Skyfire Avenue Chapter 841-850

Chapter 841: Risking Life for the Cause

After her human transformation had been complete, she met Lan Jue for the first time. He’d ‘saved’ her from the other humans. That was what made him stand out. Starting then and several times after she had had several opportunities to kill him. Yet she had not, and instead the desire to claim him as her own grew.

Now she was more human than ever. The potential of their DNA coursed through her, but it also made her yearn for sensations these humans immersed themselves in. Monarch and the others saw no use for them, but they made the Violet Princess more curious about how these lesser life forms lived.

She was not alone in these sensations. The Violet Prince also felt the tug of these emotions, though his were different.

To her, Lan Jue was special. She held no interest in the other of his kind. In fact, she’d lost count of how many she’d killed by this point. Now it was finally time to take what she desired.

She rested her hand upon Lan Jue and traced the muscles of his chest. The look in her eyes was anything but human, absent human desire and replaced with a strange curiosity. She
searched the secrets of the DNA she’d consumed, and her body grew flush. She looked more beautiful than ever from this internal glow.

Suddenly the Violet Prince’s eyes narrowed. He turned and peered into the distance. Whatever he felt, the Princess also sensed.

Anger filled the air, so thick it could choke a man. “These humans… so reckless! They dare to attack directly. They need to be destroyed!” The Princess hissed.

The Prince answered with a grunt. “Let’s go. We can’t allow them to get close, they might have something planned we’re not aware of.”

They left, leaving the strange cavern in silence. Its walls undulated sickeningly like the intestines  of  some  awful creature.

Lan Jue lay upon the ground. From the top he seemed fine, but he was still connected to the floor of the cavern through the black veins extending from his back.
He remained there for a long time. Then, he started to shake.
A white light radiated outward from his chest.

It spread out in wispy tendrils like a fog until gathering into the shape of a woman. Zhou Qianlin.

She was covered in a thin gown of pure white gauze fabric. When she looked down at Lan Jue she couldn’t stop a tinge of red from rising in her cheeks.

A moment ago she truly was at a loss for what to do. If the Princess had had the time to… would she have tried to stop her?

More painful was the realization that she couldn’t have done anything anyway. Attacking the alien would have any served to get her caught as well.

She wiped the cold sweat that had accumulated on her brow. Thankfully it had not happened, otherwise she would have had to helplessly watch…

She shut her eyes and extended her perception outward, trying to sense everything at once. Her Queen of Heaven
Domain quietly manifested itself as a shield around her.

She looked around, and after a quick moment spied the corrupted godblades discarded nearby. They pulsed with the Birth and Destruction domain of the enemy.

She took a deep breath. So far everything was going according to plan.

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“A-Jue, I have a plan. But it’s dangerous, and will require you to risk your life. The payoff is that if you succeed – even if the main force is destroyed – there’s a chance we can destroy the aliens outright.” Lan Qing fixed his younger brother with a solemn stare.

He had mulled over this suggestions for a long time before making it. But as the chances for a human victory became more remote, he realized he had to bring it up.

Lan Jue searched his face. “Go on, what’s the plan? Danger doesn’t matter if it can help us win this war.”
Lan Qing continued, his voice low and even. “I want you to try and infiltrate the enemy lines. Specifically, I need you to bring Ultus back.”

Lan Jue’s heart began to quicken. It wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed his mind. In fact the Pharmacist’s husband had urged them to do just that. The Banishing Strategy was locked in Ultus’ memory, and if they could recover the weapon it could be used to destroy the aliens.

The Banishing Strategy – one of the most deadly relics of the ancient days. Even mightiest denizens of the immortal realm would flee before it in terror.

“I understand. But getting to the surface of the alien planets is all but impossible. We won’t be able to approach unnoticed.”

Lan Qing explained his thought process. “Have you noticed that the aliens are very interested in the elite of humanity? On Angel, the victims they chose to mutate were all professionals and higher class citizens. Put another way, the more unique you are the better your chances of survival. This is due to their interest in our genetic code. In theory, then, if we give the aliens and opportunity to capture a Paragon alive, I believe there is a sixty percent chance they’ll take it. Once captured
they would have to take the Paragon to one of the home worlds.”

Lan Jue followed where his brother was going. “So you want me to go on a scouting mission, but get caught?”

Lan Qing nodded. “And that’s where this mission gets dangerous. There’s a forty percent chance you’ll be killed from the onset. Then, you’ll need to recover your strength and find Ultus in hostile territory. Once you find it, you then have to flee with the godblade and make it back to us.”

“I’ve thought about this for a long time, ever since you brought back the information from the Pharmacist’s husband. Originally I had decided against it, but after seeing how quickly you’ve grown it has proven how much potential these swords bear. With the four weapons together and the Banishing Strategy laid out against our enemies, even if they complete their transformation we have a good shot at victory.”

“You and Qianlin would begin joined. You will be captured, chained, maybe even sealed. However Qianlin’s powers should be capable of restoring you to full strength as quickly as possible. From there you can proceed with the rest of your mission. I believe you are the only person who can do this. No
one else can get in and recover that weapon, and I can’t ask any of the others even if they could. It’s just a rough thought, so I’ll need you to tell me if you think it’s possible.”

A wry grin spread across Lan Jue’s face. “Are you really my brother? Asking me to do something so dangerous. I’m guessing the chance of success doesn’t even break thirty percent.”

Lan Qing was typically indifferent to his teasing. “Humanity’s looking at no more than ten percent, but we have to try. That’s ten percent chance of winning in a direct confrontation against the alien horde. If you’re telling me thirty percent, then we have a chance if we work together from both angles. But the bulk of it will rest on your shoulders.”

He paused for a moment, fixing Lan Jue with fervent eyes. “A- Jue, in all the universe you’re my only blood kin. I know that I might be asking you to head out to your death. If you sacrifice yourself, then I want you to know that no matter the result of this war I will accompany you to the other side.”

Lan Qing said it calmly, but Lan Jue knew his brother. If Lan Qing said it, he meant it.
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Qianlin was cautious, carefully searching the area with her protogenia. To her surprise this cavern seemed like a universe all its own. Try as she might she could sense what was happening outside.

This had to be the interior of Monarch, she surmised. She thought – or at least she hoped – that the alien ruler was too busy with its evolution to notice their presence.

This whole plan was rife with danger and uncertainty. Luck would have to be on their side if they wanted a chance at success.

At least so far, luck seemed to favor them.

She supported Lan Jue’s body as it lay prostrate. As she prepared, she pondered the possibility of death. Her deliverance Discipline prepared her for this, and if her death meant that others would live she was happy with the result. Of course, so long as she and Lan Jue were together.
As for the Pharmacist, Lan Qing approached her himself. Even Lan Jue had not known she was going to participate in the mission. It was important that they got these weapons, whatever the cost. Even if they weren’t able to employ the Banishing Stance, simply having the Banishing Blades together would boost their strength.

Only Lan Qing, Lan Jue, Qianlin, the Pharmacist, and Jue Di knew this plan in its entirety. Even the likes of Luo Xianni weren’t privy to all the details. As far as she knew Lan Jue was just going for a scouting sortie.

Sending the scouting data back was actually Lan Jue sending his brother a signal. He was ready for the Prince and Princess. Lan Qing and his soldiers were ready to begin the final engagement.

Lan Qing’s part of the plan was simple. He had to keep the enemy busy, so that they didn’t have time to ‘experiment’ on Lan Jue and the Pharmacist. Thankfully Lan Qing had the foresight to plan for this. If not, Lan Jue may very well have been subjected to the depraved desires of the Violet Princess. Qianlin would have been powerless to stop it.

Both Lan Jue and the Pharmacist, in order to trick the aliens
into a false sense of security, did not hide their weapons. They also had to fight as hard as they could and subject themselves to unconsciousness in order to sell the ruse. Otherwise, how would they trick two creatures with Infinite power?

With no danger evident, Qianlin set about her work. She placed her hands against Lan Jue’s chest and channeled the light of Guanyin through him. She constrained the Queen of Heaven powers so that they remained just around her charge in order to avoid detection.

As she directed her consciousness into him with her energy, she ran into a problem.

Chapter 842: Expel! Arrow of Compassion

All of the arteries and veins in Lan Jue’s body had become a sickly purple, especially the ones near his heart. They writhes as the corruption continued to flow through his body. Only his Core was spared, with a shell of pale blue light that kept the corruption from swallowing it up. It was the only part of Lan Jue that was yet to succumb.

After absorbing the power of the thunder essence, immortal qi flowed throughout Lan Jue’s Core. His inheritance from the Emperor of the North Star also imbued it with the power of the five lightnings. Although the Violet Prince was strong, and his power great, it was still difficult for him to overcome Lan Jue’s natural abilities.

Qianlin poured her Queen of Heaven Discipline into him, but found resistance from the alien influence. The Birth and Destruction powers they commanded had taken root deep within Lan Jue’s body and was radiating outward, blocking her powers.

Not good! Qianlin was stunned to discover that the problem with their plan wasn’t what was going on outside, but within Lan Jue’s body. The Violet Prince’s influence was strong and
deep. She continued to try and force her Discipline into him, and noticed that the more she tried the darker her surroundings became. Soon the same toxic hue that flowed through Lan Jue had taken over the walls of the cavern. The environment had become a part of him, and he a part of it.

Qianlin, like Lan Jue, had achieved the lofty heights of Nirvana. Unlike him she was not adept at combat and really understood very little of her power now that she was a Paragon. Now was it her body she was trying to work with. One mistake could harm Lan Jue, and that was what she feared the most. That being the case she was hesitant to employ her full strength.

Her second most pressing concern was the changes in the cavern around them. The aliens would surely notice something had changed when they got back and their plans would be discovered.

She was running out of options. With a flash of light Demortus appeared in her hand. She planned to cut the vessels that connected him to the planet, then decide what to do from there.

She tenderly lifted him up. Then, with Demortus’ blue light
flickering across its blade, she pulled the weapon across his back. They tenaciously clung to him, but Demortus was a Banishing Blade and severed the vessels from her lover. She held him close.

As she supported his weight she looked down in horror to discover blood oozing quickly from his back. It poured thick and black from the ends of the vessels, draining his life force.

“Ah!” Qianlin gasped. Much to her surprise the tubes that’d connected him to the planet had completely integrated themselves with his body and circulatory system.

Once again she summoned her powers to try and staunch the bleeding. It worked, but only in limited scope. The writhing ends of the vessels refused to close, whipping through the air like tony snakes. The power of the alien overlords was proving more than she could handle.

What could she do? What could she do?!

She was flustered and scared. Their plan was predicated on the hope that everything went perfectly, but their knowledge of these monsters was so limited – especially where the home
worlds were concerned. It was likely they were the first living beings to make it here.

A flickering light appeared from Zhou Qianlin’s forehead. She felt a strange sensation rising from within her that cleared her mind. A focused golden light sprang from between her eyebrows and fell over Lan Jue’s back.

It was an arrow, bright and gold, and when its light hit Lan Jue’s back it spread over the corrupted skin. Where the luminescence fell the veins writhed sickeningly, in sharp contrast to the steady power she released. Lan Jue’s vessels changed from purplish-black to a healthy red. The wounds on his back began to heal. After a few moment he looked like nothing had ever happened aside from a halo of golden light that clung to him.

The Arrow of Compassion!

Zhou Qianlin understood the moment she saw it. The weapon had been the product of their combined blood, manipulated by the God of Wine Bess and imparted unto them. After their breakthrough to Paragon the arrow chose Zhou Qianlin and her Queen of Heaven Domain, searing itself as a rune on her spirit. Until now she hadn’t known what to do with it.
The gold light receded back into Qianlin’s forehead. With a groan Lan Jue’s eyes fluttered open. The first thing he noticed was the warmth against his back and a familiar presence.

“Qianlin, did we succeed?” Lan Jue pulled himself into a sitting position and searched his surroundings.

The cavern’s interior had returned to its previous violet tinge, like nothing had happened. The air was thin, and bore a faintly odor, but was otherwise fine.

Qianlin told him what had transpired. When he heard of the Princess’ plan to have her way with him, he gaped at her.

She looked at him, frowning. “You’re thinking about it, aren’t you! She’s gorgeous, after all.”

He looked back at her with slight indignation. “Nonsense. She’s not my breed much less my type, and my heart knows what it wants. I have my goddess and there’s no room for anyone else – human or otherwise.”

“Alright,” Qianlin conceded. “Save your sister. I’m not sure
what to do.”

Lan Jue looked toward the Pharmacist who was still enveloped in an orb of alien power. He moved quickly to her side, and after a moment of thought, pressed his right hand against her head.

The tell-tale flicker of lightning traveled down his arm. The coalesced Domain of the aliens melted, but began to flow up his arm.

Lan Jue didn’t resist. Instead he took a few steps back and allowed it to continue to cover him. His eyes adopted a blue light, and within twinkled a galaxy of stars.

Poof! The crawling sludge dissolved into smoke and flitted away on the breeze. Without the Violet Prince to lend it strength, the Birth and Destruction domain could not hold up against Lan Jue’s All-Heaven Lightning.

He repeated this a few more times until eventually the Pharmacist was free. It was somewhat awkward when he discovered that she was also nude, and quickly had Qianlin lend her some of her own clothes.
Meanwhile Lan Jue looked over their two captured swords. Both he and the Pharmacist had fought hard against the Prince and Princess, even going so far as to attack with all their might. However, they did keep some things hidden, like the secret powers of their swords.

If they’d drawn on the potential of their Banishing Blades it would not have been so easy for the aliens to capture them. One of them likely would have escaped, if one were willing to sacrifice themselves.

But none of that was necessary, as their goal was to trick their foes. Even the seals on the swords were actually placed there by Lan Jue and the Pharmacist, insurance policies in case they needed to contend against their own swords. If they were taken they needn’t fear – they could summon the weapons back within a thousand kilometers.

He took Captus back into his hands. There was no need for his thunderbolt Discipline now, for the sword reacted immediately to his touch. It flared with power, radiating an angry red light, and the seal was broken.

Lan Jue hid the sword within himself right away, in order to conceal its power from Monarch. Ultus had to be here
somewhere, and with Captus awake it would stir the sword. Monarch would know something was amiss.

For this mission his greatest fear concerned the planet itself. How much power could it employ, he wondered, while in the midst of its evolution?

Zhou Qianlin galvanized her Domain and used it to wake the Pharmacist. When she opened her eyes and noted her clothes were different, her cheeks reddened. She looked towards Lan Jue and saw his back turned.

Once she rose and recovered Occisus the three of them reconvened.

The Pharmacist spoke first to Lan Jue. “Alright, we’ve managed the first step. What’s next?”

Lan Jue’s tones were sober and earnest. “In a moment we’ll need to start searching for Ultus’ aura. Once we find it, we need to think about how we’re going to flee. We know nothing about this place.”
She looked back at him with firm expression. “I can use my connection to Ultus to find it. Then we cut our way out as fast as possible. There isn’t much time to think it over, we have to do whatever we can, quickly. Complete our mission and escape at once.”

Qianlin added her voice. “From what we saw in orbit, the planets have reached the key period of their evolution. These worlds are hollow, meaning most of their essence has been funneled into Europa. Their cores mustn’t be here, otherwise Monarch would have discovered us already. The fact we’re still breathing shows I’m right.”

Chapter 843: Reengage!

Lan Jue nodded. “Qianlin has a point. Sister, search with your consciousness. We’ll protect you.” As he spoke he took up Qianlin’s hand.

So long as the two of them were together, they were confident in their combat abilities. In all of humanity, the only Paragon who surpassed them when they were hand in hand was Jue Di. In fact, if they were to use their Harmonious Swords even Jue Di wouldn’t necessarily beat them in a fight.

This fact was part of the reason why they agreed to undertake this dangerous mission. If he’d really been in danger of being slain by the Violet Prince or Princess, Qianlin was prepared to reveal herself, and the two would have employed the full might of their swords without reservation.

The most dangerous part of their mission was after Lan Jue and the Pharmacist were captured and subdued. If their subjugators changed their mind, Qianlin would have had to face them herself.

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While Lan Jue and his team were performing their task, humanity’s armada had moved in to re-engage with the alien forces.

They received the communication from Lan Jue an hour before the operation was to commence. It surprised the leadership, but Lan Qing had ordered everyone on high alert two hours prior.

The three bastions ships were arrayed in their triangular formation to protect the fleets as they advanced. All together they slowly moved in toward the alien home worlds. Moments after Lan Jue gave his brother confirmation and analysis of their enemy, the admiral shared the data with Kang Hui and Hua Li. However, he did’t share with them Lan Jue’s true mission.

He also did not share with them the fact that their grand assault was also a distraction. It was a two-pronged approach; if the armada was able to defeat their enemies then grand, but if they lost Lan Jue was also fighting for their right to survive.

Lan Qing and his brother were blood. Especially since the both of them had become Paragons they were connected through this bond. At least up to this point Lan Qing could sense Lan Jue,
and knew he was still alive. If he was still breathing so long after sending the last data dump, the signs were good. The plan was proceeding as they’d hoped, presumably, and there was still a chance.

In order to give his brother the best chance at survival, Lan Qing ordered a general offensive. Middle Heaven led the charge, anxious to break the lines and attack Europa. All of its cannons were on full display, but were not yet charging.

Star Division was already deployed, traveling among the fleet ships. They were responsible for the defense of the entourage behind Middle Heaven.

Among them were the recently organized Adept corps from the North. They were hand-picked by the Terminator, three thousand strong, and none of them lower than fifth level. They didn’t hold a candle to Star Division, but were nonetheless a boon to have at one’s side on the battlefield.

The Dark Citadel’s remaining forces were also ready to engage. Only a few of them piloted mechas, one of them being Mika. She sat within the cockpit of her suit, Jezebel, regarding the scene with a calm expression.
She’d tried repeatedly to get in contact with Lan Jue, to no avail. She’d begun to worry for his safety until she received a message from her boss.

He told her that he’d been dispatched on a secret mission. No matter what happens, he instructed, he had to keep a level head and a steady heart. She couldn’t allow herself to be swallowed up by the darkness.

Mika was less anxious after the message. She focused on the remnants of her father’s power, the three hundred representatives of the Dark Citadel. It was a good company, with a fair number of strong fighters.

It was a bleaker situation for the Pontiff’s Citadel. Metatron and a handful of Archangels were the only ones left by the Pontiff’s side. Su Xiaosu, the one they called the Morning Star, was not among them. They knew where she was, but they also knew her new position. As chief of Star Division, there was no way they were getting to her.

Nothing was held back. Every soldier, every weapon was being prepared for the final fight. After five days, Poseidon was also ready to employ its humanoid transformation once more if needed. Middle Heaven’s molinite core was also prepared for
peak load.

The waiting had been grueling. For five long days everyone had been living under a cloud of anxiety. Since no one knew when the aliens would complete their evolution, every minute was agonizingly slow as they anticipated the worst.

Good news come to them from Angel. Several successful resupply shipments had come and gone, and the survivors were doing well. At least they wouldn’t have to worry about looking after the survivors.

Everything was prepared for the final confrontation between man and monster. The time had come for victory or defeat to be determined. The finality of it settled over soldier and officer alike – billions of lives hung in the balance, and they were aware their chances of success were creeping closer to zero with each passing minute.

No one knew for certain when the home worlds would complete their evolution, however they knew this was their last chance to do something about it. Even if the North agreed to send more forces, time had run out.
This was to be the end, either way.

Lan Qing had made no attempts to hide the severity of it. He told everyone under his command that if they lost, humanity was lost.

The aliens did not float idly by as the armada approached.
They moved in to intercept the fleet quickly.

The horde spread out across a wide breadth of space in a way similar to the formation they’d employed last time. Both flanks were populated by typical alien soldiers and their central core were the elite. This time, it was the Violet Prince and Princess who led them.

The Violet Princess’ expression was particularly frigid, and a deeply murderous glint lived in her eyes. An elusive human sensation had been within her grasp and these meddlesome soldiers had interrupted her. She was full of an unspeakable rage.

As many as twenty two avatars stood by their side. Twenty four of the mightiest enemies humanity had ever faced stood between the last hope of mankind and their ultimate victory.
Five of them commanded the power of the Infinite.

In many ways a creature of Infinite-level power  was equivalent to a bastion ship. Middle Heaven was about as good as two, maybe three. In the fight to come it would come down to mastery of command.

But small and powerful was a deadly combination on the battlefield. That was why Paragons were so highly regarded by military leaders.

The two sides neared. Tyrannosaurus spun its lumbering body to position its main cannon – targeting the cluster of elite aliens.

Suddenly a harsh orange light began to flicker around Middle Heaven. It looked like it was preparing to charge.

The support fleets were in tight formation and their weapons were trained on the enemy forces, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Their shields were also engaged a full strength which covered them in shimmering shells of opaque light. They waited with baited breath.
A cold light radiated from the Violet Prince’s eyes. He glared at Tyrannosaurus but made no indication he was going to dodge its deadly blast.

Kang Hui stared back, seated within the bastion’s control center. Lan Qing’s face was on the screen beside him as they spoke through their dedicated channel.

“Begin!” Lan Qing gave the order, cold and somber. But to Kang Hui, for some reason, it sounded almost fervent.

“Firing main cannon!” Kang Hui slammed his hand onto the red button in front of him.

A shudder rumbled through Tyrannosaurus. Then, the cannon released a deafening blast as it fired at the alien commanders.

A column of white light spat forth that carved a stark path through space. Flagrantly it blazed towards its target.

In the same instant, Middle Heaven made its move.
An eruption of orange light brighter than ever before was belched from its rear. The warplanet was catapulted forward at tremendous speed. Swarms of drones tumbled from the hangars but didn’t follow the bastion. Instead they spread out and returned to where the rest of the armada waited as though abandoning ship.

Middle Heaven and Tyrannosaurus attacked at nearly the same moment. As the Eastern bastion barreled towards its foes it glowed with a blinding orange light in much the same way as before. It looked like it could erupt into its Solar Flare at any moment.

How powerful was a bastion’s main cannon? Strong enough that an alien planet would avoid it by any means necessary. They wouldn’t dare risk a directly blow.

Lan Qing’s opening gambit was a simple one; attack with Tyrannosaurus’ strongest attack and send Middle Heaven in for a kamikaze run. If the aliens didn’t stop him, he would turn An Lun into the most terrifying bomb in all of human history and obliterate Europa. He would sacrifice Middle Heaven if it meant blowing the alien planets into dust.

Chapter 844: Control

The information sent back by Lan Jue confirmed all of Lan Qing’s suspicions. The alien home worlds were nearing the end of their evolution process. Destroying Europa would not only prevent their evolution, but may also fatally wound or even destroy them.

Before the battle Lan Qing ordered everyone off the bastion, leaving only a skeleton crew.

Most of the soldiers abandoned the bastion aboard its drones. Those who could pilot mechas were already out among the fleet. Normal mecha pilots weren’t very effective against the aliens, but in a battle like this even the smallest advantage could earn the humans victory.

The Violet Prince’s face was a scowling mask as he watched Tyrannosaurus’ attack and Middle Heaven heading his way. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to avoid them, he couldn’t.

He and the other elite aliens were able to intercept human messages through psionic waves. Through the consumption of human genetic material he could understand their language, even how they thought.
In the process of commanding the humans, their admiral Lan Qing had used the most direct methods of communication with his subordinate, Kang Hui. The alien leader was able to uncover their plans without much effort at all, even the condition of Middle Heaven and its molinite core.

Then Lan Qing ordered his troops off the bastion. The Violet Prince knew only a few souls were left, the bare minimum needed to pilot the war machine. It was open tactics, equivalent to Lan Qing looking them in the eye and saying ‘this is my plan, what do you plan to do about it?’

The Violet Prince couldn’t afford any risks, for he knew the power contained in Middle Heaven. If it were allowed to approach Europa, the damage to the home worlds would be horrific. He couldn’t be sure it would destroy his masters outright, but at the very least it would ruin their plans for evolution.

The aliens had prepared this moment for hundreds of years. Centuries of planning and gathering resources. At last final victory was within their grasp.

If their evolution failed it would be nothing short of a disaster. Who knew how long it would take for them to acquire the
resources necessary to try again, or whether the home worlds could continue to hide away from the cruel lash of universal protogenia.

Humans were not the only ones fighting for survival. For the aliens, this moment would also define the future of their species.

The Prince realized that dodging Tyrannosaurus’ blast left the way open for Middle Heaven. He had no choice, he had to face the enemy head on.

The beast upon which the Prince road belched a roar that shook the pillars of heaven. It’s hideous, thirty-thousand meter long body lurched forward while the Prince, Princess, and three Infinite-level home world avatars were surrounded by an aura of purple.

Five shimmering orbs of light fused into one, forming an enormous void of black that blocked the bastion’s path forward. The beast that had conveyed the Violet Prince was ripped into countless chunks of bloody meat, which subsequently became orbs of crackling dark energy. They coalesced into a single orb which was then fired at Middle Heaven.
The war was underway.

The alien leadership feared no sacrifice. The Prince readily forfeit a near-Infinite level creature to attack the human bastion and warded its progress with his own body. Potential fatal were the attacks from Tyrannosaurus and Middle Heaven, but he stood in their path regardless.

The Violet Prince was wise, and he knew the humans let their plans slip on purpose. It was all in order to let that planet-sized bastion through. Yet for all his intelligence he was left with no options. Protecting the home worlds was his primary objective, and nothing could threaten their evolution. What if this machine-planet hybrid – which had already surprised them on numerous occasions – actually managed to succeed?

He knew this was their plan all along, yet he had to face it on their terms. However he was confident the humans wouldn’t expect him to sacrifice one of his own top warriors to contend with the threat of Middle Heaven. He knew how important this one bastion was to the human defense forces, and destroying it would weaken his prey by at least half.

Everything happened quickly, almost too fast to keep track of.
First was the blast from Tyrannosaurus’ main cannon. , a column of searing light that pierced the center of the alien’s Domain. As the power of the bastion’s gun came crashing onto them all of the alien leaders – including the Prince and Princess
– scowled in dismay.

They were powerful, yes, but the main cannon from a bastion ship was unparalleled in the world of human weaponry! It possessed enough destructive energy to easily obliterate a planet.

Crackling sparks of power snakes across the surface of the aliens’ power as it struggled to ward off the attack. It threatened to collapse at any moment. The five powerful aliens poured all of their strength into maintaining the vortex. Tyrannosaurus was capable of sustaining continuous fire from its cannon for a full minute. Its targets would have to hold out for at least that hold.

Meanwhile the remains of the titan were closing in on Middle Heaven. A figure appeared in space outside of the ship, followed shortly after by a gateway of pink light. The portal was as lofty as it was sudden, but vanished the moment the aliens’ attack passed through it. Another portal appeared and spat the attack back out, only this time it was aimed back at the enemy forces.
The bastion’s defender was none  other  than  the Photographer, master of space-time – Luo Xianni.

Long before becoming a Paragon of the Infinite, Luo Xianni had perfected her art. Her gateways were capable of absorbing and redirecting all sorts of energy – even living creatures – at a whim. As her power grew, she was capable of altering ever more powerful flows. By now she could transfer the entire fleet if she pushed herself.

Of course the larger her target, the shorter the distance she could move it and the more likely problems were to arise. This time the two sides were close, so her biggest struggle was the sheer amount of energy she was trying to redirect.

When the orbs reappeared they were struck by arcs of copper light. Although they emerged from Luo Xianni’s portal intact, the blow from the golden cudgel made them unstable. The orbs erupted into violent bursts of dark energy.

Sacrificing the life of a thirty-thousand meter long beast produced a staggering amount of energy. Not only was it replete with the Birth and Destruction Discipline of its race, but also tremendous destructive power. As it grew unstable and erupted, huge swaths of space became bogs of sticky, corrosive energy.
All aliens caught in the ‘mire’, no matter how strong, were quickly dissolved.

Luo Xianni was artful in her manipulation. The orbs appeared directly in front of one wing of the alien horde, thus turning a potential threat against Middle Heaven into a screen that prevented the aliens from assaulting it.

The aliens had raced ahead with their whole strength, and the counterattack was too sudden for them to stop. Scores of the monsters raced headlong into caustic cloud that stretched tens of thousands of meters across. Their death strengthened the mire and caused it to grow.

Luo Xianni appeared before Middle Heaven, her face pale. Errant bolts of pink energy crackled around her, dangerous and unstable. Creating and manipulating that portal had been debilitating and for the time being she was too weak to continue. She observed her handiwork for a moment, then returned to the bastion to recover.

The explosion, and the deadly cloud it created, barred a third of the alien horde from joining the fray. Most had stopped before rushing headlong to their death, but it would take them a few moments to circumvent the deadly area. Suddenly the alien
formation and their defensive plans were thrown into chaos.

Who was Lan Qing, but the lauded God of Wisdom? He would not let such a fine opportunity go to waste. Once he saw his mother’s achievement he began to shout a string of orders.

Twelve fleets let their weapons go hot, firing into the flank that wasn’t barred by the corrosive cloud. Capital ships kept up a hail of fire with total disregard of energy stores. In the space of a breath, a barrage of punishing laser fire was bearing down on their enemy.

Lan Qing had warned Kang Hui and the other commanders against being conservative in the final fight. Now was not the time to be economical with their weaponry. They had to execute the alien menace with extreme prejudice, hit them with everything they had. That was the path to victory.

The smallest patrol boat to the largest Capital ship, all of them needed a cooldown period after continuous fire. It came down to frequency, so the earlier in the fight they depleted their payload, the sooner they could recover for a second volley.

For this reason Lan Qing held nothing back, not for this
battle. Tyrannosaurus’ guns proved more than effective, not by eliminating enemy forces but by keeping the alien elite out of the fight.

Chapter 845: The Art of War

Conditions on a battlefield changed quickly. It took only a minute for Lan Qing to react with a string of commands.

The right wing of the alien horde was blocked by the corrosive cloud they themselves created. Their left wing was coming under heavy bombardment from the armada that turned their frontlines into purple mist.

Still, the aliens had the upper hand when it came to total strength. Their elites were more numerous and more powerful, though the number of lower tier beasts had been significantly reduced after the last encounter.

With their right lost behind a deadly cloud and their left being punished by starship cannons, the aliens were at a disadvantage.

Faint golden light flickered near the right wing, followed by a voice. “Bigger – bigger – bigger!” Each cry made the golden light gleam brighter until it was revealed as an enormous staff. The Chinese character 大 [Big] was etched on its shaft.
The Compliant Rod!

The staff stretched thousands of meters in the space of an instant. It began to fall, then swept a golden path through space.

The aliens behind the cloud had been scattered, their formation broken. Most of them were trying to move over the top of the deadly area when the staff appeared. The aliens directly in its path were slowly ground into nothing just by the presence of it. Jue Di’s Compliance Rod had no special qualities, just unadulterated force. Enough to erase its foes from existence.

Total annihilation! That was the only way to describe it.

Jue Di’s frigid expression was covered beneath a sheen of golden fur. Copper light flickered around him in a  half-real shell. The Compliance Rod moved at his command.

Lan Qing knew from the start that a direct confrontation – like last time – offered only a remote chance of victory. Even if they won here, their remaining forces were unlikely to be strong enough to destroy the alien home worlds.
This time, his strategy would need to be different.

His foes were intelligent, of this there was no doubt. However where they different from humanity was in their homogenous nature. Every alien was designed for slaughter, for consumption, in order to feed their evolution.

Humans, however, were unique even on an individual basis. They didn’t have the dogged, singular focus of the aliens but they made up for it in diversity. Each human brought their own advantages.

Such is the art of war! Passed down from the ancient days of China was the knowledge of Sun Bin, the lauded commander and author of the Thirty-Six Stratagems. Even all these years later, the truth contained in the pages of that book applied.

Lan Qing was employing a variation on Tianji’s horseracing strategy.

Your elite outnumber ous? We cannot face you directly, instead we shall avoid the weakness and strengthen our advantages.
The allies’ forces greatest advantage was their range. Even Infinite-level aliens didn’t have a means to fight back from a distance. This was a fact Jue Di had revealed to Lan Qing long ago.

Few were the adepts capable of contending against the alien forces. Nor were their soldiers in any great position. But at least as it applied to the normal aliens their range advantage made the gap negligible.

Lan Qing’s tactics were to remove the monster’s fangs and claws; take away their strengths and then deal with the alien leadership on more even terms.

Tyrannosaurus’ main cannon was a distraction. Luo Xianni was the only Paragon aboard Middle Heaven. Jue Di had been hiding in the darkness of space awaiting the perfect moment to strike. As for the other Paragons…

Once the armada’s bombardment of the left flank ceased, several figures could be faintly discerned in its vicinity. Each one of these mysterious figures radiated with power.

Two positron cannon explosions suddenly lit up the area like a
pair of miniature suns. Half a moment later the Wine Master, Clockmaker, Terminator, Pontiff, Pauper, Driver, Gourmet, and the Wine Masters made their move.

None of them held back.

A nightmare of destruction descended upon the aliens, so inferior to the Paragons that they had no option but to die in agony. The humans spent nothing but sweat to put them down, and the whole process took no more than a dozen seconds.

By the time the Violet Prince and Princess could react, both wings of their horde were decimated.

Aliens had always maintained the advantage over human forces, ever since the start of this conflict. It made them complacent, their tactics weak. Especially after the crushing defeat they delivered to the humans in the North.

The three bastions Lan Qing led now were a far cry from the eight the aliens faced before. Hardly worth considering, in their estimation. Yes, the humans had won some victories. However, as far as the Prince and Princess were concerned, they were flukes and easily reversed.
But in the course of the last two battles humanity had proven more tenacious, more deadly. Only now was the Violet Prince seeing the allied forces for the threat they were. He was surprised at how cunning the humans had suddenly become.

In truth Lan Qing’s original plan had been more complicated, and arguably less effective. But the Violet Prince had been eager for a quick and decisive victory. Sacrificing one of his own had created an opportunity which the humans exploited.

Who was Luo Xianni? It was important to remember that she was one of the founders of Skyfire Avenue. When she saw the opportunity to make the aliens pay she took it, and created the best situation for her people that she could.

Above the cacophonous din of his soldiers dying, the Violet Prince released a howl of his own. The other elite – those not resisting Tyrannosaurus’ cannon fire – split off to join the fight in either wing. Three made their way to Jue Di, while the rest left to deal with the other Paragons.

Tyrannosaurus’ sustained cannon fire was beginning to wane, and as it got weaker the murderous fury in the Prince’s eyes grew. If his prey had the gall to invade his horde and slaughter his soldiers, he would do the same to them.
But before he could retaliate his eyes were filled with shimmering blue light. Six enormous orbs were headed his way.

Poseidon’s Soft Water bombs were en route!

The Prince and the others were too busy battling the power of Tyrannosaurus to keep track of Middle Heaven’s exact position. The Violet Prince’s first order of business was to pinpoint this bastion, which he determined was the most dangerous enemy. But Poseidon didn’t give him a chance. Its Soft Water bombs came right on the heels of Tyrannosaurus’ cannon.

Want to fight back? It wasn’t going to be that easy!

There was no comparison between the lethality of Poseidon’s Soft Water bombs and Tyrannosaurus’ main cannon. The cost in energy and resources that went in to just six bombs was astronomical. They were also imbued with vital energy, making them particularly deadly to alien forces.

The Violet Prince could not hesitate or delay. Now he had another bastion to contend with.
Tyrannosaurus’ energy beam was not yet completely depleted, so he couldn’t dodge out of the way. Suddenly he felt like a spider caught in its own web. If he’d dodged Tyrannosaurus’ attack from the outset he wouldn’t be caught like this.

Middle Heaven also engaged its primary weapons systems, just moments before Poseidon’s bombs arrived.

Lan Qing fired the weapons himself.

If one looked closely, they might spy a faint golden haze hanging over Middle Heaven as it tore through space. That wasn’t a manifestation of the bastion’s power, that light came from Lan Qing’s Vairochana dharma.

Throughout human history there had never been a Paragon who was also a bastion commander. Lan Qing was the first. As such he was the only one who knew how to manipulate the ship with his own protogenia.

This time Middle Heaven’s main weapons were completely different than before. Roughly a third of its front-facing guns were fired, releasing a flash of orange light. They seared through space until joining some distance in front of the
bastion. Once joined, the orange light became a strange conglomeration of hues.

Pink and orange mingled among one other, encompassed by a faint sheen of gold. ‘Orange-gold’ was the best way to describe it.

The threads of tungsten that came from Middle Heaven’s guns were bright and non-transparent. When they combined they created a sustained beam no bigger than the light from a single small cannon, but the orange-gold energy was crystal clear. It was stunningly beautiful, but also incredibly deadly.

The attack had a name: Terminal Ray.

They’d come up with the plans for it when Middle Heaven was still An Lun. It took ten years of research to complete. Compression without explosion, cohesion and distillation. That was the only way to describe how Terminal Ray worked.

Lan Qing urged Middle Heaven forward, risking the wrath of the alien planets, and it seemed about to pay off. The East’s ultimate bastion was as versatile as it was powerful, and that was where its danger lay.
To use Poseidon as a comparison, it was created through the blood, sweat and tears of the Poseidon Group. Nothing was spared in its construction. This was also true for Middle Heaven whose construction was driven by the Eastern Alliance. Once Middle Heaven’s inherent benefits were revealed, Eastern scientists used all of their knowledge and analyses to reach a single conclusion: they could build the North’s worst nightmare. A ship that was more terrifying than five of their bastions put together.

A descendant of Sun Zi, who is attributed to be the author of the Art of War.

Chapter 846: Terminal Ray

The hopes and dreams of the Eastern people were in every bolt of that bastion ship. Their alliance had been stuck under the thumb of the North for years, waiting for the opportunity to rise above their oppressors in a single brilliant move.

This is why although Middle Heaven already proved its might several times over in battles past, it still had more surprises in store.

And Terminal Ray was nothing short of devastating. Lan Qing’s plan had been to save revealing it for a surprise attack on the alien home worlds! Now, though, his target was different.

That relatively insignificant line followed in the wake of Poseidon’s Soft Water explosions. However the burning trail it blazed was not pointed at the Violet Prince or Princess. Jue Di had explained to Lan Qing that the connection between them and the home worlds was exceedingly close. There existed the possibility they would be teleported to safely if their lives were threatened.

A weapon that could kill an Infinite-level alien could still be resisted for a time. At least long enough for the home worlds to
react.

Terminal Ray was a danger, but also a great burden on Middle Heaven. A single use consumed nearly everything in the bastion’s stores.

There was no one around to witness it, but if there had been witnesses in the bastion they would have found Lan Qing with eyes blazing gold. Before him was a smaller figure - that of Jun’er.

She held her astrum, the Eye of Tomorrow, aloft in her tiny hands. Her body was encased by the nurturing energy of Lan Qing’s power. His own hands danced like butterflies over the controls before him. Several screens in the area around him began to flicker and change.

Terminal Ray was guided by the power of prophecy and assessment. Both were used to aim the laser where it was needed most.

The orange gold ray blazed for but a moment. Unlike Terminator’s shot, which went on for a time, Terminal Ray was gone in a blink. It passed through a cluster of five aliens, and
little else.

Those were the aliens dispatched by the Violet Prince to reinforce his flank. When the light flit passed them they did not react. On the contrary, they grew very still.

For ten seconds no one moved. Then, fleck by fleck, the avatars crumbled away and spread out through space as a fine ash. In a single shot five Nirvana-level beasts were erased, sending a shock through the alien forces.

The aliens’ greatest advantage was in strength and numbers. They had more Infinite-, and Nirvana-level warriors than the humans by far.

In the moments after Middle Heaven’s attack, the Violet Prince and Princess felt their breath catch in their throats. A palpable fear swept through them just as Poseidon’s payload was beating down.

Middle Heaven broke off its charge after eliminating the avatars. The peeled quickly to the side, toward Jue Di and the horde’s right flank. Between the scourge of the corrosive cloud and Jue Di’s attack, the right wing was nearly crushed. But the
beasts were many, more than Jue Di could destroy in a single strike.

As Middle Heaven bore down on its remnants, it engages its secondary weapons. Those monsters witch slipped passed Jue Di were faced with the firepower of the bastion.

Within Middle Heaven’s control room Lan Qing had returned to normal, and Jun’re had found a place nearby to sit quietly. The ship shook from the cost of using its ultimate weapon.

Lan Qing was nothing if not efficient. A single shot and not only had he reduced the number of his powerful adversaries, but also terrified them. He wanted them to know they weren’t invincible. If Lan Jue were not down among the alien planets somewhere now, he would have preferred to save it as a surprise strike on the home worlds themselves.

Chapter 847: Gaze of Gold and Fire

If the Violet Prince and Princess joined their brethren in an attack on Middle Heaven, the bastion was doomed. The two of them burst onto the field after breaking free from suppressive fire, summoning a screen of purple-black energy. The screen blocked the alien warriors from Middle Heaven’s railgun fire and even reflected the blasts back toward their origin.

Once pressure on their flank was eased the alien forces surged ahead. Their target was the bastion. A seething hatred burned in the Prince’s eyes as he led the charge. These hateful humans must be destroyed!

His avatar generals had been so thoroughly destroyed by the bastion that even their vital crystals were disintegrated. Each one of those doppelgangers were repositories of tremendous energy, now lost. Such energy would be needed to support the home worlds after their evolution, in order to create the universe they envisaged.

Losing five avatars was a sharp blow.

Middle Heaven couldn’t retreat as fast as the aliens could advance. As the two sides neared a clash seemed fated.
All of a sudden a host of drones came screaming passed, enough to blot out the horizon. They were Middle Heaven’s ships, reinforced with drones from Poseidon. They came in guns blazing, pummeling the monsters with miniaturized Soft Water bombs and laser cannons. Zones of glittering crystal blue were pierced by burning laser trails.

The sudden addition of thirty  thousand  fighter  drones changed the dynamics on the field. The alien horde  was violently blocked in their charge by the hail of fire, and even the generals found their path forward blocked by smears of golden light. Jue Di.

Jue Di was a conduit of his enormous power. His body was covered in course golden hair, and his Compliant Staff glinted dangerously in his hand. The mighty weapon seemed capable of splitting the universe in two.

The Violet Prince paused in a moment of fear. The first time they met the Paragon nearly killed him. It was Monarch who saved him then, with a timely intervention.

At the time his transformation into human form was still new, his powers had not completely adapted. Still the Prince knew he was no match for this human. Jue Di was the strongest
foe he’d ever encountered.

Jue Di’s eyes were wells of burning golden light. He swept them across the field and over the alien elite, who each felt his gaze pierce them.

They couldn’t control themselves or hold back. Suddenly their humanoid shapes gave way and their bodies swelled, revealing their true selves. At three thousand meters long each the field quickly grew crowded. Chaos ensued as the alien formation was jostled around.

Gaze of Gold and Fire! One of Jue Di’s penultimate dharmic abilities.

The Paragon pointed forward with his staff, and suddenly he was a flash of sparkling golden light. Before anyone could react he shot across the field, reappearing above the Violet Prince. He hovered there for a moment with a tyrannical presence so intense it rivaled the weight of a mountain.

UpEnder!
The Violet Prince felt his breath catch in his throat. Crushing pressure bore down on him, on everything around him, and even before Jue Di’s attack arrived the Prince felt like his body might explode.

As the pressure mounted the Prince felt the changes in his Domain. His powers hinged on the play between creation and destruction, but the creation portion of his powers were being staunchly suppressed. With half of it locked away the Prince’s Domain was under the enemy’s thumb. He could also feel the acute danger of universal protogenia coalescing around them. But if he was feeling it so was Jue Di – it was a danger that threatened them both.

The Violet Prince lifted his arms high, and his eyes burned with violet power. Suddenly his humanoid body exploded to monstrous proportions. Beside him the Violet Princess was also changing, though her transformation was more dramatic. Her body shimmered with violet and golden light as it reshaped itself into a herculean blade before settling in the Prince’s hand.

His reaction was quick. The moment the sword touched his palm the Prince heaved it at the Compliant Rod and the two crashed into one another.
Boom--!! An explosion of residual power burst out in all directions once the two weapons met. It was so intense the newly transformed avatars were blasted backward, so say nothing of the normal aliens which were summarily torn to shreds.

In the darkness of space dark gold and purple gold battle for supremacy. The more they fought against each other the wider their sphere of warring power grew. Jue Di – with nothing but a stick – was holding back the leaders of the enemy horde.

Jue Di hovered in space, unchanged. Across from him the hate-filled eyes of the Prince glared back. Neither budged.

The human moved first, whipping his body halfway around and striking thrice with his staff. It was so fast the images of their passing hung in the air for a moment as light struggled to catch up, fast as lightning.

The Prince was quick, but even still he only had time to lift up the Princess-sword in his hand to try and ward off the blows.

Boom- boom- boom! Three ear-piercing explosions followed one after the other. The other alien elite had just recovered
from the last explosion and were suddenly blasted backward again.

Three Thunderclap Impact!

With so many powerful foes pitted against him, Jue Di had to keep the situation under his control. He couldn’t take them all at once.

The Violet Prince took three staggering steps back before steadying himself. A faint ringing reverberated from his sister- turned-weapon.

With some space between them Jue Di’s staff stretched to three times its original length. The monkey-like Paragon whipped it around him to carve out a circle. When it was completed he sensed within it the enigmatic power of yin and yang joined together. To the aliens it was a chaotic vortex.

In response the alien general cut wildly through the air to one side and a half-moon shock-wave of power was released. It produced a tear in the fabric of space and time to protect him from the vortex’s influence. However the lesser aliens were not so lucky, as they were thrown violently about by the chaotic
forces.

Meanwhile bolts of azure blue had started to rain upon the right flank. Poseidon had repositioned and was joining the fight on this front. So far it had not employed its mecha transformation and was still using traditional weapons fire. Together with Middle Heaven it was effective in keeping the enemy at bay.

On the other side of the battlefield humanity was gaining an edge. Paragons, fleet ships, and Tyrannosaurus hammered the left flank with everything in their arsenals. Under such an overwhelming offensive the aliens were losing ground. They couldn’t get close enough to do any damage, but they were being obliterated.

Once Jue Di’s circle was drawn he stood still behind it. Continuous, high-level combat had captured the attention of universal protogenia and he was feeling it.

After so long the Paragon knew his body intimately. He was drawing on the progenitor’s vital crystal to support his life energy, but it was still being drained. He was only one man, and by virtue of his power alone he was holding back nearly all of the enemy’s strongest. It was not getting easier as time went on.

Chapter 848: Jue Di the All-Powerful

Other than Lan Qing himself, Jue Di was the only one who knew the whole battle strategy. The Violet Prince’s estimations had been correct in that if he hadn’t blocked Tyrannosaurus’ shot – if he’d elected to dodge – Lan Qing had been ready to turn Middle Heaven into a weapon. Terminal Ray would have been used to carve a path, and the bastion would detonate itself against the home worlds and Europa.

With Luo Xianni aboard, they would have been teleported to safety before the detonation could claim them. The plan had been dangerous, but the chances of the alien planets escaping from such a dramatic play unscathed were slim to none.

Though it required Lan Qing to gamble with his life, Jue Di knew his son was ready to give his life for the cause.

When the admiral had discussed his plans with Lan Jue he’d been the picture of calm, but in fact his heart was in turmoil. As commander he had to send his only brother into the heart of the enemy’s forces, perhaps to die. He had no choice despite the stabbing protests in his heart.

In secret Lan Qing had told his father that he would not
retreat until Lan Jue returned safely. He would give his life to give his brother a chance, if necessary. This made him more dangerous than the aliens realized for he could detonate Middle Heaven at any moment, and as captain of the ship he would not be easily convinced to abandon ship.

At the time Jue Di had said little. But as a father how could he stand by and watch his son with his own eyes? His greatest pride was his two sons and the men they had become, even more than his own accomplishments. If they survived the conflict those young men would grow to be more powerful than he ever was. Perhaps they could even create an immortal realm and live forever.

Lan Qing wasn’t the only one willing to give up his life for the opportunity of another’s future.

The Violet Prince appeared like a ghost before Jue Di. He could sense that the human was suffering greater than he from the pressure of universal protogenia. Jue Di’s life energy was weakening.

At last he was free from the power of the humans’ strongest deterrents and could take the offensive. In combination with the Princess-blade he was sure he could at least entangle Jue Di
and keep him from wreaking havoc on the battlefield. Once the avatars could rejoin the fight the tide would change in their favor. The bastions would be destroyed, then they could deal with the situation on their other flank.

Clang! The ringing sound burst through the air. This time it was Jue Di who staggered backward.

With the strength he possessed Jue Di could defend himself with few worries, even with the Prince and Princess attacking together. However it had been many long years since his ascension to the Infinite, and the punishment that universal protogenia had wrought on him had only gotten stronger with time. The effect on his vital energy was severe. Now, after fighting so hard with all of his might, the cost was tremendous. Were it not for his dharmic reflection one would see his hair had gone completely white.

“Release!” Jue Di growled the word, and a burst of energy issued from his astrum. Beams of light illuminated tens of thousands of mirror images of the Compliant Rod hovering in space around them.

Ward of the Jade Palace! Lost knowledge of the Staff of a Thousand Strikes style – and among its most draining moves
This one really sent me down the rabbit hole. When looking up the strange combination of character it lead me to a poem by none other than Mao Zi Dong. I’m sure I’m not doing it justice but I’m reading it as; The Golden Monkey bears his cudgel / The dust clears ten thousands li around the Jade Palace / We cheer the arrival of the Great Sage Sun (the monkey king) / For the monsters have come again. According to what I read on the internet this was written as an artistic way for Chairman Mao to decry the actions of the Soviet Union who, at the time, was disparaging of the Chinese communist system. It’s meant, I think, to evoke the imagery of the great monkey king clearing away all enemies.

Once more the Violet Prince was thrust back, and the other elite were forced farther from the confrontation.

Dazzling light blazed in Jue Di’s eyes as the golden light around him was released to create a vortex of energy so mighty it threatened to swallow everyone up on both sides. His already tyrannical aura surged by several orders of magnitude that manifested in a supernova of energy.

Reality around him rippled from the strain. Universal protogenia was thick in the air and its promise of complete destruction washed over the Violet Prince like a suffocating tide. He stumbled backward in fear.
Normal aliens and humans existed without fear of universal protogenia. It was of no concern unless one reached vaulted heights of power, and only then did one learn to appreciate and fear it.

Lan Qing watched from within Middle Heaven’s control room. Throughout the battle his features had been calm, even cold. But now he stared in nervous surprise. He knew what Jue Di was doing.

“Father!” Lan Qing couldn’t stop himself from gasping in alarm. Emotions roiled within him, outside of his control.

A gentle hand fell upon his shoulder. When Lan Qing turned he saw the tear-streaked face of Luo Xianni.

“You must continue to command your troops. Don’t lose focus.” She said in a soft voice.

“You knew?” He asked through his shock.

She answered him with a smile that was full of sadness and pain. “A parent cannot sit by and watch their children give their
lives. We are willing to face any danger to ensure your safety. He made this decision a long time ago, anxious for the opportunity even. He’s been deceiving you – those crystals we’ve found have only ever had a very limited effect on his vital energy. For years he’s been one step away from godhood, and has struggled against universal protogenia because of it. In ten seconds he’s going to perform a miracle just for you. Don’t squander it, child.”

Lan Qing’s body shook visibly, but the light in his eyes was resolute. Whatever pain was eating him up within he couldn’t show, for he was the leader of humanity’s last stand. The soul of their resistance. If he broke down now his father’s sacrifice would be for nothing.

He forced himself into a state of numb serenity and proceeded to deliver a string of orders. Middle Heaven began to fire in earnest, but ignored the elite aliens. Poseidon began the process of its transformation.

The halo of light around Jue Di grew more intense as time stretched on. Universal protogenia – typically invisible – aggregated around him in rippling streamers of light as it tried to constrain the Paragon. So far it was unable to stem his flood of power.
Jue Di’s body began to shrink until he returned to his normal size. Then, a strange energy pulsed out from him that erased the shell of copper light he emitted. It was replaced by a soft white- gold haze.

“Immortal qi… so this is what it feels like.” The ghost of a smile touched Jue Di’s lips. Beneath the shimmering light he looked like a man in his twenties with a handsome heroic face. Red light flickered in and out of existence behind his eyes. His staff became solid gold.

The fear that gripped the Violet Prince was so intense he forgot to press the attack. Even his weapon, the Princess turned steel, seemed to shake as the scene unfolded. The two of them could feel Jue Di acutely and the power he commanded, and they recognized it as the same sensation they felt from Monarch. The alien ruler could not employ their full strength once they reached this level of strength – not because it couldn’t, but because it didn’t dare.

What Jue Di released went far beyond the Infinite and into a new level entirely. Even universal protogenia could feel the pressure of might this lofty. For this reason the universe answered with ten times the power, resulting in apocalyptic destructive force.
Once Monarch became this strong, it and the others ‘became’ planets to protect themselves. It was how they survived until now. Ever since then they had explored any means to combat universal protogenia, finally culminating with this attempt to evolve.

Now, before their eyes, this human was pushing himself to the same level. Was he not afraid of what universal protogenia would do to him?

Dozens of desperate thoughts shot through the Prince’s mind.
First the first time, retreat was among them.

But it was too late.

Jue Di but glanced at his staff and it took on a life of its own. In a blink the golden weapon carved out another circle, though much smaller than the first. However, despite its size the power that surged from it swallowed up all the alien elite, including the Prince and Princess. Before anyone could react they all vanished, along with Jue Di himself.

Emptiness. Nothing remained of the Paragon or his enemies.
All of the alien horde’s commanders were gone, sending the beasts into chaos. Middle Heaven sat in their midst, a burning globe of orange as its weapons fired at full capacity. The heat was so intense An Lun’s mantle was beginning to melt.

Poseidon’s transformation completed and once more the towering mechanical mecha and its trident appeared on the battlefield. It thrust the enormous weapon into the enemy’s midst, and together with the help of the drones they mounted a counterattack.

ξ

Within an expanse of golden light, Jue Di stood tall and proud as though he were the center of the universe. Be it the Prince, Princess or avatars, all of them had shed their humanoid shells and hovered in the light in their natural forms. Even still they were nothing before the all-pervasive might of humanity’s greatest Paragon.

Slowly he pointed with the head of his golden staff, aiming at the Violet Prince.

The Prince’s reaction was to lash out with his Princess-sword
as quickly as possible. A tear appeared behind the beast, trying to pull him from this reality.

However all it took was a flash of red-gold light from Jue Di’s eyes, and the fissure was sealed.

Chapter 849: Jue Di’s Immortality

Boom-! The impact caused dozens of cracks to appear along the Prince’s weapon while he spat up a mouthful of black blood. He was knocked violently away, but in the midst of his uncontrolled retreat he lashed out at a nearby avatar with his right fist.

A dark light arose from the monsters forehead and spread down to its tail, then dissolved it entirely. The light was then consumed by the Prince and he was immediately  in  better shape. The cracks on the Princess-sword quickly mended.

This was the great advantage of these alien creatures. So long as there was vital energy they could draw upon, they would not easily die.

Jue Di watched with an emotionless expression. He attacked again with his Compliant Rod, an attack precisely the same as the first. Three more strikes, and three more elite aliens were consumed to keep the Prince and Princess alive. But the scowl on the Prince’s face said he knew his time was limited. Once there were no more aliens for him to draw from, he would die.

Although this human was not in complete control of his new
powers, the might at his fingertips was far greater than the Prince’s own. Were it not for the blood of Monarch in the veins of he and his sister, they would already have been destroyed.

Jue Di lifted his staff again, but this time crackling bolts of lightning appeared in the air around him. The lightning was strange – erratic but tightly compact. They were almost like shackles that wrapped themselves around Jue Di.

Regret passed across Jue Di’s face. His voice was bitter as he sighed to himself. “Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time.”

He stopped his attack, kneeling in the midst of the golden universe he’d created. As she shut his eyes his whole body began to slowly fade from existence.

Indeed this was his universe – an immortal realm, not a Domain. He’d poured himself into its creation for the lives of his sons, for the chance to defeat the alien menace. For victory. For humanity! He threw caution to the wind and spat in the face of universal protogenia’s throttling power. With understanding and determination he had taken that final step to break through and join the ranks of immortals. The first in ten thousand years.
Upon ascending to immortality his Domain had become an immortal realm. Here he was the  unchallenged  master  of reality. However Jue Di was not able to fully control the breadth of his power, otherwise he would have easily destroyed half of these monsters before the universe came to shut him down.

Ten seconds. That’s only as long as he was given after achieving immortality. Then the universe claimed him.

As master of this small universe he had complete control over the passage of time, and after bringing the monsters here each second stretched by a factor of ten. Were it was almost two minutes here, only ten seconds had passed in the universe where his son was at war.

If he’d continued to fight the reality he created would have crumbled as universal protogenia took him. Killing one more avatar wasn’t worth keeping this creatures locked down.

Jue Di’s mouth continued to move as he muttered something inaudible. A small smile was on his face, a face filled with solemnity and compassion.

The Violet Prince could sense the vital energy flowing out of
Jue Di. However, he didn’t dare move in for an attack. His knowledge of immortality was broad, but he was not sure how this human would react in the moment of his destruction which would come at any moment. He would wait and see what happens.

He and the Princess were different from the avatars. Those doppelgangers had the will of the home worlds branded on their souls, whereas the Prince and Princess were proper descendants. Only they possessed the genetic combination making them offspring instead of copies.

They knew fear. Survival was paramount, and right now their survival was uncertain.

**

Lan Jue and Qianlin carefully searched the area, exiting the ‘cave’ and finding themselves in a strange reality.

It was a place constructed of countless veins like the ones they’d seen before, only now they were inside them. Each one was like a channel. Lan Jue could feel that they were a part of the home worlds, but it was different from where they had been
imprisoned. He knew they were closely tied to the planets. Injuring them would alert the monsters to their presence.

From their earlier encounter they knew roughly where Ultus was contained, but this place was a mess of writhing veins. They couldn’t start cutting them away without risking the mission, so they were left with no choice but to follow the winding paths created by the vessels as they searched for Ultus’ precise location.

The Pharmacist stopped frequently during their search, reaching out with her perception to search for the sword. Occisus and Ultus were close ever since the Pharmacist and her husband discovered them. They had a connection, and she knew Ultus’ energy as intimately as she knew her own. With the other two Banishing Blades nearby, they were even more sensitive to their missing companion.

She stopped. “Suddenly the sensation is weaker!”

Something flit across Lan Jue’s eyes. Suddenly all the vessels around them contracted.

They huddled together, surprised by the abrupt change. Since
they couldn’t risk being discovered they were forced to avoid the squeezing veins by drawing closer together. All at once they were squeezed into a confined space. There was no danger, but it was uncomfortable.

“Monarch is stirring,” Lan Jue muttered.

The Pharmacist’s brows furrowed. “The evolution shouldn’t be finished yet…”

He shook his head, and spoke with a low voice. “No, it shouldn’t be this soon. It’s more likely its reacting to the war nearby. I can almost feel the unease in its vessels. Unless I’m mistaken, whatever is happening out there is in our favor.”

Despite the considerable gap in strength between man and alien, Lan Jue’s faith in his brother was unshakable. He was sure Lan Qing would find a way to capitalize on any advantage. He would give his best, and the rest would be left up to the fates.

Monarch’s vessels continued to squeeze and writhe for several minutes, but eventually relaxed. The Pharmacist scrunched her face in thought for a moment then piped up. “It’s back. That way!” She marched on.
In contrast to the Pharmacist’s excitement, Lan Jue was filled with an inexplicable sense of unease and discomfort. He felt like something bad was happening. Did something happen to Lan Qing? No, that was unlikely. He was safe in a bastion and was a powerful fighter in his own right. But what was it?

As they traversed the vessels, following winding turns and branching veins, Ultus aura was becoming more distinct. The maze of channels were complicated and forced  them  down many detours, but they were getting closer with every meter. So far it seemed they’d escaped Monarch’s notice, for the way was unhindered.

“There?” He asked the Pharmacist. He could feel the sword clearly now. Clearly they had to be close.

The Pharmacist took a deep breath, trying to conceal the fervent look in her eye. Recovering this sword meant saving her husband’s spirit from the clutches of these monsters. It was the only thing left of him, but it was enough.

The three of them moved slowly, taking pains to conceal their aura. Lan Jue led the way while Qianlin and the Pharmacist were a step behind. They had a plan for when they found the sword. Even if they had to destroy the walls of the vessels to get
to it, once Ultus was in hand it was Lan Jue and Qianlin’s time to act. Together they would employ their Harmonious Swords to carve a path to freedom. Surprised and distracted by their evolution, the planets should not have time to stop them before they fled.

In front of them, a section of the purple-black vessel walls was glowing with turquoise light. It was the light from Ultus’ aura.

The light time they encountered the sword things had happened so fast, Lan Jue hadn’t seen clearly. This time he sensed the aura, strong and potent, like his own body was drinking it in.

They passed through a narrow vessel that opened into a wider space. In the center, floating in air, was Ultus. It was surrounded by purple-gold threads like meridians, but its turquoise light shone through.

The whole sword was blue-green from pommel to tip, like a wave frozen in time. Even here, captured and contained, its deadly might was palpable. The flickering light that surrounded it said the sword knew of their presence.
When they saw it, instead of joy a darkness fell over the humans’ faces.

Beneath the sword there knelt a man. Yes, a man!

He was handsome and rugged, perhaps in his thirties, and clad in luxurious golden-purple robes. He was the very picture of dignified nobility, and here in this poison place how could there be any mystery as to his identity?

Just his presence filled them with a sense of gloom and oppression.

Monarch!

This image, this aura… they knew it from their first real conflict with the aliens in the Shattered Starfields. Who else could it be but Monarch?

But it wasn’t – it was more accurate to say that this was another avatar. The aura they felt was strong, but not strong enough. Even so Lan Jue could sense that this doppelganger commanded Infinite-level power, and they were in enemy
territory!

“I’ve been waiting a long time for your arrival.” Monarch’s avatar slowly opened its eyes. Their depths burned with golden- purple light.

Chapter 850: The Alpha Avatar

When the creature opened its eyes Lan Jue could feel the true power of the avatar. This beast was stronger than the Violet Prince and Princess. There was a flash, and suddenly the undulating walls of the vessels they’d traversed were gone. Now they found themselves in a boundless world of violet.

More specifically the ‘floor’ was violet, and the sky was the same shade of purple-gold as the avatar’s eyes. The deep, sick hue painted the humans who were caught in it in similar colors. They stood side by side with Lan Jue in the middle. To his left was Zhou Qianlin, and to his right the Pharmacist.

Each of them glowered, but there was no sign of fear or cowardice.

Before accepting the mission they all knew there was a real chance they wouldn’t make it back. Nevertheless they came, because even the slightest chance of success could mean the rest of their people survived.

Early success had did not make them overconfident. And now, they ran into an unexpected problem.
“You knew we were coming?” Lan Jue asked in even tones.

Monarch’s response was similarly tepid. “I knew the moment you were brought here. This is my body, did you think you could sneak around unnoticed? I can feel that this weapon is somehow connected to you – it led you here, to the center of me. You are foolish to assume we are not wise enough to protect ourselves.”

Lan Jue was silent, in fact he had not thought Ultus would bring them to the center of Monarch’s planetary body. If they could destroy it…

The Avatar went on. “In fact, everything you tried to accomplish here has been in vain. We are nearing the end of our ascension, and as we three merge into one the immortal realm we deserve shall be created. Immortal Realm… a phrase we’ve taken from the memories of your people. We find it fitting. Your sad species has ceased its growth, but there is much in your genetic material that we can draw upon. I can feel that the three of you are outstanding among your people – you possess real potential for growth. If you submit yourselves and allow us to plant our seed within your protogenia you will live on as a part of immortality.”
A fervent light burned in the monster’s eyes. “In truth we did not seek to make an enemy of your species. You were nothing more than food. Your people have experience with the realm of immortals, you should know that the universe is their creation. It is nothing more than a body – the largest and most powerful of bodies. It is within this body that I was born, here that I evolved, but when I became too strong what you call universal protogenia began to reject me. It fought back against us, draining our live force. We have had to consume whatever living things we come across in order to survive.”

“However I never saw the universe as selfish. Universal protogenia was our test, to ensure we were strong enough to replace it. Like everything the universe must adapt and grow. We believe there is not one universe but many, and they constantly consume the weak in order to strengthen the self. In the process they evolve, and the simplest way to do so it to be replaced. The strong overcome the weak. Once we create our immortal realm a conflict with this universe will become inevitable. If we defeat it, then our reality will become the new reality, we will control all of this dimension. If we fail another species will rise to make the same attempt.

“Perhaps the immortal realm your species created went through this process already. Maybe it was victorious, maybe it was not. For several millennia the nature of universal protogenia has not changed, and it remains a way to test
whether or not a species is worthy of taking control. The creation of such a realm is the only way for us to grow stronger until, one day, the time has come for us to test ourselves against the universe. Is there not a phrase your elders have used? ‘In the beginning, one became two.’ Taiji, yin and yang, split from the pureness of being to create all that we see. What your elders called that purity was nothing more than the universe we exist within – the very beginning of it. A single body or consciousness. Through it the many worlds were created, as were we. Just as it evolved so must we.”

“After countless years of struggle, we are close to the first step. Finally we are at the threshold to creating a new universe to challenge the old. You would not support this endeavor? You have the potential to achieve success, should we not work together toward perfection? We can make it stronger, strong enough to challenge the universe itself. It is the same goal the strongest of your species also pursue.”

Lan Jue saw the zeal in Monarch’s eyes, faced him with a stoic expression. “There is some truth to what you say. But everything you’ve done – the aggression you’ve shown to all races, the destruction you’ve wrecked, all you’ve consumed – it’s nothing benevolent. We call it ‘survival of the fittest,’ and at its heart that means survival.”
“There is no denying that yours is an apex species. You’ve grown wise. But you also have a fatal flaw, and that is you feel nothing. You lack the most fundamental part of being human – emotion. As a result you are nothing more than machines that take and consume. Saw you succeed. You create your realm, overcome this universe and even conquer all the rest. What then? Toward what end? Your quest is eternal and will never bring you happiness because you don’t even know what that feels like. Or perhaps you do, but it is nothing like what we humans know.”

“We also value strength, but existence is about more than accumulating power. Kinship, love, friendship, countless experiences for us to enjoy. Through our exploration we have also been aggressive, but we can appreciate the beauty of the universe we find ourselves in. It’s a part of who we are, curious to explore the unknown and reflect on its majesty. We don’t have just one thing that we pursue, but many. Our evolution has been slow but we don’t care. We enjoy the process. Being quick to accomplish something doesn’t always lead to happiness.”

“I’m sure that the closest you’ve ever come to contentment was when you started your evolution. Over time you grew strong and felt the universe begin to bear down on you. You were left with no option but to struggle in perpetuity for a way to become mightier than the thing that was keeping you down. Your fledgling sense of joy was never fostered and died beneath
the weight of that struggle. How long was it before your ‘evolution’ decided emotions were weakness? When was the last time you even thought about it?”

Lan Jue pressed Monarch with one question after another, and the avatar’s face slipped into an expression of contemplation. He did not interrupt Lan Jue, and instead seemed to consider his words.

When Lan Jue was finished he nodded his head, ever so slightly. “I can see the reason in what you say. Perhaps earlier I would not have paid it any mind, but after obtaining the genetic material of your people I can accept it. However, we already stand at the precipice. All that can be done is to continue the path we’ve chosen. What you say is still within our grasp to achieve, if my species is but willing. When I come to govern this reality and your people are a part of me, perhaps I will learn of the emotions your species love so dearly and change them. That is the power granted the master, but to creatures  such  as yourself – with no power of your destiny – the words must have no significance.”

“Who says we have no control over our destiny?” Lan Jue retorted. “It is your species that invaded, we’ve done nothing but defend our homes. Your species is strong but you haven’t won yet. We humans have a saying, ‘those who are not my
people cannot know my heart.’ Do you think our two people will ever resolve these differences? You’ve already slaughtered millions of my brothers and sisters, and in doing so you’ve made yourselves into our greatest enemy. Either you will die, or I will.”

Monarch’s eyes went from curious to cold. “If you will not accept this opportunity then you will be destroyed. But I will keep your genetic material – your quick progress intrigues me. Soon our evolution will be complete, and the planet you call Europa will be the foundation of our immortal realm. We will store your DNA there, or perhaps I will remake you and force your own evolution. Perhaps you will help me discover more secrets about what your species knew of those bygone realities.”

“Don’t assume you’ve won,” Lan Jue growled. “How do you know we aren’t a match for you?”

Monarch answered with cold certainty. “Law of conservation of energy… this is how you humans phrase it, yes? There is nothing you can do against a power like mine.”

Lan Jue slowly lifted Captus. “I’m not sure your power is so much greater than ours.” A pale blue light sprang up around him, and reality shook as his power warred against the avatar’s.

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