enhance our Disciplines, making
combat against the aliens easier.”

The Wine Master spoke up next. “What about combat ships?
Can’t they be empowered by Discipline as well?”

This is a very common tease from Chinese women. ‘Who would want to…’ then whatever the suggestion was. ‘Let’s go to the movies?’ Who’d want to go to the movies with you?’ Do you want to eat pizza?’ ‘Who wants to eat pizza!’. Sometimes it doesn’t make perfect sense, but then I don’t suspect  it’s supposed so.

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