Skyfire Avenue Chapter 761-770

Chapter 761: Extinguishing Vitality.

Lan Jue could feel the difference in the Pharmacist since the last time they fought together, when she faced Monarch. Her abilities had risen to new heights, and Occisus’ manifestations were more biting than ever. It galvanized his own Banishing Blade, which hummed within him and stirred his spirit.

So powerful!

The Pharmacist’ face was calm as always, standing tall with sword in hand against the flood of enemies. Wherever she pointed her weapon a thousand-meter swath was cleared and alien bodies fell away. Her own image trailed behind her as they raced ahead, after images that were becoming clearer with every moment.

The Wine Master was shocked to discover that her level of cultivation was visibly improving as she fought. What was this ability? How did she become stronger the longer she fought?

He did not know that this was the Pharmacist’s Righteous Slaughter Domain, imparted through her connection to the Banishing Blade. She was different from Lan Jue in that she grew up with Occisus, all of her powers revolved around the
sword. The legendary weapon had caused her great pain, but had also imparted great power.

Her Righteous Slaughter Domain was simple and direct. The longer she fought the fiercer she became, with every moment increasing her lethality and Occisus’ cutting power. This meant the more time she had to accumulate lethality, the more dangerous she became for her enemies.

At this point, as her own image continued to solidify behind her, she was already as strong as a Reflection of Heaven and Earth. It was the same for the strength of her Domain, further empowered as the deadly aura was recycled into energy. To defeat her one would have to have power enough to subdue her abilities or a weapon mighty enough to contend with her own. In all of humanity’s history there were only three other weapons capable of doing that. Two were in the hands of her friends, only Ultus was unaccounted for.

Thor was unstoppable. Soon they had covered half the distance to their target. All the while Lan Jue scanned the radar and was relieved to discover many groups of survivors like the ones they saw before. There was still a chance many of them could be saved.
But as they continued on Lan Jue saw another problem. The fungal growth beneath them was getting thicker as they approached the back side of the planet. The darker color and poisonous aura did not bode well. Lan Jue was sure the progenitor leeching energy from this planet was going to be among the strongest he’d encountered.

If they could kill it, liberating the planet would be easier. Every dead progenitor was a boon to their mission. Clearly the infection of the humans was performed through the power of the progenitor. Without it they could not subject the humans to that awful fate. What’s more a vital crystal from those beasts was so useful even his father could employ its benefits. They were treasures to the Paragon community that made them all the more terrifying in battle.

Lan Jue’s eagerness burned at the prospect of such a prize. Between himself, the Pharmacist, and the Wine Master they could do it. If they could defeat the progenitor their mission would be a flawless success.

However, the closer they came to the far side of the planet the more numerous and dangerous their enemies. Monsters over three thousand meters long began to appear, as mighty as Paragons with more energy at their disposal. Titans were arrayed against them, as destructive as Capital ships. In fact
Capital ships would struggle against them.

Still, the Pharmacist continued to show them how life energy can restrain life energy.

A massive dragon-like monster dropped from above. It roared and a blast of energy spat like flames from its mouth. The Pharmacist’s beam of light was dispersed, forcing Thor to come to a halt.

The Wine Master rose to his feet. As he was about to join the fight he heard a dragon’s roar issue from the Pharmacist, a roar so loud it shook the mecha they stood upon.

She raised her blade high overhead, the light from its point spreading far and wide. A perfect copy of herself shimmered behind her, three meters tall with the same cold expression and valiant aura.

Reflection of Heaven and Earth! Power that surpassed even the Wine Master’s newly acquired level. He sucked in a breath, shocked by what he witnessed. This was…
The Pharmacist turned around and gave the sword to the manifestation of her dharma. The moment Occisus slipped into her hands its light bloomed. Ting! Ringing metal on metal sounded as reality shook.

The aliens all around them suddenly froze, unable to control their own bodies. The sound even made the Wine Master gulp in fear. It felt as though some unthinkable power was awakening.

Lines appeared in the pure white light emanating from the sword. They were hard to see, indistinct, but the images they traced were beautiful in their simplicity. They had to be runes from the blade, invisible until the Pharmacist had the power to reveal them. Rising to the power of a Reflection must have unlocked more of Occisus’ potential.

The Pharmacist knelt. Her dharmic image took over standing beside Thor with sword held aloft. The dragon barring their path screeched and made to flee. Like all living creatures it was possessed of instinct, and its instinct was telling it to avoid certain destruction.

However, its size was an obstacle and fleeing was slow. The image of the Pharmacist flicked her wrist and a beam of white light shot through the sky.
The borders of reality around the streak of light changed, one half retaining color and the other drained to black and white. All sound died and any beast within the realm of black and white was so thoroughly destroyed as to leave no trace. Only twinkling vital crystal remained to mark where they had been. They hung in the air for but a moment before they too, were destroyed. Shattering like glass their contents coalesced and flowed like a river into Occisus.

The aliens on the colorful side of the schism looked on, unscathed. The dragon was unfortunate enough to be caught between the two. Half a mangled carcass remained.

So violent…

The Wine Master gulped. What… what is this power? Dimensional? No… it’s not that simple. She erased their life force!

In a single stroke the Pharmacist had slain over a thousand foes. Her unique sword style had always left witnesses with a deep impression, but nothing compared to what the Wine Master had just seen. He wondered if he would have been able to survive, if her were on the wrong side of that sword. It was frightening to comprehend, so much that he struggled to quiet
the dread in his mind.

“I need to rest.” The Pharmacist spoke in matter-of-fact tones as the signs of her protogenia faded from the air. Obviously it was the first time she had used such an ability, provoked from the sword as the strength of a Reflection of Heaven and Earth was channeled through it.

Seated in Thor’s cockpit, Lan Jue was just as dumbfounded as the Wine Master. It was the first time he’d seen such a level of destruction, beyond anything he’d imagined. What was his own sword capable of, once he broke through? To say he was anxious to find out was an understatement.

The Pharmacist had cleared enough space for Thor to try and hide itself again. The mecha darted toward the ground to try and lose its pursuers in the convoluted terrain.

The Wine Master shot the Pharmacist a furtive glance and suddenly felt the weight of his years. The world now belonged to this young generation of heroes. They might they possessed already far outstripped their predecessors.

IT was true for the Pharmacist, as it was for Lan Qing and Lan
Jue. Lan Qing’s talent and potential almost ensured he would achieve the same level of power as his father. The effect on the world of Adepts would be tremendous.

The alien invasion had already brought one of humanity’s alliances to its knees. Recovering from this would be a nearly impossible task for the West. Meanwhile the East and its mighty heroes were poised to take advantage of the unfortunate situation. Their dominance was assured.

But first, the threat to humanity’s existence had to be dealt with.

Once Thor reached the surface it was easier to conceal itself. It sprinted forward as fast as possible, all the while sensing the change in its surroundings. Lan Jue continued to monitor Thor’s radar and mark the locations of survivor camps. It would serve them well when they returned to save them.

Above them the number of enemies had thinned. Clearly the feared whatever power had obliterated the others. Lan Jue took the opportunity to press forward, sticking close to the ground. It slowed their progress but kept them safe, making it the right decision.
“Something feels off. Wine Master, keep an eye out.” Lan Jue’s voice called to him within Thor.

Chapter 762: Doppelganger

“What is it?” The Wine Master asked.

Lan Jue tried to explain. “There are fewer aliens overhead now, and they’re thinning by the second. They wouldn’t just let us go, I think we have a stronger one coming.”

“Alright.” The Wine Master answered. He was instantly on guard.

As if in response flecks of silver light appeared in the air, hanging around them like motes of starlight. Thor continued to race ahead but it was somehow less distinct and harder to pin down.

Suddenly a wave of strange energy washed over them, so strong that it caused the air around them to tremble. It was like they’d flown right into a net, and Thor’s speed was sharply reduced.

The world around them became a sea of violet, and the air was thick as molasses. All of a sudden they were in another reality entirely.
The Wine Master gasped and thrust out his scepter. A silver light cut through the violet world and expanded, layering dimensions one on top of another

Domain!

Upon breaking through to the next tier of power, the Wine Master’s Domain had also evolved to dimensional compression. Layers of reality folded over one another  produced  vast amounts of energy that surrounded Lan Jue and the Paragons. They shimmered like half-real things caught between a dream and wakefulness.

Where the violet and silver met the air warped. They contended against one another, but the silver continued to carve open a path. However the Wine Master’s face changed after a moment, for he saw that the schisms he’d created were getting smaller. The pressure from the violet universe they inhabited pressed from the outside.

The pressure was stifling and the Wine Master’s heart beat rapidly against his chest. If Lan Jue was right, they were about to face a truly fearsome enemy. The Pharmacist was still recovering, deep in meditation. Their safety fell on his shoulders.
The silvery light slowly began to become infected with violet. Where it had been in stark contrast now the borders began to blur and the Wine Master’s Domain began to dissolve. The alien power superimposed itself again and again over the silver light, each time reducing it by degrees.

It appeared that the alien that had come to stop them didn’t understand dimensional manipulation well. They were attempting to simply overpower it and squeeze it close in order to reveal the Wine Master and his friends.

Whatever creature this was, they were at least Nirvana-level or higher. Only a creature with that amount of power could force the Wine Master’s rift closed. But he was not panicked, he held high scepter high and tendrils of light sprang up around him. They joined and spread until the Wine Master, the Pharmacist and Thor were encased in glimmering silver.

The layers of his Domain continued to retract in the face of the alien’s power, but it did not seem to affect them. A moment later there was a blinding flash, and the humans were gone.

The layers of dimensional power collapsed and the violet worlds rose victorious. But there was no life for it to consume.
A middle-aged man awash in shining violet light appeared. His face was pinched in thought. Had Lan Jue spied him he would be surprised at how similar this one was to the Violet Prince. Though, this new alien royal was weaker by comparison.

There was another flash of light, and he was gone.

ζ

Crack! Reality split apart with a glint of silver light ten kilometers away. Short-range teleportation… the Wine Master had struggle valiantly to break the hold of the monster and find a dimensional tear.

“Jewelry Master, we have to be quick. Whoever that was, they were strong – at least Nirvana. We’re no match for them. We must complete our mission as quickly as possible.”

“Understood.” He immediately set Thor in motion again. Sure enough, the highest class of aliens had appeared on the planet, but he was not nervous. On the one hand he knew his father was keeping an eye on them. On the other, he was confident that together they had enough strength to defend themselves
against a Nirvana-level alien.

Aliens of comparable level were weaker in strength to their human counterparts. In part this was due to the addition of Astrum to focus and empower Paragons’ abilities, but also because of the human process of cultivation. By nature a human’s Discipline counteracted the aliens’, which was solely derived from their home worlds. Those of particular ability – like the Violet Prince and Princess – had minds of their own, but most only knew how to attack and destroy.

Thor shuttled back and forth, low to the ground. The area here had been poisoned to a deep wine hue. Hopes of fighting the planet’s progenitor had been dashed with the arrival of the royal beast. They had to simply continue with the mission.

As he continued on the sky began to darken. A black hole appeared in the sky above radiating dark purple. Its interior was so dark nothing seemed to escape. A stifling energy swept over them in waves, and each blast brought with it an ineffable fear. Whatever went in never came out.

It’s the same alien! It was using some special method to try and find them. It went without saying the intrepid humans had nowhere to hide. Thor appeared, and in a flash of light its
occupants emerged. Lan Jue hung suspended in air, hand in hand with Zhou Qianlin. If hiding was no longer an option, the only thing left was to fight.

Although Lan Jue had faced many aliens, he had stood against their strongest echelons only a handful of times. With all the planets he’d been to occupied by alien forces this was still true, so it was safe to assume this would be the only truly credible foe they would have to fight.

Killing one shouldn’t be impossible.

When Lan Jue and Qianlin appeared, the Wine Master knew his intention. He took a single, light step forward and suddenly he was in the air. His robes fluttering with the breeze, he began to swell. Blinding silver light radiated out from within him.

Skyfire Avenue’s chairman was an old Paragon, one who had studied the secrets of the craft for many years. Every iota of learning had pushed him to be a Reflection of  Heaven  and Earth, with a foundation solid as iron. In this moment he channeled the whole of his knowledge through himself, calling upon every ounce of his power as a Reflection. He blazed with a silvery magnificence, a giant of a man.
He motioned forward with his scepter, and a strange sound issued from his mouth. It was a sort of buzzing, so thunderous that the whole planet appeared to shake.

A strange scene emerged. The black hole stopped expanding, halted by a ring of silver that had appeared at its edges. Meanwhile the Wine Master waved his scepter back and forth, drawing archaic symbols in the air. Silver light flickered erratically and everything around them trembled.

“Continuum Cataclysm!” The Wine Master’s booming voice roared.

All of a sudden reality fluctuated, it was as though the world were turned on its head. Things seemed unreal as rips in spacetime larger than buildings sprang up in all directions. A flood of dimensional power threatened to fracture the planet.

Lan Jue had heard of this before. When a space-time Adept reached a certain degree of power, they were capable of tearing apart the fabric of reality. They could teleport whole planets, though that would require truly legendary power.

Though the Wine Master was hardly capable of that feat, what
Lan Jue witnessed was the beginning of it. The tears that stretched from the heavens to the earth were like open wounds that threatened to swallow everything.

The violet whirlpool of power slowed to a crawl. It could no longer retain stability in the face of the Wine Master’s power and the warping terrain of space-time around it.

Upon Thor’s shoulder, the Pharmacist slowly opened her eyes. They sparkled like stars as she peered into the distance.

Lan Jue and Qianlin stood by, quietly waiting for their opportunity.

The chaos around then continued for several minutes before slowly dissipating, leaving the violet void half the size it had been. Still its power tugged at them. By now the Wine Master was a hundred meters tall and towered over the land like a god from the old tales. He brandish his scepter and a beam of silver chopped down on the vortex.

A screeching cry replied and a violet figure appeared before the whirlpool. The energy from it flooded into the beast, causing it to grow as well. The larger it became, the clearer it
was to the distant onlookers.

Humanoid. Familiar.

Lan Jue gasped. “The Violet Monarch?” His voice was shaky when he saw who it was.

“No.” The Pharmacist was by his side. “That is not the Monarch. The aura is wrong, weaker. He’s a piece of him, a sort of doppelganger.”

The violet figure continued to grow before their eyes while a formless aura of terror surrounded it. In a blink it stretched a thousand meters tall. As they watched the beast that looked like the Monarch thrust a single punch, and with the motion the Wine Master’s dimensional fissures shattered like fragile glass.

A gust of pressure made the old Paragon’s Domain shudder. He swung his scepter around and traced out a circle but the flood knocked him back before he could finish.

The Pharmacist’s eyes sparkled. She pointed with her right finger and a single beam of white lot shot into the sky. She leapt
forward with her hand held aloft in a claw-like swipe. Occisus cutting power pervaded the air.

The fledgling copy of the Violet Monarch looked her way.

Chapter 763: Separate Action

An enormous purple hand a thousand meters across came down from above to try and swat the Pharmacist from the sky. She fearlessly advanced with her weapon leading the way. There was a flash of white, a pained scream, and suddenly the Pharmacist was through the hand like it was nothing.

Lan Jue, holding tight to Qianlin’s hand, lifted into the air as well. They were almost immediately surrounded by the light of their swords; Captus red, and Demortus blue. They were both inspired by the power of their brother Occisus, and pulsed with stifling power. With their swords held high they joined the Pharmacist in her charge toward the Monarch’s doppelganger.

Waves of energy surged from the alien like an angry tide. It punched at the Pharmacist, forcing her to retreat before turning on Lan Jue and Qianlin. It reached out to grab them.

It was Lan Jue’s first time fighting a creature like this. All of a sudden he felt as though everything around them was their enemy. The world wanted them dead. An unspeakable pressure pressed in from all sides, pure energy suppression – the same method he’d used to seal the Wine Master’s Domain.
He leapt to the side to block Qianlin. With a flick of the wrist he carved out an angry red circle with Captus and everything within it imploded. A burst of energy shot out with enough force to catapult Lan Jue and Qianlin from the battlefield. They were gone, the pressure that assailed them collapsed on empty space.

This was the joining of Captus and Taiji.

In the next instant Qianlin sprang up from behind Lan Jue. She swiped her weapon, birthing a hail of blue barbs that filled the air. A hundred thousand bursts of Demortus’ cutting bite raced for their target. Lan Jue was not idle and thrust his sword into the circular patch he’d carved in the sky. Though the movement was simple, the strength of the power it exuded had the weight of a thousand pounds behind it. Like roaring waves it burst forth, sweeping through the pressure that had threatened to crush them.

A column of white light descended from above them, bearing the murderous aura of Occisus. Through the aid of  her Righteous Slaughter Domain the woman had never encountered a battle she couldn’t overcome. She was harder to fight the longer it took. Now that she was a Paragon the power of her sword was amplified greatly, and even the doppelganger’s mighty capabilities couldn’t deny her. For every onslaught that
was rebuffed she returned with something stronger.

All of a sudden the alien shrunk, dramatically reduced to the size of a normal man once again. It stretched out its right hand to brazenly deflect the Pharmacist.

It was going to use its own body to contend against Occisus?

Ting! The Harbinger Fairy was violently thrust backward, the monster’s puissance was simply too great. Yet it did not escape unscathed. A deep cleft had been cut into its fist which leaked poison vapor.

Occisus was truly a legendary weapon! It was foolish for any living thing to try and stand in its path.

Lan Jue and Qianlin linked hands and advanced. He  cut toward the beast, focused flow! Behind him another river of blue power emerged – ten thousand blades as one!

Though the two lovers could employ the Harmonious Swords, their individual styles still complimented each other. Calm, graceful, strong. The emulsions from the two Banishing Blades
flickered as they surrounded the Monarch’s copy.

“Be careful!” The Wine Master shouted. Lan Jue had no time to react before an inexplicable power rammed into him, sending both he and Qianlin several kilometers away. As he flailed through the air he saw the spot they’d just occupied collapsed into a void of purple energy. IF the Wine Master hadn’t acted they would have been killed.

He scowled. Impotence in this crucial fight was unacceptable.
He decided it was time.

Though he commanded the power of a Paragon, he was not one. It put him at an insurmountable disadvantage against a foe this powerful, he simply didn’t have the energy to face him! They were worlds apart and no special weapon or substance could close that gap. After all, the enemy they faced was at least equivalent to Nirvana.

Comparatively the Pharmacist was doing much better, relying on none but herself and the strength of her weapon. Despite the alien’s superior abilities it feared Occisus and had learned the dangers of getting too close. The Pharmacist and the blade were as one, and together they restrained the destructive power of the doppelganger to where his advantages could not overcome
her.

The Wine Master leapt into action, joining her in the life or death struggle.

All of the humans together couldn’t equal the strength of the alien. For this moment their focus was to restrain the beast. To this end the natural constraints of human vitality, and Occisus power, created a stalemate.

“We’ve got this handled, continue with the mission. I’ll get us out when you’re finished.” The Wine Master’s voice spoke directly into Lan Jue’s ear.

“Alright.” Lan Jue made the decision, following the Wine Master’s suggestion. Right now they served no purpose here, and would only get in the way. They could use the Harmonious Sword technique, but it would be draining and best saved as a last resort.

Lan Jue and Qianlin disappeared into Thor’s cockpit once more. The mecha lurched forward at incredible speed. The doppelganger turned as though to follow but was quickly cut off by the Pharmacist. Indeed she was becoming harder to manage
as the fight continued, and the light from her and her weapon was unlike anything they’d seen before. Every strike was possessed of indomitable power and righteous intent, leaving the beast with no chance to catch its breath. Frightening as the sword was, the Monarch’s copy didn’t dare disregard its lethality. If the human bearer struck it in the vital crystal, it would be no more.

He could also sense that the Wine Master and Pharmacist were beginning to flag. They were relying on their strongest abilities to defend themselves, but that could not be maintained for long. Soon they would tire.

Once it fled the battle, Thor darted through the sky like a fish in a stream. In a blink it was moving at top speed. The violet royal’s appearance had scared off the other aliens giving it space to maneuver. A clash of Paragons was destructive enough to cause real danger simply by getting too close.

This was their chance. With Lan Jue at the controls Thor quickly covered ground toward the far side of the planet. With every kilometer that passed he was more astonished by what he saw; ground nearly black from poison and buildings on the verge of collapse. Not a single living human was anywhere within radar range.
More striking were the thick tentacles that served as the progenitor’s arteries. They were writhing and prominent like varicose veins that all pointed in the same directions. If he didn’t know better he could confuse them for the meridians of the planet itself.

Of course a planet didn’t have meridians. It was obvious what these arteries belonged to.

He continued to race forward, eventually crossing over to the back side of the former human world. Immediately he saw that it was dark and gloomy, and his mind was invaded with a strange sensation.

Something, he didn’t know what, wasn’t right. Something he should be noticing but wasn’t.

The gloom was an unnatural violet in color that hung over everything like a mist. He could feel within it a  lurking presence, potent and all-pervasive.

Ah! Suddenly he understood. Something felt off ever since he’d come to the planet but he hadn’t been able to put his finger on it until this moment. This planet wasn’t rotating.
Every cosmic body had its own rotational properties, even stars. Something that had no rotation whatsoever was exceedingly odd. Because some planets were slower than others to make one circuit it was sometimes hard to tell.

“Thor, access planetary data. Check to see if any of the other planets we’ve encountered have a rotation.” Lan Jue ordered the on-board AI to check the scouting data they’d accumulated up to this point.

“Yes,” the suit responded.

A few moments later Thor confirmed Lan Jue’s guess, none of the planets were moving. They were perfectly still.

One of the dangers of a planet losing its rotation was forcing it out of orbit. It would go from a stable path to an enormous asteroid. That was a disaster both for the planet itself and all of its neighbors.

The aliens were capable of more than just destroying planets, they could stop them dead in their tracks. But why?
Thor continued on, and when it reached the far side of the planet, in that world of gloom and violet, Lan Jue could see far into the distance. His mouth fell open.

What he saw, he would remember for the rest of his life.

What was it?

The veins that slithered across the planet’s surface gathered all together at a single point, and rose into the sky as a single column. It was similar to what they’d witnessed on Monteux,
but this artery was at least a hundred times larger! It was like a straw rising from the world out into space that squirmed and wriggled.

“Thor, rise!” Lan Jue shouted the order and Thor reacted immediately. He ascended with no concern for hiding, and no concern for the myriad aliens that waited in space. He was somewhat surprised that he didn’t encounter any of the beasts as he rose. Soon he peaked over the clouds, through the atmosphere, and into space.

Interesting note, the motion of your  bowels  and  digestive tract – that wave-like motion that pushes things along – is called
peristalsis. That’s what this artery is doing.

Chapter 764: Predicted and Unexpected

The space above the planet was still without any alien defenders. It appeared as though they were all focused on the front-facing side. Now that Lan Jue was through the atmosphere his sights were unobstructed, he could see the violet artery stretch into the distance and disappear.

Incredible!

Lan Jue had guessed it, but seeing this umbilicus disappear into the distance with his own eyes was another matter entirely. He was filled with dread. What was it? If it connected to the alien home worlds that would explain a lot. But why, on Monteux, was vital energy siphoned into a single creature while here it flowed through the artery directly? What did it mean? The energies from a planet were enormous, it seemed obvious what they were being used for.

This was only one of seven planets. If conditions were the same on the others, Lan Jue was confident in his analysis. But what about Europa?

Lan Jue fought the urge to follow the artery to its source. Now wasn’t the time, and stealing into the tiger’s den had an
uncomfortably high possibility of never coming out. What they had learned here was enough to call their mission a success, but he wasn’t happy with it. It wasn’t that the information was insufficient. On the contrary, it proved how dangerous their situation had become.

Thor turned around and began to head back. Lan Jue’s eyes flashed and his breath quickened. They had to move in for the final assault soon, otherwise their alien aggressors would be triumphant. Humanity would be lost.

He retraced his steps, following the same path he’d taken. Radar was unnecessary, he just needed to follow the bursts of energy from the distance battle. He could see violet, silver and white clashes in the horizon. From what he could see the violet was getting stronger, and the white was fading.

The Pharmacist had expended a lot of energy before this fight, yet still threw herself into it without restraint. Her will was indomitable but she was still just a Paragon of the Realm of Protogenia. Once the limits of her energy was reached she would no longer be able to summon the deadly power of Occisus.

Comparatively the Wine Master was faring better. He was a
Reflection of Heaven and Earth and thus had more potency to draw upon. He was the primary threat to the doppelganger and the Pharmacist served as his weapon. Her aid helped even the playing field.

There was a flash, and a brilliant rainbow burst into existence.

The Wine Master and Pharmacist sensed it, and together their attention went to the rainbow. What they saw was a smear of color that seemed to split the sky. It cleansed everything in its path, wiping away the foul power of the alien horde.

The Monarch’s doppelganger stared wide eyed at the phenomenon. It felt its body grow sluggish and an ineffable fear gripped its chest. It frightening it so completely that it made the immediately decision to flee, dissolving into a purple light and vanishing. Whatever that light was, it contained enough power to end its life.

The light did not chase the monster but rather swept up the two humans on its trek through the atmosphere. In a flash they were out in space and any aliens not fast enough to move out of the way were obliterated in the rainbow’s passage.
The beam of light flew on far into the distance before eventually slowing.

“Go!” Lan Jue’s weak voice urged.

The Wine Master didn’t need to be told twice. Two humans vanished from alien territory in a spark of silver light.

The power of the Harmonious Swords was a real danger to the Monarch’s doppelganger. It had the potential to wound it grievously, but to kill the beast would be very difficult. After all, neither Lan Jue nor Qianlin yet had the strength to summon the power of their swords. Instead Lan Jue chose to use the technique to abscond with his friends and bring them to safety. Their mission was complete and the information had to be brought back as soon as possible.

Three quick successive teleports took the scouting party out of the enemy’s reach. The Wine Master called Zeus-1 for exfiltration and after a few moments they were safely back on board.

Lan Jue and Qianlin both were completely drained. The Harmonious Swords had taken more than they could handle.
The Pharmacist gave them pills to shore up their yuan qi and stabilize their condition.

Zeus-1 pushed its engines to their limit, heading back to where the human armada waited.

Lan Jue’s faculties were returning, though he looked pale and exhausted. He grinned to himself and his expectations. Being so close to Paragon, he assumed he would have some energy left over after employing the Harmonious Swords, but he was wrong. The moment Lan Jue and Qianlin’s hearts joined, Captus drank him dry. Not a drop was left.

Of course he could sense the strength of their technique had increased as well. In fact he’d hesitated, wondering for a moment whether it was a good idea to chase after the Monarch’s copy and try to put it down. In the end he didn’t want to risk it.

“What did you discover?” Jue Di looked his son over before asking.

Lan Jue had simply overtaxed himself, there was no harm done. Jue Di had watched them the whole time, but hadn’t
gotten involved because he knew the doppelganger didn’t threaten their lives. Certainly the crystal that monster carried would be a grand prize, but Jue Di’s presence would have captured a lot of attention. It wasn’t certain he would be able to quickly slay the monster, either, so safety had to be their first concern.

“Predicted and unexpected.” Lan Jue enigmatically replied.

“Huh?” Jue Di looked at him, confused. The others had gathered round.

With Xiuxiu’s help he sat up. He then shared everything they discovered on the far side of the planet.

“So the world has stopped rotating and it funneling energy somewhere?” Jue Di scowled as he thought of the implications.

The Wine Master was stern and irritated. “What are these creatures planning? What’s their purpose?”

Lan Jue explained. “Our guess was right, it’s plain as day. The alien planet have decided to begin the process of evolution.
That’s the only reason they would need so much energy all at once. These arteries must be piping vital energy directly to the planets themselves so they couldn’t dare leave them undefended. This is the most important goal of their species, so they won’t delay in completing the process.”

“They will want to evolve in the shortest amount of time possible and would be willing to sacrifice a lot to make it happen. All the humans they took from these planets would give them the DNA required as well. We need to attack right away before they have a chance to succeed.”

The Wine Master nodded. “I agree with Lan Jue. They can’t afford to feign an attack. By destroying the planets and two bastions they put the fear of death in everyone’s heart, giving them an advantage. They fled the North because it is the strongest Alliance, but not before striking a blow at its confidence and thirst for war. It bought them time, and then they chose the West because these eight planets are in such close proximity. Eastern systems are more spread out.”

Everyone felt a sort of guilt-ridden relief. If the aliens had chosen the East instead, would it have survived where the West fell? The answer was unsettling.
“We need to bring what we’ve learned to Admiral Lan as quickly as we can. Everything needs to be prepared.” The Driver said.

The success of their mission filled everyone with a sense of dire urgency. Their next fight could very well decide the fate of their species! There was no convincing the North  after  the horror they experienced, otherwise they would have sent their forces already. All they had were the troops at their disposal for a final, life-or-death struggle against the enemy.

But would it be enough against a foe that had bested them at every turn? Their only chance was now, while their strength and attention was focused on evolving. But if this was a ruse and the alien home worlds were laying in wait, even Lan Qing’s brilliance could not save them. Their chances of surviving would be close to zero.

ζ

Tyrannosaurus-Class Bastion.

“Your Majesty.” Kang Hui respectfully saluted the Terminator.
The North’s mightiest Paragon regarded him with a small smile. “Kang Hui. Things have been difficult for you.”

He smiled. “The choices have all been mine. I’ve made them, and I’m ready to bear the consequences of my decision.”

Part of his decision had been to rashly steal away from the North with its mightiest bastion, defying direct orders. It was a tremendous risk, which would invariably end with him standing before a military tribunal.

Remember that ‘yuan qi’, or pre-heaven essence is the energy we are all born with – a well of power we consume through the course of our life that typically can’t be recovered. There is some debate over whether that’s true and there are medicines and techniques that purport to have the ability to enhance yuan-qi, but from a clinical standpoint I’ve seen nothing that does that. We can ‘shore up’ and support yuan qi, make it more effective or guide it, but not restore it.

Chapter 765: Alien Thinking

With Kang Hui’s status and prestige, he could have lived a happy life in the North. Even under threat of alien invasion the army could hold them back for a while. What’s more, after the last fight Northern diplomats had already begun to implement plans for migration. As the North’s strongest bastion Tyrannosaurus would have been part of that. Kang Hui, long- time Admiral of the ship, would have had a place among them. He was in little danger of dying at an alien’s claws.

But once he’d heard Lan Qing’s assessment, he made up his mind. To him it was not a difficult decision. He was all alone, with few worries to leave behind. He never married, nor had any children. His life had been spent in service of his country. That is why he decided to risk it all and participate in this last- ditch effort. He believed in Lan Qing’s decision. He believed in himself.

If mankind lost in these final hours it put them on the precipice of destruction. Yes, some would live when the migration ships left, but his species would never recover – never recapture the glory of those bygone days. Unfathomable billions would die.

Some would be saved – the wealthy, the connected – but what
of the countless citizens left behind? What would they do? Kang Hui himself came from a normal family that did not enjoy the privilege of others. He felt that protecting those less fortunate was his civic duty, as important as protecting the country at large. If he couldn’t do this, he couldn’t call himself a soldier.

So he chose to come. He chose to participate in this all- important conflict despite the wishes of his superiors even if it meant his death. At least he would die without regret.

“What do you think of our chances?” The Terminator quietly asked.

Kang Hui shook his head. “Not great. We know so little about the enemy. Their inspiration for coming here seems obvious, to destroy a large swath of the human empire. The West and East are both weaker, but the decision to teleport so far seemed counter-intuitive when you think about how much it must cost the enemy. Western planets were closer to the North than the East, though, and the planets are more closely gathered. That is likely the reason they chose to come here. The monsters are clever, and they know us well. We will need to surprise them if we want the upper hand.”

“The information Admiral Lan has sent us is certainly
shocking. If we let these already mighty aliens evolve it will invariably mean our destruction. We’re left with no choice , we can only do whatever is within our power to try and stop them. Unfortunately the government refused to listen. If they had perhaps we would have more firepower, and better odds.”

Here the Terminator interrupted with a shake of his head. “No, you’re wrong. A full-on attack like last time may not necessarily mean better chances.”

Kang Hui looked skeptical. “Why do you figure?”

The Terminator explained. “I don’t have the keen military mind that you do, but I know how people think. The aliens mimic us and adopt our styles, not to mention they are highly intelligent themselves. Surely when they considered their plans they took into account the advantages and disadvantages. Try to imagine, if we were to dispatch all of our forces would we be able to keep that hidden from them? If they knew we were coming, how would they respond?”

“Indeed teleportation required a great deal of energy, but if they saw us coming and fled, we would give chase correct? By then what we anticipated would be a direct confrontation become s guerilla warfare. They have the ability to quickly and
brutally overcome a planet. All they would need to do is implant progenitors at planets along the way and whittle us down until we can’t stomach it anymore. We would be wading deeper and deeper into an inescapable quagmire. That is why I didn’t give your proposal my full-throated support when the congressional leaders came asking. If I had we might be bringing another couple bastions, but that won’t help us much.”

The admiral looked at the Terminator in surprise. It was the first time he’d heard this.

The Terminator smiled. “Tyrannosaurus is our most effective bastion. The others may have the firepower, but they’re lacking in leadership and experience. What’s more, we can’t let society descend into chaos. The North needs those bastions to maintain control. So, after thinking carefully, I decided Tyrannosaurus was sufficient.”

“But aren’t you afraid that makes our victory uncertain?” Kang Hui asked.

The Paragon shook his head. “If you think that way, we can assume the aliens will as well. They will underestimate what we are capable of and continue with the evolution – and therein lies our chance. Don’t assume Lan Qing’s abilities, I suspect he has
the power of a bastion all by himself. He and his brother both have mighty resources at their disposal. What’s more there are many Paragons who stand beside them and Poseidon Group as well. Three of history’s strongest bastions gathered for a singular purpose, who can say we don’t stand a chance? With well-laid plans we can come out victorious.”

“Moreover, and more importantly, I trust him.” The Terminator’s eyes narrowed.

“Whossat?” Seated nearby, Chu Cheng finally spoke up.

Now that he had risen to Paragon, Chu Cheng had taken over the role of patriarch for his family. He was here representing their interests and honor in the fight to come.

The Terminator grinned. “Who but the Clairvoyant would command such faith from me? Before his passing he sought me out. We talked for a long time, he said that this conflict would be trying and confusing and that even he could not see the end result. But he told me that when the danger came to trust in fate. Trust in the child of destiny, and our chances of weathering the storm would rise.”
Chu Cheng’s curiosity was piqued. “’Child of Destiny?’ What is that?”

“That is Lan Jue,” he replied.

“Lan Jue?” Chu Cheng repeated in shock.

The Terminator nodded. “In the interests of honesty I once wanted him dead. In some ways he is inferior to his brother, but in others he far surpasses him. He has a charisma that inspires people to his cause. Think about it; Jun’er, the Pharmacist, you, and many others have fallen into his orbit. He’s like a magnet, and those who know him come to trust him. It’s like heaven is propelling him along this path.”

Chu Cheng was surprised by the assessment, but after a moment’s thought came to agree with him.

The ultimate convert sighed. “I didn’t want to believe the Eye of Tomorrow, but over time it was clear the old seer’s words were true. To save humanity, I have no choice but to comply with heaven’s wishes.”
“Majesty, then we…”

He nodded. “What happens next is simple. Listen to Lan Qing’s orders, give him command of our forces and let him lead us into battle. You need not fear the North, to them you are their secret weapon. If we die you will be condemned as a traitor, slandered in word and print. But you were a single man on your own. If we are defeated it means humanity will vanish from the cosmos and no one will remain to curse your name. But if we win, you will return to the North a hero and likely our next military high commander.”

Kang Hui chuckled. “You’ve had this all planned.”

He grinned. “Not planned, so much as it is the right thing to do. I am going to tell you something, and I hope you understand. You mustn’t put too much pressure on yourself. When we begin the assault I don’t intend on returning. If we can’t defeat these aliens this time then I will use my life to make them regret wiping out mankind.”

“Sir! We’ve approached the prescribed area, and eastern patrol ships have been spotted. Shall we hail them?” An officer’s voice interrupted them.
“Open a line of communication, I want to speak to Admiral Lan as soon as possible.” Kang Hui ordered.

Tyrannosaurus had maintained total radio silence since departing from the North. They did not fear letting the alien home worlds know they were coming, so much as they wanted to avoid being caught in a trap. They were hardly a match for those planets on their own.

Before long Lan Qing’s cold features appeared on Kang Hui’s screen.

“Hello, Admiral Lan.” Kang Hui greeted him with a salute.

Lan Qing gave him one in return. “Salutations, Admiral Kang.
We appreciate you and your bastion’s help.”

Kang Hui smiled. “It is my honor to fight side by side with the An Lun army. I’ve discussed it with his Majesty, and we are leaving all of our forces under your command. Henceforth me, this bastion, and our two fleets will follow any orders you give.”

Lan Qing paused, having not anticipated Kang Hui would
simply hand over his command. After all Tyrannosaurus was the strength of the North given form. Kang Hui was a perennial commander with years of experience over Lan Qing. He wasn’t quite sure how to respond.

“Admiral Kang, you…”

Kang Hui cut him off with a smile. “I have faith in you, Admiral. We all do. Don’t worry about it.”

Lan Qing gave him a long, solemn look. “Alright, I will not disrespect you and your men by declining. Please order your captains to join up with our forces and come on board Middle Heaven for a war council.”

Chapter 766: Gathering

“Alright.” Kang Hui answered without hesitation. In times of peace, inviting one bastion commander to board another would be out of the question. These were special circumstances.

Tyrannosaurus was guided by the small ships to where Middle Heaven and Poseidon waited. Before long, the two mighty bastions were looming outside their window.

Kang Hui had seen Middle Heaven in the last fight, but it was his first time seeing Poseidon. He was shocked after seeing its size and the preliminary data they’d gathered on it. It… it’s even stronger than Terminator had been?

Kang Hui thought the power he was bringing would be superior to what the East could provide. But here he saw even Poseidon Group had come under the auspices of Eastern dominance. How strong was Middle Heaven, really?

He didn’t notice when the Terminator walked up to his side, not until his meaty hand landed on his shoulder. “We may not like it, but the East’s rise is unavoidable. If we survive, their Alliance will achieve incredible levels of strength and prestige. There’s nothing anyone can do to get in their way.”
Kang Hui was quiet for a moment, then nodded his head. “Right now, my only hope is defeating the aliens. I’m not worried over the East’s future. Besides, their ascent will lift all of humanity.”

The Terminator’s craggy face broke into a smile. He was no longer the somber, burdened man he had been. After achieving Nirvana he had been filled with joy, the problem that ailed him washed away. Yet, now he was able to discernibly feel the pressure of universal protogenia bearing down on him.

It was a sensation that defied explanation, dormant until he used his powers then suddenly clear in his own protogenia. It spontaneously devoured his life force, unhindered by his strength or will. It was an enlightening experience that directly led to his support of Lan Qing’s plan. Now that he knew universal protogenia to be real, he understood that it restricted the aliens as well as him. That now was the time to act.

Deep in his heart he also yearned to know about this realm the creatures wished to create. If they could do it, then perhaps humans could rediscover the secrets as they had in ages past. He had only just achieved Nirvana. Jue Di, a man of the Infinite, was likely even more interested than he.
The Terminator hoped he might have an opportunity to confer with Jue Di at some point during this conflict. Few were the Paragon’s interests in this universe, now. Meeting the man and helping to create a realm for them was top of the list.

Three bastions closed in on one another, with Middle Heaven
– the largest – occupying the center. Poseidon was on one side and Tyrannosaurus was on the other. Between them and their twelve fleets, a host of soldiers spread across an impressive swath of space.

They were short five bastions compared to the last fight, but were comparable in the number of support vessels. In fact, their fleets were likely more effective than last time. The ships from Poseidon Group had weapons and systems that would make Northern engineers green with envy.

Under Lan Qing’s invitations, commanders from all three represented powers arrived on Middle Heaven. From the East was Lan Qing and the Keeper, representing Skyfire Avenue. He was their foremost scientific and formerly one of the Eastern military’s most lauded researchers.

For the North, Admiral Kang Hui and the Terminator came themselves. Chu Cheng was left behind and assumed command
of Tyrannosaurus.

Hua Li came to represent Poseidon Group’s interests. With him was Mo Xiao.

They gathered to discuss their plans.

The meeting room was a simple place, with no frills or luxuries to speak of. It was here that the fate of humanity would be deliberated.

Lan Qing begun by nodding his greeting to everyone in attendance. “On behalf of everyone aboard Middle Heaven I’d like to welcome everyone.”

Nods and thanks answered. He went on.

“The situation for our people has become critical – our days as a dominant force in the universe are numbered. In order to protect ourselves from this threat we must create a plan, thus you have all been invited to help in the formation of that strategy.”

“Admiral Lan, has Lan Jue returned?” Hua Li couldn’t help but press the question.

Lan Qing shot him a glance. “No. He’s on his way back now.”

This seemed to relax him. “So long as he’s safe. What did he learn?”

“We’ll have to wait for him to return before we know,” Lan Qing replied. “Encrypted messages we received seem to suggest the information they have is imperative to our cause. He also says he’s confirmed our suspicions. The only thing he was not able to uncover was the precise condition of the enemy.”

He explained that any specific information was not safe from alien interception through long-range communication. They would learn more when Lan Jue was back in the safety of the ship.

The Terminator spoke next. “You’re saying that they’ve confirmed the aliens are evolving as we speak?”

Lan Qing nodded. “Yes. That’s why we need to have this
meeting now. I’ll explain what we’ve come up with so far, then we will discuss the specifics and address any concerns you may have. We’ll make final adjustments when Lan Jue returns, based on his information. By then it will be time to act – time waits for no man.”

The Terminator nodded. “I agree. Please share you plan with us, Admiral.”

Lan Qing’s low voice echoed through the room. “At present our plan is predicated on direct force. We hit hard and push in. Our forces cannot contend against the alien home worlds in a direct battle, and if they get involved our chances are slim. But we have no choice but to take that gamble.

“For this reason we first had to determine whether or not the aliens are in the process of their evolution. This greatly reduces their ability to fight back. What this means is our staunchest obstacles will be the fragments of those planets, the so-called royal family; the Violet Prince, Princess, and other avatars of their home worlds. It is important to note that these aliens possess capabilities at least Nirvana-level or higher.”

Chapter 767: Prometheus’ Wisdom

Mo Xiao chimed in. “What if you’re wrong? What is the planets have not yet begun to evolve and they appear on the battlefield? Isn’t that gambling with the lives of everyone here?”

Lan Qing looked at her, and she met his eyes without inhibition. She was here representing the interests of the Poseidon Group. Not Lan Qing nor even Hua Li’s hard gaze could silence her.

Lan Qing answered. “That’s a possibility, so our plans must include ways to avoid that eventuality as much as we can. First, we won’t be sending everyone in all at once. Middle Heaven and its entourage will comprise the main attack force. If everything goes as anticipated then our adversaries will be normal alien forces. I have faith that we will break their line and take at least one planet. We will use the recaptured world as a forward operating base to continue our push further in. Until that happens your people and the Northern soldiers don’t need to engage. Once we’re sure the alien home worlds won’t get involved we can move in with all of our strength.”

“Understand that there are a lot of risks in this campaign, but with risks come opportunity. These monsters all possess vital
crystals, as I’m sure everyone knows. Even the simplest of them can be used for the exuvium process, and those taken from stronger foes can be used by our Paragons. The benefits are self- evident. The more we fight, the higher the possibility of obtaining those crystals. Whatever resources  are  captured belong exclusively to those who captured them. There are risks, but also rewards.”

Lan Qing continued to fix Mo Xiao with his sparkling eyes as he spoke. “But I will remind you that there will be backing out once the fight starts. We must be of one heart and one mind in order to have any hope of winning victory. I’m sure we’ve all considered the potency of the crystals possessed by the planets themselves. Should we win, the benefits to all of us would be marvelous. So, although each of you have agreed to follow my orders during the campaign, I must reaffirm that everyone follows strict adherence to whatever commands they receive. Selfishness on anyone’s part will undoubtedly lead to the destruction of us all.”

Mo Xiao’s eyes were cold. She arrogantly looked down her nose at him. “Admiral, we have graciously offered our family’s resources as support. Although we have agreed to participate, safety and continuity of our interests is our primary concern. We are a business, a family, not someone’s tool. Due to these considerations I cannot exclude the possibility that we will flee the battlefield if the situation becomes too dangerous. I have a
responsibility to the family.”

Lan Qing answered her with a faint smile. “If the situation becomes unmanageable I of course would have no means of stopping you. However, until things deteriorate to that point I will require you to follow orders. If you are incapable of following this simple request than I’d rather not have you as allies. I wouldn’t want to have to retaliate for the transgression.”

Mo Xiao opened her mouth to speak, but Hua Li rose to his feet and cut her off. He glared at her before speaking to Lan Qing. “We have no problems. We will follow whatever orders we receive from Middle Heaven.”

Her teeth clicked as Mo Xiao resentfully closed her mouth.
She said nothing further.

Lan Qing then turned his gaze to Kang Hui.

The Northern commander nodded. “We will cooperate. The benefits do not concern me. Now that we’re here I don’t expect many of us will be returning home. Whatever the final result of our efforts here, we will not have held back. I will obey your
commands, in service to our species.”

His staunch and direct support was set in stark contrast to Mo Xiao’s attitude.

The Terminator nodded. “He echoes my sentiments. Admiral, please continue with your plan.”

Lan Qing obliged with a nod. He pressed a button on the control panel before him that dimmed the room’s lights and summoned a three-dimensional map of the star system between them. They could clearly pick out Europa and the seven planets that surrounded it.

“Our forces are limited, we can’t simply go all-in. Our first step is to recapture one of the planets and, using that as a foundation, see if we can’t confirm the condition of the alien home worlds. Once we do that, we move on to the next step…”

Lan Qing went on to explain their plan in detail. Kang Hui and Mo Xiao listened carefully and interjected their opinions where applicable.
Surprisingly they had little to offer. Lan Qing had been meticulous with the details, planning for every eventuality. He even had a plan for food and other resources if the fight took longer than expected.

In regards to firepower he chose a staggered approach, wherein every attack would be comprised of a different group of ships. They discussed the bastions as deterrent forces, specifics of unit employment, defenses – everything was gone over with a fine-tooth comb, no matter how seemingly trivial.

Even Mo Xiao, who had been suspicious and guarded with Lan Qing, couldn’t help her admiration from slowly showing on her face. He was certainly worthy of being the An LUn super soldier! He’d never commanded a large-scar battle, but it was clear he had spent a great deal of time and effort planning and reevaluating his decisions.

It took over four hours for the whole plan to be discussed. No time had been wasted in pointless nonsense or disagreement. Whenever they reached a new topic Lan Qing produced a packet of data which he handed out to the others, so that they might discuss it with their own staff officers later. This meeting was comprised of the top leadership, but specifics would needed to be passed down for commanders to enact orders.
“That’s the situation as it stands. Is there anything that anyone would like to add?” He reached the end of the briefing, and even after the long and exhaustive list of information he didn’t seem fatigued. He was as calm and collected as ever.

Kang Hui sighed, sincerity clear in his voice. “After everything you’ve told us I only have one thought. If the alien planets are not involved, our chances at victory are seventy percent or better. I doubt I could have formulated a better plan. Our decision to leave you in command seems to be the right one.”

Lan Qing did not gush over the praise. “This is a preliminary strategy. Things will change before we get under way once Lan Jue brings his information back. Right now we all have a general understanding of what’s going to happen. We will meet again when we know more.”

Chapter 768: Lan Qing’s Shop?

Kang Hui nodded. “How about this, I remain here. Your Majesty, you could bring the information back and disseminate it among my people. Once Commander Lan Jue returns and we finalize our plans, I’ll return.”

The Terminator nodded. “That’s fine. Then I’ll return to Tyrannosaurus. Admiral Lan, I may not be proficient in military matters, but I must say I admire your skill. You are worthy of the titles people have given you.”

Lan Qing bowed his head. “You’re too kind, your Majesty. We won’t know how effective our plan is until the fight is over. It’s a little early to be praising my abilities.”

Hua Li turned to Mo Xiao. “You return to the ship, I’m going to wait for Lan Jue to return as well. When we know everything I’ll go back.”

Mo Xiao shook her head. “You should go back. I should stay, I’m more –“

Hua Li impatiently cut her off. “You’re trying to say you have
more ability in this than I do? Don’t forget, I’ve been learning all of this since I was a child. You can go back to Poseidon.”

Mo Xiao struggled with herself, eventually fighting back the urge to argue. She took up the pile of papers and left.

Lan Qing watched her go. “Is she going to be a problem?”

But Hua Li shook his head. “It’s fine, that’s just how she is. The interests to the family are her only concern. Don’t be upset with her, brother.”

Lan Qing shook his head. “Of course not, she didn’t do anything wrong.”

“How long before A-Jue and the others return?” Hua Li asked.

Lan Qing leaned back in his chair. “A day or so. We’ve moved in pretty close to the outer ring planets already.”

Hua Li smiled. “We might walk away from this heroes to our whole species, eh?”
“None of that is important,” Lan Qing chastised. “What’s important is that our people aren’t wiped out.”

The others left to rest and make their plans. Lan Qing took Hua Li to Middle Heaven’s command center.

“A-Li, I sensed something between you and Mo Xiao. If it isn’t dealt with a problem could affect our plans. You should return to Poseidon and assume personal command.” Lan Qing mused openly.

Hua Li tried to assure him. “It’s a personal thing she has with me, and Mo Xiao is good about keeping her personal life separate from her duty. There won’t be a problem. Once A-Jue comes back and we hear what he’s learned I’ll go back. You should worry about yourself, I was amazed by how comprehensive your plan was but have you included yourself in all that?”

The Eastern Admiral was dismissive. “This  battle  is important, and we have little in the way of luck on our side. We can’t know what will happen, so I can only prepare by doing everything I can.”
This earned a sigh from his friend. “You have a tiring life.”

“I’m used to it,” he answered.

“Brother,” Hua Li began, “what do you plan to do if we survive this? Continue with the army? It seems like all your life you’ve never lived for yourself.”

“Me?” Lan Qing thought for a moment. “I’m  not  sure. Perhaps I’ll find a place to life out a quiet life. Years of being busy should be rewarded with silence.”

Hua Li looked at him wonderment, like he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Wait, am I talking to the right person? You aren’t Lan Jue, are you? I’d expect something like that out of his mouth.”

Lan Qing’s response was tepid. “He and I are brothers after all, fundamentally the same. We’ve just chosen different paths.”

Hua Li laughed. “I prefer this candid part of you – it makes you feel more like a real person and not some legendary soldier. You’re always so aloof, no one ever has a chance to get close to
you.”

Lan Qing shot him a look. “I don’t need anyone to ‘get close to me.’ Everyone has different goals in life.”

Hua Li paused for a moment, struck by his words. A frown touched his lips. “Yeah. Different goals.”

Lan Qing watched him for a second. “Why are you acting so strange again?”

“I’m fine,” Hua Li answered. “Again?”

Lan Qing explained. “You’ve been very different since breaking through to Paragon.”

Hua Li shook his head. “It’s nothing – I’m me, same Hua Li as always. Ever since the aliens have showed up I’ve had no interest in the rock star lifestyle. Like you I just want to live a quiet life – we should look together, what do you think? A mid- sized planet somewhere.”
“I’ve always liked Skyfire Avenue, but I don’t need anything that fancy. We can find some ordinary street, set up a couple shops, start families. We can have A-Cheng come over, too, and all our shops can border each other’s. A-Jue’s got his own store, no need to push him for anything, so he could just open a small place and sell low-cost trinkets. A-Cheng can open a booze and cigar place, he likes that stuff. What sort of stuff would you sell?”

Lan Qing was quiet for a time. “I don’t know.”

“Well, what do you like?” Hua Li pressed.

But Lan Qing shook his head. He couldn’t think of any hobbies or interests.

Helplessly Hua Li continued. “You’re so rigid. You should sell traditional business suits. You’re goods can be like you; stiff and austere.”

Lan Qing couldn’t stop himself from snorting a laugh. “So I’d be a tailor?”
“You would do incredible at whatever job you chose to do,” Hua Li said. “If you wanted to be a tailor you’d be the best damn tailor there was.”

Lan Qing turned it on him. “What about you, then? What sort of store would you open, a music shop?”

Hua Li looked like he’d been struck. “Ah, fine, I see. You think that’s all I’m good for. Nah, not music. I’d open a bridal shop. I’d make ‘em myself, you and I could work together. When you get married I’d make one special for you, whaddaya say?”

Lan Qing was understandably surprised. “I didn’t realize you had such a hobby.”

Hua Li spoke wistfully. “I’ve always loved wedding dresses, even when I was small. Elegant, pure white, lacy… All kinds. I’ve always believed they were the most beautiful clothing we’ve ever created. They may not outline the curves like your Eastern qipaos, but the bearing it brings is impeccable. I want to be a wedding dress stylist. What do you think?”

Lan Qing was supportive. “Why not, if the day ever came? But can your family go without Poseidon?”
Hua Li shook his head. “I told A-Jue the same thing, Mo Xiao and I have already arranged for a genetically designed child. Soon the family will have their next successor, and that will me my responsibilities are finished. My father was about my age when he cast aside everything. The family runs on autopilot, practically. Once there’s a successor my work is done, and I can give up my role. Mo Xiao can handle the business end of things better than I can. I’ve always had an independent heart, I don’t want to be tied down.”

Lan Qing frowned. “If you were one of my people I’d have you court martialed. You know how bad you are for morale?”

Hua Li chuckled. “You wouldn’t be Prometheus otherwise. Ah, but now you’re the Peerless Light emperor of Middle Heaven. Please, brother, enlighten me.”

Lan Qing’s tone grew strangely threatening. “I’ll make sure to come and find you once this is all over.”

“Uh… I’ve gotta piss. I’ll see you later.”

Lan Qing’s face softened as he watched Hua Li race away. He gently shook his head, but his mind lingered on the picture his
friend had painted.

A small city, somewhere simple with a small shop on a quiet street. Would a tailor shop really suit him? He’d never even worn a suit. Skyfire Avenue had a tailor, perhaps he could give it a look.

He shook his head again and looked at the screens arrayed throughout the control room. The gentleness was gone from them almost immediately, replaced with a pensive wisdom.

If he wanted a peaceful life, there first had to be peace!

Seventeen hours later Zeus-1 quietly returned to Middle Heaven’s hangar bay. Lan Jue had recovered without incident, so his first order of business was to deliver the information they’d recovered. He went immediately to the control center to find his brother.

Lan Qing said nothing, only took the data that was presented. He put it in his computer and waited for the it to show up. Lan Jue didn’t need to explain anything, Lan Qing’s dour face said he understood.
“The Wine Master has already gone to find the Keeper with a copy of the data and the infected humans. He’s going to ask the Keeper to see what he can discover about their condition. From the little we could gather we suspect up to half of the population is still alive, and based on what I know of the aliens these humans are more ‘valuable’ to them. Living specimens have more complete DNA. All things considered the likelihood that the aliens have begun their evolution is high. Otherwise I suspect they’d have done to these planets what they did to the ones in the North. They’d simply have killed everyone.”

Lan Jue continued. “I then traveled to the far side of the planet and discovered that artery stretching off into the distance. I can’t imagine where they would be going except for the alien home worlds. It offers even more evidence to support the idea that they’ve begun. Or that they’re already finished.”

Lan Qing scowled and scoured the information on screen. After a long time he finally spoke. “You’ve brought us both good news and bad news. The good news is we can confirm that the enemy’s preoccupied with their evolution. The bad news is conditions on the human planets.”

Chapter 769: Clever Beasts

Lan Jue paused. “Why is it bad that there are so many survivors?”

Lan Qing explained in his typical emotionless voice. “Did you think about why there were so many survivors? These creatures are on the top of the food chain, there have any number of ways to extract human genes. No, there’s another reason – to delay us. Once the fight starts I’m sure they’ll find a way to make us watch as they kill any human left. What will we do then? We don’t have a choice, we have to save them. We’ll have to save many people, from many planets, with an army barely large enough to do the job we came here for. How long do you think this rescue will take?”

Lan Jue’s face darkened as he understood what his brother was saying. He’d been focused on whether or not the planets were evolving because it was integral to their plan, but now he saw how tricky things really were. They had been right to assume the alien home worlds had begun the evolution process, but no one knew how long it would take. If they got bogged down in a massive rescue mission the worst case scenario was too dire to contemplate.

“They’re too damn clever.” Lan Jue shook his head. “But we
can’t just leave them there. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people! Can’t we find a way to have it both ways?”

A spark flashed in Lan Qing’s eye. “I’ve been thinking about it. I’m going to summon Admiral Kang and Hua Li, then we’ll talk about it. There’s a lot we’ll need to change from the original plan.”

Lan Jue’s heart sank. Their situation was getting worse by the hour. If they focus their efforts on saving people they didn’t have enough soldiers to clear the planets of aliens, much less go hunting for the alien home worlds.

After a little while Kang Hui, Hua Li, the Wine Master and the Keeper arrived. They gathered together to discuss the plan. Lan Jue began by sharing what he’d learned, going over everything in detail. The others listened with increasingly deepening scowls.

Lan Qing first swept his attention over to the Keeper. “Your Majesty, have you discovered anything about the infected?” He was likely here for just that reason.

The Keeper, his face dark and imposing, replied. “We’ve only
just begun to see what we can learn, their condition is complicated. Simply put they suffer from a sort of disease – a terrible affliction that attacks the victim’s genetics and bodily functions. On the surface the symptoms looks relatively benign; it improved their strengths, extends their life, and releases potential by stimulating their genetic code to an incredible degree. However, at the core of it this disease poisons the victim’s mind. It interrupts and modulates brain-wave patterns, making them homogenous with all the other infected. We believe this is how the aliens control them.”

“So you’re saying,” Lan Jue cut in, “the aliens are capturing humans, then unlocking their potency in order to use them as their own tools? As a way to better  understand  our technology?”

The Keeper shook his head. “That was my hypothesis at first, but evidence disproves the theory. This affliction causes human DNA to activate and become more readily definable. This would allow them to see the advantages of our genetic makeup in order to assist their own evolution.”

“Isn’t this what you told us when you came back from the planets? They want to obtain genetic information from our people, which corresponds with my findings.”
Lan Jue nodded. “Is there a way we can turn them back?
Reduce the number of afflicted?”

The Keeper frowned. “It’s difficult. We’ve never seen anything like this before, and understanding it well enough to develop a cure will take time and effort. This goes beyond any modern medicine we possess. With today’s technology it will take one or two years before we can research a cure.”

Lan Jue shrugged. “Perhaps there’s another method? Some scientific process or…”

But the Keeper cut him off with the shake off his head. “There is nothing suitable to be used in this case. This disease directly attacks the genetic code. We can’t simply start destroying the aberrant bonds. At best we return them to a persistent vegetative state which there is no cure for. So far as we’ve been able to tell there is only one option. There may be someone with sufficient willpower and strength to fight off the poison with their own immune system. If we can find anyone who is able to do this we can extract their cells and use them to develop and antidote. However, it is important to realize that the chances of finding someone with resistant genes is very small.”

The aliens and their poisons were strong. Indeed it would not
be easy to find someone with the innate ability to resist them.

Lan Jue’s eyes flashed. “What if an Adept is infected? Our bodies are stronger than a typical human, would we be able to develop antibodies that could be useful?”

The Keeper balked. “In theory, yes, but the dangers are great. They would likely be enormously powerful, a fact I’m sure the aliens themselves had considered. It may be why they haven’t tried it.”

Lan Qing interrupted them. “This problem will have to be put aside for the time being. We must leave it to you to figure out, Arcane Magnate. Right now we need to focus on how to adjust the plan with the information we have at hand.”

Even Lan Qing couldn’t help but feel the pang of helplessness gnawing at his chest. Although his brother’s mission had been a success, the information he’d brought back was not what they wanted to hear. Allied forces were now faced with an impossible situation. They were duty-bound to save those people, but it would invariably slow their operation to a crawl. They would be leaving the alien planets to complete their evolutionary process unmolested.
Since no one knew how long it would take for their transformation to complete, the situation was like standing before a ticking time bomb. When it goes off, it truly would mean the end.

Their plans were certainly going to have to change.

Kang Hui scowled as he thought. “Admiral Lan, as much as I agree that these unfortunate victims need to be saved, we must consider the facts. We simply don’t have the numbers to do it, and a single misstep could spell our undoing. We may not be the last of humanity’s strength, but this may very well be our last opportunity. You have to choose, which is more important?”

Lan Qing nodded in understanding. Everyone wanted to save whoever they could, but it the effort would break them. It not only interrupted their carefully laid plans, but also risks losing them the war.

Lan Jue chimed in. “We can more or less confirm that the aliens are evolving, or at least preparing to. That means we won’t have to worry about the planets themselves getting involved in a fight. While we can’t be sure about Europa, it’s certain there are many survivors left on the others planets, and even more if we consider the infected. How can we live with
ourselves if we leave them to their fate? But even then I believe what Admiral Kang says to be true. If it boils down to having to make a single decision, then attacking the alien menace is the only one to consider. They threatening all of us, all across human space.”

Lan Jue’s heart was in a knot even as he spoke the words. Of course he hoped he could save everyone, but did their situation allow it?

Lan Qing replied. “If we could have it both ways that would be the best, even if it brought considerable risk. But it would all rely on having enough strength to do the job. Let’s put our heads together and see if we can’t figure something out.”

Hua Li finally lent his voice to the conversation. “Doing both might be impossible. Admiral, I suggest you make preparations for a full attack. At the very least we’ll be ready to take any opportunity that presents itself, and at best we can make swift changes if a better solution is found. If we can’t find a way to save those people, it won’t detract from our ability to strike when the time is right.”

His suggestion was the most sensible, even Kang Hui was conflicted with the dilemma they faced. The death of so many of
his countrymen had left him with a deep and painful impression. He desperately wished for some way to save the Westerners from a similar fate.

Lan Qing nodded. At present Hu Li’s suggestion was the most suitable. At least for now, it was the best they could do.

“Very well, we stick to the original goals and make changes to the plan as necessary.” Lan Qing said, his voice hard and low.

Lan Jue sat there in silence. He already knew the plan very well, right now his sole focus was finding a way to save those people.

How many souls were left on those seven planets? They had families, spouses, children… now their homes were occupied by evil creatures that were tearing their lives apart. The thought went through Lan Jue’s mind again and again. He could feel their pain, see their hopeless expressions. His character demanded that he take any chance to save them, even if it were one in a million.

But they had another responsibility to the whole human race that was just as important, so a situation that attacked both
problems was necessary. In fact saving these people had to rest on the premise of destroying the alien threat. Otherwise, what purpose would saving them serve? If the alien home worlds were allowed to evolve, it would only delay the inevitable.

Chapter 770: A New Plan

How could they save these people while not negatively affecting their main plan? Lan Jue’s mind went over the question, considering every possibility.

The meeting went on for a long time. It had to, since the very thorough planning Lan Qing had done had to be thoroughly changed with the addition of Lan Jue’s information.

“Alright, I’d like everyone to return to their ships and begin preparing your people. We move out in eight hours.” Lan Qing stated. Now that their plan was formulated it was time to act.

“Wait a moment.” Lan Jue, who had been silent up to this point, suddenly spoke up. He looked at his brother.

Lan Qing knew his brother’s character, knew what had kept him quiet this whole time. “Did you think of a way?”

He nodded. “Part of the problem in splitting our forces is manpower, and the fact that we’d be fighting a war on many fronts. This would invariably result in a lot of problems. Perhaps in this situation we can aspire not to save everyone, but
to give them a chance. I think I know how we can do that that may actually serve our bigger plan.”

Lan Qing nodded. “Go on.”

He looked around the table. “We kill the progenitors. We go around to each of the seven planets to kill a single target. From everything we’ve seen these progenitors will be strong, at least as strong as the one we faced on Monteux. We also know the alien home worlds are using these progenitors to pump vital energy and human genetic information right to them. If we kill them, this cuts off supply to the planets themselves.”

“What’s more, it looks as though the progenitors are needed to infect the humans. With them gone we can stem the rate of infection and keep the victims to a minimum. At the same time we begin the assault. The aliens outside of the planets will be too busy trying to stop us from pushing in to get involved in a ground assault. In this way we can improve the chances of saving as many lives as possible, or at least giving them a shot, while leaving our forces open to do the job they came here to do.”

Kang Hui furrowed his brow. “But you say these monsters are strong. They may also have many powerful aliens as defenders.
Killing them without military support may be too difficult.”

Lan Jue responded. “I’ve already considered that. Precisely because of the reasons you’ve stated, we need to keep our strike team small. We can’t drag our soldiers into it, they have another job to do. If we can do the job with a small team it’d be a benefit on many levels.”

His eyes sparkled. Lan Jue’s plan wasn’t impossible, but it hinged on who would comprise this small team.

He took a deep breath. “Star Division is adept at scouting and quick strikes. We have already gathered some of the most powerful adepts in the universe. I can handle one progenitor, and if we can arrange Paragons for the others we stand a fighting chance. With what we’ve got here I think we can split in two teams. They move in, kill a progenitor, then quickly move on to the next. Also, I think if we did this before the main assault…”

Lan Qing suddenly was struck with inspiration. If they could do as Lan Jue suggested and kill the progenitors first, the results would be dramatic. They were important to the alien forces, they knew, and killing them could through their foes into chaos. Whether chasing down their enemies, cutting off
supplies to the planets or the situation on the planets’ surfaces, everything would be affected.

Ever since the start humans felt like they were being led by the nose, forced to react to alien aggression, always on the back foot. Breaking their cycle of strategic dominance would serve them well.

Lan Qing weighed the option, then nodded. He agreed with Lan Jue’s plan.

Lan Jue went on. “Brother, my plan and the main assault shouldn’t have any conflict. No one is being pulled away to save lives, it’s a full attack with amended targets. In my estimation it at least gives the innocent men, women and children down there a shot at survival. I’m begging you to let me lead this mission.”

Lan Qing looked into the fiery eyes of his brother. He was moved by the passion he saw in them. Military planning required cold blood, a calm mind, and dogged focus on the mission. But people were creatures of emotion. Lan Jue’s caring and passion were his crutch, but also a great boon. Where it not for these qualities, would he have so many women interested in him?
Hua Li looked at Lan Jue, his eyes bright. “The plan has my support, I’ll go too…”

“Shut up!” Lan Qing and Lan Jue spoke in one voice. Of course he couldn’t go, he had to consider his status. He was one of the leaders of their small alliance and commander of the Poseidon forces. How could they allow him to put himself in danger? The Poseidon Group would never agree.

Hua Li resentfully rubbed his nose. “Since when did you two start agreeing with each other?”

Lan Qing’s ice-cold gaze turned onto Lan Jue. “You have eight hours to formulate a plan.”

“Got it!” Lan Jue determinedly nodded his head. Most of it was already settled, it just needed to be perfected.

The three bastions gathered and began to make preparations. It was the same for the fleets, who transferred crew and practiced maneuvers. After all, this was a joint effort from three factions that had rarely worked together, at a time when unity was paramount. They had to perform like fingers from the same hand if they wanted to have a chance.
Hua Li eventually returned to his bastion. Lan Qing could only be assured of the Poseidon Group’s full cooperation if he was there to watch them.

In the large conference room where the talks had taken place, now sat humanity’s strongest Talents. At the head of the table was humanity’s mightiest warrior, Jue Di.

On either side of him were seated the Photographer and the Terminator, placed according to their station. Both were Nirvana-level Paragons. Indeed, the Terminator himself was coming for this mission.

Aside from them were other familiar faces – Satan, and the Pontiff!

Yes, the two Western Paragons had also made their way here of their own accord. They had escaped the clutches of the alien planets. However, the enemy had taken Europa, leaving them both homeless and without much support.

They were lucky to have happened upon Tyrannosaurus. They agreed with Lan Jue’s plan and agreed to follow the Terminator into battle.
At present Satan seemed to be faring well enough. He was calm and steadfast in the face of tragedy. The Pontiff, however, was a different matter. The Pontiff’s Citadel was destroyed in a single day, the Paragon’s people lost to the planet’s explosion. Only he and a handful of Archangels managed to survive. The West’s once-marvelous Citadels, a match for Skyfire Avenue, had been wiped from existence. As the leader of one of them, the Pontiff’s pain was deep and abiding.

His hatred for Skyfire Avenue ran deep, but the loathing he bore for the aliens sunk into his bones. He never said a word as he sat among the others – the once-calm religious leader now a volcano ready to erupt.

Besides them, the remainder were representatives from Skyfire Avenue, and the unaffiliated Bize. The only one among them who was not a Paragon was Lan Jue himself. He sat farthest from the place of honor at the opposite end of the oval table.

Within this room sat more than a dozen Paragons, representing the might of humanity. There was enough power gathered here to destroy an entire planet.

“Lan Jue, go on,” Jue Di urged.
With Jue Di in attendance, even the unruly Satan didn’t dare interrupt.

Lan Jue rose to his feet and began with a salute  to  the gathered Paragons. “Thank you, your Majesties, for agreeing to gather here. We’ve called you together because we stand on the precipice of a terrible war. Not long ago my team and I set out on a fact-finding mission…”

He went on to share with them everything they’d learned.

“Without question, our first priority is to end the alien threat and save humanity from destruction. However, there are innocent victims, our brothers and sisters, still alive on those planets that have been taken hostage. I’m sure you all know that we don’t have the forces to save them all. The Wine Master, the Pharmacist, the Driver and I tried, and we could only bring back a few thousand. Ten times… a hundred times more are down there now waiting for death.”

“Europa lies in the center of the chaos, and there’s no way we can slip in. Our ships are numbered and can’t afford to be spread thin to take the outer planets. Besides, they have a war to fight. So the task falls to us, to save as many of our fellow human as we can. We won’t save them all, but we can give most
of them a chance to make it through this terrible time.”

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