Chapter 751: We Have to Go
Lan Jue looked at his brother. “Right now we can only think about ourselves. The Pharmacist has said that if we can recover Ultus and lay out the Banishing Strategy, we have a chance to eliminate the alien threat. We faced with the unavoidable, your only choice is to face it head on.”
Lan Qin responded. “We’ll go back. We’ll discuss it after we’re safely in the East.” He had his own pressures to consider.
The East had worries just like the North did. What were they to do if the enemy showed up in the middle of their alliance? Middle Heaven, the strength of the East, was absent along with five interstellar fleets. It was imperative that they returned to defend their territory as soon as possible.
Thus did the first joint military offensive of the human alliance end. Middle Heaven led the Eastern delegation back toward Skyfire. No one was in a jubilant mood. The aliens’ cunning and cruelty were giving them the advantage. Their destruction was beginning to seem inevitable. Under constant attack, it seemed only a matter of time before humanity was reaped for their DNA.
Once the Eastern government received Lan Qing’s request for vigilance, they set about disseminating it at once. Planets quickly began returning reports as they searched for any sign of the alien planets. Thankfully, so far there was no sign the monsters had moved into Eastern territory. They appear to have dodged the proverbial bullet once again.
However it meant all they could do was wait for the aliens to reemerge. Their history of clever and vicious determination meant they would certainly pick the most suitable place to show up again and strike at humanity. Once they knew more they could build a strategy.
Lan Jue didn’t converse much with his brother on the return trip. He understood that he wouldn’t be much help in the realm of strategy and tactics. Instead, he returned to Zeus-1 and set about cultivating with Zhou Qianlin. It was still important to consolidate everything they had acquired so they could succeed with their breakthroughs as soon as possible. Only once they did would the power of the Harmonious Swords be fully available to them. That was how he could help his brother.
Three days later.
“Lan Jue, come see me.” Lan Jue could hear the hurry in his brother’s voice. It was a rare quality to hear from Lan Qing.
He must have important news, Lan Jue thought, and he suspected he knew what it was. He stopped cultivating and left for the Admiral’s office. He didn’t bother asking for more information over the communicator. His brother would have explained if it was something he could discuss from afar. It was important enough for him to call Lan Jue over for a face-to-face talk.
When Lan Jue arrived there were several others in the office; his father, mother, and the Wine Master. None of them bore pleasant expressions, only Lan Qing maintained a measure of inscrutable composure. However, the chill in his demeanor was telling.
“Did you find them?” Lan Jue asked. He knew the answer, it was the only reason they would be reacting this way.
Lan Qing nodded.
Lan Jue’s next question was delivered with some anxiety. “In our Alliance?”
“No,” came Lan Qing’s answer. “They’re in the West.”
Although he knew he shouldn’t, Lan Jue was relieved when he heard. It wasn’t the East, they were protected for now.
Lan Qing heaved a sigh, then continued. “Two days ago the West’s bastions were ambushed while returning home. Both were destroyed by the alien planets. Only a few of their fastest ships managed to escape.”
“What?” Lan Jue gasped. Lan Jue had known the news wouldn’t be good. He hadn’t expected this.
The West had only three bastions. One of them had been taken by Poseidon Group and brought to the East. The only two they had remaining were now gone. What did it mean? It meant the West no longer had the ability to protect itself!
The whole Alliance was at the mercy of these terrible interstellar predators.
A creeping dread filled Lan Jue’s heart. What if the aliens had been waiting for them instead? What would have happened
then? They wouldn’t have fared any better than the West, and Middle Heaven would have fallen at the enemy’s hands. Although Lan Jue liked to believe that they would have made them pay dearly.
“The North has also been informed of what’s happened. Our enemy’s target is undoubtedly the Western Alliance – their most populated area.”
“Europa.” Lan Jue blurted.
Lan Qing nodded. “That’s most likely. We’ve told the West we’re going there now.”
Lan Jue’s heart skipped a beat and he scowled. “Did they agree?”
“Whether they agree or not, I’m going,” Lan Qing said resolutely. “If the West falls, who’s next? It won’t be the North, the strongest Alliance. It’ll be us. And, I suspect, they’ll use the hesitation they suspect we must be feeling to undergo their evolution. It won’t take them long, and once they do what will our resistance mean to gods? So, no matter what the West thinks, we have to go.”
Jue Di spoke up. “I agree. The aliens have proven adept at psychological warfare. We have to fight toughness with toughness. If they aren’t afraid, they’ll just keep racking up victories. Their greatest advantage is their ability to teleport, but Xiao Qing and I agree they won’t be using that ability in the near future. It must have cost them about as much as we suspect.”
“What about this, dad,” Lan Jue offered. “They spent a lot of energy, but they must have gathered a lot from the four planets they conquered as well. That might allow them to teleport again. If that’s the case they can just do exactly what they did before.”
Jue Di shook his head. “It isn’t that easy. If recovering life essence was so easy would I have the troubles that constrain my powers? I’ve had time to carefully study the paragon-level vital crystal you recovered. It’s remarkably similar to a human’s Core. Once it reaches a certain level it becomes very difficult to simply support it by normal means. Teleportation requires their life force to galvanize the energy and complete the process. Creatures like the one you killed on Monteux can restore life essence, but the situation must be different for the alien home worlds. Even though they did consume four planets’ worth of energy, it will take time to convert it into power they can use. I don’t think I’m wrong in this.”
Lan Jue was suddenly reminded of something the Pharmacist had told him. He nodded. “Then teleportation is no longer an option for them. If we track them down they’ll have no choice but to fight.”
“Just so. Of course we’ll need more intelligence before we make a decision,” Jue Di cautioned.
Lan Qing cut in. “We aren’t going in for a direct confrontation. First we need to confirm what they’re up to, and what condition they’re in. If we can be sure they’re in the process of evolution, then we must attack right away and thus destroy them.”
“Does the North have anything to say?” Lan Jue asked.
Lan Qing calmly replied. “I’ve already alerted the Northern congress, Admiral Kang Hui and his Majesty the Terminator. Right now things are not going well in the North.”
Lan Jue smiled bitterly. “I can imagine. The North has suffered terribly and they’ll want all their strength centered on Luo. They have a reason to be scared. If the aliens return to Luo once they can teleport again, it would likely mean the end of
Lan Qing’s iron facade broke, revealing a brief glimpse of helplessness. “So it seems unlikely we’ll be able to count on the North’s help. We have only ourselves. We’ve also brought the majority of our power already – the other two bastions are protecting Skyfire. It was difficult to convince our parliament to let us make this excursion. For the moment the only ones to fully endorse the decision is Poseidon Group.”
Lan Jue blinked. “So the Poseidon-class Bastion will join us as support?”
Lan Qing nodded. “A-Li’s proposal. If what he said wasn’t an exaggeration, then Poseidon should be just as tough as Terminator was. That will help us quite a lot.”
Lan Jue nodded. “If the enemy is trying to evolve then it’s definitely the time to go all out. I support your decision, let’s do it. I refuse to helplessly wait for death to come knocking. The West…”
He trailed off, his face going dark. Lan Jue had no love for the West, but their people were innocent! They were all part of the
human family. Pulling the star map up in his mind he could recall eight planets in the vicinity of Europa. They were arranged in a circle and served as protectors for Europa in the interior.
Chapter 752: Changing Course
The barrows was one of those seven planets. Each one was – at most – two days journey from one another. Once the threat of alien invasion had become clear the West had urged nearly all their populace to migrate to this system. Though their population was the smallest among all the Alliance, that was still a billion people.
That was enough DNA to prompt the alien evolution. A billion lives…
An Lun changed course, pointing itself toward Europa. They were about to enter into the second phase of their war against the aliens.
After two days Middle Heaven crossed the border into Western territory. All the while bad news was flowing in from their neighbors to the North. Their government and their people were clearly uninterested in sending troops to help them face the planets.
They weren’t alone in their thinking. So long as disaster wasn’t on their doorstep people were content to bury their heads in the sand. But what did that help? Just as a tipped nest
has no unbroken eggs, did the North not understand that disaster would be visited upon them all? But it seemed hopeless, they were already frightened beyond reason.
Another day passed before they got any news. More specifically, it was a message from Kang Hui. He confirmed what Lan Qing and Lan Jue suspected, that the destruction of those four planets had descended the alliance into chaos. Distrust in the government had reached a fever pitch.
Under these conditions the Northern congress felt it most important for their forces to remain close to home, protecting Luo. They couldn’t dispatch any troops, no matter the problems others were facing. Although the Terminator was a respected man, he was but one person in a sea of dissenting voices. His reputation wasn’t enough to sway the lawmakers to his point of view.
However the Paragons, Chu family and the Admiral refused to be hamstrung by the cowardice of others. With Tyrannosaurus and two fleets they left Luo without approval, headed for the West. The Terminator brought all of the Great Conclave with him, including the adept army he’d established.
By the time the congress found out, they’d already left. They
ordered the remainder of their army to track down and take back Tyrannosaurus, but that was easier said than done. With the destruction of Terminator, Tyrannosaurus was the strongest ship they had. Heron had been their fastest, but its capabilities had been greatly reduced. Under these circumstances, what could the army do?
What’s more, how could the army not support its Admiral, and their mission to destroy the beasts that had slain so many of their countrymen?
Lan Qing and his forces had another ally, but he wasn’t sure it was enough. The weakest alliance had become the leader in this desperate – and possibly final – assault against the alien menace.
Poseidon approached from a different corner of Eastern space and entered the West some distance away. They met up before continuing toward Europa.
Lan Jue knelt on the floor of Zeus-1. Right now, the only people in the ship were him and Qianlin. It was the most quiet and private place on the ship.
A pale blue light radiated from the center of his chest. A white
light spread from Qianlin’s. Both of them had come to the final part of their journey to become Paragons, reaching the final step. His father had continuously told him that he mustn’t rush. Impatience was counterproductive.
Only the golden core of the thunder essence was left to be absorbed. It was a crystalline in appearance, strange and beautiful. It no longer seemed to possess any elemental quality, but instead vast amounts of pure energy were contained within.
After several attempts to understand it, Lan Jue came to the conclusion that he would only fully absorb this core once he broke through. It possessed the purest immortal qi he’d ever felt.
Zhou Qianlin’s beauty continued to evolve. Every time they cultivated she slipped effortlessly into meditation, and in fact she seemed to have entered into a strange and enigmatic state. It was almost as though she was hibernating. She was oddly sluggish and a sheen of white energy hung over her flesh. Lan Jue didn’t know what it was, but he figured it must have something to do with her inevitable breakthrough.
He’d asked his father if a Queen of Heaven Adept had ever broken through to Paragon. He’d said Qianlin may very well be
the first. As a result, no one knew what to expect when she crossed that threshold. However, Xuanyuan Shishi was there for guidance, and said her condition was excellent. The immortal qi was holding and purifying her essence. The combination of her own abilities and the thunder essence was the reason for her rapid improvement and security. She had continued to change, quietly and furtively.
The two of them sat in stillness, exchanging their energies between one another. Lan Jue’s All-Heaven lightning forged their bodies, and Qianlin’s Queen of Heaven Discipline nourished them. Over time the powers melded to construct a shell of power that encompassed them as they meditated.
The Pharmacist was also cultivating. Ever since finding her new goal, she’d redoubled her efforts. She knew that galvanizing Ultus’ power would not be easy, at least beyond the scope of her powers now. Even just recovering it from their foe was going to be a herculean task. But difficult as it was, recovering the blade was the only way for her to be reunited with some piece of her husband. One could imagine the significance that held for her.
Her condition had been different from a normal Paragons from the outset. She stood on an abundant foundation and grew with the aid of a Banishing Blade. Occisus’ deadly power was the
elementary force of her abilities, the power that shored up her iron will. Her progress continued unabated, without the bottlenecks encountered by typical Paragons.
In fact, with the understanding she had accumulated and Occisus’ help, she would have broken through right to a Reflection of Heaven and Earth if she’d held back. Though she wasn’t there now, she was close. Her Domain continued to meld with the lethal properties of the sword, becoming one.
After drawing upon the essence of the sword more than once, she had used her comprehension of its nature to temper and perfect her protogenia. It served to stabilize and strengthen her own abilities, bringing her closer to the second-degree of Paragon.
This was the benefit of using a legendary astrum. Once she broke through, she would continue to quickly improve by virtue of the Banishing Blade.
The West was quiet, at least out in space. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and though the mighty aliens lurked nearby they could see nothing but an expanse of calm darkness. From the point of view of their enemy, the aliens had continued on the most effective path. Their unerring aggression had served to
strengthen themselves and preserve their own lives. Any species would choose a similar path if they had reached the limits of their potential.
But to another race, the aliens were a scourge. For humans these mortal enemies would have to die, or they would.
Lan Qing was clad in his black military uniform, sitting straight upon his chair. He stared at the screen before him with a gentle expression – an exceedingly rare occurrence on his hard face.
Ever since he was small he had held himself to the highest standards. Compounded by Jue Di’s influence, he had a dogged persistence toward perfection. While Lan Jue always looked up to his brother, he didn’t know that Lan Qing’s struggles were because his abilities were inferior to his younger brother’s. He’d reached where he was today through obsessive hard work.
But even the hardest men had soft spot in their hearts. Lan Qing was no exception, but the tremendous weight of responsibility on his shoulders forced him to hide it behind an iron curtain. He sacrificed his happiness and emotion for the unending pursuit of strength.
Lan Jue had once told him walking that path would have driven him crazy. Thinking about it made Lan Qing smile. If his brother was here, seeing him grin from ear to ear, he surely would have wondered if this was his brother.
He sighed. Perhaps, he thought, if they were successful against the aliens it was time for a rest. He’d never taken the time to live his life. Perhaps it was time for a chance. If only you knew how much I envy you sometimes, A-Jue, he thought. But
someone needed to take the brunt of father’s expectations. I’m
the older brother, these responsibilities fall to me. I never thought you would have to shoulder the same burdens.
An image swamp up from his memory, an old street lined by quaint buildings. Two-thousand forty eight meters top and bottom. Although he hadn’t spent much time there, the place called to him. He liked it. When things settled he made the decision to visit.
It wasn’t time to retire, but a vacation wouldn’t be out of the question. Inwardly he chuckled to think of his superior faces when the day came for him to apply for a few days off.
People worked harder when they had something to work toward. At least, that’s how Lan Qing felt.
“Beep, beep!” His communicator buzzed.
He connected the call and a pretty voice answered. “Boss, we’ve arrived at the designated area.”
Lan Qing’s relaxed expression was put away in lieu of his icy default. “Wait for my orders, don’t leave unless you have to, and don’t act on your own accord. Wait for us to link up then you can continue your approach.”
Chapter 753: The Austins Flee
“Alright. What about A-Jue?” Hua LI’s voice sounded concerned.
“He’s been cultivating,” Lan Qing replied. “He hopes to break through before this fight starts.”
Hua Li’s anxiety was clear. “You need to persuade him not to be too hasty. There are real risks.”
Lan Qing was calm as ever. “He’s fine, his foundation is solid. He could have broken through a long time ago if he’d wanted to. This is the most opportune moment he’s encountered so far. He wont rush, don’t worry.”
Hua Li replied. “That’s good. Who’d have thought we’d really come to a day when we’d be fighting shoulder to shoulder, eh? A-Cheng should be coming with Tyrannosaurus. You think they’ll write stories about us? ‘The Battle of the Four Divine Monarchs’?”
Lan Qing’s voice betrayed his no-nonsense demeanor. “If you have nothing of substance to say, hang up.”
“Ugh! Guy, you really need to grow a personality. Alright, that’s that then. We’ll talk again in person.” Hua Li hung up.
Lan Qing shook his head. In reality he wasn’t thrilled with the fact Hua Li was commanding his bastion. Simply put the entertainer was too gentle. In the heat of battle you needed blood of iron, it was too easy for emotional problems to rise to the fore. Calm needed to be maintained.
Still, he was pleased with the help from Poseidon Group’s warriors. They were the richest army in all the alliances, and was well established. Their strength was undisputed, and their people boasted a host of talents. He just hoped their Poseidon- class bastion packed more surprises for them to exploit.
Three bastions, three planets. On paper they were decent odds. The alien home worlds were strong, but Lan Qing had faith in Middle Heaven. Even if their mission failed…
His face became stern. If the North had the strength, so did the East!
The air was thick and gloomy aboard the large blue ship. Sylva Austin sat within the cockpit, ghastly pale. He’d maintained this position for several hours already. When news that the West’s bastions had fallen, the Austin family’s ships raced to Europa. It didn’t take them long to load up most of their riches and leave.
Although they were the West’s ultimate political family, they didn’t have anywhere near the riches Poseidon Group boasted. All they needed was a transport ship disguised as a merchant vessel. Their escape was tacitly agreed to by the Western government, since the Austins had held the reigns of power for so long.
Richard Austin stood at his father’s side. He looked just as bad, distraught over having to flee his home and flying toward an uncertain future.
“Father. Us leaving like this… the West…” He struggled to find the words.
“The West is finished!” Sylva harshly replied to his son. Yes, the West was finished. Without its bastions it was like a naked woman waiting to be ravaged. There was no other outcome.
“But we can ask for support from the North. The Aliens wouldn’t be able to ambush and destroy so many bastions at once.” Richard was clearly loathe to abandon his home.
Sylva shut his eyes, pain written on his face. “Impossible. I know what is happening in the North. You are not a politician, you don’t understand the problems politicians face. They can’t do something simply because they want to. Their people are rioting, their last offensive served only to condemn many of their young men to death. Four planets were destroyed. Their failure scarred them deeply, and all they can do now is defend their homes. Of course, the destruction of the West just means their own death has been postponed.”
Sylva opened his eyes. They were hard and bitter.
Richard was shocked. “So… you mean we aren’t going to the North?”
His father replied. “Of course not. Why would we do? Become their vassals? We have been preparing, spending a lot of our hard-earned wealth to gather everything we need to resettle somewhere else. We have the technology to terraform a place to our needs, build a new ecosystem. We’re leaving the territories traditional held by mankind – the farther the better. Our family
and servants, three thousand people, will constitute the foundation of a new Western Alliance. Even if they defeat the aliens, the West as we know it know has passed into history. How will they treat us? The Austins survival must be assured by becoming leaders, as is their right!”
Richard opened his mouth, but said nothing. A bitter expression crossed his face. Europa… he’d grown up there, it was his home for as long as he’d been alive. He didn’t want to leave the planet to its fate.
When the aliens came the people of his abandoned world would live a short life of pain and fear. The Austin family must become rulers? But what sort of ruler didn’t protect their own people?
In an instant he felt like he’d grown up. A beautiful face appeared behind his eyes.
Qianlin… are you well? It’s been so long since I’ve seen your face. Are you still with that man? I regret that I am so weak, or he wouldn’t have stolen you away from me.
A formless pain filled his chest when he thought of her. It had
been so long, and so much had happened. Now the pain was just a shadow of the stabbing obsession he’d felt before.
Love’s ache didn’t hurt so badly when one’s life was in danger.
His thoughts were interrupted when a man in a captain’s uniform approached. “Mr. Austin, we have a problem. An unidentified military force has blocked our path.”
“What?” Sylva was shocked by the news. He shot to his feet. “Do you know who they are?”
The soldier hesitated. “We believe they’re from the East.”
“The Eastern Alliance?” Sylva’s brows knit tight as he thought. After the fight against the aliens the Eastern army should have returned home to defend their own territory. Why would they be here all of a sudden?
“Let me see.” He said.
The captain brought Sylva to a screen. There he saw a host of warships spread out before them. They were arranged in a formation that prevented further passage.
The captain went on. “Their call-signs and indications mark them as Eastern vessels. They’ve hailed us, requesting to speak with someone. Look here…”
Sylva scowled. “Open a connection.” It seemed strange to encounter Eastern soldiers out here without rhyme or reason. Perhaps they didn’t know the aliens where in the vicinity?
An officer appeared on the screen. “I am Senior Colonel Liu Feng. Please reply with your designation.” Liu Feng spoke curtly.
The officer by Sylva’s shoulder answered. “We are a vessel under the auspices of the West. By what authority are you entering into Western space without authorization? And you dare to ask our designation!”
Liu Feng was not cowed. “We’ve come to defend the West from alien invasion. Your vessel and status are unclear, it is protocol to hail all unknown vessels in proximity.”
Save them from the aliens? Even Sylva Austin couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Could this be true? The North was busy with their own affairs, but the East came instead?
Sylva Austin blurted out. “How many reinforcements did you bring?”
The Senior Colonel replied. “Report your designation.”
After a moment of hesitation, the Western politician answered. “This is the West’s Ninth Fleet. I am their commander, Chief Sylva.”
Liu Feng looked his over for a moment. “You’re an army Chief? Why aren’t you in uniform? As far as I know the West doesn’t have a ninth fleet.”
“Newly authorized,” Sylva replied. “I request to speak with your commanding officer. Tell them President Sylva Austin wishes to speak with him.”
Liu Feng went silent as he tried to confirm the information. His computer verified that this man was indeed the Western
President, and patriarch of the Austin family.
Liu Feng was an intelligent man. The Present’s presence on these unmarked military vessels was telling. However, Sylva was an important person in the West and in the military.
“Please hold on while I get the Admiral.”
Before long the Senior Colonel’s face was replaced by another, a young-ish man with gallant features. His uniform was jet black, and four gold stars glinted on his shoulders. He regarded Sylva and his officer with a cold, hard expression. Richard Austin was immediately struck by his image, even on a screen.
This man’s aura was almost palpable.
Sylva Austin knew him the moment he saw him. He was a famous figure in the East – perhaps all across human space.
The An Lun super soldier, a star of his military generation. He was a Paragon in service to the Eastern military, but was also known as Prometheus of the Divine Monarchs. Lan Qing!
Chapter 754: Incorporation
“Hello, Admiral Lan Qing.” When he saw the Eastern luminary Sylva Austin felt more relaxed. No one of comparable age had as many military accomplishments. If they were here it meant they didn’t need to fear pursuit by alien forces.
“Hello, President Austin. Where are you and your entourage headed?” Lan Qing calmly greeted him.
The Western President adopted a grieved expression. “The alien planets have attacked our armies, and destroyed our last remaining bastions. The West has fallen into enemy hands and Europa has been occupied by our foes. We’ve had no choice but to flee our homeland under threat of death. We’re lucky to have run into you. You’ve come as reinforcements?”
Lan Qing regarded him like a statue. “It doesn’t seem as though you’re in any condition to fight. You’ve witnessed the enemy on Europa? What’s the situation on the ground?”
Sylva paused. He didn’t want to continue this line of questioning. For fear of unneeded trouble, for fear of judgement, he’d shut off all communications to Europa. He didn’t know what was happening back home.
“They’re everywhere, Europa has fallen. We were forced to run. We can’t know the conditions on the planet now. They’ve cut off all communications. I don’t know how many men you’ve brought with you, Admiral, but do you think you’ll be able to help us take back our home?” He lied straight-faced to the Eastern commander.
“We have one bastion and five interstellar fleets,” Lan Qing answered. “We plan to attack the alien planets in full force.”
Sylva’s words were thick with gratitude. “That’s excellent. We’ll get out of your way, and congratulations on what’s sure to be a successful campaign, Admiral. We’ll wait for your triumphant return to present you with our most sincere thanks.”
“No need.” Lan Qing replied.
“Hm?” Sylva saw the hard light in Lan Qing’s eye.
The An Lun super soldier continued. “I mean to say you don’t need to move aside. We’re requisitioning your vessels.”
“What?” Sylva stared at him with wide eyes. He could hardly believe what he was hearing.
“We’re surrounded, sir.” The colonel at the President’s side had just noticed the Eastern ships pulling up on either flank. They hadn’t considered this possibility since the others were military vessels and not aliens.
Sylva’s capitulatory façade fell away, and he faced Lan Qing with indignation. “Admiral Lan, this is the Western Alliance. What is the meaning of this?”
Lan Qing’s voice was cold as ice. “So you do know where you are. As President should you be en route to flee your own nation? You cannot face the enemy on your own, so we’ve come. We will achieve victory through unity. Toward this end we’re requisitioning your ships. We will ensure your safety, but your people are coming under our control.”
“This is unacceptable.” Sylva slammed his fist on the desk in front of him. These ships were meant to ensure the future of the Austin family. How could he just let them be taken? They certainly wouldn’t be given back. All of the wealth that had been painstakingly saved by his family would be robbed.
“It doesn’t matter what you find unacceptable. Lower your shields and stop your engines or you will be regarded as an enemy. This is how it is.” The connection was dropped.
Sylva Austin, President of the Western Alliance, stared gaping at a black screen. He erupted in a string of curses. How could anyone have anticipated that they would run into an army, into someone as pompous and arrogant as this Admiral?
But what choice did he have? They couldn’t revolt. There were five fleets of the East’s best soldiers just outside. Lan Qing was piloting a bastion. What could he do with his small handful of refugees?
But he couldn’t stomach it! He couldn’t simply give himself and his family to these pirates! If he did, his family would be lost.
A wild a ferocious expression overcame him. He snapped his head toward the colonel. “How likely are we to break free? Even if it’s just us.”
The colonel opened his mouth, but before he could answer Sylva grunted and collapsed to the floor.
He gasped. “Mr. Austin, you…”
Richard Austin stood over his father, the hand that had knocked him out till raised. His face was dark. “We are guilty in the eyes of the Western people. We cannot continue our sins. I also will not tolerate seeing anyone die by human hands when we have an enemy like the aliens at our gates. Follow Admiral Lan’s demands. If our ships and soldiers can contribute to the liberation of our home, then we must do so in order to redeem ourselves. I am not a man who runs from battle, colonel. Are you?”
The officer stared at Richard. After a moment he replied. “Deep in my heart I never liked you. Now I see that I was wrong. I’m sorry.”
He turned back to the control panel and opened up a link to all the ships captains. “This is an order, all ships of the Ninth Fleet lower your shields. Friendly forces will come to board your vessels. Put down your arms. We don’t want any trouble.”
The command brought the West’s Ninth Fleet to a halt. Shields, which had been brought up when the Eastern ships had surrounded them, hissed as they were turned off. Boarding vessels were allowed to approach.
Two hours later the West’s newest fleet was turned into the East’s newest addition. To Richard’s surprise the East didn’t remove their personnel, instead simply leaving some of their own behind to supervise. The Austin family’s people were left under the command of the colonel.
Austin brought his father, awake from his undesired nap, on the boarding vessel along with several of their closes descendants. They made their way to Middle Heaven. It was safer there, and signified their capitulation to the East.
Sylva was quiet the whole way. He looked to have aged a decade in just a few hours. Richard sat across from him, also silent.
He wasn’t sure what he should say, but he didn’t regret his actions. If he was given the choice to do it again, he would. It had somehow put his heart at ease.
Sylva suddenly lifted his head and looked at his son.
Richard sat up straight, ready for his father to react harshly. Instead the elder statesman started with a bitter laugh. “Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I was too concerned with what
our family could gain or lose. What I could lose. I forgot what it means to be human. I have sinned, and from now on I am no longer suited to running this family. That task falls to you. You’re now the head of the Austin family.”
“Father, I…” Richard wanted to explain, but Sylva lifted his hand and entreated silence.
“You don’t need to say anything. I don’t blame you, I’m not upset. I mean it, it took nerve to do what you did. I see you with new eyes. That nerve is precisely what’s needed to keep our family going. I didn’t want our family to end here, because of this. After a hundred years on the political stage. But so long as you remain, we will return to glory. The sins of the father will not be visited upon the son. Richard Austin will be the hero of our family, and the cleanser of our name.”
Richard was stunned. Suddenly he felt so small before his father, with a burden so heavy placed upon his shoulders. He felt like in a moment his life had changed.
The small transport boat made it back to Middle Heaven without incident. Although everyone had heard of the East’s newest Bastion, seeing the remolded planet with his own eyes for the first time stunned Richard to silence.
The soldiers were very respectful, and took pains to accommodate him and his family. Richard and his father were brought to the control room, at the center of the bastion.
When they entered, both of them focused immediately on a single person.
Tall, straight, cold and resolute, but with a strangely gentle air. Both seemingly opposing sensations surrounded a single man harmoniously without contradiction.
Lan Qing, the Peerless Light Emperor of Middle Heaven, senior commander of the Eastern army, Admiral of Middle Heaven – Prometheus! Title after lofty title flit through their minds. Richard felt small before the man, like he was looking up at a giant.
The soldier who led them quickly approached Lan Qing and stood at his side, speaking a few words. The Admiral then turned around to face them.
He walked over with long strides, unthreatening, but Richard still fell back a step. Sylva faced him tall and uncowed. “Hello, Admiral,” he said.
Lan Qing nodded. “Hello, President Austin. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter. Please relax, we’ll do everything in our power to help you recover what the aliens have taken. In a little while I’ll need to ask you some information, anything you can tell me about the state of Europa and its surrounding planets. Then you’ll be free to rest and recover from your flight.”
No mention was made of the East’s forceful acquisition.
Sylva had known this was coming, but the bitterness in him was still sharp. The Austin family’s years of leadership were coming to an end, but they would live. So long as they lived, there was a chance.
Chapter 755: Poseidon’s Surprise
“I hope you’re able to keep your promises, Admiral. Do whatever you can to protect our home.” Sylva Austin was no longer concerned with the return of his fleet. There were more important things to consider now. Even if they were absorbed by the East, even if they became beholden to their Alliance, their survival would mean a chance for their family.
Richard saw Lan Qing from a different perspective. He looked so familiar! He looked like that man… the one who… why did they look so similar?
The sounds of footsteps approaching from outside interrupted his thoughts.
“I heard you took the Austin’s fleet?” Lan Jue stepped through the door and called to his brother. He only noticed the other two men after he spoke.
Richard froze, but quickly his face turned dark and angry. This thief was the last man he’d expect to see here. He could see the relation between Lan Qing and Lan Jue right away. If only he had known perhaps he wouldn’t have given his family’s ships up!
Lan Jue cast him a glance, walked over to his brother’s side, then laughed amicably. “We meet again.”
Lan Jue could almost hear Richard grinding his teeth. “Zhou Qianlin? Where did you kidnap her away to?”
Star Division’s commander heaved a sigh. “Please stop asking pointless questions like that. I’m fairly certain you will never have an opportunity to see her, ever again.”
Richard paused, and little by little the rage drained from his face. Thi man, standing beside the Eastern Admiral, with an aura no less impressive than Lan Qing’s, made Richard feel just as small. Why did he have to suffer such disgrace? Why was he not given a chance?
His bitterness showed plain on his face. “Is she well?”
Lan Jue scowled. “Not really.”
“What?” Richard’s anger flared again and he took a step forward. A hand shot out and grabbed Lan Jue by the front of his shirt. Sylva didn’t have an opportunity to stop him.
The Western president was filled with dread. How could he son act so brazenly in their weakest moment? This was their ship – their lives were in the East’s hands.
Richard’s eyes were red as he glared at Lan Jue. “’Not really’?
What’s the matter with her?”
When he saw the look in the young man’s eyes some of the distaste Lan Jue bore for Richard melted away. Whatever sort of man he was, he really did care for Qianlin.
“She got hurt trying to protect me. Don’t worry, I’m working on a cure.” Lan Jue said it like a solemn oath, and made no effort to extricate himself from Richard’s grip.
The Austin successor’s breath was quick and ragged. Eventually he loosened his hold. When he spoke his words were lilted with depression. “Care for her, keep her from harm. I know any chance I had with her is gone, but I still hope for her happiness.”
“Yeah. I’ll make sure of it.” Lan Jue nodded resolutely.
Richard stared at him for what felt like a long time. All of a sudden he felt different, something clicked in his mind. It was a moment of maturity, and the animosity he bore for Lan Jue disappeared. So did the flame he carried for Qianlin. Instead, he heard the words of his father echoing in his mind.
Lan Qing had a soldier take the two men away. Only once they were gone did he address his brother. “Weren’t you locked away, preparing? What brings you out?”
Lan Jue smirked. “I’m more or less ready.”
Lan Qing’s eyes sparkled. “So you mean…”
He nodded. “But I can still hold back. I believe the longer I resist the better the results will be when the time comes. When the Pharmacist broke through there was a surge of incredible energy – I think it was Occisus waking up. It was so powerful it scared the Violet Princess away. When Qianlin and I break through the burst will be twice as potent and I don’t want to waste it. We’re moving in on the aliens now, so this presents a good opportunity.”
Lan Qing rewarded him with one of his rare smiles. “Good.
When you break through we’ll have to find a time to spar.”
Lan Jue answered with a dark chuckle. “I’m gonna kick your ass.”
Lan Qing muttered something, a few quiet words, but they wiped the grin from Lan Jue’s face. “Could you not? This is revenge!”
Lan Qing’s reply was indifferent. “It was father’s decision, if you have a problem with it you should speak to him. If you could convince him then you don’t have to worry about the title.”
“Ruthless! I’m leaving.” Lan Jue spat the words in irritation and spun around to leave.
“Wait a moment.” Lan Qing called him back.
“Eh?” When Lan Jue turned back his brother was once more the definition of solemn duty.
“Early reports say things are pretty bad. Aliens have already taken several of the planets around Europa. I’m sure you know what they’re up to. We’re going to face the enemy with only three bastions and few soldiers. But sometimes few soldiers can have its advantages.”
Lan Jue’s heart jumped. “You think the aliens will underestimate us and rush in?”
The Admiral nodded. “If we came in with seven or eight bastions I’m not sure we’d have a better result than last time. We haven’t done well with direct confrontation. But we’re only bringing three, and I’m sure they’ll know it.”
“Father said those successive teleportations must have weakened them. At their level, if they get too weak they won’t have the energy necessary to resist the pressure universal protogenia. That would mean their immediate destruction. I imagine they’re more worried than we think. When you’re worried you make quick and stupid decisions, which I suspect they will if they think we’re in an inferior position. If we can confirm that they are beginning the evolution process then we should press the attack.”
“The problem we’re facing now is uncertainty in how long
their evolution takes. That leaves us no choice but to hurry as much as we can. It’s a gamble, but gamble or not it’s the best option. We need intelligence, and I’m sure you know specifically what intelligence we need. If the aliens are distracted, that’s the time to strike.”
“You’re right,” Lan Jue agreed. “I’ll go. I’ll make every effort to find out what we can.”
A strange look overcame his brother’s face. “A-Jue, you know I hope this mission of yours isn’t successful.”
“Huh? Why?” Lan Jue asked, confused.
He explained. “If they’re doing all they can to prevent it, chances are high they are trying to hide their evolution. Prepare to dispatch. I’ve back two plans to formulate, and once they’re ready it’ll be time to act. Hua Li is nearby, we’ll be meeting up with him soon.”
The Austin family had left with only a single fleet. However,
as one of the most important families in the West their ships were special. They were better equipped and more powerful than standard military vessels. When the money flowed who didn’t want to spend some of it on security? Cost didn’t matter when the results were good and useful. It was as true for their mecha suits as it was for their ships.
The Austin’s ships were equipped with the best Western equipment their money could buy, as well as some choice items from the North. How they got their hands on it, you’d have to ask the Austins.
It didn’t take long to incorporate them into the Eastern legion, especially with the cooperation of their crews. The stronger they were together, the better their chances of success. Six fleets now surrounded Middle Heaven as they continued deeper into Western territory.
A day later they stopped again, though not to intercept. This time they were joining up with friendly forces. A sky-blue bastion ship hung in the darkness of space before them. It was about half the size of An Lun.
Middle Heaven was the largest bastion ever created, and it was only possible because of the molinite discovered in its core.
The fact that it was a planet with a lithosphere all its own constituted its size.
Meanwhile the other ship was constructed from some nameless blue material they weren’t familiar with. Lan Qing and Lan Jue both looked at it from the window. After going over the analytics for the ships, they both shared a single thought questioning Hua Li’s modesty.
Just looking at it they could tell it probably had more firepower than the North’s Terminator-class. Its size didn’t seem to affect this. It was also surrounded by four interstellar fleets, each ship coated in the same cobalt blue. Four full fleets!
Everyone always talked about Poseidon Group’s riches, that they were the greatest human family. Lan Qing and his brother didn’t know precisely what that meant until they saw the results of those riches hovering outside their window. Compared to Poseidon Group, the Austin family was hardly worth notice. If Hua Li and his people wanted to take over the West they surely could, so long as the East and North didn’t interfere.
“You sure brought us a pleasant surprise, A-Li!” Lan Jue spoke to the pretty face looking back at them from the screen. Praise
was evident in his voice.
Hua Li chuckled. “The Four Divine Horsemen are riding together into battle, we need to make a show of it. This is all of our family’s strength and wealth. And they’re all under your command, big brother. We serve at your command.”
Chapter 756: Of No Use
“Alright.” Lan Qing answered.
Hua Li turned his attention to Lan Jue. “A-Jue, come on over when you have the time! Oh, right. I should go there. Am I welcome?”
Lan Jue chuckled. “Of course you’re welcome. If Tyrannosaurus would get there the Monarchs would be together again.”
Hua Li looked at him with a serious expression. “I’ll be there in a little while.”
After they hung up, Lan Jue spoke to his brother with a slight note of envy in his voice. “So this is the power of wealth, eh? You think we’ll have a family like this in the future, bro?”
Lan Qing was stoic as ever. “Not many families are as lucky as the Poseidon Group. Usually the more wealth and prestige you have, the more numerous are your enemies. Poseidon Group wouldn’t have invested so much in war machines if humanity wasn’t under threat – it would be taboo. Remember that the
Poseidon Group traces its family roots all the way back to the former era. Luck and intelligence got them this far.”
Lan Jue chuckled again. “No need to school me on principles, I understand. I’m just making conversation. I mean, you’re lazy too am I right? All this hard work your whole life was so you could take it easy later. I remember you saying something like that when you were little.”
Lan Qing’s face twitched. He stared at his brother. “Stop with the nonsense. Go welcome Hua Li.”
Poseidon-Class Bastion Ship.
“You’re going over?” Mo Xiao looked at Hua Li, her face scrunched in a scowl.
“Yup.” He nodded, running a hand through her hair. “Don’t
be like this. Didn’t we already talk about it?”
She sniffed. “Just because you’re good to others doesn’t mean they’ll be good to you. The Austin family should be a lesson. They took their fleet, or didn’t you notice? We’re an important family, too, with many secrets to protect. You are the patriarch, Poseidon. IF something happens to you they’ll be able to coerce whatever they like from us.”
Hua Li frowned. “You think too much. There is no other group of people I trust more than them. Are you saying you don’t trust Lan Qing and Lan Jue?”
Mo Xiao shook her head. “It’s impossible to know what’s in a person’s heart, especially when it comes to the interests of their people. Are you sure you have your priorities straight? You’ve brought the full force of our family out for everyone to see. The rest of the family already doesn’t agree. Without my help you would have had a million troubles on your hands. Now you want to walk over and put your safety in their hands. I won’t allow it!”
Hua Li’s face stiffened. “Whether or not you allow it doesn’t matter. Don’t think because people call me your wife you have the right to tell me what to do. You said it yourself, I’m
Poseidon. Patriarch of this family. You don’t determine what direction this family takes.”
“You…” Mo Xiao’s breath became ragged.
Hua Li continued. “What’s more, even without me there’s another successor already. This has nothing to do with that. Now I’m going.” He stomped down the hall, never looking back.
Once his back was turned, tears began to stream down Mo Xiao’s face. She shook with emotion.
“Why? Why do you treat me this way? Am I not good enough for you? Why?!”
Lan Jue saw Hua Li an hour later. The two walked side by side to Middle Heaven’s recreation area.
“You came just yourself? Your family isn’t worried we’ll detain you?” Lan Jue smirked as he said it.
The entertainer shrugged. “Detain me, then. I’m not opposed to sticking around. Just so long as you treat me right, big guy.”
Lan Jue scowled. “Come on. Who would want your pompous ass? You’re a waste of food. Now hurry up.”
Hua Li looked heartbroken. “Don’t you have a heart? We’ve traveled a long way to help you, and this is how you treat me.” His voice was lilting and pathetic as he trundled down the hallway.
Lan Jue shivered. “What the hell are you doing? A-Li, how can we be sure you aren’t actually a woman dressed as a man? You’re killin’ me here.”
Hua Li chuckled. If Iwas a woman in man’s dress would you like me? If there was no Hera?”
Lan Jue’s response was no-nonsense. “I’d have to think about it. Maybe. It’s not my fault you’re so pretty. It’d depend on who I met first. Now go on, drop your trousers and let’s make sure you aren’t a chick.”
“Screw off!” Hua Li hurried a few steps ahead.
It made Lan Jue happy to see his old friend again. It was the first opportunity he’d had to relax since the war began.
“Do you want to see the big guy?” Lan Jue asked.
Hua Li shook his head. “No need, I’m not interested in any of this military nonsense. He can communicate directly with Mo Xiao if he wants, I’m just a figurehead. You? How have you been? You haven’t broken through yet, what a wussy. I never would have thought of the four of us you’d be the last to break through.”
Lan Jue didn’t let his friend’s teasing trouble him. “You may have broken through earlier, but that’s like teats on a breastplate.”
“What’s that mean?” Hua Li asked.
Lan Jue regarded his friend disdainfully. “You don’t know? It means you’re damn useless.”
Hua Li gaped. “Cursing? That’s not like you!”
Hua Li chuckled. “Humans are multi-faceted creatures. You think I have time to just lay around like you? I’m busy from the moment I wake up. Besides, I’m going to break through soon. What I meant to say was that even though I’m not there yet you still couldn’t beat me in a fight.”
Hua Li huffed. “That’s because I was holding back. I didn
T use the full power of my astrum, you see. I was afraid to hurt you.”
Lan Jue changed the subject. “Are you staying here or going back?”
He thought for a moment before answering. “If I only had me to look after I’d be disinclined to go back and I’d hang out with you gentlemen. That’d be comfortable. But, if I don’t go back Mo Xiao would have a meltdown. The family would probably read too much into it as well. I’m just here to visit, I’ll go back in a little while.”
Lan Jue nodded. “That’s good, we’re living in special times.
Your family just wants to make sure things are stable.”
“So what about your plans?” He asked. “You think we have a chance against these things?”
Lan Jue shook his head. “I don’t know. Frankly speaking even now we hardly know anything about our enemy. We don’t know what they’re really capable of. But according to our best guess…” Lan Jue went on to explain everything they’d determined about the aliens so far, including what they’d learned from the Pharmacist’s husband. Then he explained their battle plans.
They couldn’t speak openly over the communicator before. The aliens were abnormally well-informed, but still humans had no inkling as to how they learned so much. As far as they’d been able to tell the aliens somehow were monitoring and intercepting human communications.
This was likely to be mankind’s last stand. Because of the concerns the information would be leaked, Lan Jue had carefully omitted some of the most important details of their plan in earlier discussions. Part of the reason he invited Hua Li here was to fill him in.
As he listened, Poseidon Group’s patriarch nodded in understanding. He spoke thoughtfully. “It seems it’s clear by this point. You’re going in for another scout mission?”
Lan Jue nodded. “We don’t even know what it would look like when these planets begin evolving, but we need to go in and learn what we can. When we know the situation we can move ahead with our plans. The more we know the better our chances. It hinges on whether or not the aliens can fight back.”
Hua Li spoke with decisiveness. “I’ll go with you. How can you leave me out of such a good time?”
But Lan Jue quickly waved him off. “No way. You are the predecessor of the Poseidon line. How can I knowingly put you in danger? And this is going to be very dangerous. You don’t know how strong these things are – more powerful than Paragons who have become one with the Infinite. If it weren’t for universal protogenia and the restrictions it brought, their full strength would have easily turned our species to ash and bone. If you go it’ll send Poseidon Group into disarray, and that’d affect our whole plan.”
Hua Li pressed him. “What about you? If you go it won’t screw up the plan?”
Lan Jue smirked. “Don’t worry. First of all, no one is more familiar with the monsters than I am. I’ve been a part of every successful intelligence mission and have plenty of experience against them. Secondly, I’m bringing a whole team of Paragons. Succeed or fail our chances of survival are high. Relax, nothing’s going to happen. We’ll run from whatever we can’t kill. But you’re staying put. I don’t want to have to be the one o face Mo Xiao.”
Hua Li’s lips pressed tight. No, I’m not going to ‘relax’. We’re brothers, and brothers share joys and woes. Poseidon Group will be fine without me, they have Mo Xiao. We have a child, and he will be the next Poseidon. Even if something happens to me the family will go on.”
Hua Li blinked. “You… you have a child?”
Hua Li was quick to interject. “Don’t misunderstand, it wasn’t like that. It was technological. Right now it’s a fetus, but after some genetic engineering and time it will be born. Mo Xiao and I don’t have those kinds of feelings for each other. How could we have kids the traditional way?”
“Hua Li,” Lan Jue chastised. “This is no good. Mo Xiao treats you very well, we all see it. You two are married and you should
act like it, at least try to love her. If there’s someone else you love then make a decision. Short, sharp pains are better than long dull ones. Don’t string this girl along.”
Chapter 757: Another Journey
Hua Li sighed. “You understand how our family works. And you don’t need to concern yourself with it, either. I’m telling you I’m going with you. Poseidon Group will be fine。”
“No!” Lan Jue was firm. “If your family’s situation is as complicated as you say then all the more reason not to let you go. Your Poseidon-class bastion is an integral part of the assault, and if for whatever reason it doesn’t join the fight we’ll have no chance against the enemy.”
Hua Li understood, and hearing his friend speak this way he knew he wasn’t going to come along. He could only display his dissatisfaction with a sigh. “Fine. But you all have to be careful, take every precaution. There will be many opportunities while scouting so don’t put yourself in danger needlessly.”
Lan Jue chuckled at his friend. “It’s fine, Qianlin will be with me. I’ll be much more careful with her than I would be just by myself. I’ll take care.”
When he heard her name, Hua Li paused. “She’s recovered?”
“Soon,” Lan Jue replied. “We believe she’ll return to normal once she breaks through. She is my first responsibility, so you can be sure I won’t do anything to jeopardize that.”
Hua Li nodded. “If I’m not coming with you then I’ll head back.”
Lan Jue was surprised. “Why the rush? I’m not going anywhere for three days. Now that you’re here you should stay, we’ll talk a while. We can’t drink, but we can chat over a pot of tea or something. Come on.” He pulled Hua Li down the hallway.
Now that the two bastions had joined up, they headed toward Europa together. They maintained some distance from each other, but were surrounded by their combined entourage. Although their total power didn’t match up to what it was during the first alien encounter, their number of support vessels was catching up.
For the time being they weren’t preparing a frontal assault. They needed to confirm the situation before any decisions could
be made. They also needed to wait for Tyrannosaurus to show up.
The Northern bastions took pains to keep their path a secret. Kang Hui would use a special encryption method to keep Lan Qing in the know, but most of the time they maintained radio silence. They took every precaution to make sure the aliens did know they were coming, otherwise they risked an ambush.
Middle Heaven and Poseidon, meanwhile, were less concerned. Together their defensive capabilities were significant. With them fleets and two bastions they could immediately fall into formation and mount a stiff response to anything they came their way. The planets would have a hard time attacking them straight on.
Besides, according to current estimations the aliens were more concerned with gathering DNA than dealing with human military. They wouldn’t want to waste their energy. No, best was occupying Europa and its surrounding planets to devour life essence, and use the DNA for their evolution.
Hua Li stayed on Middle Heaven for a day, speaking at length with Lan Jue about all manner of things. By the end he spoke for a little while with Lan Qing before eventually returning to
his own ship.
Although he didn’t speak highly of Mo Xiao, he respected her deeply. The practical control of the family’s bastion was under her command, and she was the mother of his child. He had to treat her well.
“A-Jue, we’re about three days out from Europa. We should be joining up with Tyrannosaurus soon. You should begin your scouting mission now, so that once our forces are gathered we can make our move.” Lan Qing said.
Lan Jue nodded. “We’re ready to go. Mom and the Wine Master will go with me, and well as the Driver and Pharmacist. Counting me and Qianlin we aren’t a big group, but it should be enough. Xiaosu will stay here to look after Star Division. Mika, Lin Guoguo and Xiuxiu will come with me. They’ll fly the ship and be responsible for alien detection.”
“Safety first,” Lan Qing reminded him. “We cannot lose this fight. Nor can we afford heavy losses. Do you understand?”
Lan Jue nodded. “I understand. Father said he’s coming as well, but I’ll try and make sure the old man doesn’t exert
For the last few days Jue Di had also sequestered himself away in meditation. The powerful vital crystal they’d acquired from the progenitor had had a significant effect on him. He could use it in place of his own life force to employ the power of his martial art, if needed.
Lan Qing nodded. “Then make it quick. The faster you leave the sooner you get back.”
“Yeah.” Lan Jue got it – this mission was fundamentally important to the mission. It was the foundation of their whole plan.
Three hours later Zeus-1 quietly slipped out of Middle Heaven’s hangar bay. It’s communications equipment and lights were shut off, and like a shard of shadow they pushed off into deep space.
For this mission they wouldn’t be able to send any information back, they would have to deliver it themselves. They couldn’t take the risk of the planets finding out.
Europa. Lan Jue had been there many time, but never under circumstances like these. It wasn’t only the West’s capital, but the location of both the Pontiff’s and Satan’s citadels. By now it was under alien control.
No one knew the condition of the two Western Paragons. Reports stated that few of the Pontiff’s Citadel’s upper echelons survived. It’d been practically wiped out. Most of the Dark Citadel’s leadership had been protected, but their hive of heathens was mostly empty. They had taken a serious blow as well!
Hades no longer had to fret over fighting with the King of Demons for control of the Dark Citadel. The Dark Citadel was no more!
Lan Jue couldn’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment at that news. The tides of time were inconsistent, and changed the landscape in its passage. A lot of the universe seemed different now.
“Boss, we’re on course.” Mika’s voice called to him.
Mika was responsible for the controls and Xiuxiu kept an eye
on their shields and weapon systems. As always, Lin Guoguo busies herself making their ship invisible to enemy forces. Ke’er had remained behind with Su Xiaosu to look after the Division.
“Alright, full speed ahead.” He replied.
Mika pushed down on the gear and Zeus-1 shot forward. Of everyone on board, no one was perhaps more conflicted than Mika. No matter what happened there, Europa was where she’d grown up. She was a Westerner, and though felt no affiliation to it anymore it was still her native land!
Satan was nowhere to be found. The news said he’d fled, but no one had been able to get in contact with him. That made things very uncertain.
Ever since conflict with the aliens broke out Mika had felt the enmity she held for her father decrease. She’d eased so much, in fact, that she’d saved his life with that message from Monteux. She hoped he lived, she repeated it again and again in her head. No matter what he was her father.
Xiuxiu turned back to look at Lan Jue from time to time. But every time she did and her eyes feel upon the beautiful woman
by his side, her face fell just a little. For now Qianlin was not merged into Lan Jue’s body. She stood beside him on the bridge.
She was dressed in a flowing white dress, the one that was Lan Jue’s favorite. It was pure, simple, elegant. There were no flashy ornaments or designs. It allowed the ethereal beauty of the woman speak for itself.
The spirit in her eyes was still lost, but her face wasn’t as stiff as it had been. Occasionally her eyes would flit to Lan Jue, or sometimes her expression would change like she was thinking of something. It gave Lan Jue hope that she would recover soon.
It was his greatest hope.
If it wasn’t for this mission and the fight that followed, Lan Jue would have broken through already. He desperately wanted her back. Xuanyuan Shishi had told him her chances of a full return of faculties was very good.
Jue Di and Luo Xianni kept to themselves, cultivating. They wouldn’t need their help until the final moments. The Wine Master, Pharmacist and Driver were on the bridge with Lan Jue.
The Wine Master was chosen for his teleportation abilities, of course. The Driver was a long-range fighter, and the Pharmacist was their strongest. With Lan Jue, Qianlin, and their Harmonious swords, the team was well-rounded. If they weren’t strong enough by themselves than Lan Jue’s father and mother would intervene. No scouting party in the history of humanity came even close to what they were capable of.
Zeus-1 raced ahead at intense speeds. It had undergone maintenance after its near-miss with the explosion of Monteux. It was a particularly good ship to conduct energy, but having so many Paragons flood it with their Domain burnt out some of its components.
The Wine Master stood at Lan Jue’s other side. He spoke, voice low. “No matter what, we need to be quiet and cautious. Don’t rush ahead.”
“Yeah.” Lan Jue slowly nodded. He knew what the Wine Master was getting at. The aliens had already taken some of the planets, and just recently. The scenes they would pass would likely be heart-wrenching. The Wine Master was telling him to steel his heart. They had to proceed calmly.
Their main force would arrive in Europa in three days. They
would reach the outlying planets in two. In a day and a half the farthest Western planet came into view outside Zeus-1’s windows.
Chapter 758: Live Fire Reconnaissance
When they saw the embattled planets, their hearts fell.
It had become purple, as everyone had expected. But the sick color extended well past the planet itself and had begun to infect space around it. Aliens far as the eye could see surrounded it like a plague of locusts.
If the number of beasts they’d faced no Monteux had been overwhelming, what they saw before them was mind-boggling. They filled space as numerous as asteroids in the Shattered Starfields – more than humans had ever imagines.
“This is the aliens’ main force?” The Driver asked. As the others began to wonder if he was scared, he added a sentence. “So many vital crystals!”
“Is there any limit to your greed?” Lan Jue muttered. “Mika, pull us into orbit and keep your distance. Let’s take a look around, head for the nearest satellite planet then we’ll go from there. Xiuxiu, start recording.”
“Aye, aye!” The two women replied in unison.
Most of the creatures they saw were of the sort they’d witnessed before, however they were a few that were new to Lan Jue. Beasts over a thousand meters long were a common sighting, three thousand meters or more were rarer.
According to Lan Jue’s estimations, the ones that were ten thousand meters long were equivalent to human Paragons. They likely possessed more energy than a typical Paragon did. The smaller they became the weaker they were. Of course, this didn’t include those that could alter their appearance, like the Violet Prince and Princess.
As they continued their distant trajectory, only one word could describe the scene: Shocking.
It was staggering to behold. At least three times the number of enemies they’d faced in the North, and monsters stronger than they’d ever seen. When did they become so numerous? Ten times as many humans wouldn’t be able to contend with an army this size. Some were smaller, meant to force the enemy to waste their fire on them, but even those came in such numbers as to be a real threat.
“Can we get through?” Lan Jue turned to Lin Guoguo. Of course, he meant could they get into the thick of it without
She frowned. “No, there are too many in close proximity. I can’t emulate that many signals at once. We’d be discovered right away.”
This was a problem. Lan Jue frowned at the horde before them. If he couldn’t get in closer, how were they to complete their mission?”
Lan Qing’s words ticked the back of his mind. There were so many aliens they couldn’t safely confirm the aliens’ condition. This was as good as confirmation – it meant they were probably undergoing their evolution.
Yet, they’d been wrong before. Being wrong this time could mean they lose everything. Had Jue Di and Jun’er not helped when they did, humanity was already have no means to fight back.
Failure was not an option. They had to confirm the planets’ condition or the next part of their plan could not be enacted.
He muttered to the others. “Continue on. I don’t think the creatures can have this much space quarantined. It doesn’t matter how many there are.”
“Aye, aye!” Zeus-1 continued its forward journey.
Indeed it appeared the aliens could keep everything locked down. As they got closer to the planets things became more difficult, but the space between was more navigable. But things were worse than they expected. Interspersed throughout space were many of the umbrella-shaped, jellyfish-like aliens they’d encountered before. In Lan Jue’s experience they had the strongest psionic abilities, both very sensitive and wide-spread. They didn’t have much in the way of fighting ability but they carried a small army with them wherever they went.
The pulses from the umbrella aliens were as strange as they were complicated, too complicated for Lin Guoguo to mimic. In addition, they noticed that the signals from them seemed to change, whereas other aliens’ calls were static.
This was made even more troubling by the fact that they couldn’t tell how many aliens were contained inside one. For all they knew, one umbrella-alien could be transporting enough aliens to wipe out their little boat.
It took them a day to make a full circuit, observing every planet. The final analysis was the aliens were using overwhelming numbers and strategically placed umbrella-aliens to keep this section of space locked away. The seven outer planets were sentries, and Europa was safely nestled inside. Learning anything more was beginning to seem impossible.
“What do you think? “The Wine Master asked Lan Jue. By now the bastions were already in position. Middle Heaven, Poseidon, and Tyrannosaurus were making final preparations. Yet they still had no useful information to present.
In fact the only news they had was bad news. Even without the alien home worlds there seemed to be more normal aliens than the human forces could contend with. If the three planets did appear their deaths would be quick and decisive.
Their mission was more important than ever.
“Live-fire reconnaissance!” Lan Jue replied.
“Live fire reconnaissance?” The Wine Master seemed unsure. “No, too dangerous,” he replied.”
Lan Jue turned to him. “Hear me out. We wouldn’t all go out and pick a fight. We separate into two teams; Zeus-1 provides support while the second team moves in and kicks the hornet’s nest.”
“Explain,” the Wine Master said.
He did. “You, me, the Pharmacist, Qianlin. The four of us move into enemy territory and try to get a reaction, see how they respond from a small-scale attack. Without a way to protect ourselves being detected would be unavoidable. Meanwhile the others wait here on the ship and give us backup. Your job will be to transfer us out of harm’s way when the time is right. There is a danger, especially since it’s likely we’ll encounter stronger aliens, but it’s the only way to get a read on what’s happening deeper in. We don’t have to get to the center, we just need a clue.”
The Wine Master considered his proposal. “I suppose it’s the best plan we’ve got, though I don’t like the risk. What do you hope to find? You say we don’t need to penetrate too deeply, but there’s a lot of space between the outer planets and Europa. If the alien home worlds can cloak themselves as we suspect, it seems likely we’d discover anything useful.”
Lan Jue shook his head. “I don’t just intend to break past the line. I intend to get around the back side of these planets. You’ve seen that the aliens are most numerous around the planets. If a progenitor has already taken control of the planet, why would it need that much support? There must be something going on that we don’t know. We delve past their blockade and see what’s on the other side. Then, we swing around the backside of a planet and take a look at what they might be hiding. If we can do that, our mission will have been a success.”
The Wine Master thought for another few moments. “If that’s the case I think we can assure a reasonable degree of safety. I can teleport everyone back.”
Lan Jue smiled. “We might just be gauging reactions, but let’s hit them with a solid punch. If we can teleport out, then we can teleport in.”
The Wine Master nodded. “It’s unsure whether there are any survivors.”
When he said it everyone’s face grew solemn. The West was truly lost. Most of their population had been gathered here, so how many could have fled? Whatever the number, it was far,
far too few.
As much as no one wanted to admit it, the Western Alliance was no more. Their planetary defenses couldn’t hold out against so many enemies. Just think, their president was forced to flee. The chaos and devastation must have been staggering.
One of humanity’s three great Alliance had collapsed.
The thought left a wound on every heart. They had witnessed the end of an entire nation. Which would be next? The North? The East? Once the aliens completed their evolution, their path of genocide would continue.
“Let’s get ready. We’ll launch from the first planet, it’s closest to our own forces. When our mission is complete we’ll head back directly.” Lan Jue gave the final order.
Zeus-1 kept its course, heading back to where they they started.
“Boss, let me come with you, even just as Thor’s weapon.” Xiuxiu requested.
His response was low and serious. “Denied. Stay here on Zeus- 1.”
His decisive tone left no room for Xiuxiu to disagree. She glanced at him, at Qianlin by his side, then turned her pained eyes away. She would not be the girl who stood by him in conflict.
As Zeus-1 returned to the launching point Lan Jue woke his parents and told them the plan. The Driver and Mika would not be enough if the dispatch team needed help, so his father and mother would need to be on alert.
No more data was needed on their way back, so they moved quicker. They returned to the first planet in half the time.
Jue Di turned to his son. “Go. I will be watching over you with my Far Sight. The moment things get out of control I’ll move in to help, but be careful. We still have no idea where the alien planets are.”
Chapter 759: Survivors
Lan Jue’s heart fluttered. If the planets were close – or suddenly appeared – even his father’s power couldn’t protect them. But it was too late to change course now. The only path was forward.
One large figure and two smaller ones shot out into space.
The large one was Thor. Lan Jue and Qianlin weren’t Paragons, so although they could survive in space it cost them less energy to rely on the mecha. What’s more, the suit was still a help to Lan Jue.
The Pharmacist and the Wine Master sat on Thor’s shoulders, Qianlin rested in Lan Jue’s arms within the cockpit. The mecha’s back sparked and flared as the Banishing Stone came online, making them indistinguishable from their surroundings. Thus hidden, they moved in closer toward the nearby planet.
Hailin was a planet rich in ocean resources. Water covered sixty seven percent of the surface and it was one of the first planets discovered by the West after its interstellar migration. It wasn’t large, but it was well suited for human life. No
environmental aids were needed for people to live comfortably.
Sadly this once rich and fertile world had become a purple orb. Its beautiful oceans were murky purple marshes now. As they got closer they could see aliens in droves moving along the ground.
“Are we close enough, Wine Master?” Lan Jue asked.
Thor slowly came to a stop at the border of the aliens’ psionic reach. Trails of silver light followed the Wine Master’s scepter as he waved it before him, which coalesced into auras of light that hung over the small party. He motioned again, and a door of light appeared.
Lan Jue needed no instruction. He piloted Thor through the portal. There was a flash, then the door and the humans were gone.
Breaking through such a heavy cluster of enemies was too difficult. Simply teleporting past them was much simpler. The
silver door appeared again on the reverse side of the planet’s surface. Thor, the Wine Master, and the Pharmacist stepped out into a dead world.
Successful passage! None of the aliens seemed the wiser. The Wine Master’s abilities had improved after his second breakthrough. His transferals were more precise and could be maintained over longer distances. This would have been impossible for the Skyfire chairman just a short time ago.
Lan Jue gave his old friend a thumbs-up from inside the cockpit. “Well done, we weren’t discovered. Let’s take a look around.” As he spoke Thor squat low, and the mecha’s radar was engaged.
His suit’s equipment was the best money could buy. Not long after its systems were employed, large patches of alien activity were revealed to them. In one direction the purple hue was fainter – analysis stated it was the ocean. It appeared as though the aliens hadn’t been here long enough to infect the deeper parts of the seas.
“Look for signs of life.” Lan Jue ordered.
Thor continued to pulse the surroundings with its radar. It beeped to confirm the presence of life.
“This is…” It was only able to show the outline of the figures. An alien? Purple, too, but it had the appearance of a human! There weren’t many – maybe around a thousand.
“What did you find?” The Wine Master asked.
Lan Jue’s response was guarded. “Life. Human, but… purple.”
The Wine Master was just as surprised as he was. “Could this mean they’ve already figured out how to shift into human form?”
The Pharmacist offered her input. “Should I go take a look?”
“We’ll go together,” Lan Jue said.
Thor crouched even lower, then launched itself in the direction of the human colony.
They raced passed buildings in various states of destruction. They were in the process of being dissolved away. It didn’t take them long to reach where the radar said the human were.
Thankfully the aliens were few, in complete contrast to the thickly dotted space above them. So far their radar had only picked up a few sparse groups in the distance.
Thor was equipped with its own sort of cloaking device. Its presence would only be uncovered when it got close. It also boasted the East’s most recent psionic shielding equipment. Unless they came upon an umbrella alien, typical monsters would only be able to sense Thor if they came close.
With the help of these systems Thor approached the building unseen. It must have once been a stadium. They kept their distance, observing the scene. The first thing to note was that it appeared to be missing its roof. Thor approached slowly instead of rushing in, creeping up to the lip of one of its sides and peering inside.
The same purple filth that coated the rest of the planet carpeted the interior of the stadium. What was strange were the cocoons that were interspersed among the fungus. They were about three meters long, and each of them was surrounded by a
crowd of people.
Most of them were stained purple like the earth they stood upon. The sick color painted them from head to toe, and though they looked like humans their eyes were dull and sightless. They were larger than normal, and muscular like giants.
“They look like Western Converts.” The Wine Master mused.
Just then one of the cocoons split open. Inside was a naked human, burly and tough. They looked very similar to the others milling around.
They continued to watch as several larger aliens appeared. They deposited groups of normal-looking humans. Some struggled, some cried, some just stood there in impotent shock.
Survivors. There were survivors!
The discovery thrilled Lan Jue, the Wine Master and the Pharmacist. After so many days they thought all the humans would have long since been devoured for energy.
The aliens heaved their victims forward, into the arena. Once inside they were deposited into vacant cocoons. As they closed the purple earth slithered in pleasure.
“They’re using humans as a basis for transformation.” Lan Jue discerned. They were transforming them instead of taking their life essence. For what reason? Was it to get a better understanding of their genetic makeup?
Lan Jue sighed. “There’s nothing we can do. Besides, we have a mission. Let’s see how these corrupted people react after their transformation.”
He didn’t even finish talking before Thor was on the move. It descended into the arena from overhead, surrounded by an aura of warped space.
Its metallic feet slammed into the fungus-ridden ground, causing it to shake. The rumbles were like thunder as bolts of lightning blasted out in all directions. The alien foliage didn’t even have a chance to tremble before the All-Heaven lightning erased it from existence.
Thor’s appearance was loud and fast, too sudden for the aliens
to react. In the space of a breath the aliens were struck down by the lightning and reduced to ash. A few of the bigger ones left vital crystals behind.
Although Thor couldn’t amplify Lan Jue’s Discipline by much, it had no problem employing it.
Surprise flashed through the Wine Master’s eyes. He was impressed by how strong Lan Jue had become, and how quickly.
At last the humanoid aliens reacted. They screamed and howled, then rushed forward with complete disregard to their own safety.
Their speed alone showed they were so longer human. They were covered in thick, corded muscles and veins slithered up their necks like snakes burrowed under the skin. They moved like the monsters they’d become, and seemed no less capable of causing serious damage in a fight.
Thor leapt into action. It swept over the rush of monsters towards the cocoons behind them. Blasts of electricity split them open and the blue mecha saved the humans within, who had yet to be transformed by their ordeal.
The unfortunate infected were in close pursuit. Thor spun around and stomped its metallic foot. The force of the impact sent a shockwave through the ground and caused them to lose their footing.
Meanwhile a flood of power came their way, making the hair on the back of their necks stand on end. A swarm of aliens were headed in their direction.
The Wine Master took charge. “I’ve got a plan!”
He reached out into thin air and his scepter appeared in a flash of light. He waved it twice and two streaks of silver were left in its path. It blocked the survivors from the infected.
“Go!” He yelled.
The name is literally ‘ocean forest.’
Chapter 760: Save, Scout
Thor shimmered as it cloaked, and shot into the air. Lan Jue chuckled in relief. “I almost forgot you’re a space-time Paragon. Accommodating these people isn’t hard for you. But will they be safe in the temporary dimensions you create?”
The Wine Master proudly replied. “Have faith in my specialty.”
“So why hasn’t our specialist thought of this before?” He teased.
The elder Paragon was somewhat sheepish. “I’ve never tried it before, of course I wouldn’t just think of it. We can use this to save the humans we come across. My temporary dimension can safely store ten thousand people without issue. With effort I can support even more. We should take back some of the infected humans, and research the changes to their DNA.”
“Alright!” At first Lan Jue’s heart had been pained to see his fellow humans being killed and tortured with no way to help. But the goodness and righteousness of his character refused to let him simply stand by and watch. At his wit’s end the Wine Master’s abilities had revealed the silver lining to the dark cloud
of alien atrocity. Bringing him had been an excellent decision. In a blink they’d saved a thousand people – most of them mutated, yes, but there was a chance to save them!
Thor continued its flight. Swarms of aliens approached from every direction, but the ones nearby were too few to cause alarm. Yet, Lan Jue wasn’t here to fight. Right now his interest was how to save more people, so he fled the area in lieu of fighting. They made for the horizon, Thor’s radar sweeping the ground for any more survivors.
A planet’s population was enormous. Lan Jue couldn’t allow these beasts to experiment on the unfortunate souls that had lived here. From the brief encounter Lan Jue could tell that those who had undergone mutation seemed to lose their faculties. However, their aggressiveness remained with a thirst for destruction. The integrity of their bodies remained, with the only changes seeming to be a massive increase in strength. It was like being injected with a genetic decoction.
They couldn’t know what specifically happened to these victims until the Keeper and Bookworm had a chance to take a look.
Before long Lan Jue discovered another group of humans in
the midst of these torturous experiments. He didn’t hesitate before rushing in to save them, making quick work of their monstrous captors. Thankfully this group seemed better off, and only a few had been turned.
After the third batch the Wine Master was reaching the limits of his capabilities. However, it was then they discovered the largest group yet. Thousands of captives were huddled in a large arena awaiting infection.
Meanwhile the planet was abuzz with alien activity. They descended from surrounding space, galvanized by the actions of Lan Jue’s team and looking for any sign of the agitators.
“We can’t keep this up, Jewelry Master. My carrying capacity is at its limit. This planet alone could have had a billion people, we can’t save them all unless we take back the whole planet.” The Wine Master’s voice was solemn, but firm.
Lan Jue was crestfallen. He knew the Wine Master was right. The aliens wouldn’t stand by while they freed their slaves. They’d only been successful up to this point because the creatures had had their attention on the skies. Now that they sensed a disturbance more attention would be paid to the ground.
Verifying that many survivors yet lived would have to be enough. They could consider ways to help them once their mission was complete, though the only way to save them all would be to retake the planet. Lan Jue let the obsessive need to help them subside, and he took a breath. “Let’s continue with the mission.”
Thor raced forward so fast that it became a beam of blue light. Any alien in its path was cut in two before it knew what was happening. Lan Jue and his team vanished into the distance.
They had a fair knowledge of conditions on the surface, including the presence of survivors. They also confirmed that it was entirely under alien control. What was important now was the location of the alien home worlds, as well as their reasons for taking these planets. It was time to see what they could find on the far side of the world.
Lan Jue sped forward when suddenly the sky grew dim. A colossal beast descended from the heavens right in their path. The scene that unfolded shocked Lan Jue to his core.
It was an umbrella alien, psionically powerful but defenseless in a fight. Without a doubt they’d been discovered, but this wasn’t what surprised Lan Jue. As they watched a host of
mechas detached from the embrace of the alien and came their way, each of them radiating a dark red light. Soon they were surrounded.
Lan Jue’s military experience helped him to recognize these mechas as Western army. Their color was slightly different, and the aura they radiated was sick and evil.
Lan Jue growled to the others. “It seems the infected keep their skills, maybe even a level of intelligence. They’re just under enemy control. It seems even more likely we can save them if we can break the connection.”
“Let’s go!” He had no stomach for killing humans. Thor shot into the distance like a bolt of lightning, unfazed by the mechas attempts to encircle it. Herein was Thor’s greatest benefit. In combat Lan Jue didn’t need the mecha, but the suit and his Discipline together resulted in tremendous speed – even light speed for short periods. In outer space the aliens might have been able to keep up, but not within a planet’s atmosphere. Catching Thor would not be easy. The only creatures Lan Jue feared encountering where the Violet Prince or Princess.
That didn’t mean their troubles were over. Scores of the aliens were descending onto the planet. The more that appeared
the less their cloaking equipment would help them. A hideous bird-like monster appeared in their path with speed nearly a match for Thor. It was nearly three times the size of Thor and shimmered with a metallic luster. With an ear-piercing screech it swatted a wing at the mecha.
“Hmph!” The Pharmacist’s tone was cold and commanding. A burst of white light spread out from her. Seven twinkling stars emerged.
The beast screeched again, but its cry was cut short as it split in two halves. Thor stood safely in the center as the corpse tumbled passed on either side. Occisus was more than a match for any of these beasts.
The Pharmacist stood upon Thor’s shoulder, steadying herself with a hand on the mecha’s head. With a flash of white light the Banishing Blade appeared in her right hand.
“You fly, leave the rest to me.” Her voice was calm, but the Wine Master was taken aback by the threatening aura he felt from her. The Harbinger Fairy was a sight to behold. As he watched she pointed forward with Occisus and a white light issued forth. It marked a path, but also covered them in a protective shell. The mecha was carried along with the sword’s
Thor raced forward. As the Pharmacist instructed, Lan Jue focused on guiding the mecha, while the white light of Occisus obliterated anything in its path. A rain of corpses marked their passage.
The Wine Master cleaned up their mess. As they carved a path through the enemy he brandished his scepter. Flashes of silver sparked as vital crystals were snapped up. Not one was missed.
Lan Jue and the others continued their indomitable trek through the column of light. Nothing stood in their way. The Pharmacist’s mighty powers left their foes with the choice to either flee or die.
But just then, several monsters over a thousand meters long – stronger than the typical beasts – moved to bar their path. From experience they knew creatures like this were equivalent to ninth level Adepts, with deep wells of energy at their command. They were perhaps better equated to battleships, some even strong enough to rival dreadnaughts. The Pharmacist didn’t seem bothered and the light of her weapon continued to blaze a path forward.
The first one to reach them looked like a crocodile. It opened its maw and spat an orb of purple-black light at them. The air grew thick and ropy like they’d suddenly been emerged in a swamp.
A flash of white light from Occisus and the danger was gone. In the face of the Banishing Blade’s incomparable power nothing the beast attempted could stop their charge. It was like a burning knife through bubble gum.
The crocodile froze in mid-air, locked in their path as the light from Occisus passed through it. The Wine Master smirked, playing with a pale purple vital crystal about the size of his fist.
“Not bad. A good specimen!”
A crystal of this caliber was useful to even one of his status.
The crocodile slowly peeled apart and collapsed to the ground below.