Skyfire Avenue Chapter 721-730

Chapter 721: Better Than a Paragon

Where Poseidon’s protogenia came in contact with Captus’ crimson power, it was either dispersed or devoured. Nothing could stop the spread of the terrifying red power.

How!

Disbelief was writ plain in Hua Li’s eyes. When did Lan Jue get so strong? Poseidon was a Paragon, and he a mere Adept! His powers had changed so drastically it was hard to fathom. It was restrained, profound, but also explosive.

Lan Jue’s pace suddenly increased. He swung Captus in seven consecutive slashes that were absent the precision and delicacy of before. The red blade lashed with the speed and ferocity of lightning, leaving in its wake seven jagged streamers of light. They were red and blue, and inside twinkled  a  mysterious power that made them look like patches of a starry night sky.

For Hua Li, it suddenly seemed like everything had gone dim. He felt surrounded and a moment later noticed those slashes had inexplicably appeared around him. They were on him before he could react, assailing him with tremendous pressure.
Seven-Star Hammer! Another of the Nine Hammers of Taiji!

Lan Jue’s sword, as an extension of himself, issued the doughty attack. Hua Li sensed reality around him threatening to collapse, swallowing his energy even before he had a chance to use it. The seven azure blue orbs of starry light closed in one him. Every one of them birthed a frightening surge of energy that he could feel in his very soul!

This guy!

Divine light sparkled in Hua Li’s eyes. His arm shot out abruptly, waving his trident through the air. Golden light gathered all around until it reached a critical mass, then surged out like a tsunami in all directions. An enormous figure appeared once more behind Hua Li – all the Poseidons of the past merged into one. With its appearance a sense of awe and fear pervaded.

Boom–! The ensuing blast was a chaos of red, blue and gold. Their collision covered the arena in a sea of tumultuous power.

Lan Qing, perhaps anticipating this, had appeared in the air overhead. His hands were pressing down and the image of
Vairochana shimmered behind him. A waterfall of myriad colors suppressed the wild energies below from surging out of control. The arena had its own protections, but they’d seen how they could be overcome. Who knew what sort of tragedy this eruption would wreak on the planet if it were let loose.

The seething torrent of power continued for a full minute before finally abating. When the dust settled Chu Cheng peered into the aftermath. He saw Lan Jue standing firm with the shimmering red sword in hand. Hua Li was a short distance away, with tousled hair and sporting tattered clothes.

Both men were pale and drained, but it was clear Hua Li had come out the loser in their exchange.

Chu Cheng rubbed his eyes in disbelief, then blinked and looked harder. The scene remained the same. It’d been real, all of it – the truth was irrefutable.

Hua Li wasn’t any better. He swayed slightly on his feet, glaring at Lan Jue.

“Round two?” Lan Jue smirked. Once again he lifted the Banishing Blade, and in response a brilliant blue light appeared
from his chest. It grew and spread as the sound of crashing waves filled the air. But they were not waves, it was a world of electricity.

Pure lightning element. The tide of power didn’t undulate or sizzle like lightning, instead calmly filling the space around him. Captus’ angry red light continued to paint the arena in its glow. Meanwhile, Lan Jue’s aura continued to rise.

All of Lan Jue’s power coalesced into his focused flow sword technique. Once galvanized it would be fierce as a thunderbolt, steady as a landslide, and potent as supernova.

Hua Li’s scowled and shouted. “Enough, no more! This is unfair!”

Lan Jue chuckled. Captus dissolved into red light and vanished. “It’s one on one, how is this unfair?”

Hua Li made no effort to hide his agitation. “There’s something you’re using that counteracts my protogenia. I could use none of the advantages of Paragon. My energy far outstrips yours but dissipated the moment it reaches you. Even if I was truly a Reflection of Heaven and Earth I couldn’t pierce your
defense. How is this not cheating? His Majesty Jue Di must have given you something for you to be able to do this.”

“You guess wrong,” Lan Jue explained. “It’s nothing Jue Di gave me – it’s my own Discipline.” As he spoke he lifted his hand, revealing an orb of purple lightning rotating in his palm. All-Heaven Lightning.

After intense cultivation the inherently wild nature of All- Heaven lightning had been stripped. It was now calm and restrained. All the more frightening when it was unleashed.

The final clash of their exchange – Lan Jue’s Seven Star Hammer and All-Heaven Lightning – had nearly routed Hua Li’s Divine Rite-empowered protogenia. It frightening him, and forced him to employ the full breadth of his power and protogenia to defend himself. Even then he had only just managed. If Lan Jue had been a true Paragon, even that likely would have failed.

Hua Li stared at Lan Jue with a conflicted look. “It seems clear I won’t surpass you in my lifetime. If you’ve reached this level already, why delay your breakthrough?”
Lan Jue smiled. “I’m waiting for her.”

Hua Li paused. After a moment, though, he nodded. “I understand.”

Lan Qing had returned to Chu Cheng’s side. His low, calm voice arose. “Our turn.”

Chu Cheng answered with a nervous chuckle. “After watching that exchange I’m pretty lacking in confidence.”

“Then I’ll beat some faith into you,” he answered.

Chu Cheng then turned to Lan Jue and offered a sheepish and apologetic smile. “A-Jue, forget what I said earlier yeah? I’m on your side, always will be. Hua Li, the backstabber, he just wanted to bully you because you hadn’t broken through yet. But me? Thought never crossed my mind. In fact just the idea is despicable!”

“I struggle to believe you have any moral integrity,” Hua Li snapped. “You think because I can’t beat him I can’t kick your ass?”
Chu Cheng puffed out his chest. “Wait till I break through in a minute, then we’ll see if you’re as good as you think.”

“Enough nonsense. Hurry up!” Lan Qing fixed him with an intolerant and irritated look. Then in a flash he was within the center of the arena.

Lan Jue and Hua Li removed themselves to the outside borders of the arena. Hua Li poked him. “So what’s that Discipline called?”

“All-Heaven Lightning,” he replied. “I borrowed the name from old legends. My thunderbolt powers were yang based. I evolved it with the help of yin-based lightning and a chunk of thunder essence I was lucky enough to come across. The result was what you experienced today. You shouldn’t feel discouraged, it’s no loss of face to lose to me.”

“I didn’t lose! I was afraid to hurt you. If I’d have used my full strength I’d have taken you.” Hua Li muttered.

Lan Jue chuckled but didn’t refute his claim.
“You don’t believe me?” Hua Li shot his a glare.

“Oh yeah. I believe you, I believe you.” His words assured Hua Li, but the look on his face betrayed how he really felt.

Hua Li shot back indignantly. “My bloodline has the power to absorb the full force of the oceans. I become one with the inherent protogenia of the sea. It comes at a cost, but it also pushes me into a whole new level of power. You’re strong, but all your abilities are still just based in Discipline. Dispersing my protogenia was draining for you, too, and if I were stronger you wouldn’t be able to keep up.”

Lan Jue was bemused by his friend’s competitive spirit. “Alright, enough. You win, alright?”

Hua Li wanted to continue his gripe, but Lan Qing and Chu Cheng had already begun their contest.

Lan Qing stood, still and silent. No echo of power radiated from him but none was needed. He bore himself like an indomitable force and his presence alone was subduing. Even Hua Li and Lan Jue on the far side of the arena could clearly sense it.
One could imagine what Chu Cheng was feeling.

His narrowed eyes overflowed with licking gray flames, and everything around him seemed drained of life and color. A pervading sense of death hung around him like a cloud. He was much stronger now than he had been during the Great Adept Tournament, that much was clear. The fires of hades danced around him like silken threads, thick with nuanced power. His control was absolute.

Chu Cheng didn’t wait for his aura to reach full strength. In a flash his body disappeared into the void while Lan Qing was surrounded by macabre gray light. It was as though in a moment they’d been transported to the underworld.

Just then, a translucent grey streak descended from above. It raced toward Lan Qing, nothing held back. The An Lun admiral was a Paragon, a Reflection of Heaven and Earth in fact, so Chu Cheng had to respond with unmitigated force. His first strike came from the ancestral weapon of his bloodline, Hades’ Falchion!

When the Gourmet ascended to Paragon he forsook the name Hades, and instead took the title Infernal Vanguard. In part that was outside of his ability to choose since he didn’t bear Hades’
Falchion. He didn’t feel qualified to take the name and lead his family.

Instead the weapon was bequeathed to Chu Cheng. It purified the deathly fires he commanded, increasing its strength and penetration. Just being in the falchion’s presence felt like it was devouring one’s soul.

Chapter 722: Chu Cheng Advances

When he saw the strike Lan Jue quietly nodded his head. He wasn’t the only one to advance, his companions were all getting stronger. For the Four Divine Monarchs, strength had always been a priority for each of them.

Ting! The ringing sound brought Lan Jue’s attention back to the fight.

Lan Qing had lifted his right hand and, with only his middle finger, flicked away Hades’ Falchion.

The Astrum responded with a low rumble and the whole body of the blade vibrated. Chu Cheng’s world of solemn gray grew dimmer and more obscure. In front of Lan Qing a single gray door appeared.

Another sword slash burst out from the door as it opened. From overhead Hades’ Falchion descended to join it. The two attacks supplemented each other as they raced for the center of Lan Qing’s chest.

Ting–! Lan Qing never flinched and fell back a step as his
middle finger knocked the danger away. His body began to glow with a faint golden aura. The emanation of enlightenment and compassion swelled his oppressive aura at the same time.

Even from their vantage Hua Li and Lan Qing were finding it hard to breathe.

Such pressure! Hua Li even gasped audibly. What this big brother’s true strength?

Hades’ Falchion flitted through the air, coming at Lan Qing with blinding speed from every direction to try and flip passed his defenses. Lan Qing never counter-attacked, and simply flicked or slapped away the blade whenever it got close.

Still his aura strengthened. It swelled with every passing moment, rose with every breath to pulverize them in an indescribable power.

In the midst of that pressure the whole arena started to quake. Chu Cheng’s attacks had slowed as they tried to fight through the influence of Lan Qing’s emulsions.
Golden light shone brighter around Lan Qing until he was a blazing silhouette. Any time Hades’ Falchion got close it to the deathly aura it bore was dispersed. Its desperate efforts were only getting weaker.

This was clearly a one-sided contest.

“Just this and already you can’t keep up? Do you want to be a Paragon?” Lan Qing’s disdainful taunt rolled like thunder through the room.

A flash of light revealed Chu Cheng suspended in air. Lan Qing’s call had forced him to appear. His grey eyes had become a seething blood red, and he burned with pride and a thirst for victory that made his aura flare.

They all knew Lan Qing was their better, but deep in their hearts who didn’t want to put the soldier in his place?

The suffocating pressure collapsed. Chu Cheng threw his head back and released a wild scream into the air that summoned a majestic ashen aura. The influence of his power continued to spread through the area, and he slashes Hades’ Falchion held tight in his white-knuckle grip. Each vicious cut birthed a
blinding flash and the shadow of strange archaic runes.

Chu Cheng himself was ripped apart. Splintering parts of himself were swallowed into the nine runes that hung in the air. As he vanished the runes overlapped one another, causing Hades’ Falchion to blaze with a staggering light before shooting ahead. A streak of burning power was left in its wake.

Lan Qing’s lips turned up in a smirk. He stamped a foot forward and punched his right hand. The surreal image of Vairochana appeared behind him. The Buddha’s resplendent light mingled with the glow of compassion from Lan Qing, and together they enveloped Hades’ Falchion.

The nine runes along the Astrum’s surface burned as it struggled against the light. Then, Lan Qing’s punch landed. First the falchion shook then thrown back. Its nine runes were shed and hung in the air.

Suddenly, everything stopped. The crushing pressure, Vairochana, Lan Qing… everything vanished without a trace. In the ensuing stillness the gray light from Hades’ Falchion bloomed. As though they were reawakened, the runes surged with pulsing waves of energy.
Chu Cheng appeared in the midst of those runes, seated cross- legged in mid-air with his eyes closed. All around him the world roiled in a state of flux. Sometimes the nightmarish image of the river Styx and its fetid, poison water prevailed. Sometimes it was a blazing sun ready to swallow the world. All throughout the gray fires of the underworld rose in staggering columns.

His powers were raging out of his control. Wild tempests of protogenia appeared and vanished in the same moment. But the period of calamity was short lived. Suddenly and with tremendous force, a pulse of pure protogenic effusion exploded through the arena. For a moment they were immersed in the underworld. Everything was drained of color, and a deathly stillness hung over everything.

Success! Lan Jue’s eyes lit up as he watched. He and Hua Li were protected beneath a shell of golden power – Lan Qing had joined them by their side.

Lan Qing had slowly built pressure since the fight’s outset. He urged on Chu Cheng’s fighting will and then – when the pressure was at its greatest – he removed it. With nothing to contend against Chu Cheng’s power gushed out to fill the vacuum and transformed him from an Adept into a Paragon.
Lan Jue smirked as he watched the dramatic display. “I’m the last one. I never thought that’d be the case.”

Hua Li’s response was less than sympathetic. “So what?
You’re not a Paragon but I still struggled against you.”

Lan Jue’s chortling laughter responded. “Stop fussing. When I break through I’ll protect you!”

Hua Li stared at him. “So you say, but you better keep your word. You aren’t going to meditate on the changes in his protogenia?”

Lan Jue shook his head. “No need. My protogenia is solid and I know my path. I need no more guidance.”

He wasn’t exaggerating, for with the addition of the immortal qi and all his experience with other Paragons, he knew precisely what he needed to do.

Humanity now had a new Paragon among them. This time it was the North who would celebrate their good fortune.
Chu Cheng’s ascension also marked the return of the Hades’ bloodline. First the Infernal Vanguard, now him. Unless things changed they had the power necessary to wrest the Dark Citadel from the hands of Satan.

The three Monarchs remained to look after Chu Cheng. The process of breaking through was sometimes long and sometimes short, it depended on the individual’s comprehension and protogenic control.

For Chu Cheng, he had many benefits in his favor contributing to his rise. The Clairvoyant’s gift of the Emberblossom pendant guided him. Recultivating at his peak had tempered his abilities further, culminating in the military training he’d undergone to lead his people. All of that helped push him to this point.

Lan Jue quietly informed the Gourmet, who then alerted his family. Before long the old patriarch of the Hades Bloodline, Chu Yun, appeared with the current head of the family, Chu Dong. Several other notable members of the clan had also come.

Chu Yun wept openly as he saw his grandson in the midst of his breakthrough. He had waited for more years than he could remember for this moment.
After two days and two nights Chu Cheng completed his transformation. Once it was done the North rang with trumpets and cheering cries. No good news had come to their Alliance since the defeat in the Shattered Starfields. But now they had a new Paragon to protect them in this dark hour; Hades!

He was placed at the bottom of the Paragon List.

Once the Chu Family took over their friend’s vigil, Lan Qing and Lan Jue left Luo and returned to Skyfire. There was much that required their attention.

Once they returned Lan Qing left almost immediately. Lan Jue didn’t know what business he had to attend to. As for Lan Jue, he didn’t need to ask the Avenue what was needed before receiving some bad news.

“Daddy, mommy wanted me to give this to you.” Lan Jue looked at the small girl in his arms and felt his  heart inexplicably seize.

Jun’er had come to see him shortly after he’d returned to Zeus’ Jewelry Shop. She’d come by herself. With the help of her psionic projection helmet Jun’er walked the streets like anyone
else. A holodisk player was gripped in her tiny hands.

Lan Jue thought back to when the Pharmacist left them on Luo. He knew what it was even before looking at it.

“I’ll check it later. How about you and me go get some food. What do you think?” He spoke tenderly. He didn’t want to watch it with her, it would be too frightening and painful.

But the little soothsayer shook her head and smiled. “No! Mama said she wants me to watch it with you. She said there’s something for me, too, but that I had to wait for you daddy. I waited, am I a good girl?”

He pinched her pudgy white cheeks. “Yes you are. Alright, let’s see.”

Lan Jue set up the projector and hit play. It spat forth a beam of light that painted an image in the air before them.

It was the Pharmacist.
As always she was garbed in traditional Chinese clothing; a silken qipao with intricately woven flowers scattered across a white backdrop. Her long hair was meticulously kept in a bun on top of her head without a single hair out of place.

“Lan Jue… I hope you don’t mind me using your name instead of your title. I’m sorry I deceived you. All the years of suffering came crashing back in that moment. Breaking through also released the barriers I’d built in my heart, and I was flooded with all the pain I’d hidden away. I thought for a long time… thought about everything he and I went through. We grew up together, learned together, fell in love. In the end we were the most important people in each other’s lives.”

“Ever since I have fought my hardest to suppress these feelings. Jun’er gave me faith to keep going on. I fooled myself into thinking he’d just encountered some accident. But he was strong enough to make it. I can’t hold onto that lie anymore.”

The image of the Pharmacist paused as she fought the sadness welling up within her.

“He’d dead. There’s no escaping that fact. There probably isn’t even anything left of him but my heart can’t take it. I can’t fight it anymore, I must find him. No matter the consequence…
even if it means my death, I have to go. I know it’s a foolish choice and will end in failure, but I believe you understand what I’m feeling. I need to find anything that remains of the man I love.”

Chapter 723: Duty-Bound to Rescue

Tears streaked down the Pharmacist’s face, twinkling like small crystals. Of course she knew her decision was foolish and emotional. But years of pain bubbling up to the surface was impossible to ignore.

Lan Jue wanted to hit something. He’d known she wasn’t in her right mind but he’d believed her and let her go. However, he also knew he wouldn’t have been able to stop her. He remembered that she’d been about to say something but held back. Suddenly the sentimental and reluctant look in her eyes that day made sense.

“I suspect my chances of coming back are slim. Jun’er has grown and has all of the Avenue to look after her. That brings me peace. Don’t tell her what I’m doing, just tell her that I’ve gone far away and I won’t be back for a long time. I’ve locked this with your fingerprint to ensure she can’t see it. I’m sorry, Jun’er… but I can’t wait any more. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!”

The hologram stopped here and the Pharmacist’s image vanished.

“Mama. Mama!” Jun’er squirmed uncomfortably.
Lan Jue understood right away that the little one had lied to him. But how could he criticize her now after what they’d seen?

There was no question as to her destination, she was after the alien planets. Her goal was also plain as the nose on his face. She was on a suicide mission to make them pay for what they’d done to her late husband.

“Jun’er, don’t rush. I’m going to go get your mother back, alright?” He hugged her tightly to his chest, using his warm embrace to try and soothe her.

But Jun’er was calm. She spoke plainly. “Mama will come back. Definitely. Go and get her daddy – you’re the only one who can.”

Lan Jue’s heart sank for he knew the dangers, and the likely outcome. Could he bring her back? It didn’t matter what the answer to that question was, he had to try. He had to for Jun’er, for himself.

“Let me take you back, Jun’er. Then I’m going to go find your mom.” He carried her from Zeus’ Jewelry Store with hurried steps and told no one of what they’d seen. After dropping her
off at the Skyfire Museum he left immediately for the airship hangars.

Lan Jue knew it clear, he had to go on this journey alone. The chances they would have the alien planets was high, and the chance of coming back very low. Yet despite that he had to go, because if he didn’t the Pharmacist’s death was assured. Perhaps if he were lucky the Pharmacist would get lost in the Starfields and he’d have a chance to convince her to come back.

Lan Jue quickly took a verti-car to the hangar, boarded Zeus-1 and departed Skyfire. He’d had no time to rest before his next mission. Once he was free of the planet’s atmosphere he urged Zeus-1 to top speed and raced for the Shattered Starfields.

He dialed a number into the ship’s systems.

“Shouldn’t you be on Skyfire?” Lan Qing’s face appeared on the screen.

Lan Jue wasted no time. “Something came up that needed handling right away. The Pharmacist has gone after the alien planets by herself to seek revenge. I need to find a way to stop her. I’m by myself and it will be dangerous. If I don’t come
back…” He trailed off.

He hadn’t brought Lin Guoguo and thus had no way to hide his presence from alien patrols. He didn’t want to force anyone to share the dangerous situation he was putting himself in.

Lan Qing’s brows furrowed. “Do you understand how irresponsible this is? Star Division needs you, all of Skyfire Avenue needs you. How can you act on impulse like this and rush off alone?”

Lan Jue sighed. “Look, I understand everything you’re saying and I understand the responsibilities that have been put on me. But you know me, you know the kind of person that I am. If I didn’t help when my friends were in need than I wouldn’t be me. I’m sorry, I need you to tell Skyfire Avenue. If I don’t make it back then Xiaosu will be in command of Star Division. She’s the best choice. I’ll do whatever I can to stay safe and come home.”

Lan Qing stared at him through the screen for a long time.
Eventually he replied. “Be careful.”

“Yeah, ok.” He hung up then blocked all further
communications. Once the word got back to the Avenue he knew people would be trying to get him to come back. However, it was already too late to change his mind. He was going to save the Pharmacist for the benefit of Jun’er and the woman herself, even if she didn’t want it.

Zeus-1 shot through space like a comet. He set the ship on cruise control and shut his eyes. He needed to gather his thoughts. He didn’t want to die, but the only way to bring he and the Pharmacist back in one piece was to have a plan.

Her goal was to find her husband, or exact vengeance for his murder. That meant that she was searching for the alien planets, specifically Monarch. If the Violet Prince was to be believed that was the one that had kill him all those years ago. Ultus was there.

If Lan Jue wanted to stop her, his best shot was somewhere around Monarch. That meant that evading aliens along the way was paramount. Zeus-1 could cloak and Lan Jue had some psionic skill, though nothing like Lin Guoguo.

His ship was small and he didn’t have the Photographer of Wine Master here to make a quick getaway. If he was discovered he only recourse was to kill or run. That was a real problem.
Strong as he was, there were limits to the number of creatures he could handle himself.

Oh, but wait. He wasn’t alone. He’d hesitated to bring her but in the end Qianlin had remained safely tucked away in his spirit. He’d made her a promise that no matter what they would stay together.

Zeus-1 had undergone many upgrades over the last couple of years, and that showed itself in its speed. There likely was no other ship in its class that could catch it. Lan Jue hoped that would be enough to stop the Pharmacist. It wasn’t easy to make it to the Starfields from Luo. Getting a ship was one thing, but then she had to navigate the infamously difficult Starfields by herself. Even if she found a safe route it wasn’t certain she’d find the planets.

It was actually farther to the planets’ last known location from Luo than it was from Skyfire. Once she was in the Starfields her progress would also be considerably slowed. Only Xiaosu could navigate the broken currents of asteroids with speed and dexterity.

Space travel was a lengthy process, and therein lay his chances to catch up with the Pharmacist.
Xiaosu wasn’t piloting Zeus-1 this time. However, several trips and a state-of-the-art onboard computer was enough for Lan Jue to manage, he was confident. A couple days of travel later, he’d arrived.

As he plunged into the Stafields Lan Jue engaged the ship’s cloak. He wasn’t reckless, he tried to remain under the enemy’s radar. No one knew what the planets were like now, or what they were up to. But just the fact they were there meant the Starfields was a place fraught with dangers.

Things seemed unsettlingly still, even more than his last visit. It was probably because all life had been stolen from this sector. The swath he traveled was vast, who knew how much the enemy had gained from their systematic sweep.

Hua Li was probably right in his analysis, even the aliens were limited in how far they could evolve. They strove to break free of the restraints imposed by universal protogenia, but it was not so easy.

Once more Lan Jue was faced with just how little humanity understood about their foe.
He was on yet another scouting mission, Lan Jue mused helplessly, though this one was not his choice. This visit was far more dangerous since his target was the strongest known enemy they faced.

Keep it slow, sis. You need to give me a chance to catch up.

Lan Jue didn’t drive Zeus-1 directly to Monarch’s location – he wasn’t that foolish. If he did he was far more likely to run into patrols first. Then he’d be forced to face them, possibly a lot of them.

After discovering the aliens’ ability to psionically locate their targets, Skyfire Avenue dedicated a lot of energy  toward learning more. The Keeper had designed something called a Psionic Generator which, after some testing, was  able  to perform at roughly one-third the capabilities of Lin Guoguo. Of course it didn’t have anywhere near the flexibility of the Psychic Tide, meaning it could only emulate a few kinds of enemy pulses. Hardly stellar, but at least it held some use. At least it extended Zeus-1’s safety net. Still Zeus-1 was small and the technology was knew. It was hard to say how effective it would be in practice. Yet, Lan Jue had no choice but to rely on it.

Lan Jue’s first destination was the small base they’d built for
Zeus-1. It was the best place for him to launch his search. Lan Jue knew from the beginning that approaching the planets in Zeus-1 was impossible. The only way he could get close was by himself.

But going solo with limited equipment also had its advantages. He was a small target.

Star Division’s former basecamp was still there, the same as it had always been. Lan Jue coaxed his ship into the hidden valleys on the small planet’s surface, then gathered some supplies and set out on his own.

Chapter 724: Teleportation, Ultus!

Thor’s Promise shimmered with an internal light. Then, in a flash, an enormous sapphire figure appeared suspended in space. Lan Jue placed the psionic generator and Blinding Stone within Thor’s central gem lattice then boarded the mecha to calibrate.

Thor had been upgraded along with Zeus-1 when Lan Jue had gone to visit his father. Jue Di had fitted the mecha with an important assembly unit called a focal pool. It could accommodate all sorts of power gems in such a way as to have them work seamlessly together.

With the Blinding Stone equipped Thor could cloak itself from view as Zeus-1 had. The psionic generator was more complicated, but after some modifications to the operating procedures Lan Jue made it compatible with Thor. Concealing the mecha would be easier than a whole ship, and safer.

Seated within the mecha’s cockpit, Lan Jue felt at home. It was like a piece of him was returned. He carefully flooded the suit with All-Heaven Lightning.

Thor was constructed with a slew of rare materials that either
resisted or amplified electric conduction. It’d cost Lan Jue dearly in both effort and funds to construct. His Discipline was different now, stronger, so he wasn’t sure the suit could support it. He stole a moment in his rescue mission to make sure it could.

All-Heaven Lightning wasn’t just destruction, for within pure destruction was the seeds of life. Thunder essence was an example, where the tremendous power of Tribulation Lightning struck the most powerful lifeforms down or lifted them up.

Thor started to shimmer with a strange dark blue light. In the dim expanse of space it looked black, but when a star’s light bathed it the machine sparkled like a sapphire.

He shot off into space. Lan Jue’s hands immediately fell into a familiar rhythm as they danced over Thor’s controls. Under the cover of Zeus-1’s equipment he was as invisible as space dust, and slipped through the Starfields silent as a specter.

His target was the alien planets. A mecha suit could not compare to a spaceship in regards to speed, but Lan Jue was an important factor. Thor’s current pilot was a different man than he had been, time had moulded him into something better. He was nearly a Paragon, and with the benefit of Qianlin’s help he
could fill the suit with enough energy to maintain light-speed travel for long periods.

So far everything was going his way. His only hoped the Pharmacist hadn’t reached those evil worlds yet. He’d gotten a late start, but he was fast and taking a direct route.

As he neared the planets, alien patrols began to appear. Thor’s radar was extended as far as it would go to give its pilot time to react. When a creature appeared Lan Jue kept his distance. At range the psionic generator might fool his enemies, but its efficacy was greatly reduced the closer he came. In the end it came down to how well Lan Jue could fly.

Thankfully space was a big place, and the aliens were few and far between. He maintained lengthy separation but pressed ever inward toward his target.

He leaned upon his knowledge and experience fighting the beasts to know which ones were the most dangerous. As he came upon one kind of alien or another he knew what measures to take in order to remain hidden. After some time the alien worlds appeared in the distance.
He’d lost count how many times he’d seen these planets, but each time he was filled with a pervading sense of dread.

He spotted Queen first, fully recovered from the damage Arachnid had wrought. She and the other two seemed smaller than they had been. All of them were surrounded in a hazy purple atmosphere, and a sense of stillness prevailed. They seemed dormant.

Lan Jue found a sizeable asteroid and settled Thor atop it. He didn’t dare get close to the planets now. Instead he would use his mecha’s remote monitoring equipment to learn what he could.

Where they hibernating? He couldn’t tell, know did he know if the Pharmacist had arrived or not. Lan Jue watched his screens with a frown.

He wanted to save the Pharmacist, but he wouldn’t foolishly throw himself into the enemy’s net if she were already captured or killed. He’d stop her only if he had the chance, otherwise it would be a pointless sacrifice.

You’re not here yet, sis… I know you haven’t gotten here yet!
Communicators were useless out here because of the interference and weak signal, even for Zeus-1. For Thor, radio silence was the only option. He’d tried to reach the Pharmacist several times before entering the Starfields, but she must have had her communications system disabled.

Thor stood on the surface of the asteroid, still like it was just another feature of its topography. Lan Jue continued to watch his equipment and hope. As he looked on aliens continued to come and go from the planets and everything seemed normal.

He spotted a few breeds he’d never seen before, which he carefully recorded in the event he made it back. If he wasn’t able to stop the Pharmacist he didn’t want the trip to be a total waste.

Twenty four hours passed quickly, with Lan Jue vigilantly scanning for any trace of his friend. He was beginning to feel restless. If the Pharmacist had already arrived and the planets were this quiet, it meant he’d missed his chance. Each of these worlds were stronger than his father – stronger than the greatest human alive. What chance did he have if the Pharmacist was in their grasp? The minute he got in close he would be captured and slain.
But it would likely be worse. Lan Jue thought about the Violet Princess’ desire to couple with him and steal his DNA. The thought made him shudder, it was too frightening to ponder what would happen if he were caught.

His mind turned to Zhou Qianlin. Her spirit had stirred from its meditations, she was now at the peak of ninth rank just like him. Perhaps when they returned to Skyfire they would isolate and prepare for the next step. Once they broke through and mastered their Banishing Blades, perhaps they could find some means to come to grip with the alien menace.

Seventy-two hours. Lan Jue decided that was the cut-off, if no trace of the Pharmacist was found by then it meant she was likely already dead. He would have to leave.

Time marched on, and Lan Jue’s heart sank with each passing minute.

Sis, have you already…

Thirty-seven hours passed. She should have arrived by now, if his guesses of her speed and trajectory had been correct. But there was no sign of her.
Wait. Lan Jue’s heart was heavy.

Suddenly his pupils dilated as he stared into the distance. His mind snapped to laser focus – something was happening with the planets.

They stirred from their slumber and began to swell. The stagnant purple atmosphere roiled and became an ominous violet like the planet was coming back to life.

It’s awake? What’s it doing?

Lan Jue poured Thor’s processing power into the psionic generator. At the same time he focused inward to slow his breathing and heartrate. Thor’s secondary systems quieted, leaving only the generator and Blinding Stone running. Lan Jue did all he could to make himself part of the rock that surrounded him.

In the black cockpit of the mecha Lan Jue watched as the alien raiders poured toward the expanding planets. A dark premonition filled his mind.
At first the number of aliens returning to the planets were relatively small. An hour later they’d become a flood of writhing purple bodies, more than he could count.

As the beasts returned the worlds they disappeared into continued to grow. That familiar vortex arose at their center, rotating like a perpetual tempest. However, there was no traction as he expected. Instead light around the planets started to warp and shift.

They were going to teleport!

Lan Jue knew where his premonition had come from. These alien worlds were getting ready to move! Damn! Where they ready for their invasion?

He stared at them, wide-eyed and in shock. He couldn’t warn anyone, not even if he got back to his ship. If the alien worlds were headed for the human territories, then where? Even if he could warn the others, who would he warn? It was already too late.

Lan Jue didn’t anticipate this, the trip was supposed to be a rescue mission. He didn’t know he would be here to witness the
start of an invasion.

Suddenly his dark thoughts were interrupted by a streak of white in the distance.

It began as a single point of light which gradually became brighter until it blazed like a star. Where its light fell, a murderous sensation followed.

Sis! Lan Jue almost shouted.

That unbridled thirst for slaughter had to come from the Pharmacist’s sword, Occisus – the deadliest of the Banishing Blades!

She must have seen the planets preparing to leave and chose this moment to strike. It was the first time Lan Jue saw a Banishing Blade wielded by a Paragon, as a conduit to one’s power. When he looked closer he saw what the light was coming from; a sword over ten thousand meters long that forced reality around it to crack. Black streaks energy crackled like dark lightning through the canvas of white light. They were undiluted blasts of murderous intent. The terrifying flood of power was difficult to describe.
Aliens continued to return at the planet’s call, but those unfortunate enough to bear near the white light were instantly eliminated. He shuddered as he watched, for their destruction was as cruel as the bloodlust that white light contained. All- Heaven Lightning swept his foes away beneath a flood of overwhelming power. But Occisus did not kill that way.

Chapter 725: To The Rescue

Anything that came close to the light Occisus released was cut apart by a hundred thousand minute slices. The aliens were diced again and again until there was nothing left of them but lacerated atoms. Occisus was a ship-sized meat grinder.

He could sense immediately that the Pharmacist had prepared for this moment for a long time. Her will permeated the aura and galvanized it.

Lan Jue’s instinct was to rush forward and get to her, but it would be impossible. Even if he and Qianlin had prepared and met her with their Harmonious Swords style, it still might not be enough to withstand Occisus.

His choices were limited. What could he do if he couldn’t stop her? Flee?

Fight!

Lan Jue grit his teeth as Thor’s systems came back online. Thor was a conflagration of blue light that overwhelmed its Blinding Stone as the mecha launched toward Occisus.
Even a Paragon didn’t have the energy necessary to bear this sword without effort. When her strength failed, that would be his chance to end her foolhardy crusade. But if the planets abandoned their teleportation and joined the fight their chances of survival were slim to none.

ζ

The Pharmacist target was simple – Monarch.

Humanity’s war with the aliens was not new by this point. There was some level of familiarity with the enemy, knowledge which served the Pharmacist. She knew that attacking the central vortex was useless. The only way to do damage to these terrible alien worlds was to hit them directly.

She had been watching and waiting. By coincidence she had arrived only about four hours after Lan Jue. Though her heart was filled with enmity she was no fool. She knew her mission was not easy – in fact it was likely impossible. A single person meant nothing against a foe the size of a planet. But none of that mattered in the face of her all-consuming purpose: To get her husband’s sword back!
From time immemorial the Banishing Blades were the greatest weapons ever created. She knew that somewhere within the legendary sword was some residual spark of her husband’s spirit. She needed it back to feel some part of him again.

When she’d arrived the planets were still hibernating. If she wanted any chance at succeeding she had to bide her time. Of course, she had no concept of what that chance would be. Still she had come alone, and that gave her patience to find the right moment.

She’d slipped into a stillness not unlike her unwitting foes and waited. She saved her energy for the final fight. As a Paragon and with the help of Occisus she could hide herself better than Ln Jue and Thor. She’d been practically invisible until this moment.

When it seemed the planets were preparing to teleport, the Pharmacist knew her time had come.

As her will flooded Occisus and the sword awakened, she could sense Ultus’ presence. She knew where it was being held and that was where she focused her assault.
She pressed forward, holding nothing back. Her own protogenia was consumed as the blade drank everything up to fuel its bloodlust. It empowered her, making her attacks more potent than they ever had been. Maybe Occisus would carve her up too, she thought. But she didn’t mind, she just wanted to see that piece of her husband one last time.

Close and closer she came. Her body and mind were as one, focused on her singular purpose. Her heart beat against her chest.

My love, I’m here. If your soul is out there make Ultus heed my call. Come back!

The command echoed through her mind, through her sword. Beneath the hunger for destruction lingered pain and loneliness.

The white light ripped through space!

Just when Occisus seemed poised to clash with Monarch’s roiling violet atmosphere, reality warbled uncomfortably. Occisus vanished. Then, a moment later, its white light brazenly reappeared on the planet’s surface. The ten-thousand
meter long sword buried itself in the alien world.

A golden beam shot from Monarch’s surface. Its appearance bore a sharpness that seemed to defy reality. Though it was not as brilliant in hue as snow-white Occisus, its power was more tightly compacted. White and gold collided.

Ting! A sound that seemed to shudder the pillars of the universe rang out. Rippled ran through the vortices in all three alien worlds.

The white light dimmed and the Pharmacist reemerged in the space near Monarch. Her face was pale as a ghost like there was no blood left within her. She had put every ounce of herself in that attack. In this moment, besides what was needed to keep her alive in space, she was as weak and frail as a normal human.

In her hand Occisus shivered.

But more frightening than her feeble condition was the look in her eyes as she stared at the sword – and the one holding it.

The sword was gold from top to pommel. It was simple, much
like Occisus in appearance. It was gripped in the hands of a man in his mid-thirties. His body was hidden beneath long violet robes, but his handsome face was left uncovered. Long black hair splayed out behind his angular and handsome features and the whole of him shimmered with a faint golden glow. He was like a perfect representation of an ancient emperor.

And his deep violet eyes were staring right back at the Pharmacist.

For a moment the two stared at one another. Then, slowly, the man lifted the golden sword to strike.

Only just then his whole body shook. The aura of power around his weapon fluctuated frantically and he pressed his other hand against his head. He winced, as though in terrible pain.

Not a moment later a flash of blue light swept by and swallowed up the Pharmacist. A streak of brilliant color was left in its wake and streaked into the distance.

Two beams of violet light erupted from the surface of Monarch and into the heavens, giving chase. They moved with
unparalleled speed and seemed poised to quickly overtake the blue streak.

Just then, a deep and commanding voice boomed through space.

“Return!” he golden figure left in a flash, leaving behind a trail of fading golden silhouettes. The two beams of violet returned just as quickly as they left, as though they were two baseballs knocked back toward Monarch.

A sweeping light of yellow-gold appeared in the blue light’s path and intersected with it. There was a brilliant eruption of color – and then nothing.

ζ

On the surface of Monarch.

The man with the golden sword slowly recovered. The look on his face was icy cold, and when he spoke his words were like frozen daggers. “You dare hinder me. Still your will lingers – good, very good! Then they shall be allowed to flee this time.”
The two beams of purple light descended from heaven in a flash and terminated before the man in purple. The figures of the Violet Prince and Princess emerged.

Both of them prostrated themselves before the man. “Monarch!”

“Hmph!” With the grunt the central whirlpools of power within each planet swelled. They grew until the whole world was swallowed up. When the light reached its brightest point there was a sudden flash, followed by darkness. The three planets were gone.

ζ

The pale yellow light eventually stopped, settling on the small planetoid Lan Jue had parked Zeus-1 upon.

Thor’s sparkling sleek figure emerged. But there was also someone else, glaring at the mecha with eyes hard enough to crumble mountains.

Thor’s chestplate hissed open and Lan Jue stepped out,
carrying the pale and stupefied Pharmacist. He didn’t dare lifts his head to face the other man.

“Father, I’m sorry!” He muttered to the ground.

Indeed the one who saved them in their moment of need had been none other than Jue Di, the only one who could. No other living creature could have delivered them from the clutches of the Prince and Princess.

Jue Di floated to the ground and stood before his son. His voice was cold and cruel. “Get on the ship. We’ll discuss this on the way back.”

“Yes, father.” Lan Jue replied obediently.

He didn’t need to ask to know that Lan Qing had told Jue Di about Lan Jue’s plan. His father had come a long way to save him. Lan Jue stole a furtive glance and while Jue Di seemed fine, pangs of regret stabbed at Lan Jue’s chest. He knew every time Jue Di used his powers universal protogenia burned away some of his life force.
Zeus-1 lifted off and began the journey back home. With no alien planets or patrols to worry about, their path was quick and direct.

Lan Jue inwardly prayed the planets hadn’t transferred to the East. Humans were selfish creatures and he was no exception. At times like this who didn’t hope tragedy fell upon others rather than their own friends and family.

“Sister, are you alright?” He looked toward the Pharmacist, seated beside him with that same dull expression. Ever since using the sword she seemed lost, or somehow sealed away. Even her eyes didn’t move.

Lan Jue was suddenly reminded of Jun’er’s words. She had told him her mother would be fine, that only he could bring her back. It seemed she’d been right once again. Her prophetic skills were getting stronger.

Jue Di stood by Lan Jue’s side staring out of a window. His face was dark and solemn.

Lan Jue dropped his head again, his face heavy with concern. “Are you alright, father?”
Jue Di stared at him with hard eyes. “If you would stop making trouble for me I’d be fine. They definitely teleported into human territory. I’m going to rest. It looks like staying out of it isn’t an option for me anymore. Get us back to Skyfire, your brother’s waiting.”

Lan Jue paused. “Shouldn’t he be on An Lun?”

Jue Di answered. “This doesn’t conflict. You’ll understand once we return.” He didn’t give Lan Jue any chance to bother him further. Walking off to one corner he settled on the floor and began to meditate.

The aliens were undoubtedly about to visit destruction upon the worlds of man, yet Lan Jue’s heart was accomplished what he’d set out to do, the Pharmacist was back safely. He’d deal with the aliens when they got back.

Yellow is the color of the emperor in ancient China.

Chapter 726: He’s Not Dead…

Lan Jue’s mind wandered back to the man he’d saved the Pharmacist from, and the golden sword he’d borne. That had to have been Ultus.

Did that mean the one who used Ultus against Occisus was the true master, Monarch? Just in human form. Somehow he wasn’t as… perfect as the Violet Prince and Princess.

“He’s not dead!” The Pharmacist soft voice startled Lan Jue.

He snapped his head her way. “Who?” He asked instinctively.

But a moment later his pupils contracted as the thought crossed his mind. “You… you mean that was your husband?”

The Pharmacist’s stunned eyes had regained some spirit, and leaked bitter tears as she nodded her head. “It was him… it was him! I would know him no matter what they’ve done. He’d not dead, that was him! Only he wielded Ultus like that.”

The Pharmacist lifted her hand, and it was then Lan Jue
spotted the wound. A rivulet of fresh blood dripped from her pale skin onto Zeus-1’s floor.

“Sis, are you alright? Why isn’t the wound healing?” Small injuries like the one on her hand should have healed quickly as a Paragon.

She shook her head. “No, don’t let it. This is my chance.”

She stretched out her hand and revealed her palm to Lan Jue. What he saw was the cut, but it was strange. It looked like a rune, or a picture. A picture that was carved by a dozen precise slices.

Lan Jue fumbled for his nearby instruments and snapped a photo to record it. The Pharmacist was in a trance as he did. “He was your husband? Then why…”

She bitterly shook her head. “It was him, and it wasn’t. I had waited for my moment to strike. When I did, when all of me was pushed through the sword, that’s when it felt it clearest. I thought if I could just find Ultus it might have a piece of him left in it. I never thought I’d see him.”
“Unless I’m mistaken the aliens must have sensed Ultus’ power when they captured him. But they can’t use it, they don’t have a human’s blood to call on the spirit of the weapon. So they kept your husband, and are using him to control the sword. I don’t know what it means exactly, but I’m right – my husband is still alive and under the monster’s control. But when I arrived there was a moment, when the two of us clashed, that he fought back. For just a second he was himself. A wisp of his consciousness shot out at me and I blocked the blow with my hand. I heard him. He said… ‘search.’”

“Search?” Lan Jue was a smart man, it didn’t take him long to puzzle out the meaning. “The picture on your hand has something to do with the Banishing Strategy?”

The Pharmacist nodded. “I only just digested what I felt. Thank you, A-Jue. Without you I likely wouldn’t have survived. He stopped the alien from killing me but I was too weak to escape.”

Lan Jue smiled sheepishly. “You know that was way too risky. You can’t just think of yourself, you have Jun’er to consider! That little girl can’t be denied her mother.”

The Pharmacist’s head dropped. “I’m sorry. I was consumed
with my loss, losing him was like losing my heart. At Least Jun’er still had you, and I believed you would take care of her. How could you be so foolish as to bring Jue Di along to save me? What if you…”

Lan Jue didn’t explain. He didn’t tell her he’d come by himself and Jue Di had chased after.

“It’s fine, it’s all in the past. We know your husband is safe and his mind is whole. We still have a chance. We can defeat these monsters to get him back. You don’t need to go rushing into danger anymore, right?”

“Yes.” She answered with a resolute nod. She was drained, but her spirit was strong. Her eyes sparkled with fervent light to know her love still lived. She couldn’t have asked for better news. She had a reason to keep living.

“We’ll learn what we can from this rune when we return. It has to have something with our inheritance from Celestial Master Qian. When I find a lead, you me and Qianlin will go search for the Banishing Strategy. With the Strategy and by virtue of the Banishing Blades, we’ll get him back and destroy those damned aliens!”
If there was anything that could accomplish such a feat it was these swords. Lan Jue thought they were legends until he and Qianlin joined with them. Only once he felt the outstanding power they bore then he understood.

The Pharmacist turned her head and lightly kissed his face. “Thank you, brother.” She rose to her feet and separated herself to another part of the ship, where she began to meditate.

Lan Jue felt a warmth pass through him. If he hadn’t had come the Pharmacist would be gone. He’d never have seen the smile of joy that touched her lips. The danger they’d faced was worth it.

He gathered his focus and steered Zeus-1 from the Shattered Starfields. Only once he left the Starfields and got in contact with Lan Qing and the Avenue would he know more about where the alien planets disappeared to.

All-out war had finally come. His only hope was  that humanity didn’t suffer too greatly.

ζ
Distant starlight danced on the surface of the Bastion ship. Terminator – flagship of the Northern military – hovered in the vast emptiness.

Terminator’s Admiral was a man named Brown. Admiral Brown wasn’t only the captain of this mighty ship, but also the right hand of the Northern armed forces. He was a truly powerful man in the world of fighters, second only to the Commander-in-Chief. That was the President.

Admiral Brown cast a longing glance at the circular side table next to his desk. Atop it sat a dozen of his most favorite spirits, some of the best ever made. Among them were prime examples of Chinese rice wine, old Scottish whisky, and others.

No one outside of China thinks Chinese rice wine, or Baijiu, is good for anything other than stripping paint.

Chapter 727: Terminator-Class, Surrounded

Admiral Brown had sworn off all alcohol until the alien threat was dealt with. He needed a sober mind, it was the only way to fight an overwhelming foe.

He was also responsible for the ship until its commander arrived. He’d received news a few days ago that the His Majesty the Terminator was locked away in seclusion. Once he exited his hermitage stronger, he would come to take personal command of the Bastion.

He’d careful gone over all the data recovered from the battle of the Starfields, where Tyrannosaurus, Heron and Arachnid were defeated at the hands of the alien worlds. He understood his foe well. Not only were they strong, they were legion, and some were frighteningly powerful by their own right. Tyrannosaurus’ Admiral had almost been cut down by just one of them.

Luckily Paragons from Skyfire Avenue had been on board. If they hadn’t, Tyrannosaurus likely would have fallen.

War was on the horizon, it could break out at any moment.
The Northern economy was struggling under the weight of that promise. Society was in turmoil. If this problem wasn’t solved soon citizens would start to react negatively.

Admiral Brown sighed and shook his head. He was stuck out here patrolling the borders of the North, looking after two important planets. Luo was under guard by Tyrannosaurus and two other Bastions.

Terminator was a powerful weapon of war. Eventually the threat of its presence would be brought to bear against the alien planets. Whether or not they could handle its strength remained to be seen.

The screech of an alarm suddenly filled the air. An urgent blinking light called the captain’s eyes to the emergency communications line.

“Admiral, we’re getting strange fluctuations of universal energy.”

He felt his heart tense up. Returning to his desk with long strides, he answered back. “Give your report. Where are the fluctuations localized?”
“Around us, sir. We’re surrounded. The fluctuations are strong and are already interfering with our instruments. Requesting permission to engage shields.”

“Get them up,” he replied quickly. “Fifty percent. Prepare to increase speed.”

Terminator-Class Bastion was the largest ship in all of human space. Shielding something that massive required tremendous energy, but these were special circumstances. It was no time to be stingy.

He fired off a series of orders. Terminator’s various ports and landing zones were closed while a white shell sprang up around the ship. Brown’s eyes were fixed on the port window as he gave his commands. His pupils contracted when he saw the enormous purple vortex.

It reminded him of something – an image the Skyfire scout team had recovered months ago. It was when…

“Shields at one hundred percent. Charge the main cannon – all hands to battlestations. Full speed straight up, spare nothing!” The orders came spilling from his mouth in a rapid
stream.

He knew the danger they were faced with.

The white shell thickened until Terminator looked like a towering egg. Like Tyrannosaurus, this Bastion was large and circular, constructed to look like a small planet. Its main gun was situation on the bottom, hence why he ordered them to bring the ship over the vortices.

Terminator’s cannon needed time to charge. Even disregarding energy saving procedures it needed at least fifteen minutes. There was always a drawback to power.

As the Bastion rumbled, its pale surface was lit by three orbs of light that appeared around it. Three bloated, purple planets appeared in collapsed pockets of space-time. In the center of each world was a whirlpool that pulled at its surroundings.

Lauded as humanity’s greatest technological accomplishment, Terminator still had its limits. It didn’t have the energy or thrust necessary to free itself from the tug of three planets larger than itself.
“The alien planets!” Admiral Brown felt an icy hand grip his heart. He hadn’t expected the war to start like this, with the enemy appearing en mass before his very eyes.

“All guns, open fire!” He roared.

Terminator struggled mightily against the pull of the planets, but couldn’t get high enough to position its cannon. But that didn’t leave the mighty ship helpless. Countless beams of light erupted from the Bastion’s surface as its rail guns let loose. Its smooth surface became a spiked world of flaring weaponry.

The planets responded, reaching out for Terminator with tentacles the size of mountains. Several were shot away by the railgun, but still others landed staggering blows on Terminator’s shields. It blazed with rebounding white light.

It seems, in contrast to their trickery and planning ith Tyrannosaurus, the planets were opting for a full assault against Terminator.

“Admiral, shields at sixty percent.”
“… forty-five percent…”

“… thirty-five percent… “

The tentacles were mighty, and each suction disk stripped a portion of the Bastion’s shields. Terminator was caught in a terrible web and the more it struggled the more tangled it became.

It’s over…

Admiral Brown delivered his orders mechanically, but he knew Terminator had already fallen. They had no reinforcements, and no way to flee. They couldn’t use their main cannon to blast a path. Stern resignation hardened the Admiral’s eyes.

Chapter 728: Disaster for Humanity

Admiral Brown’s hand, risen high over his head, shook ever so slightly. As Terminator rattled and pitched around him, he knew their end had come. He’d always known this was a real possibility, but now that he was faced with it the anguish that filled him was almost petrifying.

Bang! He slapped his hand down on the red button in the center of his desk.

The alarms changed pitch. Its ear-piercing siren resounded through every corner. Outside, the swarm of fighter drones fought to find any gap through which to escape. The Bastions mighty shields collapsed, allowing the alien tentacles to land their blows on the ship’s exterior. The terrible screech of fractured metal, the rumbling blast of explosions, all of it mingled into a calamitous crescendo of destruction that shook the universe.

A red light began to arise from the depths of Terminator.

Outside the Alien planets paused in their assault. The purple- violet atmospheres around them thickened visibly. Their tentacles no longer struck the Bastion and instead stuck to its
mangled surface.

The fighter drones were left to their own devices. Seeing their opportunity, pilots broke from open space.

The alien worlds began to expand and drew closer. The whirlpools of strange power they bore closed. Hugging tight to Terminator, all four spherical bodies shot upward like cannonballs.

Red light painted Terminator’s surface, growing darker by the moment. A frightening sensation radiated from deep within. But just then the enemy stopped, released their tentacles and left Terminator at the mercy of inertia to hurdle up and away.

The whirlpools reemerged, only this time they spat energy instead of consuming it. This caused them to rocket away from one another in opposite directions.

Terminator soared into the distance, until eventually it seemed to freeze in time. Everything seemed to stop as humanity’s mightiest weapon became so dark as to be almost invisible. Then the red intensified, becoming an angry orange that burned from the center of the Bastion, followed by an
explosion that threatened to consume the solar system in its ferocity.

Nearly all of the fighter jets that had tried to flee were swallowed up in the blast. There was no roar of fire or burst of air. No sounds – only a sea of burning light.

The alien planets gathered together well outside of the blast radius and sped into the distance.

A Bastions’ self-destruction was inconceivably powerful. Especially Terminator, with its compressed stores of energy, exploded with the force of a dying star – several tens of times stronger than the death of Arachnid.

Four notable Northern planets were in the sector Terminator had been assigned to protect. The North had the most planets and the highest population, and Terminator had been dispatched to keep some part of it safe. Northern officials had been sure that even if an alien planet showed up, Terminator was strong enough to at least keep it tied up long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Besides, Terminator’s main cannon was strong enough to completely destroy an average-sized planet.
Now, from the surface of those four planets, the sky was covered in a burning white glare. Aftershock’s from the blast caused their atmospheres to warp uncomfortably. It continued this way for more than ten minutes, but eventually the burning remains of Terminator darkened. The roar of the explosions followed and shook the worlds of man for a long time after.

ζ

Skyfire, Skyfire Avenue.

“What?!” The Wine Master shot to his feet so fast the table shook. He face was livid. After becoming a Reflection of Heaven and Earth he had been in a fine mood. Then Lan Jue vanished and that put a damper on his honeymoon. However Luo Xianni had reassured him by saying Jue Di had gone to bring him back.

Now, as he stared in shock and alarm at the scarlet message scrolling across the screens, no one knew how to react.

The alien planets had teleported and laid siege to Terminator. After destroying the Bastion they’d taken the four planets in the sector and cut off any means of surveillance.
If the planets were in human space it likely meant Lan Jue and the others were ok. But it also meant the real war for human survival was underway.

Before they had been content to bare their teeth, but now they had struck a crippling blow in allied territory. All told, a billion Northern citizens were lost – the hold-outs and those too ill to leave for Luo and other internal planets.

With how fast the planets could consume a planet, these people…

The Wine Master shut his eyes in the face of the terrible truth.
His forlorn voice echoed across the whole of Skyfire Avenue.

“All councilors,  we  are  convening  an  emergency  meeting.
Come to the Gothic Winery immediately.”

ζ

Panic swept through human space as the news of the tragedy got out. By the end of a single day everyone knew war had come. Special sessions of government were called in all the alliances,
and every available warship was called to service. The loss of four planets and a billion citizens was the single worst disaster mankind had ever faced. Although they couldn’t know their fate for certain, the history of aggression shown by the aliens assured tragedy.

Humanity’s reckoning had come.

Meanwhile, Lan Jue was steering Zeus-1 back toward home.

The Shattered Starfields were vast. Even though Lan Jue was anxious to get home and learn of the planets’ destination, he couldn’t simply will himself out of the hodge-podge of asteroids and shattered planets. He steered his ship as fast as he dared while pulling up maps of human occupied territory on his secondary screens.

It was the latest maps with updated data after evacuations. It clearly showed where humanity was pulling back, to keep their people close in the event of alien attack.

He poured over the data, searching for the most likely place for the aliens to appear. He knew it was pointless, but perhaps he would have some insight to offer when he got back to
Skyfire.

Mankind knew shockingly little about the aliens compared to their foes. They even knew about Bastion positions and capabilities. They had displayed expert control and strategy against Heron and Arachnid. Although Lan Jue had not seen the planets’ fighting abilities with his own eyes, he did not believe humanity could match up. After all, the alien worlds handily defeated three Bastions and humanity only had ten – ten ships that required staggering resources and were spread out to protect billions of people.

In a straight-up fight mankind had a chance. Btu the aliens were determined not to make it a straight-up fight. They’d proven that time and again.

They’d displayed great cunning and intellect, dolling out bitter losses to humanity while protecting themselves from typical human war strategy. It wasn’t an exaggeration to say that up to now, humanity was on the losing side.

If he had to guess, they relied on the Violet Prince and Princess to infiltrate human lands and learn about their prey. Considering the powerful psychic abilities of these creatures, and their Nirvana-equivalent strength, learning the secrets of
humanity would not be difficult.

Meanwhile humans had no means of learning about their enemy. Lan Jue and Star Division had been the only ones successful in learning anything at all.

The key was in discovering precisely what the enemy’s goal was. Did they pillage the worlds of man simply for their DNA and vital energy, or for some other reason? Perhaps a combination? It was integral that they found out.

“What are you thinking about? Rushing isn’t going to help anything. Safety first, fly carefully.”

The familiar voice rose from behind him. Lan Jue turned his head to see the Pharmacist at his back, she’d sneaked up at some point while he’d been lost in thought. As a Paragon her powers surpassed his sensitive perception.

He could tell her from her expression that the Pharmacist had calmed. The sadness that had clouded her mind had passed. Behind her eyes now was a burning resolve, something Lan Jue recognized as the will to fight. She’d come out from the depths of her pain strong and ready.
“How are you feeling?” Lan Jue asked with a smile. “Relax, the ship’s fine. We’ve been here so often the ship’s AI can handle navigation. We won’t run into any problems.”

The Pharmacist nodded. “Good. I’ve come upon something I think will help you.”

Lan Jue turned his full focus to her. “Something from your husband?”

There was the faintest hint of sadness, which she concealed with a nod of her head.

Lan Jue didn’t press her further and chose only to listen. He knew whatever she had to say would be difficult for her. The fear her love might not return still persisted.

“He told me much through the sword and rune,” she began. “I settled my heart and focused on it while I meditated. Things aren’t exactly as we’d expected, but through my husband’s efforts I might have learned something important.”

Chapter 729: Enemy Objectives

Lan Jue was overjoyed. “That’s excellent! Figuring out their motive has been the biggest headache.”

“Mh.” The Pharmacist nodded. “He was dispatched with earlier scout teams, lured in by the fact that they looked like normal planets. They approached with their guard down, and made curious by the strange energy readings. None of them expected it would be their last journey.”

“When they got close they found the lesser aliens. His squad was elite, and after a bitter fight they put the enemy down. That’s when they found the vital crystals. But, just as they were preparing to leave with the information another beast appeared. It was the one we now call Monarch. The leader of these evil creatures.”

“My husband didn’t tell me what he looked like. Only that he was strong… so strong. They had no way to fight back. He and his compatriots were captured. They weren’t killed, but rather imprisoned. My husband is a smart man, so he didn’t use Ultus in the fight against the Monarch. He couldn’t fully control the blade, and he wanted to give himself a chance to escape.”
“Once they were captures the aliens used some alien method to drain their life force. Then they used psychic force to probe their minds. My husband realized that hiding Ultus held no more purpose. Once his life force was entirely drained they would kill him, so he chose to risk his life for his fellows. But, even with the Banishing Blade Monarch was too strong, and they were recaptured.”

Here the Pharmacist paused. Her face was pained, as though she were drawing on her own memories. She deeply understood the helplessness he’d felt, the pointlessness of his fight. No one would come to save them. He was facing death.

“After their failed escape the aliens began to dissect them to learn what they could from their bodies.” She growled the words, a flash of anger in her eyes. “My husband had to watch as they were killed one by one. He knew eventually his turn would come. But before it came to him the Monarch called its Queen. She devoured his team leader, absorbed her DNA, and took on her likeness. She wanted to use my husband to…”

Her face reddened and she paused.

Lan Jue nodded. “I understand. Go on.”
“That was the situation he faced,” she continued. “He loved me, and how could he even consider being defiled by such a loathsome creature? He summoned all of his energy from his Core. When he and I joined with our weapons we were inexorably tied to them. However, as my husband’s mind and body burned from the effort, a portion of his will was seared into Ultus. It became something like a sword spirit. He tried to call all of that power to take him and Ultus away from Monarch, but somehow the alien master was able to seal him away. So in a way he is did, but he is also alive. If we can get Ultus then I can see him again, the same way we see Jun Yongye.”

The pain in her features gave way to burning hope. The chance of seeing her long-lost husband again was the only thing keeping her going.

Lan Jue sighed and took the Pharmacist’s hand into his own. “We will do everything we can to get that sword back.”

“I know.” She said, nodding her head gently. She continued. “The Violet Monarch is very interested in Ultus. He must have felt its power. But he is not human and can’t use it. So my husband decided to use that to his advantage. He pretended to capitulate so the sword would remain whole and unsealed. If the Monarch locked the sword away he would have no chance to flee. So, he controlled the sword so that the Monarch might use
it and bided his time. We were accidentally the chance he’s been waiting for.”

As he listened Lan Jue couldn’t help but be filled with admiration for this man he’d never met. He endured the unendurable for years, waiting for his chance. It wasn’t for himself – his body was gone – he suffered unimaginably for the future of humanity! So that mankind could survive the alien threat!

No wonder he could impart his knowledge to the Pharmacist in such detail. He was never fully under the Monarch’s control. After all, the Banishing Blades were legendary weapons created by humans, how could an alien creature master it? Even the mightiest immortals feared facing them. No matter how strong the alien planets became, they could never surpass the power of the immortals of old.

The Pharmacist went on. “He told me that the planets are living things, the source of the alien horde. In many ways the other aliens are like cells from a host. Already they have evolved to their apex, any further would call the wrath of universal protogenia. They rely on tricks and other methods to hide themselves from notice.”
Lan Jue’s eyes sparkled as he listened. No one understood the aliens better than the Pharmacist lost love. Anything he shared with them was priceless.

“They’ve come up with many ways to protect themselves,” she continued. “Hiding as planets is one. The resonating power of a planet veils them from universal retribution and slows down the cost in loss of lifespan. Constantly stealing vital energy also restores that which universal protogenia consumes. We’ve guessed all of this, and my husband confirms it. He also told me that teleportation comes at a great cost in life force, so it isn’t something they can perform often. They must first accumulate enough power before they can attempt it, and to do this they shed ‘cells’ to gather what they can. Those are the lesser aliens we see.”

Lan Jue blinked. “So those aliens are actually part of the bigger ones? Actual cells?”

She nodded. “Yes. They all look differently, but they all have something in common and that is their vital crystals. They are the cells of the alien worlds. What accounts for their outward appearance is the DNA they absorb from the creatures they kill. Put another way, the smaller aliens are cells wrapped in the best traits of their victims. Even creatures like the Violet Prince and Princess are inexorable parts of the planets they come from.”
It was the first time the thought occurred to him. Obviously it was an important piece of information for their struggle. The Pharmacist kept going.

“Their evolutionary process has been long and full of struggle. When they discovered humanity and the potential our DNA possesses, they found a way to evade universal protogenia. The Prince and Princess are their first trials, as well as the Monarch himself.”

“While experimenting on their human captives, the aliens also may have discovered a way to create a new realm of their own, like the Heavens of the ancient days where immortals resided. But to do so they need more ancient genes from our people. If they get enough it can help them research the methods needed to build their paradise. What this means for us is that their search will never stop until we’re all dead. They’ll slaughter every one of us to find what they need.”

Lan Jue was stunned. “That’s their ultimate goal? To create their own immortal realm?”

“No!” The Pharmacist shook her head. “Ultimately their goal is evolution – forever adapting and growing. A realm of their own is a manifestation of that singular purpose, so that they
have a place to continuing getting stronger. They believe that eventually they can develop the ability to face and overcome universal protogenia. When that happens they can make their own. In essence, rule the laws of the universe, and thus the universe itself. That is their goal, in fact the goal of any intelligent race, humans included. The only thing that makes us different is we aren’t willing to commit genocide to achieve it.”

Chapter 730: To Create an Alien Realm?

Lan Jue swallowed. The Pharmacist’s insights were more than important, they redefined how Lan Jue understood his enemy. With brows furrowed, he spoke. “So they must evolve to a certain point before they can create this Alien Realm, right? And if they succeed, it would mean the end of our species?”

The Pharmacist smiled bitterly at the prospect. “That seems to be the case. So we need to stymie their evolution by any means possible. According to the knowledge in the rune my husband imparted, the aliens have been studying us for at least the last ten years. He and his compatriots weren’t the first group of humans to be captured and experimented on. They were just a continuation of their efforts.”

“Of course creating a realm outside of the universe is not easy. Getting enough ancient DNA is their chief obstacle. At least they still have a long way to go before they succeed.”

Lan Jue pressed further. “Assuming they did accomplish this, how powerful could they become? Is there any precedent for this?”

“It’s hard to say,” she answered. “It’s never been made clear,
even in the ancient days. However, according to what we do know of the beasts from my husband, and the knowledge that remains of the ancient days, we can guess. If they built this realm and complete their evolution, they likely still wouldn’t able to surpass the highest order of immortal realms.”

Lan Jue sucked in a gasp of surprise. “How are you so calm? We’re talking about celestial immortals, the most powerful in all the history of the universe! Even Paragons who’ve achieved the Infinite are inferior to even the weakest Immortals. Celestial immortals… that’s inconceivable levels of power. At that point we couldn’t contend against them even in our wildest dreams!”

The Pharmacist answered with a small, cryptic smile. “You shouldn’t underestimate yourself. I’m calm for good reason. You know the frightening power of the celestial immortals, but even they trembled against the combined might of the Banishing Blades and Banishing Strategy. No matter how many of the immortal realm’s most powerful descended to try and destroy them, none returned. That is why in the end my husband urged me to recover Ultus no matter the cost. Once he fully joined with the sword, he discovered that the Banishing Strategy had been locked within it all along. We don’t need to search for it any longer, it’s found. What we need to do is get that sword back and find someone to wield it. Once we do, it wouldn’t matter if those planets were harbingers to the end of the universe, the Banishing Blades would destroy them.”
The Banishing Stance was contained within Ultus? Lan Jue didn’t know if this was good news or bad news. He decided on good – at least they knew where it was instead of having an entire universe to comb through. Of course there were arguments to the contrary. The key to humanity’s salvation was quite literally in the clutches of their strongest foe. Capturing it from him would be no easy feat.

It was true that the Pharmacist’s husband controlled the sword, sealing it away from the Monarch. Yet, the alien leader was as strong as an immortal already. Stronger even than Lan Jue’s own father. Besides their enemy was a planet. They had to face an entire world to get the weapon back.

Lan Jue glowered at the dark news as the Pharmacist continued. “We have no other choice, the Banishing Stance is our only play. It will be difficult, but not impossible. My husband has said that entering into human territory means they’re ready. They’ve kept their distance until now not because they didn’t think they could destroy us. They were preparing to make their alien paradise. Now, like us, they no longer have a choice. The Monarch, Queen and Consort have entered into a meditative state to prepare themselves. This means the strongest we’ll have to face are the Prince, Princess, and the Monarch. The highest level we contend against is the Infinite.”
“So in a way, while their evolution is the precursor to mankind’s destruction, it’s also our greatest opportunity. We wait for our chance, and take the initiative to recapture Ultus.”

“Did you husband say how many others like the Violet Prince there are?” Lan Jue asked.

“Around ten,” she replied. “The Prince and Princess are two, the others are also extensions of the planets. Those would not have the same level of intelligence as the other two.”

Lan Jue couldn’t contain his bitter laughter. “Ten creatures that command the power of the Infinite. We’re not any better off!”

“Not now, but perhaps one you make your breakthrough,” the Pharmacist pointed out. “The Harmonious Sword technique you and Qianlin have learned can summon great power from Captus and Demortus. With it we can take them on one by one and carve a path to victory. What’s more, you must have been paying attention during the fights against these monsters. They may be as strong as a Paragon who’s achieved the Infinite, but against a real Paragon like Jue Di the differences are vast. We humans are the product of an unbroken line of ancestral knowledge and ability. We do have a chance, if we fight our
hardest.”

Lan Jue’s mind raced as he explored the odds of success. Eventually he conceded that there was some truth in the Pharmacist’s words. There was a chance, slim though it was – less than thirty percent. But if what her husband said was true there was an opportunity.

“What if we got all the Bastions together for an assault while the Monarch and other prepared to evolve?” Lan Jue asked.

She shrugged. “I’m not familiar enough with strategy to tell you. If so, then that’s wonderful. At any rate we can attack from two fronts; a headlong assault and finding a way to get Ultus back. Either way we destroy our enemy.”

“Yeah.” The Pharmacist’s husband had revealed the truth of their enemies to them. More importantly, they knew what they were going to do next. Now, for the first time, they had a tactical advantage.

The Pharmacist folded her hands in front of her. “Everything can wait until we return home. We have to learn where the planets have transferred to. Furthermore, you and Qianlin’s
advancement must come quickly. I can sense you’re at the border, one foot past the threshold – but you mustn’t be impatient. More than break through, you must succeed the way your brother succeeded. If you can rise to a Reflection of Heaven and Earth, you’ll have all the more control over Captus. It’s the same for Zhou Qianlin.”

“Yeah.” Lan Jue nodded.

After Qianlin’s rise to her peak, Lan Jue felt his Discipline react. It felt galvanized, ready to act and beyond his control. Already pulses of protogenic energy radiated around his body. It was a sign that his breakthrough was near.

Yet the Pharmacist was right, he couldn’t rush. The more insight he accumulated the stronger his grasp would be when the time came. His protogenia now was vastly different than it had been years ago as the God of Lightning. He needed more time, he needed to keep his cultivation in check.

Zhou Qianlin’s progress was like a river carving a path through a mountain, powerful and irrepressible. Still, Lan Jue’s heart was heavy. Up to now her senses had still not recovered. It seemed she would only fully return to him once they became Paragons.

ζ

At last Zeu-1 left the Shattered Starfields behind and returned to human-controlled territory. The first thing Lan Jue did was dial in his brother’s number.

“What the hell were you thinking?!” Lan Qing’s harsh voice answered on the other end.

Lan Jue sheepishly answered. “I’m sorry, big brother, but I really had no choice. I couldn’t just sit by and watch the Pharmacist throw her life away! Relax, I’m fine and so is she. We got back safely. Where did the planets teleport to? Not the East, right?”

Lan Qing paused for a moment. “You saw them teleport?”

Lan Jue nodded. “Yes. We got there just as they were leaving. And stupid as this trip was, we came back with some very important intel. First you have to tell me where the planets went… judging by how calm you are, not the East.”

Lan Qing’s tone remained even. “Two days ago the planets
appeared in the Northern Alliance. They immediately surrounded their Terminator-Class Bastion. It self-destructed, but did no damage to the enemy. We believe the planets have taken the area Terminator was sent to protect. This included the planets Dakkar, Saqi, Monteux and Bollen. There were a billion citizens still on the planets when they went dark.”

When he heard his brother say the North, Lan Jue felt a pressure lift from his chest. The North was farthest from the East. But his elation was short lived, and quickly replaced with sadness.

A billion… a billion innocent people!

Lan Jue’s voice was strained. “Is there any chance they can be saved?”

“It would be difficult, if at all possible,” Lan Qing responded. “The North has fully engaged their military. They’ve asked us and the West to send support, to save the survivors and destroy the enemy. I’m on my way to the Northern Alliance now. You should come as well, you’re more familiar with the planets. We’re gathering in orbit around Luo.”
This is a little confusing since TJSS says that Monarch, Queen and Consort have to meditate prior to their evolution. Then a few sentences later he says they’ll face Monarch. This might make some sense since he bears Ultus, I suppose.

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