Skyfire Avenue Chapter 661-670


Chapter 661: Difficulties

It wasn’t long before the energy deficiencies began to get painfully apparent. Without long-range support, the mechas starting to get overwhelmed. What’s more, the students hadn’t had much time to rest during the two-hour long battle. They were starting to tire out.

Su He darted from one area to the other, his yellow mecha a flash of light across the field. The crack of his heavy sniper rifle rang out again and again, each time bringing to an end another powerful alien. He filled in the gaps where needed.

Boom–! An alien was blasted away by oen of the students and slammed against the wall. It felt like the whole structure shook. Luckily, the university’s defenses were made out of titanium alloy, but even so the impact had left a dent.

Overhead a host of flying aliens were approaching. They looked a little like seagulls, but none were less than ten meters tail to tip. Over a hundred of them were bearing down on the university from on high. It was the first homogeneous unit of creatures, and it made them look inexhaustible.

For just a moment, despair was plain on Su He’s face. He knew
the second their line broke the enemy would flood through and there would be no stopping them. These seagulls could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

He bit the tip of his tongue, focusing on the pain to push his hopelessness down. He raised his gun and took aim at the beast just in front of him. He waited until there was a lock, then pulled the trigger. A beam of angry red light carved a path through the air, leaving a scar where it passed.

Boom–! An intense blast of power ripped the foremost alien apart. But the others charged on, for they did not know fear. They spread out and swarmed toward Su He.

He swung the rifle over his shoulder and attached it to the mechas back. With a flick of its metal hands, two glinting swords appeared in his grip. The rifle was powerful, but it used a lot of energy. Now it was time to show them what he was made of! If he could cut these creatures down before they got to the university, they could hold for a little while longer. If he didn’t, their defenses would likely crumble.

Su He used his own Discipline to push his mecha to its limit. His suit flitted through the air, nimble as a sparrow. He charged straight, then changed directions suddenly and without
warning to avoid the purple projectiles spat at him by the creatures.

He flew faster until at last he engaged, appearing behind one of the alien birds. He cut cross-wise like a pair of scissors and his foes head tumbled from the sky to the ground below.

He didn’t stop. In a flash he inserted himself in the midst of them and spun like a steel tempest. The aliens fell away amidst a cloud of blood and chunks of meat.

The yellow body of the mecha shivered, and suddenly one became two – doppelganger! As a God-ranked pilot Su He was final able to move his hands at the necessary speed to use the technique. The identical images split, spread out, then merged together again in the blink of an eye. Two more aliens dropped dead.

Below, the students and teachers looked on as the beasts dropped like flies and it filled them with steely resolve. Their line – dangerously close to being routed – firmed up.

But they were stretched to their limit.
At last the final alien bird was cut apart by Su He’s longswords, reduced to a thick purple paste. The acidic fluid covered the yellow mecha, and some portions of it were almost beginning to smoke. He was a mecha pilot, but his suit was not god-tier. It couldn’t hold out for much longer.

He noticed only ten percent energy remained. Su He needed to return and charge up. But just as he was turning back, the skies darkened to an ominous violet.

More birds, but ten times as many were coming his way.

Done for!

He didn’t have time to charge his suit. He stared at the control panel before him, closed his eyes, and pushed a button.

Thump! Su He was fired out of the back of the mecha like a bullet. He watched at the mecha that had served him honorably for years fell away and crashed into the ground below.

A dead mecha suit was just a ton of metal, and Su He still had some fight left in him. Without it he could push himself a little
farther. He made a solemn promise that he would not stop until his last drop of blood was spilt.

He knew this next wave would probably bring him to that point.


Crack! A red light fired from Xiao Han’s rifle and killed another beast. His mecha staggered dangerously and nearly fell. The last one had clipped his left leg and nearly toppled him over.

He gulped great breaths of air within the cockpit even though his lungs felt like they were on fire. His heart beat so hard it threatened to burst out of his chest. He knew it meant his energy was depleted, and his body was close to collapse. Both he and his mecha were drained, but he didn’t let up. Only one final regret nagged at him.

His life’s greatest regret was losing to that fat-ass from National Eastern University. All his hard work since has been to strive for another chance – to get revenge. Now it looked as though he would never get the chance. Fat bastard, he snarled
inwardly, if I die I’ll be a hero! How about that?!

“Classmate, be careful!” His mecha’s comms lit up as someone called out to him.

He snapped back to reality and urged his suit to duck, just in time to avoid an alien’s swipe. But the move put too much weight on his suit’s damaged left leg and it gave beneath him. He hit the ground.

A mecha suit out of control was no help to anyone. Aside from Su He’s own, Xiao Han’s Sovereign-class mecha had killed more aliens than anyone. It had also sustained a great deal of damage.

He slapped the eject button, just like Su He. Fearing death wasn’t going to help anyone. So long as he fought to the end, he would be dying a man’s death!

Bang! There was a screech, a shock, and Xiao Han spat out a mouthful of blood. The ejection mechanism failed! Just as he was prepared to fire out an attack from one of the aliens damaged the exit point.
It’s over! His mind went blank, focused on that one thought. Once he hit the eject button he’d lost all control over the suit and the systems died. He was a sitting duck, an alien’s meal wrapped up in a pretty metal coffin.

Boom—! He felt the ground shake as a thunderous blast tore through the area. He and the suit were thrown up into the air and hit the ground again with bone-jarring force. Then everything went dark as he lost consciousness. When he came to, he was surprised to find he was still alive. His vision cleared, and through the mecha’s eyes he could see a large metal figure – one could almost say portly.

Vicious spikes bristled all along its body, and a spiked mace cradled in hand lashed out fierce as a tiger. Any alien daring to get to close was crushed beneath its weight.

Was this…? Xiao Han couldn’t remember any classmates with powers like this. The metallic aura that surrounding him pulsed with powerful Discipline. He used his mace like a meat grinder, opening up a wide area carpeted by the remains of aliens.

The fat mecha leapt into the air and the spikes around it fired off in all directions. Tens of the creatures unfortunate enough to be in the blast radius were impaled and killed outright.
The aliens were corrupted versions of local wildlife, so their weak points were similar. Once the spikes found their target, they disappeared only to reemerge from the fat mecha’s body.

Then, an even stranger scene was revealed.  The  brawny mecha squatted and all at once became a giant metal sphere covered in blades. It lunged forward, spinning on an axis. He’d gone from using a meat grinder to becoming one. The aliens caught in front of it were effortlessly swept away. The students in a hundred meters around the metal orb had some room to recover.

Then, one after another silhouettes descended from overhead. The earth shook as they made landfall. Scores of well-equipped mechas drew their weapons and shored up the students’ defensive positions. The aliens who’d threatened to  destroy these beleaguered students half a moment before were mowed down like paper tigers – like they had no means to defend themselves. The mechas moved like one entity, intuitively knowing where they were needed. The aliens couldn’t advance an inch.

Reinforcements had arrived! Xiao Han fell back in his seat and sighed in relief. What incredible reinforcements they  were! None of these pilots could have been anything less than Sovereign-class, he determined, and strong Adepts to boot.
What were those insignias on their breastplates? A flame? What did that mean? They were damn fine pilots!

Another mecha with the flame insignia appeared in front of Xiao Han’s mangled mecha. It used its two large blades to carve open the ejection chute. Xiao Han had by then recovered, and clambered out into the fresh air.

“Are you alright?” The pilot asked in an alluring voice.

A female pilot? Xiao Han couldn’t entirely hide his surprise. “I’m fine. Who are you guys?”

“We’re Star Division from Skyfire, here to save you. Relax, you’re safe.” The pilot ended their conversation by leaping back into the fight.

Chapter 662: Skyfire to the Rescue!

Xiao Han lifted his head and was surprised to discover a battleship sized ship hovering above the battlefield. A cadre of mecha suits tumbled from its cargo doors to join the fight. Their arrival stopped the alien menace dead in their tracks, like weeds before the scythe. Step by step they were pushed from the walls.

Su He was just as stunned. As he had been peering into the encroaching host of alien seagulls, there was a sudden roar that filled the air. A strange light swept by, and suddenly the purple was gone – nothing was left but clear blue sky.

More and more bulky silhouettes fell from the ship and into the alien force, coming to the university in its time of need.

Su He was a God-ranked pilot, and his eye was more discerning than Xiao Han’s. When he saw how these newcomer fought he gasped. Where did these soldiers come from? They were so strong, well equipped, and every one of them flickered with the power of Discipline. He looked on as their heavy artillery mowed the enemy down, working together to bring out the strengths in one another. The aliens were asking for death in their persistent charge.
Since when did the East have such a mighty mecha division, and made of exclusively Adepts? Could they be from An Lun? Su He vaguely recalled news An Lun was creating an Adept army.

“Professor Su?” His thoughts were interrupted by a two- headed dragon, hovering before him.

“Who are you? Bahamut?” The mecha was distinctive and hard to forget.


“The same. I’m the commander of Star Division’s Third Brigade from Skyfire. We’re here to help – don’t worry, the situation here is handled.” The Bartender smiled within the cockpit.

Majesty had almost overloaded its engines to get here as fast as it could. Moments after they arrived, the danger to Lyr University caught their attention. They rushed to the rescue, handily managing the alien force. Once Second Brigade’s long- distance mecha fighters hit the ground they cleared a safe zone around the school. The aliens couldn’t contend against the overwhelming firepower, much less Majesty in all its terrible

Su He’s heart raced. “Star Division? From Skyfire? Are you all from the Avenue?”

“We are,” the Bartender confirmed. “Our commander is an old acquaintance of yours, we call him the Jewelry Master. You probably know who I mean.”

Su He gaped in utter shock. All of a sudden Lan Jue was the commander of a crack mecha division? There wasn’t an enemy in all the universe that could face up to these soldiers!

Sounds of jubilation rang from within the university walls. The sudden arrival of these powerful saviors had pulled them from the brink of death.

A light shone from Bahamut’s chest, projecting a holographic image in the air between them. A familiar face; Lan Jue.

“Hello classmate.”Lan Jue nodded in greeting.
“Lan Jue. Thank you, you and your soldiers. We wouldn’t have been able to hold on any longer.” Su He was relieved and sincere.

Lan Jue went on. “The situation there has been stabilized. The rest of my team and I will be arriving soon to look for the mother, we call them progenitors. If you could, we ask you maintain command of the school and the people in it.”

“Of course, leave it to me.” Su He nodded.

Lan Jue smiled at him, and the hologram vanished.

Majesty’s superior engines had brought it here faster, but Lan Jue wouldn’t be left out of the fight. Zeus-1 was also tearing through space at top speed and closing in on Lyr.

Once Majesty arrived they were being fed a constant stream of logistic information. So far the alien invaders had taken control of more than one fourth of the planet. Their appearance had been explosively fast, too fast for anyone to react. Oceans of vital energy nourished the beasts to maturity almost right away, and was the reason for their vast numbers.
The aliens also seem to have had this planned. A number of creatures had been out in space, responsible for dealing with reinforcements. Majesty’s overwhelming firepower made short work of them. With the Accountant behind the fire controls the interstellar aliens didn’t stand a chance. Once the blockade was destroyed Majesty and other Eastern military vessels poured through to come to Lyr’s aid. Now that Star Division had arrived, the planet’s dire situation was under control.

“Brother, in a minute I’ll need your help finding the progenitor,” Lan Jue said, speaking through his communicator to Lan Qing’s battleship.

Lan Qing nodded. His eyes burned with anticipation of the fight to come. “It’s been elusive, our scanners haven’t been able to get a lock on a location. This is a problem, damage to the planet is significant. How many habitable planets are there for us? When it comes to outright war we won’t have the resources to resist them. What’s your plan, A-Jue?”

“I still believe it’s best to evacuate the outlying planets, circle the wagons,” he replied. “At least that way we can protect them better and defend resource planets. The remainder we can leave to automated mining for the time being. Citizens can be brought into the heart of the Alliance and resettled temporarily on planets more conducive to life. At the same time we need to
strengthen our position and prepare for defense. Ramp up military production and train more soldiers. Fixed defensive positions aren’t nearly as effective as mecha, so swelling our mecha numbers and dispatching them to every inhabited planet should also be a priority. This’ll give us the chance to respond immediately to any threat.”

Lan Qing nodded. “None of the interior planets have what An Lun can offer. I’ll start dispatching units to administrative planets as soon as possible. Our military industry is working at its peak to produce weapons and outfit the defenders. We’re also equipping the interior planets with as many railguns as we can fit on them. If Lyr had had railgun installations the aliens wouldn’t have been able to blockade reinforcements.”

Lan Jue displeased. All of their plans were passive and after the fact. They needed time to learn about their foe and how they fought – time they didn’t have.

Lan Jue narrowed his eyes. “Actually the best plan is to bring the fight to them. That’s the only way to ensure we exhaust and destroy their energy supply, which in turn should cause them to be less aggressive. It’s impossible to say how much life was stolen from Lyr, and it may even be the aliens came to try and destroy the Tears of Neptune. I’ve already ordered Majesty to keep its scanners wide and responsive. We won’t let any alien

“After we’re finished here I’ll run it up the chain, see if we can’t take the initiative,” Lan Qing said.

Lan Jue continued to think out loud. “If we do lead a preemptive strike it has to be small. The larger the force the harder it’d be to get out. Father said that there were aliens even stronger than me. I asked Jun Yongye about this, and he said the only creatures stronger than Jue Di were the immortals of old. Those immortal commanded power far beyond anything humans were capable of, so much so that the universe would outright reject something that devastating. Hence the immortals realms of the ancient days, because they couldn’t exist in the same space as everything else. If they attempted to leave their special reality the universe’s natural energies would obliterate them. You could say that immortals were forced to imprison themselves. Now the realm of immortals has ceased to exist the immortals have perished, too. There’s no more place for them to hide – and the stronger the immortal, the stronger the universe hits back.”

“Did you ask for more detail from father? Where does he stand, could be somehow become an immortal himself?”
A wry grin split Lan Jue’s face. “I tried, but he didn’t answer.”

Lan Qing’s voice was thoughtful. “There’s something wrong with him. He doesn’t want to tell us, so ask mother when you have an opportunity. She should know.”

Lan Jue nodded in agreement.

Lyr came into view from the ship’s bridge. A sick violet hue hung over vast swaths of formerly fertile ocean, shocking to behold. It looked like a nasty bruise. The ship puncture the planet’s atmosphere and down toward the ocean surface.

The alien’s poison had infected the land as well as the sea. Unquestionable, the progenitor was hiding somewhere the ocean of contaminated water.

“Let’s get out there and find it. Keep Zeus-1 as support.” Lan Jue said to Su Xiaosu.

“Aye aye!” She replied.
Lan Jue and the Driver exited the ship, entered their mechas and set out. Seated in Thor’s cockpit, the Jewelry Master felt a comfortable bond, like the sleek sapphire mecha was an extension of his own body. It was a sensation he’d begun to recognize only after absorbing the thunder essence. His Discipline merged seamlessly with the suit’s systems, and so his surprise Thor’s AI and body seemed to be influenced by the All- Heaven lightning. Like Lan Jue, the suit was somehow transformed by it.

As Thor flew through the air its body was surrounded by an undulating pale blue light. The energies released by the suit were gentle, but nonetheless were reflected by the surface of the ocean. A strange ocean, where even the waves had been silenced.

Chapter 663: Thunderstruck

Lan Jue looked toward the Driver, hovering not far away. He’d reported a similar feeling of kinship to his mecha, Thunderclap. The similarity suggested it was the immortal qi that gave them this feeling, not their Disciplines. Thunderbolt energy wouldn’t cause such changes in metal, but the old tales said immortal qi could impart life.

In more than one sense it was possible their mechas could become equivalent to Astrums. Of course, this was a great and pleasant surprise for the Driver. Lan Jue was also pleased, for although he had Captus Thor could bear the sword as well.

As they soared over the water a strange light flickered in Lan Jue’s eyes. Probing waves of protogenia fluctuated around him and penetrated into the sea, searching for signs of life. It was the same method he’d used on Taihua to find the progenitor. He had been ninth level six rank at the time, and although by rank he was twice as strong, his true power was much greater.

“I think I feel something.” The Driver’s voice called to him through the main control board. They’d split up to cover more ground.
Lan Jue’s eyes lit up. “Looks like we got lucky!” Lucky indeed to find it so soon. Lan Qing’s battleship was descending through the atmosphere just in time.

Thor picked up speed, racing to join up with Thunderclap.

“How do we approach?” the Driver asked.

“It’s time to give it a taste of our thunder magic!”

“Heh heh heh!” The Driver answered with a sinister chuckle. Thunderclap crackled with purple lightning as it shot into the sky. Lan Jue urged Thor to follow.

Thunderclap stopped three thousand meters above the water. Its mechanical arms spread out wide to either side. The purple threads of lightning surrounding it grew more intense. The air sizzled as the water element within reacted to the gathering electric energy.

The sky darkened, and choppy waves appeared on ocean’s surface. In the space of an instant roiling clouds appeared in the sky. Purple lightning streaked between the thunderheads like a
scene from the apocalypse.

Lan Jue did not move, content to watch the Driver and serve as backup. He didn’t need to fear the errant power of the lightning, it would not harm him. Although their Disciplines were different, they were derivatives from the same source.

Brrrruhmm–! Thunder roared so loud it rattled bone. The black clouds flashed brilliant shades of purple. A single bolt of lightning shot down, piercing the ocean to the sound of cacophonous thunder.

Boom–! A pillar of boiling water was launched a thousand meters into the air. Bolts of lightning spider-webbed all along the ocean’s surface, wreaking havoc below.

The whole ocean seemed to vibrate and a sickly purple aura radiated out from within, as though it were trying to isolate itself from the lightning. Wherever they touched, the purple electricity was dispersed.

“Hmph!” The Driver grunted, another blast of lightning thick as an oil truck fired into the sea. It hit straight and true like a spear from the heavens.
A terrible roar answered, and the waters churned and became violet, like a great crystal whose ends stretched into the distance. An enormous figure slowly floated to the surface. When it finally breached the massive body jerked and shook. Its body sported several nasty looking wounds. It looked much like the progenitor from Taihua, only smaller.

After so many encounters with the beasts, Lan Jue was beginning to develop a knowledge of their capabilities. Compared to others on the planet, this was likely the most powerful of the invaders. But in the grand scheme, progenitors weren’t very strong. It was clear by the strength of its vital crystal.

While it was not the strongest, it was one of the most important breeds of alien. It had the greatest influence on humanity, and was capable of overtaking whole planets. Through the world’s own energies it made itself stronger, making it the fastest maturing of all the creatures. Lan Jue was convinced that, left unchecked, a progenitor would absorb all the planet’s life force and return it to a home planet to nourish them. What he did not know was what would happen if they let it get to that point.

They were weaker to begin with, and were rarer to encounter. I fact he hadn’t come across a single one out in space. If there
were enough of them they could invade planets as they pleased. It wouldn’t take them long to overtake the habitable planets in all the alliances until humans had no means to fight back.

And yet in all this time Lan Jue had only ever seen them on Taihua, Moonfiend, and now here. Three only. It made him question just how many progenitors there actually were.

Already it appeared this one was in poor condition. The destructive power of the Driver’s Primordial lightning was too much for the creature to contend with, and the damage was severe. The lightning’s devastating effects were spreading al through the alien’s body.

Thunderclap brought its mechanical hands together. Just as the Driver was preparing the final, fatal blow Lan Jue stopped him. “Wait!”

“Eh?” The Driver stopped, taken aback. “Why?” He  was drunk on his power. Ever since transforming his Discipline his combat prowess had leapt to new heights. Outside of a Domain even a first-degree Paragon couldn’t match him in direct attack power. The feeling was intoxicating.
But he also had total faith in Lan Jue. Without the Jewelry Master’s help he may never have achieved this level of strength, much less a chance at becoming Paragon.

Lan Jue explained. “This kind of alien evolves quickly, and is specialized in devouring energy. Keeping it alive may help us learn more about it. The vital crystal isn’t the only thing useful about it. A progenitor is much more dangerous than the ones we meet out in space. Let’s take this one back alive.”

“How do we bring back something this large?” The Driver asked incredulously.

Lan Jue smiled. “We can’t, but I know someone who can.” As he spoke, he looked into the distance.

A cyan light flickered in the sky, in in the space of a breath Lan Qing arrived to join the two of them.

Lan Jue explained his thinking to his brother. After a moment of thought, he answered. “It isn’t impossible. But you have to promise to keep this quiet. If people knew we were bringing it back we’d start a panic.”
“That goes without saying,” the Driver replied. “Come, our Majesty the Peerless Light Emperor of Middle Heaven, let’s see what you can do.”

Lan Qing’s face jerked like he’d been struck. “Where’d you hear that title?”

The Driver shot a glance at Lan Jue, who helplessly said, “Dad was talking about it before we left Skyfire. He was trying to advertise the name. By the time we get back everyone will probably know it. Peerless Light Emperor of Middle Heaven.”

The Eastern general’s face twitched. Suddenly his body was bathed in a golden glow, and a harmonious sensation flooded the area. The Driver allowed the storm clouds to disperse as Lan Qing’s golden aura swelled ever larger.

The image of Vairochana gradually came into being behind Lan Qing. His Buddha’s Revelation Domain spread out, turning the sea into a mirror of golden light. The violet hue was washed away and returned to normal. Vairochana’s image extended a hand, and slowly the progenitor rose from the waters. It continued to rise until it was lifted entirely into the air. Desperately it struggled, but under the weight of Buddha’s Revelation it was growing weaker by the moment.
Vairochana waved its hand, and a strange sight unfolded. The massive progenitor began to shrink – smaller and smaller – until it fit within the Buddha’s palm. Lan Qing made a motion with his hand and the reflection of his dharma disappeared, along with the progenitor.

“I have sealed it in my Domain,” he said, “its powers are suppressed. It won’t cause any problems for the time being. But for the safety of the planet I should bring it back to An Lun as soon as possible. We can study it there.”

Despite its relative weakness, the potential strength of the creature and its energy-devouring abilities were still formidable. It was better to be cautious.

“Zeus-1, come in Zeus-1.” Lan Jue called.

“Zeus-1 responding. What do you need boss?” Su Xiaosu replied.

“Perform a flyover and heck the area. Check to see if the purple territory is receding, and if the alien raiders have been reduced. Pay special attention to whether the reduction are uniform or just in one area.”
“Aye aye. Give us a moment!” Lan Jue wanted to make sure there was only one progenitor one the planet. One had to be thorough in their eradication of evil.

Before long Su Xiaosu gave him her report. She told him that the aliens were gone, along with the purple haze they brought with them. The progenitor they’d captured was likely the only one.

Evidently progenitors were as rare as Lan Jue had thought. Although he did not know why, it was clear the beasts were in short supply.

Lan Qing left immediately for his battleship with the progenitor. They docked in the ruins of Lyr’s capital to wait for more troops to arrive. Once things were more stable he would leave for An Lun.

The rescue mission had been a success. What’s more, there was no evidence the progenitor had destroyed or consumed any Tears of Neptune.

Dwarka, by the sea.

A figure rose from the sea, glistening with drops of water. Violet hair and clothes clung to a perfectly formed body, but only until she was free of the ocean. Pearls of sea water rolled away leaving nothing behind, and soon she was entirely dry.

Pinched between her fingers was a glittering blue gemstone.
She regarded it with a thoughtful expression.

Lyr’s capital

Chapter 664: Gratitude

Had Lan Jue been there by the seaside, and had he seen the object in the woman’s hands he would have recognized it immediately. He would have recognized her as well.

The Violet Princess was dressed as she had been when Lan Jue first saw her, just as breathtakingly beautiful. However, it was precisely her beauty that made her seem so strange – so unnatural. Although compared to their encounter on Moonfiend she seemed more ‘human’ now.

The gem in her hands was a Tear of Neptune, the s-ranked power gem only produced on Lyr.

After she stepped out of the ocean the Violet Princess lifted the power gem, pinched between her fingers. She peered at it with a curious look in her eye. Then, she popped it into her mouth. The beautiful alien disintegrated into a beam of light and vanished without a trace.


Lyr University, it was the first time Lan Jue had actually
visited it. He was greeted by Han Ruchao, Su He and other school leaders.

The university had survived thanks to their steadfast efforts. Han Ruchao’s eyes were red as he struggled to contain his emotion. It was bittersweet, for although many lived a number of his teachers died in the fighting. Thankfully the loss of life was minimal, despite the high rate of injury.

The ordeal had been transformative for the students and faculty. Order was still maintained, those who were healthy made sure rules were followed and people remained calm. Once the aliens were gone people could begin to return to their homes.

“Thank you… thank you for coming so quickly. On behalf of this school and the whole city, thank you.” Han Ruchao heartily shook Lan Jue’s hand. Of course, he had no idea this was the same man who had embarrassed him so thoroughly during the student exchange so long ago.

Lan Jue’s address was respectful. “It wasn’t me, you should thank the soldiers who put their lives on the line. You’re a real hero, Dean Han. Your direction saved many lives today. Thank you.” Whatever grudge existed between Ruchao and Xu Renjian,
in Lan Jue’s eyes this man was as deserving of respect as any soldier.

He’d heard the Dean’s determination to live or die with his school from Su He, and it had moved him. If everyone had his spirit and resolve, what would they have to fear from an enemy twice as strong as these beasts? His display of indomitable will was true Nobility!

While the leaders exchanged words, Star Division’s soldiers were exiting their mechas. These aliens were typical fare for them, so they weren’t overjoyed at the victory unlike their Lyrian counterparts.

Xiao Han had recovered some by now. He hobbled through the crowds of Division fighters in search of the fat one that had saved his life. He wanted to personally share his gratitude for saving his life.

The fat mecha wasn’t hard to find, it was much larger than the others. He picked it out from far away. He hurried over, and on the way saw the mecha that had spoken to him during the fight. A beautiful women stepped out.
His eyes lit up, she sure was pretty! She had long blonde hair, a slender body and legs that wouldn’t quit; straight, thin and round. They ended in a nice rounded backside and a tiny waist. Any hot-blooded man would feel his heart race at the sight of her.

She floated to the ground and ran her hands through her tousled hair. She gathered the golden strands up into a ponytail.

All of a sudden the sky darkened. When Xiao Han lifted his head he saw an enormous mecha descending upon him. It was savage looking, like a rabid lion. The intensity that surrounded it left the surrounding Lyr students in awe. This was one impressive mecha.

A light beamed down to the ground below and a young man with short hair was deposited onto the field. He made his way toward the long-legged beauty with an easy smile on his face.

“Little Mi,” he called out to her.

“Can’t you change your style? Barreling in here and there – what happens if you get surrounded? Then what?” Tang Mi showed her displeasure with Jin Tao through her scowl.

He chortled. “That’s who I am, I’ll never to learn to be as tricky as your brother!”

“Who are you calling tricky, dumb-mutt? You keep trying to hit on my sister and I’ll kick your ass!” Tang Xiao dropped from his mecha and stomped over toward Jin Tao.

Jin Tao’s response was thick with disdain. “Alright that’s enough. You think you can tell Little Mi how to live her life? You may be stronger than me now, but big brother here will make you think twice before throwing your weight around!”

“Bring it on, then!” Tang Xiao spat. “I’ve been waiting for the day for ages!”

The units Tang Xiao and Jin Tao commanded were the fastest improving of any. Their combat effectiveness soared. Tang Xiao had gained knowledge by the Descending Dragon Arhat’s rise, but Jin Tao had learned a lot from the ascension of Lan Qing. Both of them benefited greatly from their experiences, and their
Disciplines reflected it. Tang Xiao had crossed the threshold into ninth level, while Tang Xiao was only half a step behind. But what he lacked in power he made up for in raw passion, a passion he inspired in others as well.

The two of them had infuriated the Bloodiron Khans during their time training in An Lun. One threw himself into any situation, consequences be damned. The other was as cunning and slippery as a fox. While outside of combat they were constantly trading barbs, in a fight their teams were practically unstoppable especially together.

Once during training Tang Xiao had come up with a plan, following Jin Tao as he ripped through the weak flank of the Khans. That day Jin Tao became famous for his brutal fighting style. It was the highlight of the trip.


Xiao Han stopped dead in his tracks a few steps away. When he saw the tubby pilot trot over he couldn’t keep the rage from infecting his face. He couldn’t believe it – never in a hundred thousand years could he imagine that hateful man would be the one to save his life. The same hateful man who’d disgraced him so intensely. But, how could he have become so strong in so
short a time?

Tang Xiao must have felt Xiao Han’s dagger-like glare, because he turned his way. When he saw him, he smiled wide enough to show all his teeth.

Xiao Han heaved a sigh and eventually urged his feet onward. Long trudging steps brought him before his savior. He grudgingly nodded his head. “Thank you.”

Tang Xiao chuckled. “No need. I didn’t like you before, but today I saw a true man. Forget what happened in the past, don’t let me get too far ahead.”

As he spoke, Tang Xiao extended his right hand.

Something flashes in Xiao Han’s eyes. He hesitated, but finally took the offered hand. The obsessiveness with which he held onto that old hatred melted away as he took his comrade’s hand. They were brothers in arms. The fatso wasn’t quite so hateful as he used to be.

Three days later.

Things had settled down on Lyr. Refugees returned to their homes to pick up the pieces. The East had sent a large number of soldiers to the planet and they had been busy searching for any vestige of the enemy.

Even if there was something hiding in the depths of the ocean they would find it. No matter where it came from, it was a living thing and that meant their technology could detect it. Humanity’s radar and sonar were exceptional.

Lan Qing had spread the news for all planets to keep their detection equipment on and at full power. Everyone had to be vigilant for the presence of progenitors. In addition to the radar, they were encouraged to begin regular patrols as well.

The military approved his plan immediately. What’s more, they recommended the same to the other Alliances.

Lan Jue look through the window of his room, out over the azure sea. He couldn’t shake the dark cloud over his heart. On the surface it looked like things were back to normal, but Lyr had suffered terribly at the hands of the aliens – and not just the
cities and people, but the delicate oceans as well. It would take a decade or more for the wounds to heal.

What’s more, they had responded quickly. If the progenitor had had more time the damage it caused might never have been reversed. It was important not to underestimate how frightening these creatures could be.

Lan Qing had left the day before and had put a lot of distance between him and Lyr already. He had to rush back, there was a lot for him to do.

The Star Division, meanwhile, remained on Lyr to rest for a time. They remained in part to help with the recovery efforts, but also as a reward. Lyr was a beautiful place, and anyone who liked the ocean would enjoy it here. Ever since Star Division’s inception the soldiers had either trained intensively or fought intensively. They deserved a break.

At the university’s insistence Star Division was housed in auxiliary dorms on campus. Han Ruchao knew he couldn’t pass up this excellent opportunity for Star Division’s lauded soldiers to teach his students. With Lan Jue’s blessing several ninth- level Talents and God-ranked pilots were assembled to impart what they could to the university’s population.
After the battle LU was flush with a unity of purpose. Those teachers and students who distinguished themselves were handsomely rewarded by the Eastern government. The military was also eager to extend invitations. It wouldn’t be long before those students who grow to become notable soldiers in their own right.

Sometimes bad circumstances could lead to good results. At least as far as Lan Jue could tell, humanity would fight together in the face of this foreign threat. They would need that if they had any hope to survive.

He turned away from the window and looked at the bed. Zhou Qianlin sat upon it cross-legged, quietly meditating.

Chapter 665: Violet Reunion

She was dressed in a soft egg-shell dress, her pretty face framed by long black hair. Long lashes rested against her fair skin, soft as an infant’s. Floods of immortal qi pulsed from her and painted the room in rippling power and marvelous light. It drew a sharp contrast to her demure nature.

The moment his eyes fell upon her they filled with warmth. He walked over to the bed gently sat beside her. There he sat, quietly watching her and nothing else. His nostrils filled with her fresh sense, and his skin tingled from the waves of immortal qi issuing from her. For a minute Lan Jue felt like he could relax.

Bzz! Bzz! The communicator on his wrist hummed for his attention. When he looked down to see who it was, surprise crossed his face. He stepped outside and dialed in the number.

“You’re done?” Lan Jue asked, his surprise evident in his voice.

“Yup.” The voice on the other end was low and calm.
“When did you get out? Did you break through?” He asked.

“If only it were that easy… ninth level ninth rank.” The answering voice grew somewhat more brisk.

Lan Jue smiled. “Good, then I’ve got some competition! Let’s see who breaks through first.” The recipient of his teasing was none other than one of the Four Divine Monarchs, Hades – Chu Cheng.

“I hear you’ve created some ‘Star Division’? I’m gone for a bit and suddenly you’re a big shot!” Chu Cheng bantered.

Lan Jue laughed. “What? You got an opinion?”

“’Course not,” his friend replied. “My uncle came back, did you know that?”

Lan Jue replied. “I know, he went back with your dad.”

“He spoke a lot about you. Makes me feel like I’ve been wasting time. Sounds like I missed some good times, too. So, I
decided to rejoin the world! I’m going to join the military too and kill me some aliens!”

Lan Jue laughed. “It’s rare to see you working so hard. No longer interested in a life of decadence?”

Chu Cheng sniffed. “Oh I’m never giving that up. I’m going to get all the depravity out in the next three days, then I’m joining up! His Majesty the Terminator has decided to create an Adept army of his own. You hear about this? He’s got over ten thousand Converts signed up already, and sent me an invite personally. He wants to make me a Legion commander.” That was what the North would call their divisions it seemed, and Chu Cheng would have personal command of a thousand soldiers.

The Terminator could boast those numbers since the North was capable of creating their own Adepts. The Conversion process could turn any normal person into a Talent, it was their specialty. The drawback was it became nearly impossible for Converts to breakthrough to Paragon.

Lan Jue shook his head. “Sounds like the Terminator’s well- informed! He probably heard about our success against the aliens. This is a good thing, but you all have to be careful when
you face off against them. There is at least one alien stronger than father out there.”

Chu Cheng was silent for a moment. “Relax, joining was actually my grandfather’s idea. As far as Paragon is concerned I’ve got one foot in the door, a good fight might be just the inspiration I need. Being ninth level at my age without any genetic alteration means I’ve got a solid chance. Uncle has also shared a lot of what he’s learned with me. A-Jue, I’m telling you, you better work hard or I will breakthrough before you.”

Lan Jue chuckled. “Excellent! I’m excited to see which one will be better, too; Star Division or Hades’ Legion.”

“Who’s comparing?” Chu Cheng whined. “You guys over there are an aberration. I’m hearing A-Li started a ‘Poseidon Corps.’ They’re supposed to be somethin’ else! And get this, they started with the members of Gobi Entertainment. Afterwards they opened up recruitment to only the very best mecha pilots and Adepts. They’re relatively small, but work together even better than your Star Division. They even have a damn Bastion ship, you know that?”

“I do,” he replied. “There’s a reason they’re called the richest family in history. He helped me quite a lot during the auction.”
“Well I got shit to do. Namely sit around and relax,” Chu Cheng said.

“A-Cheng!” Lan Jue suddenly interrupted.


“These aliens are dangerous. Be careful, and do not underestimate them.”


He hung up. A strange smile spread across Lan Jue’s face. A year ago himself, Chu Cheng and Hua Li had little more to do than relax and enjoy life. Hua Li had been the busiest one, and even he half-assed most of it. Back then none of them would have imagined they’d be military leaders today. How the tides change!

Lan Jue was preparing to return to the bed and cultivate with Qianlin when something stopped him. He froze, and slowly turned to look.
There was a purple silhouette standing by the window.

Her back was to him, but he would never forget those long purple locks, or that perfectly sculpted figure.

The hairs on the back of his neck raised, his muscled tensed. A surge of energy flooded from his Core. A flash of blue light erupted from him and immediately Lan Jue’s skin became crystalline and translucent.

He utilized the connection between Qianlin and himself to call her to his side and took her hand.

“You’re so nervous!” The beguiling voice wafted through the air. She turned to face him.

“Violet Princess!” He growled.

She looked at him, her face wearing a bewitching smile. It came much smoother now, more natural than before – like an actual human. But only ‘like’ a human. She was still too beautiful, too manufactured to be real.
It was inconceivable to him that one of the strongest aliens would simply appear in this place. From what he could tell, she was here for him.

The Violet Princess took a step forward.

Violent bursts of electric energy flared around Lan Jue. Qianlin’s body was surrounded by a pale white light. He didn’t dare give the Princess any leeway – she had been a match for his mother, a Nirvana-level Paragon! Only his father would be able to contend with her.

“You don’t need to be nervous. I only came to speak with you.” She punctuated the thought with an enigmatic smile.

“What do you have to say?” Lan Jue’s voice was low and guarded.

She stopped for a moment to think before continuing. “Your human bodies are very interesting. So much… potential. I like the structure. You seem to be a good specimen for your race, and I would like to mate with you. I am eager to learn about humanity’s genetic construction. We wish to accept this peculiarity. I can feel the promise in you.”
Lan Jue was dumb-founded. She was here to proposition him. An alien propositioning a human? How would one even describe the concept?!

The Princess then seemed to notice the woman beside him. “This one is your mate?”

He narrowed his eyes. “I love her.”

She cantered her head to the side. “This is the same as a mate. In our royal family we do not mind sharing mates. We are only interested in prime genetic material. She can join with us as well.”

“Why would we want to join with you?” He remained calm, poised.

“Evolution!” She said. “My species has an unparalleled ability to evolve. We consume, incorporate, adapt. We are the strongest race in the universe!”

Lan Jue smirked at her. “If that’s true, why do you choose to take on human form?”
Her response was matter-of-fact. “Every species has its advantages and disadvantages. You humans have great potential, but very limited lifespans. After a short time, you die. We do not. As long as we have energy to consume we will continue to exist. From the birth of our mother planet to today’s royal family, you cannot imagine the power we possess. Join with us, and you will gain the ability to consume energy as well.”

“I need time to think about it,” Lan Jue replied.

She nodded. “Alright. I will find you again.” With that, the Princess vanished in a flash of purple light.

Lan Jue stood in the center of the room, still for a long time. When he was sure the Princess had truly left, he breathed a sigh of relief. He pulled Qianlin into his arms, though the look in his eyes was contemplative. Humanity needed to understand these aliens.

For the Princess to appear here like she did, it meant his guesses were right. They were here for the Tears of Neptune. Their brief exchange had also been very informative.
Progenitors seemed to be the natal form of their species. They weren’t the strongest, but they were the beginning. That made them vitally important to their species.

The fact that they assumed human forms must mean that their natural bodies had some disadvantage they were trying to overcome. It somehow curtailed their continuous evolution, probably restricted by universal protogenia. If that were not the case he couldn’t think of why they would want to be like humans. They would simply continue to evolve and dominate the universe. Seemingly that was impossible for them as they were.

As for her offer…

Beautiful as she was, the Violet Princess was not human. To Lan Jue these aliens were wild and vicious beasts.

Mate? Hah!

Chapter 666: Jue Di’s Condition

The moment he was sure they were alone, Lan Jue dialed his father’s number into his communicator. He told Jue Di everything that had transpired.

“These creatures are highly intelligent. She was probably testing you.” Jue Di said once the story was finished.

“Dad, when you faced the alien in the Starfields we learned how strong they were. You are the most powerful human in history, is it possible universal protogenia will rebound on you, too?”

Jue Di was silent.

Lan Jue’s heart skipped a beat. His father had always been good about replying to his questions. This time, though…

Jue Di took a deep breath. “I wasn’t going to tell you and your brother, but now that you’ve asked it’s time. Yes – once a human reaches a certain degree of power the universe attempts to restrict them. You will begin to sense it once you achieve Nirvana. What we call the Infinite is just the beginning, a
bottleneck to immortality. However, with no Immortal Realm there is no way to protect ourselves from the universe. The immortal of ancient days had reached heights the universe could not sustain, they surpassed the limits of this reality and hid in a place that kept them safe.

“This place was the Immortal Realm. No one knows how this pocket reality came into being. They say it was created by a being of immense power. As more and more immortals rose to prominence, this realm was no longer able to hide them from the repercussions of defying natural law. In the end, it collapsed. The immortals perished, or perhaps found some other way to hide their power from the cosmos. The Immortal Realm went by many names; Olympia, Heaven, Western Paradise… they all described the same thing. A place of safety for beings that could no longer live in the same reality as everything else.

“None of the ancient books spoke of it, but after years of experience I know that those who came to achieve immortality – be they sages, Buddhas or what have you – were unhappy. Every day the pressure of their stolen existence bore down on them, forcing them to live in cramped seclusion. I was blessed with talent and a potent lineage, and when I was your age my search for power was undeniable. I was determined to be the strongest human to have ever drawn breath. I achieved this, but when I did I began to sense something wasn’t right.
“When I achieved Nirvana I began to sense a darker part of reality pressing me. OF course I did not care at the time. I pressed back and found my way into the Infinite. I began to feel the danger, but my potential would not be stopped. I could not simply stop cultivating and halt progress. I came upon the border of mortality, felt myself forced against the barrier.

“In the old world when a being reached my level of power they had to face tribulation lightning. Surviving meant entrance into the Immortal Realm. It was said that when the Immortal Realm was first created the danger from tribulation lightning was not so terrible. Only once the Immortal Realm could no longer bear the power within it did the lightning became truly terrifying. Only the truly strong could survive, for only the truly strong could help the Immortals maintain the reality they’d built for themselves.

“Now it’s different. There is no immortal realm, and I must rely only on myself. Tribulation lightning has faded into legend, but the rejection I feel from reality is real. Every time I use my powers the universe can feel it and attempts to suppress what it senses as an aberration. It seeks to destroy me by consuming my life force. This is the reason why I hid away on Ziluo, cutting myself off from the rest of humanity. I had to take every precaution not to reveal my strength. But over the last couple of years I have felt I can no longer subdue my powers. It leaks, taking my life force with it. Under these conditions I have
perhaps only three more years before my time in this reality is over, and only if I don’t use my powers.”

Although Lan Jue had guessed at his father’s danger, hearing it struck him like a ton of bricks. He hadn’t known his condition had become so bad.

“Then, when you fought the aliens…” His voice trailed off.

Jue Di answered, his smile evident in the sound of his voice. “A true man has responsibilities he cannot shirk. You think I’ll let the universe tell me what to do?”

“What can we do? How do we stop it?” Lan Jue asked.

His father’s voice was solemn. “If the Immortal Realm is truly gone, then I don’t have the power to create one myself. My choices are limited; I can find a way to extend my life, or continue to this way until it claims me. I am close to what we call Immortality, but I need enough power to contend against universal protogenia and survive. I don’t have this power. However, if I were somehow able to break through and uncover the secrets of the Immortals, death would not take me so easily.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what I experienced in the Starfields, against the alien planet. Whatever it was possessed the power of an Immortal. Those beasts couldn’t be called Immortals, but it possessed the strength of one. It must have some way of defending itself from universal elimination. However, during the fight it didn’t give chase, likely for the same reason I can’t show my real power. It would be destroyed just like I would.”

As he listened, a thought crystallized in Lan Jue’s mind.

He perked up. “Dad… what if you could command more power than the greatest immortals? Could you resist the universe then?”

“The ancient texts seem to suggest it,” Jue Di answered. “For instance, one of the Three Pure Ones could do so. I’m sure that somewhere in existence there is this power, but it isn’t me. Perhaps you two, the younger generation could try. It’s likely that whatever method the alien is using to protect itself from obliteration takes a great deal of energy. They must continuously consume to keep from being destroyed. Approaching you as a mate was probably an attempt to perfect their own DNA. They’re a truly frightening race – strong and smart.”
Lan Jue’s voice was low, hard. “It seems an all-out war with these creatures is inevitable, and that means we’ll need to face their false immortal. Do you have a strategy?”

Chapter 667: War Comes!

Jue Di went on. “Right now it’s hard to say. What we can say is the aliens fear our Discipline. We must also acknowledge the strength of our destructive technology. Bastion ships, for instance, can cause real havoc. More specifics will only be made clear when war breaks out. What we do know is that old shyster was right. This is the worst danger humanity has ever faced. Come back to Skyfire. Now that we know she can find you at any time, you’re safest with me. Focus on cultivation, then once you and your girl have broken through you can at least flee if an alien as strong as her comes for you.”


After speaking with his father Lan Jue felt crestfallen. Not for the dangers to his own life, but because of these aliens’ apparent ability to be everywhere. With the Princesses capabilities and ability to hide in plain sight, infiltrating humanity’s cities was as easy as a wink.

One could only imagine what a creature as strong as the Princess could do in the heart of a metropolitan area. Her kind were even more frightening than the alien planets themselves. At least you knew they were coming. Even humanity’s strongest couldn’t compare.
A cold light flit through Lan Jue’s eyes, mingling with stoic determination. Waiting around wasn’t going to save them from extinction. They had to bring the fight to the enemy, make the alien planets the battlefield at not human civilization. When he returned to the Avenue he would prepare for another scouting mission, maybe thin their numbers a little more.

Star Division left Lyr once recovery efforts were fully under way, and returned to Skyfire. All three alliances had redoubled their war preparations after news from Lyr broke. The West paused in their constant campaign to cause trouble. They joined the efforts of the North and East, carefully searching outlying planets for signs of a progenitor’s presence. Special attention was paid to especially fertile worlds.


Tragic news awaited Lan Jue and Star Division when they got back to the Avenue!

One of the North’s planets – an administrative planet on the borders, full of life – had been attacked. Just as on Lyr the aliens had appeared without warning, attacking with even more ferocity than the ocean planet had suffered. Surveys of the destruction showed that at least three progenitors had fed on it.
By the time the nearest fleet arrived the planet was a rotten purple globe. The creatures had bled it dry, and the progenitors were nowhere to be seen. All that remained was a broken husk of a world where once life had flourished. The death toll was expected to be over fifty million. Nearly every living thing had been wiped out. The whole world was a necropolis.

It was only the third time aliens had appeared on human occupied land. Taihua had been the first, and thankfully few had died. This was thanks to its low population, as well as Lan Jue and the Wine Master’s quick response. Lyr had suffered and many had died, but at least the planet survived.

But this time, in only two days a beautiful world had been laid to waste. Fifty million lives, snuffed out.

The news sent a shudder through the spine of every breathing human. The North held an emergency senate meeting and declared war against the three alien planets. Demonstrations were held all throughout Northern space while the call went out for soldiers to go on alert. A draft was implemented as well. In an impressive show of force the first, third, sixth, eleventh and thirteenth fleet were dispatched to escort the Tyrannosaurus- class Bastion ship to the Shattered Starfields.
Clearly the alien menace had provoked humanity’s mightiest Alliance.

Meanwhile the North asked the East to send out the scouting party they’d used before as support in their sweep of the Starfields. Already they were moving the Arachnid- and Heron- class Bastions to the border in preparation. The remaining bastions were sent to the bigger planets most vulnerable to alien attack, with their crew on full alert.

At last, after great suffering, war had come to the human worlds.


“Ahhh!” A woman desperately clutched her child, trying to shield it. The purple blade-like edge that pierced her chest, running her and the child through, was unmoved. Two exsanguinated fell lifelessly to the ground.

The horrifying images flashed before them as a holograph. The Skyfire councilmembers clenched their fists as they looked on.
The North had shared the recordings with them, images from the planet they’d lost.

Tragedy couldn’t describe what had happened. It was a slaughter. Not just humans, but every animal and plant was gone, given no quarter. They were like a plague of locusts, devouring everything.

The image frozen in that terrifying moment.

The Wine Master’s drawn, angry face turned to the others.

“You see it, what happened to the North’s citizens. You’ve witnessed their savagery. Even before all-out war their monstrousness is clear. On a day they turned this beautiful planet into a graveyard. If not for the arrival of military vessels, there likely wouldn’t have been a planet to return to. Ten percent of human somehow lived, twenty percent of fauna. Fifty percent of all plants were destroyed. If not for the quick reaction of the Northern army, those progenitors would have devoured every life.

“Judging by the speed with which they took the world, if something isn’t done all human planets will be striped of life in
a year’s time, and most of that time would just be traveling from one place to the other.”

Everyone surrounding the table knew how terrifying the creatures were. After the auction, Skyfire Avenue especially understood the worth of their vital crystals, but these bloody images reminded them of what they were up against.

“I’ll go and help the North scout out the enemy,” Lan Jue said to the Wine Master. He was, after all, the chairman of the Avenue’s council.

The Wine Master’s brows furrowed. “Their sudden appearance, and the force with which they struck, suggests this was a premeditated effort to strike our scouting capabilities. I’ll go with you, and we’ll leave Star Division here to help the military prepare. I recommend we all brace ourselves, war will soon come to the East. These planets’ teleportation capabilities are to be feared.”

Chapter 668: Admiral Kang Hui

The Wine Master looked at Lan Jue. “Jewelry Master, bring the council up to speed on the North’s battle plans.”

He nodded. “All told the North has seven Bastion ships, and are in the process of constructing three more. Right now they’ve sent three of those and five interstellar fleets – a third of their combined military might – to the Shattered Starfields. Their aim is to sweep through the area and clear it of the enemy presence. Although the Starfields are dangerous and complicated, they plan to rely on the firepower from the Bastion and warships to clear a path. But what they really need is to find out where those planets are hiding. Our responsibility will be to deliver that information. I will be going with the Wine Master, Epochrion, Gourmet, Pauper, Pharmacist, and Driver. Our primary role will be scouting and support. Our goals are in line with the North; take the fight to the creatures instead of waiting for them to turn our worlds into battlefields.

“Star Division will remain behind under the command of Chief Officer Su Xiaosu. If any aliens should appear in Eastern territory, her orders are to dispatch Star Division immediately and repel the invaders. In preparation for this Majesty has had its engines upgraded so we can respond as quickly as possible. Our Eastern military also has measures in place for early warning. Their Bastions have been moved inward toward the
center of our territory – specifically near Skyfire, and Taihua. They’re on standby, ready to react at a moment’s notice.

The Wine Master nodded. “We have no time to lose. The Keeper and Bookworm will remain here and handle the Avenue’s dealings.”

It was decided. Most of the Avenue’s strongest would go out as a guerilla scout force, but Star Division would remain behind.

As for the West, one of their two Bastions was under the auspices of Gobi Entertainment’s new Poseidon Corps. Two others were under construction and would be battle-ready soon.

War was on the horizon!


Tyrannosaurus-class Bastion.

Admiral Kang Hui stared at the starmap flickering on his screen. His face was stained with a dark glower.
The Bastion’s commander had once been an Easterner. His parents had immigrated to Luo when he was very young. Even at five years old he’d shown great talent, so they enrolled him in a military school even before he could count. He continued to wow his instructors will his martial brilliance, and at the age of sixteen he graduated and joined the military.

Over the next twenty years he climbed the chain of command, beginning from the bottom as a private and eventually making his way to an admiralship. From there he continued to make his mark on military leadership. Now, at only forty-five, he was one of the ten top commanders of the Northern military, and was commander of the intimidating Tyrannosaurus-class Bastion ship.

He’d been entrusted with leading the North’s military branches into battle against the alien foes. The other bastions guarding the Starfields’ borders were also under his command. This was the same for the five interstellar fleets making up his entourage. He was the head of the beast.

Of course, the head always had a neck telling it where to point.

The North had no option but to mobilize in such force and
respond to the alien attack. The destruction of the planet – Xitu
– had terrified and enraged everyone. Politicians relied on and were beholden to their constituents, who were furious at their failure. Many planets were the backdrop for demonstrations chastising the government for their failure.

Fearing a revolution, the Northern government had to act. On the other hand, the aliens had shown them the scope of their terrible power. In the end the leadership designed this campaign. But it also had an underlying purpose, to capture more vital crystals.

Everything humanity knew about these aliens, every recorded encounter was locked in Kang Hui’s memory, burned into his mind. Still he was anxious at how little they knew. The enemy we don’t know is the hardest to fight.

The videos he’d studied the most was the fall of the Seventh Fleet. He saw how the aliens fought without fear of death, resistant to the weapons man was so proud of. He watched as an alien drank up the blast from a Capital ship like a sip of water. Surely there was a limit to their defenses, but where was the line?

Bastion ships were the pinnacle of humanity’s technology, an
earth-shattering weapon of mass destruction. If they were found to be ineffective, mankind’s troubles were beyond reckoning. If that were the case then they were truly facing an extinction-level event. No matter what they had to strike back as hard as they could, right now.

“Reporting, sir!” A captain loudly called from outside  the door.

“Enter.” He said.

The officer quickly walked to his side. “Admiral, First Fleet has reached its prescribed location. They’re prepared to clear the way.”

“Good.” Kang Hui nodded. If they wanted to strike at the heart of the alien menace they would have to open a path. They would use the overwhelming firepower of their fleet to carve a route.

However, utilizing this method was costly. It would require a lot of firepower and hardy defense to make their way inside. Both drained significant amounts of energy. There weren’t going to be any resupply depots where they were going, so they
only had each other to rely on. It wasn’t as simple as dredging a path, and their exit vanished as they asteroid fields moved through space. That meant they needed enough energy to get back home, too. One could imagine how demanding this was.

There was a reason the Shattered Starfields had been left to pirates, and they knew it. The cost of entering the Starfields to face the pirates outweighed the benefits. However, this time things were different. There was no greater threat to the safety of humankind than these alien invaders. What’s more, the future of humanity lay in the vital crystals borne by this foe. Both politically and from a resources standpoint, this campaign needed to occur.

Kang Hui had recommended the West and East join them for the strike, it just made sense to face the enemy with the combined might of humanity. However the Northern senate vetoed the request. Despite the official response that the North was capable of handling the problem itself, Kang Hui knew their decision was born from greed. They didn’t want to share the spoils of war.

The Eastern auction had been a terrible blow to the pride of the other Alliances. After all, in one day they had acquired enough ships to build a whole fleet! But the crystals they’d acquired were promised to give rise to more Paragons, not to
mention insights into the exuvium process.

The benefits of those crystals was a significant reason in the quick military response. The North had been ready for a fight for the last six months, with all their troops mustered and their ships ready. Now they were headed for the heart of the enemy.

“Admiral, shall we have them open a path?”

He responded by waving his hand. “Hold their ground and await further orders. Has the Eastern scouting party arrived?”

A staff officer broke in. “They should be here in three hours.”

Kang Hui responded. “When they do have their commander get in contact.”

“Aye aye!”

If not for Kang Hui’s insistence they would have had no outside help. However Kang Hui’s merits as a leader spoke volumes, and he knew the worth of combat intelligence. For
such a small squad to learn so much, this mysterious Eastern scouting party had to be something special. If they really could do what they claimed, their addition to this campaign would be invaluable.

Entering the Starfields was a desperate and costly endeavor. If the information from the East was true and these planets could teleport, what would they do if they went in and their target was already gone? Not only did they leave their homeland largely undefended, but the cost of a failed campaign would be staggering. They absolutely had to learn all they could.

On the other hand, Kang Hui was a military man. He was too smart to believe everything these Easterners told him. He had his own scouts to dispatch as well. Over the last day they had tirelessly worked to perfect their battle plan. However none of it could be put into effect until they had more concrete information.

Kang Hui stood up and walked forward. One wall of his office was composed of transparent metal alloy as clear as glass. He looked out over the beautiful expanse of space. He had spent over a third of his life out here, and it had left him with a deep affinity for the cosmos.
It had also blessed him with an intuition that bordered on supernatural. All of his responsibilities weighed on him, but also sharpened his mind and inspired his battle fervor. No matter what, he had been entrusted with the safety of the North
– of all humanity – and he was going to do his job.


Zeus-1 glided behind a guide ship, leading them to the imposing Tyrannosaurus-class Bastion ship ahead. Lan Jue had seen these monstrous war machines before, but had never gotten close.

As he watched the ship come closer, he was filled with a deep esteem. This was a symbol of humanity’s greatness! From a distance it was hard to tell it apart from a planet.

In fact, a lot was similar to a planet during the construction of these ships. The hearts of them were very much like the cores of planets in many ways. They even had their own gravity, comparable to one-third what it had been on Earth.

They were all very well equipped to boot. The living quarters were virtually indistinguishable from a city on a planet’s
surface. Of course their greatest capabilities were in combat. Not typical combat, certainly, for their size made them the ultimate force for destruction. Their weapon systems numbered in the tens of thousands. Be it defense, main guns, secondary weaponry or even its gravitation field, a Bastion ship was built to deliver death.

It is certainly not uncommon for Chinese parents to enroll their children in all manner of pursuits even before they’re able to pay attention to their surroundings. English and various instruments are the favorite. I had students as young as six months old. Often what extra-curricular they choose is based on perceived talent (or arbitrary nonsense, I guess it depends). For example, even though my wife wanted to learn to play piano she was vociferously discouraged. They claimed her fingers were too small.

Chapter 669: Female Officer

Bastion ships were large enough that they could carry a great deal of resources. With a Bastion as part of a deployed fleet, its combat effectiveness doubled. They were the ultimate weapons of war, and where they went destruction followed.

Of course, commanding such power also required resources, a tremendous amount of resources. It was for this reason that the Eastern Alliance was only able to create two in its whole history. It was no coincidence that the North controlled the most resources, and the most Bastion ships.

The Tyrannosaurus-class Bastion did not look like an enormous metal orb. Its exterior was a deep, rich brown. Where it not for the fact it bristled with weapons, it would be very easy to mistake it for a planet. Although it couldn’t transfer like the alien worlds, that did not mean it moved slowly. At top speed it was quite impressive. And like the aliens, the ship could destroy whole planets.

Bastions were beyond divisions. Their ‘class’ distinction was just for naming purposes. However there were differences, largely in size. It went without saying that the mass of the ships were directly correlated to how much damage they could dole out. The larger they were, the more energy they had at their
disposal, and the more weapons they could fit into it.

An example of their dominating endowment were railguns, typically used as planetary installations. Bastions were able to haul these massive weapons into space and employ them in battle. This one, for example, had three thousand six hundred Alpha railguns on board. It was supplemented by five hundred and forty Beta guns and eighty more Gamma-level.

The classification system was best described by comparison. If one used war ships as an analogy then an Alpha railgun packed as much punch as a full volley from a battleship. Beta guns were as destructive as expedition ships. Gamma guns, therefore, matched the output of a Sovereign-class dreadnaught’s main cannon.

In addition to all of that each ship had its ace in the hole; a unique main weapon.

Lan Jue had witnessed the preeminent power of a Bastion ship before. Zeus-1 had just barely escaped it during their trip to the Shattered Starfields so long ago. He remembered how it had cleared a huge area of debris with a single shot.
Tyrannosaurus was the second largest of the North’s seven Bastions. The largest was named after their capital city, Luo. The next closest in size after Tyrannosaurus were Arachnid and Heron, and it was at least three times their mass. Lan Jue had no data on this machine’s main weapon, but he could imagine what kind of devastation it was capable of.

The guide ship leading them in began to reduce speed as they approached Tyrannosaurus. Zeus-1 followed their lead. As they neared one section of the ship opened to reveal a hangar. That was their ultimate destination.

The Driver whistled in appreciation. “This sure as hell gets your attention! After all our cultivating I thought I was strong. Compared to this thing, though, all my strength means nothing.”

He wasn’t wrong. Assuming a straight fight even Jue Di wouldn’t survive an encounter against one of these. A single person’s abilities – no matter how profound – couldn’t stand up against the culmination of science and technology.

As they pulled it they got a better look at it. The surface was bristling with weapons, enough to make a hedgehog jealous. Every one of them sat on a swivel, designed to move and adapt
to any threat. From what Lan Jue remembered during his time in school, control of the railguns wasn’t centralized. They were separated into sectors, each one independently controlled by a team of gunnery soldiers and a commanding officer. Only the Alpha guns were exposed. The locations of the Beta and Gamma guns were unknown until they were engaged for battle.

At least three hundred more hangars existed similar to this one, large enough to accommodate battleships. Fully engaged, ten thousand warships could be launched in three minutes. Each of them were able fighters by themselves.

Zeus-1 followed the guide ship passed the thick hangar doors. Once inside the guts of the ship were a world of metal. The hangar was a huge silver-matte rectangle that didn’t reflect any of the dozens of floodlights overhead. They slowly glided along until they were told where to land.

Before long a verti-car arrived, followed by a cadre of mechas.
They fell into position as the car pulled up to Zeus-1.

The Avenue’s scouting party didn’t include Jue Di this time, he’d chosen to remain behind in seclusion. After all, they weren’t under the command of the Eastern government. Lan Jue told his father that their primary mission was scouting, and
they could keep the adventures to a minimum. Even then Jue Di insisted Luo Xianni accompany them. So, although they didn’t have the firepower they had last time, the scouting party was by no means weak.

Lan Jue was, of course, this crew’s commanding officer. He was supported by Luo Xianni, the Wine Master, Clockmaker, Gourmet, and Pauper. Aside from the Paragons there was also the Driver, Pharmacist and Su Xiaosu who knew more about the Starfields than anyone. A few group, but composed of the strongest Skyfire Avenue could offer.

However theirs would be a quiet power. They discussed it en route to Tyrannosaurus, and agreed that the North would bear the brunt of the burden when it came to combat. The Paragons would only get involved if necessary. Gods only knew what the North was planning, but that was their prerogative. If the Paragons’ help was desperately needed that was fine, but the Bastion’s weapons array could cause more wholesale destruction than any of them could muster!

For these reasons Lan Jue decided not to show the Avenue’s hand if they could avoid it. However, they would  spare  to efforts in scouting for the North and give them the best chances at success. After all, this effort was on behalf of humanity. All prejudices needed to be put aside.
The scouting party disembarked. Clanking metal and hissing gears arose as the mechas snapped to attention. Besides Lan Jue, the others of his team were hidden beneath uniforms and Star Division helmets, concealing their identities.

“We welcome the Eastern representatives to the Tyrannosaurus.” A melodious voice greeted them. The door to the verti-car hissed as it opened, and its passenger exited.

A female officer was revealed to them. She was tall and thin, with fair skin and ruddy cheeks that made her look healthy. Her meticulously pressed military uniform outlined her beguiling figure. The epaulettes on her shoulder marked her as a colonel.

Lan Jue frowned. Although the North didn’t know he’d brought the Paragons, they were aware the team was an arm of Star Division. Yet they only sent a colonel and a small welcoming party. Lan Jue didn’t bother with such details usually, but it showed how little regard the North had for them.

The colonel stepped forward and snapped a salute. “I’m operations staff officer Ling Ya. On behalf of Admiral Kang Hui I’d like to welcome you to Tyrannosaurus. He’s asked that you see him immediately when you arrive.”
Lan Jue was displeased with the apparent snub, but recognized that the alien menace was a more serious matter. He nodded. “Fine. I am Lan Jue, commander of the scout team.” He began walking toward the verticar.

“Wait!” The colonel extended a hand, blocking his path. A small smile spread across her lips.

“Hm?” He looked at her.

“We have to confirm your identities before providing,” she announced. “A physical scan is also required. This is necessary to confirm who you are, and to ensure you don’t bring any dangerous bacteria or viruses on board.”

Lan Jue’s face darkened. “Do you understand what you’re asking, Colonel Ling Ya?”

These were routine practices for soldiers entering a Bastion, but they weren’t any ordinary scouting team. The East certainly would have told them the status of Star Division. Their presence had been requested, to say nothing of the many checks they underwent just to approach Tyrannosaurus. This wasn’t just a slight against the East, it was a show of dominance.
The smile never slipped from her face. “I’m sorry commander Lan Jue. This is routine, don’t make this harder than it has to be.”

Lan Jue smiled as well. He wouldn’t lose his temper with a woman. “It appears as though the North no longer requires our help. As you’ve made clear. We’ll be going.”

Ling Ya’s brows furrowed. She didn’t anticipate he’d make this difficult. “This is unacceptable, commander. We are not making unreasonable requests. We ask for your cooperation, otherwise this exchange will be unpleasant.”

He laughed. Saying nothing further he turned around and headed back toward Zeus-1.

Clank-clank! Two mechas lumbered into view, blocking his path.

Surprised, Lan Jue turned back around and stared at Ling Ya. Her smile was gone, and in its place was a cold glare. “You are on the North’s Tyrannosaurus-class Bastion ship. You may be Easterners but as long as you are here you will submit to our regulations. You are not permitted to come and go as you

“Drama. I like it.” He picked off his helmet as he walked to Lan Jue’s side. “Tell me lady, you think these mechas are gunna stop us?”

The Chinese does use the term 别 which can mean ‘class’ or category.

I probably mentioned this before, but in China lily-white skin is the most prized. My theory is that this was because the peasantry, who had to work out in the fields, were easily discerned by their dark skin scorched by the sun. Those ladies who lived in the lap of luxury were pale because they didn’t have to toil in the fields, so it became a symbol of affluence. Although I have no proof, I also think that the chronic vitamin d deficiencies from being inside all day made them dainty and frail – also traits men find desirable. I contend that women who were anemic were especially prized.

That’s not how military uniforms work.

Which, interestingly, can be very loosely translated as ‘elegant insult.’

Chapter 670: Dazzling Ice Lotus

When she saw the Driver’s rugged, roguish appearance her scowl deepened. “Behave yourself.”

He answered with a shrug. “How well I behave depends on the company. If I’m not getting any respect why should I sow you any?”


A flash of light blinded Ling Ya’s eyes. All she saw was the Driver shoot a hand out, and suddenly the two mechas blocking their path were blasted away. They flew a full tend minutes before striking the metal floor and grinding to a halt.

For half a moment the other mechas were stunned and unmoving. Then the sound of laser weapons revving up filled the hangar, and barrels were pointed their way waiting for the colonel’s command.

“Hold your fire!” Ling Ya screeched. Part of her purpose here was to test the scouts’ grit but she didn’t want to start a real firefight. That would surely cause irrevocable consequences.
“Yeah, come to their rescue.” The Driver had suddenly reappeared in front of Ling Ya. He fixed her with his hard eyes, bolts of purple lightning dancing in their depths.

She staggered back a step but quickly regained her composure. A pale white light surrounded her, and as she spoke her words were hard but the tone was cowardly. “How dare you cause trouble aboard this Bastion! We’ll have you court martialed!”

His eyebrows shot up. “Court martial? For your Northern army? Grand! Give me the invitation and I’d be happy to play around with your stuffed suits for a little while. Now I’m tired of your poor reception. Let us in, or don’t be surprised if I lose my temper. And if you can’t do that then call someone who can.”

Soldier temperaments were rarely on an even keel. Ling Ya especially, as a twenty-something officer who earned her place on Tyrannosaurus. She lost her composure and in response the white aura around her flared. Instantly the temperature dropped. Her skin became as clear as ice, her black hair white as snow. Rising into the air she was surrounded by pulses of energy that were surprisingly strong.

But she wasn’t looking at the Driver. Her eyes were fixed on
Lan Jue. “Commander, I know you walked away as Champion of the Grand Adept tournament. It’s a shame I couldn’t participate, being a member of the arm. Now we have a chance to see if I could have beaten you. If you can best me, your scouting team can proceed without verification.”

“Just you?” Another voice answered her, and another figure stepped up to stand by Lan Jue’s side. When their helmet was revealed, Su Xiaosu’s face was revealed.

“Beat me, then you might have what it takes to challenge the boss.” She didn’t mince words. Even before she was  done talking the Morning Star rose into the air. A corona of golden light radiated out like the heavens were opening behind her. She flicked her wrist and a whip of crackling gold light lashed out at Ling Ya.

Her answer was to sniff dismissively. Her arms spread out, a spear having appeared in her hand. Ling Ya was born as genetic anomaly, her Discipline awakening at the moment of her birth. This was considered congenital Talent and  meant  her cultivation was far superior to a normal Adept’s. As a result she was a ninth level seventh rank Talent at such a young age, and what’s more was one of the few in Northern military service whose body was uncorrupted by technology.
Ling Ya had volunteered for this assignment. She was one of their crack fighters as well as a respected staff officer. Her rank was not indicative of her abilities nor her station here on Tyrannosaurus. She was a rising star in the North, to be certain.

When she’d heard that the scouting team was headed by commander Lan Jue – the same Lan Jue that had won the Great Adept Tournament – she was filled with a burning desire to test herself against him. She got her wish when the Admiral hinted for her to feel out their abilities. Ultimately this was the inspiration behind her tough and somewhat demeaning greeting.

Ling Ya extended her spear and all the chill that had filled the air vanished, gathered into a single point. In the instant her spear and the whip met, all of that icy power raced through Su Xiaosu’s weapon and toward her body.

Remember, Su Xiaosu was once the Moonfiend Empress – Morning Star to the Pontiff. Though she was meek in her dealings with Lan Jue, her persona was entirely different when confronting a foe. She flicked her wrist and the bullwhip separated into countless copies of itself. Meanwhile a sheath of blazing fire covered each leather crop. It burned away Ling Ya’s icy power without effort. Ling Ya barely had time to react before the whip was on her again.
Holy Fire!

Ling Ya retreated, brandishing her spear. It lashed out too quick to follow, blocking each strand of Su Xiaosu’s whip as they came. Their clash was loud and constant like the beat of a war drum.

The Driver stood beside Lan Jue, watching the exchange. “It’s hard to say, but this little one’s tough! Ninth level seventh rank, maybe.”

Lan Jue concurred. “Seems about right. She was sent to test us. I didn’t think it was the North’s style, but if that’s what they want we’ll give them a show.”

Ling Ya and Su Xiaosu were about even in Discipline, but when it came to combat experience the Moonfiend Empress had the upper hand. She was a product of the Pontiff’s Citadel, and later carved out a realm of her own in the Shattered Starfields. A veteran of at least one hundred battles, what enemy would be new to her? Ling Ya’s Ice Discipline was strong, but Xiaosu’s Holy Light was no less potent.

As their contest continued Xiaosu slowly began to get the
upper hand. The crack of her golden whip knocked away Ling Ya’s spear again and again. No matter how the colonel struck, on which direction she attacked from, breaking the Morning’s Star’s defenses seemed fruitless.

Just then Ling Ya stopped. With a grunt she thrust the head of her spear into the ground in front of her. As the icy weapon buried itself in the ground her body became illusory. All of a sudden the hangar was filled with a vacuum force that pulled everything toward that spear, like it was the center of a black hole. Cold power coalesced around it, creating beautiful petals of glittering ice.

Dazzling Ice Lotus!

Once Ling Ya realized her victory would not come easy, she began to reveal her real power!

The temperature dropped by a hundred degrees in an instant. Hoarfrost grew along the metal frames of the mechas as they looked on in silent vigil. Su Xiaosu found herself unable to shake the traction, and each second brought her inexorably closer to the deadly sharp lotus petals.
Xiaosu reacted quickly. The hand holding the whip lifted and the motion brought her whole body up into the air. Her arm whipped around to make the whip coil in subsonic circles around her body. Her body continued to release a flood of brazen holy light that filled every corner of the hangar.

All of a sudden six resplendent wings extended from her spine. Hovering majesty above the crowd the whip she bore became a blade that glowed with divine power.

A column of light that seemed cast from heaven itself was cast down onto the Dazzling Ice Lotus. In response the cutting petals folded inward as though to meet the holy light.

Two powerful manifestations of energy met, and their collision caused the ground to shake. Even though the Bastion was constructed of the strongest alloys, it still could only just bear the load of two ninth-level Talents.

“Hold!” A booming voice rang through the area, bringing with it a flood of invisible power. Where it swept by reality warped. To witness it was marvelous, and the power it bore was impressive. As the waves of distortion swept by, both the Dazzling Ice Lotus and the column of divine light vanished – dissolved into nothing.
Surprise glimmered in Lan Jue’s eye. This was surely a unique Discipline, and strong if it could overwhelm two ninth level Adepts. Attaining such potency even before reaching protogenic levels spoke volumes to its strength.

Su Xiaosu performed a backflip in midair, tumbling back to earth at Lan Jue’s side. Ling Ya reappeared as well. A cloud of ice particles coiled around her.

He was a man in his forties, the one who’d interrupted them. Twinkling insignias on his shoulder board revealed him to be a Major General. Short-cut blond hair sharply contrasted with his ruddy, bronzed skin. A gleaming intelligence was clear in his eyes.

“Ling ya, apologize to commander Lan Jue. He and his party are guests on the Tyrannosaurus and you let your pride get out of hand. Later you’ll be choosing your own punishment!” His voice was harsh, but a look at his face showed them to be insincere.

The hard look on her face melted away. She turned to Lan Jue. “I apologize, commander. I was too aggressive. Please forgive me.”
The middle-aged newcomer gave him no chance to respond, stepping up to face him. He snapped a salute. “Welcome aboard, commander Lan Jue. I am under-secretary in charge of combat operations here on Tyrannosaurus, Wu Qiu. I’d like to apologize for the actions of my colleagues.”

Lan Jue replied with a smile. He was well aware this was a test, and once their abilities were confirmed the charade was abandoned. Classic good-cop, bad-cop.

“It’s no problem, a misunderstanding I’m sure. I assume you’re happy with our qualifications?”

Wu Qiu was impressed. Lan Jue looked young – no more than thirty, perhaps – and yet was not only a champion Adept, but cool-headed as well. He was even-tempered in praise and humiliation. A rare quality in a person!

“Please, commander!” He stepped to the side and swept his hand out, opening the way.

Lan Jue nodded, signaled his companions, and headed for the verti-car.
Wu Qiu shot Ling Ya a hard, brief look then followed. Ling Ya had accomplished her mission, but she was not intended to use the full strength of her ninth level Talent. This was a Bastion ship! Who knew what damage they could cause?

Ling Ya was not the least bit frightened of the secretary. She stuck her tongue out at him and feigned a pitiful look.

Wu Qiu scowled helplessly but didn’t stop her when she got into the car. Thankfully Northern verti-cars were spacious, with room enough to fit up to twenty passengers.

The doors closed and they gently lifted into the air. They maneuvered through a portal that granted them entry further into the ship, then picked up speed.

“Commander Lan.” Wu Qiu smiled as he turned slightly in his seat to face him. “I really would like to apologize for all that. On behalf of the Tyrannosaurus.”

“Now that the misunderstanding has been cleared up there’s no more reason to speak on it,” he assured. “Colonel Ling Ya displayed considerable skill.”
There was a TV show my wife used to watch with her parents when we’d visit on Sundays. I don’t remember the name, but it was about a soldier woman during the Cultural Revolution. She was basically portrayed as a housewife in uniform, and demure and ‘cutesie’ as a teenager. It was pretty ridiculous.
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