Skyfire Avenue Chapter 881-890

Chapter 881: Cultivation and Strategy

The soldiers were once again busy with preparations. Repairs became the highest priority. Damage to the bastions both big and small were attended to while their energy stores were rebuilt. As a newly arrived asset Heron was in prime condition, and would likely hold an important role in the fight to come.

Kang Hui ordered Middle Heaven be given priority treatment. He was hoping to gain An Lun’s favor. The Northern leader could see the East’s rise to prominence, inevitable assuming they were able to defeat the aliens. Considering their high- powered fighters alone, the North could not catch up or hope to contend. They had an advantage technologically, but maintaining a force of notable Adepts was going to be difficult.

If Middle Heaven was any indication the East’s technological mastery was not as backwater as they’d expected. In fact there were systems on that  bastion  that  perplexed  Northern scientists. It seems the only thing that’d been holding the East back was access to resources.

In this moment it was important for humans to be united against the universal threat of the alien horde. Kang Hui knew this, and it was for this reason that Lan Qing chose him to command the armada while he was cultivating. Kang Hui was
more than an experienced and talented commander, he was also a good man deserving of respect.

ξ

Lan Jue was out of the public eye for more than a day before he emerged from his room. He seemed composed, at least on the surface Lan Jue appeared back to his former self.

Mika had returned to the area designated for the Dark Citadel’s representatives. Lin Guoguo and Ke’er remained behind, and they had also regained their composure. When they saw Lan Jue again they didn’t bring up Xiuxiu.

“Lan Qing and sister Pharmacist have locked themselves away to cultivate. They wanted me to bring you to them when you came back out. “Zhou Qianlin said in her soft voice.

“Alright, I’m fine – let’s go now.” Lan Jue nodded for her to lead the way. She took his hand and smiled sweetly at him. She used her actions to soothe his injured spirit.

A loaded look crossed Lan Jue’s face, heavy with emotion. He
lifted his other hand and gently pressed it against her face.

When they arrived at the room where Lan Qing and the Pharmacist were cultivating they found the Wine Master and Clockmaker seated by the door. They were there to look over them.

After the recent tragedy who knew when the Violet Prince might try to strike again? They knew it to be unlikely, though. If he did dare to come he would be marching to his own demise. Aliens no longer enjoyed an overwhelming advantage of super- powerful fighters.

“Wine Master. Clockmaker.” Lan Jue greeted both of them.

His old drinking companion answered with a smile. “What is past is past. Try to remain positive, and focus on exacting revenge for our fallen friends. For our people. The fight to come may require more sacrifices, but we are prepared to fight to the last man and woman.”

Lan Jue nodded firmly. He knew this was the Wine Master’s effort to soothe him, but the wound was still too fresh. What words could make him feel better?
“Let’s go in.” He said, nodding to the two Paragons.

The Wine Master moved aside from the door and entered a password. The metallic portal opened and Lan Jue stepped in. Qianlin was close behind.

Stepping inside, they were struck by the sensation in the air. It was thick with vital energy, almost stifling. Lan Qing and the Pharmacist were seated in the middle of the room with a strange device between them.

Nestled in the device was a single golden-purple vital crystal. Lan Jue could tell at a glance that this crystal was at least Nirvana-level. The rich sense of vitality was coming from there. Situated around the apparatus were twelve Tears of Neptune, all comparable in size. Their presence galvanized the remains of the alien to release its vitality. Once that energy was filtered by the tears it could be used safely.

Lan Qing and the Pharmacist immersed themselves in the exuberant current, taking it in with slow and steady breaths. All the while their cultivation was slowly rising.

Lan Jue nodded in appreciation. This was certainly a
spectacular specimen of a vital crystal! After only a day the two of them were already near the upper reaches of Reflection of Heaven and Earth.

There was another presence in the room with them. Li Ke observed the process, sustained through Ultus.

No one else was in the chamber. As agreed, these few were the only ones permitted in order to keep the vital crystal transmutation process a secret. Lan Qing and the Pharmacist already had their mind wiped by Lin Guoguo prior to beginning.

Lan Jue looked at Li Ke questioningly, but did not speak. The spirit understood and delivered his answer directly into Lan Jue’s mind.

“We’ve used two Nirvana-level vital crystals up so far, the results have been encouraging. In around five hours this crystal will be spent and they should be strong enough to make a breakthrough. From my analyses I suspect that once they join you in Nirvana they’ll need time to stabilize their cultivation. Qianlin’s Queen of Heaven Discipline should help them significantly there. Afterwards all four of you should undergo this process. We won’t push you into the Infinite, but we have to bolster your abilities as much as we can. The stronger you
are, the more likely it will be that you can survive using the Banishing Strategy.”

Lan Jue had experienced what it was like when ones foundation was unstable. There was no small measure of trepidation in his voice when he queried Li Ke. “Are you sure this won’t cause any problems? The moment something goes wrong…”

Li Ke smiled reassuringly. “It’s fine, I don’t suspect any complications. At your level and with the help of the Queen of Heaven, so long as we don’t cross the line into the Infinite there is nothing to worry about. To be safe we won’t reach the peak of Nirvana. Halfway should be sufficient to beginning attempting the Strategy.”

“Alright!” Lan Jue affirmed. He and Qianlin made their way to a pair of seats nearby and waited.

They were careful to shut themselves off from their environment so that they did not absorb any of the vital energy. Qianlin let her Domain reach out and embrace them. Lan Qing and the Pharmacist had not yet broken through, but her presence helped strengthen and stabilize their protogenia in preparation for the moment they did. The two were almost
immediately more relaxed, and were able to take in more of the vital energy.

Lan Jue and Zhou Qianlin passed the time in quiet meditation.

The moment of breakthrough was the most dangerous moment for Lan Qing and the Pharmacist. They were sure to experience some measure of what Lan Jue and Qianlin had had to suffer when they attained Nirvana. Unlike them, however, they had Qianlin’s help. The power of Nirvana-level Queen of Heaven abilities meant risks were kept to a minimum. Without her help Lan Jue would never have agreed to this.

ξ

Time passed quickly. Before they knew it three days had come and gone.

The armada’s three bastions were almost back in full service. Those ships that were still heavily damaged and soldiers too wounded to serve would remain behind on Angel. Troops were reorganized into ten fleets for the coming operation. Their three mighty bastions were joined by a fourth.
Tyrannosaurus, Middle Heaven, Poseidon and Heron led the way as the war party embarked. Ten fleets worth of support vessels spread out around them as they made their way toward Europa.

Tyrannosaurus was in the center of the formation, taking Middle Heaven’s place. It wasn’t a power move, but one of practicality. Tyrannosaurus had the most resources left after their last campaign. What’s more, without Lan Qing to stabilize Middle Heaven’s molinite core the more advanced maneuvers were too dangerous to perform. With Tyrannosaurus in the middle it gave the other bastions more leeway.

No attempts to impede their progress troubled the armada. If they didn’t know better they might suspect the horde had left. Kang Hui knew that the enemy force was still formidable, they just weren’t wasting their strength on intercepting them.

He remembered that commander Lan Qing also suspected the alien home worlds were still a threat. Though they were busy with their evolution, they could still exert their influence on the battlefield. How much of an influence was as yet unknown.

They left Angel with Lan Qing and the others still locked away. Three days had passed without so much as a peep from
the Paragons. Lan Qing had told him to expect a full week before they would emerge. Kang Hui used this estimate to craft his strategy. The four sword bearers should be completing their transmutation just as the armada was reaching Europa.

Kang Hui sat at his control desk looking over the information on his screens. But his mind was not on the data scrolling by.

Prior to this excursion he’d received tacit agreement to participate by the North. The day they set out he made peace with the idea that he might die. Chances were low that anyone would make it back. At that time humanity had yet to win a single victory over the aliens. Losses were already in the millions.

When they first arrived at Angel and saw the nearby planets occupied, his hope was all but gone. It felt like a pointless endeavor against an overwhelming enemy. Fighting was just increasing the number of casualties.

But fighting was their only choice. A desperate choice, certainly, but all that they had left.

He thought back to the outset of their war. Lan Qing was the
youngest commander ever, an Easterner with command of three bastions and twelve fleets against a vastly superior enemy force. And then he started winning.

Chapter 882: Striking Out Again

His ruminations reminded Kang Hui that Lan Qing’s strategy had been right every step of the way. He’d taken advantage of the aliens’ desperation to evolve, attacking them when they were at their weakest and diminishing their numbers. The creatures didn’t respond, assured in their victory. All they had to do was repel the human forces long enough for the home worlds to ascend. Once they did, mankind would be served up on a platter.

Ignored and underestimated Lan Qing was able to command his forces masterfully. Bit by bit he gnawed away at the enemy. He began to accumulate victories but never became cocky.

When humanity’s forces ultimately retook the seven planets Kang Hui saw a glimmer of hope. Under Lan Qing there was a chance, albeit remote. His spirit stirred at last and he studiously observed Lan Qing’s plans. Kang Hui spared no effort to support this young genius leader.

In the end Lan Qing’s tactics proved true. Through his wisdom and persistence humanity had achieved a miracle. Inch by inch they were fighting back against the forces of destruction. Today they were still fighting for their lives, but the soldiers of humankind were no longer passively reacting.
They were taking the fight to the enemy. If there was still time before the home worlds completed their evolution, there was a chance this mission could thoroughly destroy the alien horde.

Miracle was the perfect word to describe what Lan Qing had done.

They should call you the Miracle Admiral, Kang Hui mused. Middle Heaven was strong indeed, but without Lan Qing’s artful strategies it wouldn’t have performed such glorious feats.

This time, I will be the one to see this mission to its end.

They had to finish their war on Europa. Whatever the cost they couldn’t allow the aliens’ reign of destruction to spread farther than it already had. His fellows had already suffered tremendously, and he knew they couldn’t suffer much more.

Tyrannosaurus’ energy stores were full after three days of replenishment. Heron flew on its left and Poseidon on its right. Middle Heaven was behind. It was not the primary force in the armada any longer but still was kept in the formation’s leadership position, which was also the most defensible. Lan Qing and the other Paragons were there, and although it was
depleted it was still one of the most powerful bastions in human history.

After everything that had happened since leaving the Northern Alliance, there was no doubt Middle Heaven had earned that title. Poseidon’s spectacular metamorphic abilities were staggering, but the family’s ship still didn’t match up to the war planet. Middle Heaven’s Terminal Ray was a truly terrifying weapon of mass destruction. According to Kang Hui’s calculations there was nothing in all of known space that could survive a blast from Middle Heaven’s main weapon.

The four bastions and ten fleets gradually closed in on Europa. Repairs continued as the armada made its way. Latest reports stated that Middle Heaven was at sixty percent combat effectiveness. Poseidon was at fifty percent, and couldn’t transform to its mecha form. Tyrannosaurus boasted eighty percent of its capabilities, and Heron was fresh-faced and ready for battle. As for the ten support fleets that remained, they were operating at eighty percent efficiency.

Of course, aside from Heron all of the bastions had lost many of their fighter drones. Altogether only a third remained. Heron could only carry three thousand drones, the least capacity of all the bastions.
ξ

Pale light flickered around Lan Qing. He sat with a cool and stately expression on his face. The admiral’s hands were pressed together before his chest, and light trembled erratically in his eyes.

He and the Pharmacist had already broken  through  to Nirvana. With the help of Qianlin’s Domain, their protogenia was quickly stabilized. All four of them sat around the vital crystal and the strange apparatus now, silently absorbing the energies it released. The crystal they used now was from one of the Infinite-level monsters they’d slain – the Violet Princess’.

Her crystal was purer than the others by comparison, but also more vibrant. The energies it released were difficult to control. Half their store of Tears was already spent.

Lan Jue sat across from his brother, the two women were on either side. Their swords floated nearby, for as they absorbed the vital energy they also needed to explore the secrets of the Banishing Blades.

The mysteries of the Banishing Strategy went far beyond their
understanding of the systems of energy. In many ways the power of the Strategy was a sort of protogenia, but it was not a protogenia borne of the universe they resided in. It came from somewhere else entirely.

The Strategy produced its terrifying might through the repulsion of this protogenia and universal protogenia. The clash and subsequent rebuttal were focused into the Strategy to create its world-shattering result.

The fact it was able to borrow from universal protogenia was a staggering prospect!

As the four Paragons grew in strength and explored the knowledge of the swords, they could sense the ire of universal protogenia searching for them. They could feel, if only faintly, what the old immortal realm must have been like.

Immortals in those ancient days were powerful beyond comprehension. It took Celestial Master Yuanshi and Celestial Master Taishang – along with two others – to overcome the destruction of the Banishing Blades.

Lan Jue had never been too interested in the immortal realm,
but his knowledge of it had improved since gleaning the secrets of Captus.

The immortal realm wasn’t as simple as they’d originally thought. It was a reality created by the interwoven powers of protogenia. It not only protected them from universe protogenia but was also possessed of a protogenia all its own.

It was more than a pocket reality – it was its own universe that existed parallel to their own. Over time it grew and become stronger until it came to the notice of the original universe. But the power of the realm could not be reversed. Since it relied on the essence of the universe this process could not be interrupted. If it did it could threaten the destruction of the immortal realm. As such the immortals of old did all they could do curtail the growth of their realm, lest it come into conflict with the universe it existed within.

The end result of that conflict from ages past was not recorded in the Banishing Blades. All they knew was the ancient realm of the immortals was gone. If it wasn’t, these magnificent weapons would not have fallen into the hands of man.

Lan Jue knew what he meant with Jun Yongye had told him so long ago, that even as Paragon he would only command a
tenth of what the swords could do. It seemed that may have been an exaggeration, but not in his favor. Even after achieving Nirvana, learnings Captus’ secrets, and becoming one with the blade he could not say for certain he could summon ten percent of the sword’s might.

The true power of the Banishing Blades could only be wielded by the highest caste of immortals! Knowing this, could they really hope to succeed in laying out the Banishing Strategy?

None of them presumed to know the answer. They continued to grow in power but the strength of the swords was inscrutable, deep, and seemingly without end. The stronger they became the more immeasurable these weapons seemed. All they could do was continue to learn, improve their cultivation, and hope they could survive the Strategy.

In the end, what measure of destruction they would cause was left in the hands of Heaven.

Li Ke’s features were creviced with doubt. As a part of Ultus he, too, felt what they were feeling. The power of it ran deeper than he’d expected, lending ever more credence to their titles as the strongest weapons ever created. The pressure it put on the humans was immense.
If it ended up that they were not strong enough to control the Strategy there would be only one avenue left for them. But the cost…

A sadness flit across Li Ke’s ghostly expression when he thought about the possibility.

ξ

Europa appeared on the horizon. The writhing membrane that surrounded it seemed thicker and more widespread than ever. The three home worlds were still attached to it, emitting a rich purple hue. However, all three of them were less than a third of their original size.

Meanwhile, Europa was twice the size it had been before, almost a whole new entity. It was hidden beneath layers of violet clouds that concealed its surface. Its hue was lighter than the home worlds, and as the rolling fogs changed it gave the appearance of being alive.

The savagery of the aliens was missing from their new creation. Europa was… strangely beautiful.
When he saw it Kang Hui’s heart sank. It was clear the home worlds’ evolution was nearing completion. It would happen any day.

“All ships, pay attention. I want all weapons systems charged and prepared for use. Do not be caught off guard. The time for rest is over, the war is back on.” Kang Hui gave the order.

They couldn’t wait, not a moment more. The home worlds could finish their evil ceremony at any moment so they had to strike first and strike hard. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t live to regret it.

Chapter 883: General Offensive

The ten fleets coasted forward, and spread out to either side of the bastions like wings. Their guns were primed, waiting for the order to fire. The four bastions also lit up as their weapon arrays were prepared.

Just then, the remains of the alien horde were revealed. They came swarming around either side of Europa and right for the armada. They lacked the vigor and numbers from before.

“Open fire!” At Kang Hui’s order the bastions and their support fleets let loose. Spears of light crashed into the encroaching enemy force.

The horde’s formation was diffuse, and they used their speed to evade the human long-ranged attacks as much as they could. However the hail of cannon fire was tightly packed and avoiding it completely was impossible. The aliens began suffering casualties right away. Compared to the last encounter  the humans seemed much more confident.

Behind his control panel Kang Hui summoned his Discipline. Through his empowered eyes he read and analyzed the information that flooded his screens. Despite the punishment
his enemy was facing in the opening moments of their conflict he did not relax. In fact his face grew darker as the moments stretched on.

The aliens came at them with no direction. He read that to mean the home worlds were almost finished with their evolution. If that were the case their elite would be sticking close to their masters. They didn’t need to command the troops, they were just cannon fodder.

Should they throw caution to the wind and attack Europa at full force?

His opponent still had a numbers advantage, although they were in disarray. Rushing ahead would expose his troops to a brutal counter offensive, and many would be lost. Besides, it could be a trap.

Kang Hui’s fighting style was always calm, and it’d served him well so far. Caution is what saved him from dying at the aliens’ hands long ago in the Shattered Starfields.

Instead of calling for the charge he ordered the ships to continue to pummel the aliens’ front lines. However, he
commanded the bastions to hold back on firing their main weapons. He wanted to save their strongest attacks for the planets themselves.

Eventually the aliens gathered into some semblance of formation. More defensive aliens took the fore and their speedier brethren stuck close behind. The plan was to push ahead, and once they got within range the faster aliens would burst out and wreak havoc among the human ships.

Mankind’s armada was much weaker than it was when they first arrived in the system. After the last encounter the difference was especially marked, and especially now without Lan Qing’s tactical genius. However, Kang Hui was also a lauded commander and he had no problem leading the human forces. His strategic plans were simple, but nonetheless took advantage of their ranged superiority to great effect.

Kang Hui orders artillery fire focused on the stronger aliens. He wanted them to be pummeled as hard as possible as they pressed forward. Once the enemy was close enough for their fast attackers to emerge they would be met by the Paragon-led Star Division, the Bloodiron Khan’s, and Chu Cheng’s convert army.

Against mankind’s greatest Adept warriors and drones from
their bastions, the aliens who dared attack were cut to ribbons. They were unable to cause any damage to the main fleet.

With their considerable advantage Kang Hui’s leadership was flawless. The alien forces met the humans and were cut down like they were flung into a meat grinder. Monsters were cut down by the dozens and their vital crystals captured.

Kang Hui was keenly aware of the Violet Prince’s absence, however. The three-headed, six-armed abomination was also nowhere to be found. They appeared to have disappeared after their failed sneak attack.

Already the armada was extending an advantage that seemed irrevocable. Already the horde was begin pushed back. The armada began moving toward Europa was slow but indomitable progress.

Soldiers who didn’t know any better began to cheer, their cries reverberating off the hulls of their ships. After all these hardships and losses, they were beating the enemy! How could they not be overcome with joy? And as participants of this life or death struggle, they were heroes! In their mind’s eye they could see the scene of their triumphant return, with ticker tape parades and flower petals descending from the sky. Humanity’s
allied forces, a ray of hope in a dark time.

Cannons continued to bombard the enemy, never letting up. The enemy was steadily losing ground. Nothing indicated the home worlds were getting involved, either. Europa was still hidden beneath the cloud of caustic purple fog that made it look like a fantastical land from the story books. By contrast the three planets looked like hideous tumors affixed to the planet’s surface. Aside from the roiling tides of the clouds, nothing moved. They seemed completely devoid of life.

Kang Hui pressed a button on his control panel. In his deep voice he hailed the person on the other end. “Heron, prepare your main gun.”

“Heron receiving. Main gun is charging.” The response came swiftly.

Kang Hui refused to be lulled into a false sense of security by the scene before him. On the contrary, he was all the more vigilant. From the very beginning the aliens had enjoyed the advantage. Right up until this point humanity had been against the ropes, only to suddenly see a reverse in fortune. It was important to remember that it wasn’t Lan Qing’s brilliance alone that got them to this point, however. An important factor
was the fact that the home worlds were not involved in the fighting.

If they had been even Lan Qing couldn’t have spun gold out of straw. Against the home worlds and its horde the humans would never have stood a chance.

But not being present on the battlefield didn’t mean their threat did not exist. Quite the opposite, the planets were laden with the life force of eight planets and all the vitality they stole from the Northern Alliance. They hadn’t used any of that energy in battle against the humans and instead funneled it into their evolutionary process. Kang Hui shuddered to think what sort of power this new creation would wield once its evolution was complete.

It went without saying that Kang Hui didn’t find their chances appealing if the home worlds chose to fight. His loss at their hands was still acutely carved into his memory, an angry scar to remind him of his defeat. Their variable offense and impenetrable protection made them virtually impossible to shake off. They were as strong as they were cunning, and used whatever advantage available to win victory over their prey. As such humans had consistently been beaten back.
And so Kang Hui called off his focus to bear. Heron was their weakest bastion, but also charged its main weapons system fastest. As the fastest ship in the fleet it made for a natural choice to use as an opening gambit.

Lan Qing had told him that the home worlds had mostly fused with Europa by this point. The former Western capitol was the basis of their evolution and had been chosen as the site for these beasts’ new immortal realm. With no hope of survivors left on Europa, it and the three home worlds attached to its surface were the main target.

“Heron reporting. Main guns are charged and ready!” The alert was fast in coming across Kang Hui’s speakers. The armada was getting closer to Europa with each passing moment.

Kang Hui answered with a string of commands. The bombardment became even more intense as capital ships, up to now their cannons dark, joined the fight. The punishing offensive carved a path through the horde.

Heron’s main engines flared to life and in a flash the bastion shot ahead. It punched through the flimsy alien line and was at top speed in moments. Its three main guns were extended and aimed at Europa.
The planet was a big target. Heron’s gunners weren’t afraid of missing.

While Heron made its attack run Kang Hui continued to call out orders. Tyrannosaurus, Poseidon and Middle Heaven all began to charge their primary weapons. Heron’s attack was a feeler, to see how the planets would react. Once they got a read they could follow up with shots from the others bastions. He was confident that one round of attacks, if it didn’t destroy Europa outright, would at least severely affect the home worlds’ evolution. That would be enough, and they could focus on a more comprehensive attack. The greatest result would be to damage the planet enough so that the evolution process was stopped entirely. Then, under concentrated fire, they could destroy the enemy outright.

At least for the moment his plan seemed to be working.

Heron shook as three beams of cyan light fired from its cannons. It erupted with such intensity that space rippled around the guns’ barrels. While the weapon wasn’t as strong as Tyrannosaurus’, say, it was still a bastion’s weapon. The damage it caused was more than considerable, and against any ordinary planet the results would be catastrophic.
Nothing was in the way of the three beams of light. In a blink they pierced the fog covering Europa and a mushroom cloud surged in its wake. All three shots disappeared in the haze.

Chapter 884: Aliens, Defeated?

With its payload delivered, Heron pulled to the side and arced away from Europa. With its speed and attack power it didn’t worry about fighting its way back through the horde. After all, the armada was not far behind. The aliens were under so much pressure they didn’t have an opportunity to give chase.

As Heron tore off to the flank its crew waited with baited breath. They stared at the screens and out of the windows, anxious to see the result of their flyby. If they could do Europa any harm it would open the gates for the other bastions to do the same.

Kang Hui was a good man, honest and sincere. Heron was chosen to attack the planet for more than just military reasons. Europa was the capitol of the former Western Alliance! Although the people knew it was no longer fit for human habitation, in their hearts – especially those of the Westerners – they still held the planet in high esteem. It would be better for the North to land the first strike, instead of an Eastern vessel, or Poseidon.

The order was Kang Hui’s. He would bear the consequences.
“Eh?” He snapped out of his ruminations.

Heron wasn’t the only one waiting for signs of reaction! He’d watched the blasts enter the cloud cover, but then… nothing.

The disturbance in the fog gradually disappeared and the surface looked like nothing had happened. There were no lights or indications of the shots passing behind the planet either. That should mean Heron’s attack landed.

But, why was there no sign of impact? Where did the shots go? The uncertainty immediately set everyone on edge.

Those were three shots from a bastion’s main cannons! Nothing came of them, not even the sounds of an explosion. It was like they just vanished into nothing, like Europa was a black hole.

“All forces focus your attacks on the enemy soldiers. Fire main cannons at will.” Kang Hui directed.

Europa’s situation was too inscrutable. Instead they would focus on weakening the horde, and once they got some
breathing room they could find a more effective way to deal with the former human planet.

Almost before the orders left his lips Middle Heaven was in the thick of it. Where before it’d silently waited behind its defenders, it was now a piercing orb of light that fired rays of amber light in all directions. Together with Poseidon’s Soft Water bombs, swaths of alien fighters were destroyed.

The monsters were like a snake without its head, flailing every which way. They didn’t stand a chance against humanity’s disciplines forces.

Heron flew back around and rejoined the battle. After thirty minutes the enemy forces were under threat of collapse. Though the morale of these cruel beasts could not be broken, their lines could. More and more of them fell until the battle had become a one-sided extermination.

Mankind’s warriors could not let up, not when victory was so close at hand and so many vital crystals were up for grabs! These crystals were treasures that were priceless no matter how many of them were passed around. The exuvium process was complete and ready for use to extend human life. The foundation of that process was these vital crystals.
Humans had killed countless numbers of these monsters already, but there were also planets worth of humans. Everyone wanted a chance to live longer, and the only way to do that was if they got their hands on one of these crystals.

In addition Skyfire Avenue wasn’t the only one who encouraged their soldiers with the promise of a spot on the list to use the exuvium process. The North, and Poseidon Group also had similar plans.

Now more than ever was the time to gather these crystals. In the eyes of these soldiers it might be their last chance. Mechas, warship crews, drone pilots – everyone wanted to take advantage of this situation. Everyone was fighting their hardest.

This was, of course, within reason. The soldiers of the allied forces had struggled together for a long time, and none of them were willing to risk the lives of their brothers and sisters in greedy pursuits. There were enough vital crystals for everyone.

According to Northern and Eastern reports, one average vital crystal was enough to facilitate the exuvium process for ten people. The creatures they were killing now were more than your average fiend, and some were even of the enemy’s upper echelons.
The better the crystal the more often it could be used for the process. The results were also better by orders of magnitude.

But while the soldiers were celebrating, the officers knew the war wasn’t over yet. Heron’s attack hadn’t done much of anything, so how were they supposed to deal with the planet?

The horde’s numbers thinned but never broke. Although they were cut down in droves there was no indication they would be routed or retreat. The beasts fought back as hard as ever.

Eventually the wriggling purple bodies disappeared from space. A glittering field of crystals was left behind, quickly gobbled up by the human ships.

At last the army of monsters that had harassed the human species had been exterminated. Cries of elation rang from the smallest patrol boat to the largest bastion. And it wasn’t just the soldiers, either. All throughout the worlds of man people cheered their heroes. They’d watched with bated breath as the fight was broadcast into every home. Win or lose, the people had a right to know. The government could of course shut off the feed whenever they chose, but when it was clear humanity was winning they kept it going, clear as a bell.
Northern cries were especially loud. Two out of the four bastions were dispatched from their Alliance and the leader of the expedition was one of their own. They proudly congratulated themselves on these facts and through this the people were calmed. In fact the government enjoyed a sharp spike in public approval. Heron proved their leaders were committed to reinforcing the heroes of the front lines. In this they were better than the East. Suddenly the calls for consequences were silenced and the citizens were at peace. Instead there were words of praise and support offered up from all corners of the Alliance.

Only a handful of people had the inside scoop, and knew that the fight wasn’t over. The three home worlds still remained. It was the worst disaster in hundreds of years, but it wasn’t over until those hellish planets were destroyed.

Kang Hui was inundated with commendations. He didn’t try to silence the jubilation immediately. The soldiers had fought for so long, witnessed the death of their fellow shoulders and countrymen. They’ve needed this for a long, long time.

After a few moments he delivered more commands to the various ship captains. The fight wasn’t over yet, he assured them, they had one final enemy to overcome. Now wasn’t the time for celebration.
Soon the vital crystals left behind by their defeated enemies were gathered together. It went without saying that the North won the largest number of crystals, for their two bastions were integral in the fight. Especially Heron and its three thousand drones. They were fierce and flexible, resulting in an impressive haul.

“Form up, surround Europa.” Soldiers were trained to follow orders like the word of god. Still beaming from their victory the soldiers rushed to follow instructions once they were given. The fleets spread out, and the bastions gathered in single file.

A fire burned behind Kang Hui’s eyes. Do you still think yourselves so strong, monsters? With all our ships, bastions and soldiers do you think yourselves invincible?

All four bastions began recharging their main weapons. Among them was Middle Heaven, smoldering as it prepared the terrible power that was Terminal Ray. Poseidon, though still unable to change shape, still had Soft Water bombs to employ.

Kang Hui quickly puzzled out the best plan of attack. All bastions would concentrate their fire on a single point, together with the fleet as a whole. If all of their firepower was directed as Europa’s core they could destroy the planet outright.
From what he could tell from outside, none of the alien worlds plastered to Europa’s surface were reacting to the horde’s destruction. Their life force and consciousness must be completely funneled into the single planet. Thus if Europa was destroyed, the home worlds would die with it.

This was not the time for mercy and kindheartedness. Kang Hui knew he’d have to face many difficult questions once the campaign was finished, but he didn’t hesitate to give the order. Nothing was more important than the survival of the species.

The allied forces took advantage of the calm before the final storm. Energy stores were replenished and stabilized, guns were charged. Secondary weapons systems were turned down, for they were no longer helpful for what was to come. Only their strongest weapons could harm Europa, especially at a distance.

Battleship-class vessels and smaller were ordered not to engage. They were told to observe the situation and await further orders. Everyone else had their weapons primed and aimed, waiting for the order to fire from Tyrannosaurus.

The feeling of it all was thick in the air, everyone could feel it. Their battle was coming to a close, and though their final objective was in view they were not relaxed. They were tense,
anxious, excited.

The four bastions shimmered with light as they pulled into firing range. Tempestuous flows of energy surrounded each of them.

Chapter 885: Success?

“Poseidon, prepare your main weapon.” Kang Hui ordered. He was taking personal command of how this final attack was executed.

“Soft Water bombs are ready to be deployed!” Hua Li’s voice returned. Poseidon’s patriarch was also taking full responsibility of his family’s bastion.

“Fire!” Kang Hui said.

“Fire!” Hua Li echoed.

Six glittering orbs were belched from Poseidon. Marvelous tails of blue light hung in the darkness of space where they passed on their way toward Europa.

The destructive capabilities of the Soft Water bombs were put on display more than once in earlier battles. Against living targets it was frighteningly effective, and the most difficult to evade.
The six bombs quickly reached their destination. They were ingeniously released in a line and slipped into the cloudy surface of Europa one after the other.

Nothing changed as the first bomb entered, then the second, then the third…

Once all six bombs disappeared into the fog a reaction became visible. The rolling tide of mist became tumultuous. Barely visible were flashes of blue light as the bombs detonated. They were arranged in a line to detonate at different depths, from the highest reaches of Europa’s atmosphere to where the ground presumably hid below.

Kang Hui had determined it was the best use of Poseidon’s weapons. His aim wasn’t to harm the planet so much as clear the fog so they could get a glimpse of what lay beneath.

The aliens had a reason for everything. When Heron’s attack disappeared into the fog Kang Hui knew the mists must have some defensive purpose. Perhaps they drained and devoured energy that passed through. If that were true the first step to a successful blow would have to be clearing a path through the fog. Without its protection they could damage the planet.
His tactics were sound. The cloud cover melted away like snow before the summer sun. Europa’s surface was revealed.

Spectators looked on in surprise. Europa’s surface had been painted in a pale purple hue, in contrast to the rich purple of the home worlds that had taken it over. The remains of human structures could be faintly discerned by their long-ranged telescopes, partially obscured by wisps of the fog that remained.

Kang Hui did not appreciate the beautiful scenery, for he knew the cost of its creation. He continued to deliver his commands.

“Tyrannosaurus, fire the main gun!”

Tyrannosaurus’ weapons were already aimed and fully charged. Once the order was given its primary cannon released a blazing beam of light right into the channel left by the Soft Water bombs. It sizzled through the darkness of space, a spear ready to skewer the planet like a kebab.

“Heron, all remaining ships, fire at will!” With Tyrannosaurus’ blast on its way Kang Hui ordered the fury of the human armada released on their enemy.
Without hesitation thousands upon thousands of cannon blasts followed in the wake of Tyrannosaurus’ shot. They were all carefully aimed to slip through the same channel, like threading a needle. Poseidon’s secondary weapons systems, which packed as much punch as a fleet of capital ships, also spat out a salvo.

This was their chance to accomplish their goal in one final, decisive stroke. No one held back.

The resulting explosion was so intense it shook the distant ships. Burst after concussive burst rang in everyone’s ears – a sound they would remember for all the rest of their days. Without the protection of the fog the ire of the human armada was heard, though it was difficult to tell how much it was felt. Still, Kang Hui was confident in the capability of their unified assault.

“Middle Heaven, prepare Terminal Ray!” Kang Hui did not let up.

Against any normal planet the last hail of cannon fire would have been enough to split it in twain. However, Kang Hui did not want to underestimate their enemy, not in the slightest. Everything they had at their disposal, every weapon and tactic,
he wanted thrown at their foes. They wouldn’t stop until Europa was a cloud of space dust.

Flickers of angry amber light appeared around Middle Heaven as several beams were fired at once from different locations. They coalesced in front of the war planet into a single point of light so pregnant with energy space warped around it – Terminal Ray. The last time it was used in combat mankind walked away with several elite vital crystals. Now its aim was to obliterate Europa before it was converted into an alien paradise. To Kang Hui this was the pièce de résistance. The surface of the planet should already been a cratered hellscape, and once Terminal Ray made landfall Europa would be no more. It just needed to drill past the crust and into its core.

Kang Hui didn’t put much stock in the stories of ancient immortal realms. To him the alien evolution was a process of energy consolidation. No matter how strong they got, once their planet was destroyed their evolution was finished.

At last, humanity’s long, dark night was coming to an end!

The light of expectation glimmered in Kang Hui’s eyes. One tortuous event after another had plagued them as they waited for this day! He and his species would survive. Kang Hui
imagined seeing his family, heard the cheers of the people as they came back from this bloody campaign. Peace would reign again.

Suddenly a bone-deep fatigue washed over him. If he could go back he likely wouldn’t join the army. He envied the life of the normal man, quiet and peaceful. At the very least he would want a nice, long vacation once this was all finished. Let the military function without him for a time, he could avoid the interviews and galas and feasts.

The thoughts flitted through his mind, but did not impeded his command.

“Terminal Ray – fire!” Kang Hui coolly gave the order just as the blasts from Tyrannosaurus and the other ships were dying down.

Never let up! Let the attacks compound and make each other stronger. Kang Hui had considered everything that required consideration, and took all steps necessary to see this corrupted human planet destroyed.

Terminal Ray’s flash lasted only a moment. In what couldn’t
have been longer than a fraction of a second, the piercing ray of light buried itself in Europa’s surface. The afterimage of its passage was burned in the eyes of spectators.

Would it be enough? Kang Hui’s fists had unconsciously clenched, and he wasn’t alone. Every commander of every ship watched in dread anticipation.

Kang Hui ordered everyone to fall back. Europa was among the largest planets to have been inhabited by humans. Once it exploded the scale of its detonation would cover a vast area. It would be very easy for their whole armada to be wiped out in the aftermath.

Gradually the lights all faded. The fog surrounding Europa continued to buck and writhe, except for the funnel created by the Soft Water bombs. Why was there no sound of explosion? Did the attack land?

Uncertainty wormed its way into Kang Hui’s mind. He could see clearly through the cavity in the clouds, peered through their telescopes and magnified on his screen. Europa’s surface was a world of golden purple, unscathed but for the crater where their attacks had landed. In the place where they’d aimed their barrage was a vortex of purple energy that fiercely swirled.
In the center of the vortex was a haze of golden orange light. That had to be the residual energy from Terminal Ray’s passage. The light began to grow, and as it did the whole of Europa started to shake ever so slightly.

Success?

Kang Hui’s heart fluttered. He saw the shudders as a sign of impending collapse and ordered everyone to fall back as quickly as they could.

However it was then he noticed a change in the three planets affixed to Europa. They stretched and became oblate before eventually dissolving onto the surface of Europa. The purple orbs that were once Monarch, Queen and Consort shimmered gold and disappeared into the fog.

This…

Was Europa going to explode? When Kang Hui witnessed this scene he was painfully skeptical. If their target planet was going to die, why would the aliens merged with it?
A voice entered his mind, as cold as it was terrifying.

“Thank you for your bounty, humans!” The thought was clear and mocking.

Disquiet filled Kang Hui’s heart. He wasn’t the only one to hear the voice either – every single soul aboard every vessel heard the voice in their mind.

“Attack, attack with everything you’ve got!” Kang Hui shouted.

The home worlds weren’t destroyed, and Europa wasn’t going to explode. Kang Hui came to a dark and bitter understanding.

The effect of this intrusive thought had a dramatic effect on the soldiers. Their attacks were let loose on Europa, but wild and haphazard.

All four bastions had used their main weapons and needed time to recharge them, especially Middle Heaven. Terminal Ray was especially draining and it would be a while before the East’s bastion could use it again.
The crater that they’d created with their attack was gone. The fog that surrounded Europa was dimmer now and threads of gold were spreading through it. At the same time it settled deeper into the atmosphere and thinned out, giving the beleaguered planet a misty, fantastical air.

Chapter 886: Revelations

As beautiful as Europa now was, it portend the end of the human race!

Blasts from the ships pummeled the planet but were swallowed up without so much as a whisper. Suddenly the planet was as deep as a black hole. No matter how much firepower was directed at it nothing left a mark.

“Hold your fire!” There was a flash of pin, and a figure appeared at Kang Hui’s shoulder. It was one of Skyfire Avenue’s founders, the Photographer.

Luo Xianni’s face was dark as she placed a hand on the admiral’s shoulder.

Kang Hui was understandably shaken. He snapped back at her. “Why?! We’re nearly there, we-“

Luo Xianni cut him off. “Shut up. Can’t you see that our attacks helped its evolution? The energy from them has boosted it, and now their immortal realm is almost complete. Keeping up your attack only hastens the process.”
Her reproach brought him back to his senses. Of course, ever since their attack on Europa began the planet had started to change. But what if she was wrong?

“Quickly! Do you want them to complete their process? They’ve reached the point of no return. Nothing your ships do now can harm it.” She tried again to convince him.

Kang Hui heaved a sigh. “Cease the attack,” he ordered. “All ships hold your fire.” He respected Luo Xianni and her status. She was, after all, the only Paragon alive who had stepped into the Infinite.

The flashes of cannon fire slowly tapered off. When the lights faded the scene that was revealed hung heavy on every heart. That place was no longer Europa. What had it become?

Luo Xianni scowled. “Lan Qing would have stopped you earlier.”

Kang Hui’s face reddened but he did not share his misgivings. “Your Majesty,” he said, “what should we do now?”
Her eyes flashed. “Wait. Wait for Lan Qing and the others. Those four are our only hope now. You’ve done all you can, the armada is of no use anymore. We were deceived by them from the very beginning.

Trap. The word gave Kang Hui pause but he quickly recovered. He broke out in a cold sweat and his face went pale.

“You mean, they meant to…”

Luo Xianni didn’t respond except to nod.

Kang Hui’s thoughts were in chaos but one thought rose to clarity above the others.

Yes! The aliens were strong and wise. Destroying humanity would only mean perfecting their strategy. In fact all they would have had to do was keep up the fight and total annihilation would have been inevitable for mankind. It was clear to everyone, especially once this final war had begun.

Once the home worlds were out of the equation, three bastions and twelve fleets from the human lands were
repeatedly pummeled by the alien horde. Were it not for Lan Qing’s superior tactics they wouldn’t have come this far. Even then there were several times humanity was on the cusp of defeat.

For instance, the battle where most of their elite were on the field. If the armada had lost they would have been routed. Without the help of the Paragons they would have fallen before the Violet Prince for sure.

Strong as the horde was, how much more terrible would they be with the addition of the home worlds?

Those three planets were not comparable to a trio of bastion ships. Kang Hui had learned this the hard way in the Shattered Starfields. Against the planets and their horde, even the total might all of the Alliances – all their bastions, ships and soldiers – would likely fall.

Thinking about it, the aliens could have fought back with their full strength at any time. So then why didn’t they? They were smart enough not to make such a glaring oversight! He was beginning to see that they were wiser than he gave them credit for. There was a method to their madness, as it were, and even the destruction of their army was part of the plan.
In constantly engaging the humans the horde had weakened them and kept the armada busy, but never lashed out with their full might. For instance, they never once attacked with all of their elite aliens at one time. At the outset Lan Jue and Qianlin weren’t even Paragons much less having achieved Nirvana. If all of the alien generals had come for them then, humanity would have been utterly destroyed.

They chose not to. Instead they indulged the human fighters’ clever tactics and bold strategies. Step by step they gave up ground and allowed their prey to retake the planets around Europa. All along they threw up hurdles and roadblocks that weakened them and attacked their morale.

It was all planned, even down to the moment they allowed the humans to destroy their army and focus their attack on Europa.

The change that had overcome the West’s capitol only occurred after the concerted effort of the armada to destroy it. Was this merely coincidence? If one believed that the aliens completed their evolution at that very moment, who was in control? It certainly wasn’t Kang Hui’s side.

The possibilities stabbed at Kang Hui’s heart. He was finally thinking clearly.
The greatest possibility was that the aliens had planned everything from the start. Losing was part of their strategy, allowing a series of defeats to lull the humans into a false sense of security. All of it leading up to today, where they’d laid in wait for the moment when the armada would turn their guns on Europa. The remaining alien soldiers were a ruse to draw them in.

The final steps of their evolution must require a tremendous amount of energy. Energy like that released by bastions, energy Europa could swallow up and use to its own advantage. If this were true it meant the home worlds knew what was needed from the beginning. They’d masterfully guided the humans every step of the way to happily deliver the final piece.

What he and his soldiers had thought was the cusp of victory, was in fact the machinations of a vastly superior enemy. He’d given the order himself. His command gave the aliens precisely what they needed.

If all that were true than the entity they now faced was more terrifying than anything he could imagine. Everything had been perfectly calculated, exquisitely structured. It was too late now to take it all back.

Chapter 887: Insistence Leads to Ruin

Kang Hui was also struck by another thought, that of their hubris in thinking they understood their enemy. Namely, that the vital crystals were as important to the aliens as they were to humans. As the fighting grew more intense, humans took pains to capture vital crystals, thinking it was the crux of their effort to weaken the home worlds.

But in reality, was that so?

If the planets were willing to give up their elite representatives than these crystals couldn’t be as important as they expected. Their evolution was clearly more of a concern, at least to where losing scores of high-grade crystals meant little.

If he took what the Skyfire Avenue luminaries said to be true then it made even more sense. Evolution created a new alien reality that would protect them from the dangers of universal protogenia. Once that threat was dealt with the aliens could continue to strengthen without fear of having their life force drained. With this being the case, what use would they have for the vital energy of lesser creatures?

Kang Hui’s mind followed the string of considerations. Most
of these crystals were created with energy stolen from humans and human worlds. Of course the beasts would be unperturbed by having them taken, since it was never theirs to begin with.

Kang Hui fell into his chair. These realizations came too late for them to make any changes to their tactics. All he could do was sit back and watch as their enemy achieved victory. Firing on the planet would only make it stronger.

The anger and disappointment churned his insides.

“I don’t blame you!” Luo Xianni’s voice had softened. “No one knew this was going to happen. I only saw it after the shot, when Europa began to change. A-Qing likely wouldn’t have done any better, so don’t be hard on yourself.”

Kang Hui turned his red, tired eyes onto the Photographer. “Your Majesty, what should we do? Watch them evolve and wait for death?” The death he spoke of wasn’t just him or this army, he spoke for all of mankind! He didn’t believe for a second that the aliens would forget the humans and move on. Kang Hui and his people were doomed the moment this process was complete.
Luo Xianni answered in a low, solemn voice. “I can try. Perhaps vital energy will succeed were cosmic energy has failed.”

Cosmic energy was a concept discovered once humanity left for the stars. This was a catch-all phrase for energy created through transmutation or mechanics – for instance, the blast from a war ship’s cannon. In contrast vital energy was the energy created by living things, like the powers of Adepts and Paragons.

It had been proven over the long struggle against the aliens that they were more susceptible to vital energy. Cosmic energy, it was now revealed, actually helped them. In that case their only other option was to try and use the might of one’s life force to defeat the beasts.

Lan Qing and the others were still insulated while they improved their cultivation. Luo Xianni was the strongest Paragon left. She knew that while she was not strong enough to defeat the aliens on her own, perhaps she could improve the chances for her sons.

A flickering portal of pink light appeared, and Luo Xianni stepped through. When she emerged she was far above Europa.
The three alien home worlds had entirely disappeared, dissolving into one. Only Europa remained, wreathed in the golden-purple mist.

Kang Hui didn’t have the same sensitivity of perception as the Photographer. She could sense that the former human planet had undergone a large and dramatic change. It was saturated with energy, but to what degree she could not know. The truth was somehow shielded from her.

What she could tell was that the pressure of universal protogenia eased the closer she came to the planet.

This meant that the aliens’ goal was a success. The greatest benefit of an immortal realm was protecting the denizens from the universe, and that’s precisely what she felt now. The thieves of vitality were protected against the strongest force that could be turned on them, making them an almost insurmountable force. This was so whether the three worlds had merged into one or were somehow still separate.

As she pondered these things Luo Xianni lifted her right hand. Pink light began to shimmer within. She paid no heed to the stresses of universal protogenia, to the danger of its attentions. The light of her powers stretched until it began a thousand-
meter long sword gripped in her palm.

She thrust it downward in an attempt to impale Europa.

As she expected the golden fog gathered when it came in contact with her powers. The effect was markedly improved over the cannon fire conveyed by the armada. The mists gave her a strange, sticky sensation like it was some kind of protective membrane. Strong as the Photographer was, she was somewhat surprised to find she could not break its defenses.

“Your efforts are futile, do not waste your energy. At your strength you must feel the persecution of universal protogenia, the same torture we had to endure. You should stand with us. The creation and maintenance of an immortal realm will need strong patrons, and you have the qualifications to join us. Make the right choice, and soon you shall arise to godhood.”

The calm voice seemed to come from everywhere at once.

Luo Xianni ignored the voice and continued to pummel Europa. Though the golden haze shuddered under the weight of her onslaught it did not part. She knew it was a longshot, but to see her efforts fail caused Luo Xianni’s heart to sink.
Europa and the three evil beings that possessed it were calm. Their evolution was nearly complete. Luo Xianni and Kang Hui’s conjectures were right, through it all the human played right into the aliens’ hands. Even Lan Qing’s genius didn’t see the invisible machinations that controlled them. Every seeming success was allowed by the beasts, another step toward sealing their own doom.

“Your insistence only seals your fate. You are the architect of your own ruin.” Monarch’s voice grew cold and harsh. “In many ways I will have shed the concept of race when my evolution is complete. I have chosen the shape of your species because your people are the only ones with experience contending against the tyranny of the universe. You nearly succeeded. Why do you struggle, when it is our aim to create the legacy your fallen gods left behind? Be at peace, I shall not proceed to destroy your species – it holds no further use for me. Rising to immortality means that consuming the vitality of others is no longer necessary. Our only goal is strength. With the protection of our immortal realm and the aid of cosmic energy, it is enough. Your species can still offer enough resources to aid in our improvement. With time we will be more powerful than any species before us – strong enough to consume the fractured pieces of the immortal realm left behind by your predecessors. Eventually we will replace this universe with one of our own creation, and we will be the true masters!”
The fervent tone in Monarch’s voice was clear. This was its real plan, its deepest desire.

All the while anguish flooded Luo Xianni’s heart. Her attacks were impudent at best, and she looked on as the purple haze was slowly being absorbed. Hardly a trace of it remained but she could not harm the planet anyway. She listened to his haughty revelations, to his assurance that he could steal the shape of her species and adopt the potency that was their birthright. Once the purple was gone entirely, the process would be complete.

My sons, can your swords truly triumph over this monster?

Luo Xianni never once lost track of Lan Qing and Lan Jue’s auras, even now. She sensed problems when they first tried to employ the Banishing Strategy, the greatest of which was their deficient cultivation. The Banishing Blades were too powerful to wield and utilizing the Banishing Stance required a nearly unfathomable amount of strength. What’s more the threat of universal protogenia was always present. If they reached the Infinite there was real risk that summoning the Strategy would mean their undoing. Even the mightiest immortals feared the cosmos.

Her attacks subsided. Luo Xianni knew that nothing she did
would work.

“Do you see? Take heart in your epiphany.” Monarch’s voice was almost warm, feminine.

“So now there’s only one of you?” Luo Xianni coolly asked.

Chapter 888: The Ignorance of Humanity

Monarch’s response was tepid. “Some sacrifices are necessary in order for our evolution to succeed. Ah, yes – from the fragments of your species’ DNA I acquired some knowledge. During the time of greatest influence your immortal realm had a caste of immortals called the Da Luo. I suspect that if things continue at their current rate I shall achieve this level in no more than a hundred years. From that point forward I can focus on strengthen this immortal realm. You must come, join me. You need only open your heart and allow me to place my mark on your soul. Then you shall be one of us.”

Luo Xianni sniffed a laugh. “Become one of you? You mean be devoured? Do you think I believe even one word of what you’ve said? It doesn’t matter what you turn into, you’re still an abomination. You will never been human – you can never teach a dog to stop eating shit. It doesn’t matter what you look like or what world you create, the facts will never change. You’ve done nothing more than profit off the hard work my species has done for millennia. So here is my response to your offer; I won’t be your food. Everything you’ve said is idiotic nonsense.”

For a moment Monarch was silent. When it spoke once again there was a tone of disappointment in its voice. “It appears you humans have grown wiser. Indeed, in my eyes your kind are nothing more than lesser life forms – so much wasted potential.
You have lost any sense of how to utilize it, unlike your ancestors. The success of your forbearers to create an immortal realm was magnificent, but in all the time since you humans have squandered your birthright. You’re right, I must continue to feed. Achieving my perfection means I must continue to devour powerful genetic material. I can only get it from your kind. But why do you refuse me? Why is it so unacceptable to be a part of me? Of something greater?”

“Do you think your defiance means something? If you refuse, do you think I will not simply take what I want? If you submit yourself you will save yourself from suffering. I may even chose to preserve your consciousness. But for now… - hngh!”

The remaining fog around Europa gathered together into an enormous hand. It groped for Luo Xianni.

She was ready. In a flash she was far away and out of Monarch’s reach. She was unable to break its defenses, but at least until the monster’s evolution was complete she could still flee. However she could tell from the faded purple light around Europa that the evolution was mere moments from completion.

“It is just a matter of time. All you can do is wait for me to viit destruction upon your people!” Monarch hissed.
Just then several glints of light flickered around Middle Heaven. A series of figured emerged and were heading toward Luo Xianni.

After Luo Xianni’s revelations from before, the truth was quickly unraveled by others. Those that came toward here now were the rest of Skyfire Avenue’s Paragons.

“Aunt, what should we do?” It was the Wine Master who asked her. His face was stern, for though there appeared to be little they could do he could not wait for death!

She answered somberly. “The only thing we can do is wait for Lan Qing and the others to employ the Banishing Stance. Only, they haven’t – “

Before she could finish her thought four rays of light shined out from within Middle Heaven. Turquoise, white, red, blue. Like four heavenly spears they shot out toward where the Paragons had gathered. For a moment it was like all of space was painted in those magnificent colors. Suddenly four more figures joined them.

The lights weren’t from the Banishing Blades. They came
from the bodies of Lan Qing, Lan Jue, the Pharmacist, and Zhou Qianlin.

Lan Qing’s entire body radiated the blue-green light, making him look fantastical. Lan Jue flashed with pulses of red light. Zhou Qianlin’s blue aura was ever changing. Finally, the Pharmacist’s light was the most pure, the snow-white purity of murderous intent.

The four of them appeared at precisely the right moment, pillars of strength in a sea of uncertainty. The Paragons were less anxious in their presence. There was a shimmer of light and Li Ke appeared from Lan Qing’s body.

“You’re successful?” The Wine Master asked Lan Jue. He sensed something inscrutable about the young man that wasn’t there before. As a Reflection of Heaven and Earth the old Paragon still couldn’t tell the depths of Lan Jue’s newfound abilities.

Lan Jue responded calmly. “It isn’t clear, we’ll only know once we try. There’s no time to lose.”

Indeed it was true, they couldn’t wait. Once the evolution was
complete their chances of survival fell away to nothing. Everything rested on their ability to enact the Banishing Strategy before Monarch could succeed.

Lan Qing nodded his head. The four sword bearers floated out into space. They didn’t spread too far before stopping and turned to face one another. The lights that radiated from them became all the more resplendent.

Lan Jue’s eyes were sharp and glinted in the starlight. As bearer of Captus he was not leader of the four blades, but he was the strongest Paragon present. It fell to him to lead the attempt.

The reflection of the cosmos reflected in his deep eyes. Star twinkled back making his gaze bright and brilliant. It almost seemed to make all the universe brighter. His aura began to swell and expand. A purple crown appeared placed upon his head as his body became larger. It was his dharmic image, the Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety.

Lan Jue’s Boundless Starlight Domain was contained within. Luo Xianni suddenly sensed her son’s aura surge, surpassing Nirvana and peeking into the realm of the Infinite. In the same moment the pressure of universal protogenia was evident all
around them. She could feel Lan Jue’s life force draining.

In the midst of his transformation Zhou Qianlin was next. She swayed and grew, clad in a magnificent fluttering white robe. Guanyin, the Queen of Heaven! Her body flickered a hundred shades of blue, but there was also a shell of white light that emerged from her. The warm light spread until it hung over all four of them. To Lan Jue his body instantly felt lighter as the pain of universal protogenia was forced away.

Very quickly Qianlin’s powers also arose to the Infinite. It was a temporary increase from her dharma and Domain, but she nonetheless commanded supreme power.

Clearly the results of their quarantine were good, better than they might have anticipated. At least their cultivation had reached the upper levels of Nirvana. With Qianlin’s help Lan Qing and the Pharmacist enjoyed good stability from their empowered abilities.

As the four young warriors began to prepare, the Photographer turned to address the other Paragons. “We have to serve as their custodians, this is our last chance. No matter what, we must help them succeed.”
Her words were cryptic, but everyone knew precisely what she meant. This could very well be their final moments, victory or defeat were near at hand. Only the Banishing Strategy could save them. At Luo Xianni’s instructions they spread out and made a defensive line.

Kang Hui, still seated in the control room, had come back to his senses. When he saw the two brothers appear on his screens, his heart was filled with resolve.

“Listen up. Tyrannosaurus reposition to the fore. Middle Heaven, take up position in the rear…” The armada’s formation was restructured as per his commands.

Tyrannosaurus slowly moved to the front and blocked the Paragons from view of Europa. Poseidon was on their left, Heron on the right, and Middle Heaven behind. The ten fleets took up defensive positions.

If this was their last chance, Kang Hui wasn’t going to allow the aliens to interrupt it.

“You foolish humans. How can you not see that your opposition is in vain?” Monarch’s voice echoed again in
everyone’s ear. It was harsh as ever, but if one listened closely they might hear something else in the monster’s voice.

The golden light that surrounded Europa, its shield, began to ripple. It started small, but soon became towering waves of energy that circumnavigated the planet.

It was afraid! Kang Hui’s eyes went wide. He could see the change coming over Europa from the bridge and knew that Monarch was urging more energy into its defenses. It could only mean the monster was afraid of what those swords might do.

The aliens had been ahead of them every step of the way, and their responses had always been spot on. This reaction had significance as well, namely that Monarch must have felt the danger headed its way. This returned a glint of hope to Kang Hui’s troubled heart. By now all the ships were in place, shields glimmered around every battleship and bastion. Lan Jue and the others were covered front, back, left, right, up and down. They were defended on all sides. All the strength of the human armada was turned toward defense, charged with making sure Lan Jue’s mission was a success.

Lan Jue floated calmly in space. “Not copper, not iron, not steel; Once hidden beneath the stones of Mount Meru.”
Suddenly there was a flash of red around him and he was encased in a keen aura. All at once he was like Captus in human form. The power of the sword spilled out of his every pore.

Zhou Qianlin’s crystalline voice followed. “The perversion of yin-yang did not it make; What flame or fluid could dull its edge?” A hundred thousand copies of Demortus appeared, glittering blue like a crystal forest. They spread far and wide, so much that the Paragons defending them were forced to move farther back.

Chapter 889: Formation

The Pharmacist voice rang out. “Ultus – sharp, Occisus – death, Captus – universal red light, Demortus – the ever changing.” A surge of white light shot out and brought with it a stifling brutal aura. Slashes of Occisus’ energy criss-crossed the breadth of where its aura reached. The stronger her cultivation rose, the brighter Occisus burned.

Lan Qing was last to speak the words. “Immortals, eternal and marvelous, have their robes stained with blood.” The refreshing hue of Ultus arose as though summoned and coiled around him. Turquoise light shot into the sky and all at once the four Banishing Blades began to hum. Though the weapons themselves were yet to appear, all four of their bearers were illuminated by their power.

Halfway through their seclusion the four Paragons saw an increase to their cultivation, especially Lan Qing and the Pharmacist. Both of them broke through to Nirvana and in doing so understood how difficult enacting the Strategy would be. The more they learned of this unique power the more they saw what it would require. The sheer cost in energy was staggering to consider, only a true immortal could reliable stand it. The greatest weapon under heaven was aptly named, and just as dangerous to wield.
After some discussion – and with the help of Xuanyuan Shishi, Jun Yongye and Li Ke – they came to a bold decision. They would give their bodies fully to their swords, so that these great and terrible instruments of destruction would become a part of them.

The benefits of doing this were that they and the swords became inexorably linked. In many ways they became the Banishing Blades, and the blades became them. All the energy within them, including their protogenia and vital energy, could be used to galvanize the weapons. Thus their chances of successfully laying out the Banishing Strategy increased.

However this was not without dangers. After carefully studying the strategy they discovered that once the strategy was unleashed it could not be stopped. The swords would ravenously devour all the energy it could. If it worked all of their problems would be solved. But if it failed the four of them would be the first ones to lose their lives.

Before becoming one with the swords there had existed the possibility they could break off the strategy and at least escape with their lives. Such possibilities no longer existed now that they were united. IF the Strategy became unstable, they would die.
However, despite the dangers all four agreed. The time had come to burn the boats and turn their eyes forward – this was their last resort. People fought hardest to live when they were faced with the certainty of death. If they were given no option of retreat the four sword bearers would be bound to give their all.

This was not to say they didn’t examine contingencies. Triumph or defeat, they would have to submit to the will of heaven.

The four mighty emanations from the blades mingled among one another. Threads of ethereal light spread out from each person and made the scene indistinct. They wrapped around one another until they created a series of mystical runes – four in total, one of each sword bearer. The runes hovered over them causing reality to ripple from the injection of power.

They’d started close to each other, but as the runes appear there appeared a gulf. From outside it seemed large enough to swallow whole planets, and was growing larger.

ξ
Aboard Poseidon.

“Get out of the way!” Hua Li glared at Mo Xiao. His growling voice was anything but tender.

Mo Xiao threw open her arms in defiance. “I will not. I’m not letting you leave. There are already many Paragons looking over them, and besides you’re only in the Realm of Protogenia. Do you think there’s that big of a difference without you there? What does going out there achieve? Can’t you do more good staying here, commanding this bastion?”

Hua Li roared back at her. “Of course not! My friends and compatriots are out there putting it all on the line for humanity, and what am I doing sitting here? I need to be out there too, protecting them. I may not be the strongest of them but any help can make a difference.”

Mo Xiao’s eyes were full of pain. “He’s always been the most important thing to you, hasn’t she. This isn’t about your brothers, it’s about him.”

Hua Li paused for a moment. Glaring daggers, he hissed at her. “Get out of the way!”
“No! You’ll have to kill me first. Those aliens have almost completed their evolution, we should get far away from here. Every asset and every life of Poseidon Group is on this ship, our whole future. If we wait until their evolution is complete it will be too late. If you go out there now how can we retreat?”

“You’re still thinking about leaving, now of all times?” Hua Li screamed. “If you want to leave, then leave. I am not going anywhere, no matter what. I will live or die with my compatriots, fighting to the very last moment. You would see Poseidon Group running away when all of mankind was facing destruction?”

Hua Li took a threatening step forward, seeking to push Mo Xiao to the side and leave.

Mo Xiao, of course, was no match for him. She was pushed away but swung back and wrapped her arms around Hua Li’s waist.

“Don’t go, I’m begging you. Don’t go!” Tears ran freely down her face. In this moment she was nothing like the president of Poseidon Group. She was a normal woman, stricken and helpless.
“Release me.” Hua Li sighed, and the anger in his face eased. “I know we should leave – for the Group, for our family. I know. But I just can’t do it. When I leave take everyone and flee this place. The Group only needs you and… and our child. That’s all the family needs in case something happens to me. But you have to understand that I can’t go with you. For my comrades, for the family, it doesn’t matter. If the Banishing Strategy is successful and the aliens are slain, everything we’ve accomplished up to now would be wasted. We will have become the enemy of all humanity, deserters and scoundrels. It will be the end of us. Whatever way you look at it, I have to go out there.”

Choked with sobs, Mo Xiao replied. “I don’t care, I don’t. I just want you to be safe. You don’t have to love me, you don’t have to be my husband, I just don’t want anything to happen to you. I just want to be able to see you every day.”

An ache crossed Hua Li’s expression. “Enough, let me go. I have to do this. Just like you feel, I feel the same to the one in my heart. Don’t you think I know everything you’ve done?”

When his words washed over her Mo Xiao shook. Her arms went slack but she did not let go.

Hua Li tightly shut his eyes against the pain. “I’m right, it was
you. But what can I do? Although we can’t truly be man and wife, how can I not know how you feel about me? And me, I am human and have my own selfish wishes. But I saw suffer terrible, silent all the while. Do you think I could stand that? What’s done is done, but I will never forget what you did. All I want is to fight by his side, even if it means my death. One last escapade. I’m sorry Mo Xiao. Maybe in the next life…”

Suddenly his body was encased in light, and the Poseidon Group’s patriarch shot off as a ray of light. Mo Xiao cried out with a heart-wrenching wail and fell to the floor. She lay there quivering with sobs, tears falling in torrents.

“A-Li… A Li…”

Messages from the various departments of the Poseidon family crackled through her communicator. They all made the same request; that they leave as quickly as possible.

The department heads were chosen for being intelligent, discerning individuals. Each of them knew what was happening to Europa. The aliens were evolving, and there was no way to stop them. Just as Mo Xiao had pleaded, they begged her for permission to leave on behalf of the family’s safety. But Hua Li had left, how could she give the order?
Mo Xiao clawed her way back to her command desk and fell into the chair. Gritting her teeth, she gave them her orders.

A few moments later a beam of blue light was blasting off from Poseidon into the distance. It was a vessel, perhaps the size of a Capital ship, with a hull that glittered crystalline blue from bow to stern. It seemed less metal and more gemstone.

The ship sped off into the recesses of space. In a blink, all trace of it was gone. The cries of a small infant rang through its largely empty halls.

ξ

Golden mist rotated rapidly around the planet, spreading out to create an effective shield. Gradually the mist became more transparent, and Europa’s situation was revealed to everyone. To everyone’s surprise there was no ferocity within the enveloping light. Instead the scene was stunningly beautiful.

Spectacular vistas appeared on the surface of Europa. Towering mountains and picturesque valleys spread as far as they could see. The planet was rife with all kinds of vegetation. Never had Europa looked so magnificent. However, any sign of
the cities that once graced its surface was gone.

It had become a fairyland, like in the tales of old. Beneath the golden shell of light it was a paradise that took everyone’s breath away.

Europa continued to slowly spin, each rotation causing the golden light to ripple. As the seconds ticked by the golden shell became more transparent. It remained settled above the world perhaps ten thousand meters above its atmosphere.

Chapter 890: A Planet’s Transformation, Complete

Were it not for the fact that they knew this to be an enemy to their species, they would be stricken by its magnificence.

An Immortal Realm? Was this the paradise these monsters wished to build for themselves?

Kang Hui was similarly taken aback. He suddenly found himself questioning his doubt over the old tales. Before his eyes the aliens were establishing a new heaven, but an empty one. No gods roamed its vistas. All they felt was an impregnable quality.

No sooner had the throat crossed Kang Hui’s mind than the atmosphere of Europa gathered together. A glorious scene of golden clouds appeared before him, and from its  depths appeared a single figure.

From the depths of space the admiral saw him, clear as if he were standing a few feet away. The bastion blocked the view for the Paragons, but they watched a stream of the feed on their communicators.
Monarch. Unmistakably, Monarch.

This was one different from his avatars. He was clad in an opulent robe of silk with a crown upon his head. Monarch looked like the Jade Emperor himself from the old Chinese tales. His golden attire was as stately as it was magnificent, silhouetted against the shining clouds behind. He looked transcendental.

Monarch’s ‘voice’ boomed far across space. “Witness this, the birth of an era; the era of new gods. Those who surrender will be lifted up as custodians of our new paradise. We will strive toward our goal of usurping the universe, together. Those who resist will be reduced to dust and lost to the darkness of time.”

The more he spoke the more it seemed like a tale from the pages of ancient history. This newly crafted utopia and its robe- clad master were exactly as they were described thousands of years ago.

Was it done? Was his ascension complete?

The Paragons surrounded Lan Qing and the others felt their hearts drop into their stomachs. They were a moment too late.
Now they looked on helplessly at the culmination of the aliens’ plans. Three had become one, the Paragons shuddered to think how powerful this single being was.

Kang Hui sat silent on the bridge, staring at the scene unfold. He didn’t dare give the order to attack, he knew the calamity it would cause. Long ago the ships had put all power to their shields, though little help it would serve them. For now they just waited.

From a strictly scientific standpoint there was nothing to suggest this planet was a threat aside from its anomalous creation. Only, just then Europa began to move. It began by spinning, and picked up speed until it was kicked off its orbit. It slowly began to bear down on their position.

Needless to say it was a big deal when a planet shifted orbit. It was not a common thing to witness.

Turning An Lun from a planet into a bastion had taken the East years of toil. It was only possible because of the world’s molinite core. There had never been anything like it before.

In contrast to An Lun, Europa was several times larger. As it
moved, it destabilized the whole galaxy.

“Do you still not understand?” Monarch’s voice was cold and distant. The golden clouds beneath his feet began to swirl like a tempest around him. As they watched his body began to grow.

In mere moments Monarch was a colossus. He was a pillar that literally joined heaven and earth. So large in fact that Europa looked less like a plant and more like a vehicle for this humongous god. The aura that had protected it adapted to fit.

Monarch was already several times the size of Tyrannosaurus. Although the Paragons could also grow in size, even at their largest they were infinitesimal compared to this monster.

“Attack!” Kang Hui shouted.

Tyrannosaurus, having had its main guns charged and ready, fired a salvo. A beam of supercharged energy headed right for Monarch’s mouth.

“Naïve.” He scowled at the humans with thick disdain. Confident in his abilities Monarch stretched out his right hand
to intercept the shot.

He was going to block a bastion’s main weapon with his bare hand! Stunned, the humans looked on as he caught the attack in the palm of his hand. Instantaneously a while light appeared around Monarch and caused him to grow even further. Shots from other bastions and ships didn’t even made the golden aura ripple. Each blow was sucked up like water.

“I have already told you, this is paradise. You mortals have no power here.” Europa heaved Monarch forward as the beast thrust a palm toward Tyrannosaurus.

Dodging wasn’t an option. Monarch’s sheer size outclassed Tyrannosaurus by several times.

Boom- -! The force of the impact seemed to make the whole universe shake. The explosion that followed was almost deafening.

The first vessels to erupt were the support vessels in front of Tyrannosaurus. Their strongest shields meant nothing, they were wisps of smoke before Monarch reached them. Once his palm began to rip through the ones that were left behind
showed them this was a real physical entity, not some illusion.

Whatever unfortunate crew was the palm when it passed were destroyed. Majestic ships became burning balls of slag in the blink of an eye. Nothing seemed to stop it, until Monarch’s strike eventually came into contact with Tyrannosaurus.

Bo-o-omm--! The explosion tore across hundreds of thousands of kilometers. Monarch power was beyond humanity’s worst expectations.

Tyrannosaurus shield only held for three seconds, then it was knocked away. An enormous palm print was embedded across one hemisphere.

Spectators all across space were silent. Tyrannosaurus was one of the most outstanding achievements accomplished by man. Never would they have thought to see the day when it would be swatted away like a fly, yet that is precisely what happened.

What they did not know that their precious ship survived only by the grace of Monarch himself. If he’d willed it, put all of his power into that palm, he could have eliminated Tyrannosaurus
entirely.

Without Tyrannosaurus, Lan Jue and the other Paragons were revealed to the newly ascended deity.

Heron was screaming in from the side with its guns aimed on Monarch. On the other flank, Poseidon was doing the same. Both of them engaged with cannon fire. No one expected their shots to do any damage, they only hoped to give the sword bearers more time.

Middle Heaven was moving in quick from the rear. It was already glowing orange, all of the core was being tapped. It looked like a giant comet. Their shots were meaningless, so the bastions aimed to put themselves physically between the Paragons and this monster.

A sneer slithered across Monarch’s face. As the bastions were bearing down on him, suddenly he was gone.

No, not gone. Smaller. In a blink of golden light his massive form was gone and the bastions lost their target and were in danger of running into each other. Pilots raced to get the ships under control and avoided a collision.
Middle Heaven was still heading right for Europa. It was flung back by that thin but impossibly firm aura of golden light.

Monarch returned to the size of an average human and appeared before the Paragons. Light surrounded him, lent from Europa. He did not rush to attack, deigning instead to peer in curiosity at the streamers of luminescence that hung in the air. They’d already begun to weave themselves into the Banishing Strategy. He allowed the sensation to wash over him in silence.

Everyone was afraid. If this being could slap aside an entire bastion, what sort of damage could it do to them?

The Banishing Strategy also seemed to be nearing completion. Lan Jue and the others were lost within the blazing amalgamation of light. The only sign they remained was the odd flicker of their respective hues. However no one could be sure when – and if – the Strategy would be completed.

“Is this your means of defeating me? Indeed it does possess a peculiar quality. Even as a god I can sense the danger in it.” Monarch spoke as though he were musing out loud, or like a mouse teasing a rat it had caught. He was in no rush, he wanted to sate his curiosity.
“Let me take a closer look.” He lifted his hand and two figured appeared in a flash of light. One was the Violet Prince, and the other was the three-headed six armed abomination Lan Jue had fought against.

Both of them were surrounded by golden light as well.

“Try to harm them. Let’s see how they react.” Monarch cooed.

He looked down on the humans with eyes full of arrogance, even though he knew the sort of power Ultus contained.

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