Chapter 741: Shut the Hell Up
Retaking a planet took time. In the meantime, there might be lives to save.
This fight was different from the ones they’d engaged in before. The aliens they fought before were infected mutations controlled by progenitors. They were weaker, mindless creatures. This time they were battling real aliens, doughtier foes who wouldn’t go down so quickly. It was important not to forget that there were some creatures among them strong enough for interstellar flight. When the railguns were up and running, their goal would be to deal with those.
“Aye, aye!” Lin Guoguo replied. Immediately a pale golden aura sprang up around her suit.
As she had grown stronger, so too had her psionic capabilities. With the help of her mecha she was able to scan a vast area without much effort. Lan Jue had some psychic abilities of his own, but they weren’t near as discerning as Lin Guoguo’s. To him human signatures would easily be lost among the sea of angry alien minds, so the task fell to his Amazon.
Star Division swiftly and effectively fight through their
enemies, making safety a priority. Lan Jue had commanded that teams were to proceed in twos to watch each others’ backs. They were to maintain close defensive formations as they searched.
Specifically, they maintained a flying wedge formation. This allowed them to change directions quickly and attack in any direction. It was also stable and defensible.
As had been the case from the beginning, teams were led by stronger Adepts. At the heads of the triangle were ninth level or Higher Adepts who, with their mechas, were more than a match for any normal alien they came across.
Tang Xiao led his team at the head of the brigade. His tactics had evolved from the rolling ball of destruction from before. Although it was effective, it was also slow. Him and his team kept close and followed the structure outlined by his superiors.
One of the creatures came charging their war, a beast that looked like a lion. However, the similarities to a typical lion were scarce. The alien corruption was a hundred meters long with a fierce and frightening air. Its front legs were thick as oak trees. At a glance the human fighters knew it would be a tougher one to kill.
“Ey? This one kind of looks like Jin Tao! More handsome, though.” Tang Xiao’s voice was teasing and condescending, but he didn’t waste time. His mecha was the first one to race forward.
“What noise is this piggie making now?!” Jin Tao’s angry voice crackled through the communicator.
Although their constant bickering would lend one to believe otherwise, the two young men worked marvelously together. Both their squads had only improved over time and performed excellently.
“I’m going in first!” Tang Xiao cackled. His mecha was already blasting forward at top speed toward the lion-like monstrosity.
The beast responded with a guttural roar. It lifted one of its front paws to swipe at the squad leader.
Within his cockpit Tang Xiao chuckled darkly. His pudgy mecha didn’t juke or dodge and simply let the attack come. What followed was a strange scene. All of a sudden, Tang Xiao fell from the sky. It tumbled out of control like it’d been knocked out of commission, though there were no signs of
damage. When the lion struck it, the suit stuck to its paw like a piece of melted candy. Then, it dissolves into a liquid and slithered up its leg.
The lion, surprised and confused, roared at its arm. Like a cat with tape stuck to its foot the beast kicked and swiped the offended limb to try and flee itself, to no avail!
Another roar thundered through the area, though this one was not from the creature. Another lion joined the fray, smaller than the first and made of metal. It launched itself at the alien like a pale yellow thunderbolt and landed on its head.
“Don’t steal my kill!” Tang Xiao shouted.
“Does it have your name on its forehead?” Jin Tao fired teasing barbs back at his rival as they fought together.
Although Jin Tao’s mecha was much smaller that its opponent, the energy it put out was staggering. A blinding yellow aura hung over its metallic body. Glinting alloy claws dug into the monster’s head.
Just then, a host of metallic spikes shot through the monster’s mandible from below.
“Mine!” Jin Tao and Tang Xiao shouted in unison.
Jin Tao pulled his claws apart, tearing open the alien’s forehead. But he didn’t find what he was looking for.
Tang Xiao laughed victoriously. In a flash his fat mecha suit was on the ground again and in formation. He waved his hand at Jin Tao, a glittering vital crystal clutched within.
“Goddamn, gloating are we?”
“So? I made the first move, it was your greedy ass that tried to take it from me! I’m just making sure you know you failed.” Tang Xiao, as usual, knew how to push the right buttons.
“Shit, I loathe you!” Jin Tao howled.
“Move aside and stay out of my way.” Tang Xiao cackled as he and his team shot forward.
They continued to rag on one another as they fought.
“Will the two of you give it a rest? Shut the hell up!” The harsh voice immediately silenced the two young men. The only one who had that kind of pull over them was Tang Mi!
Tang Mi understood the dynamic between Jin Tao and her older brother. They were natural rivals, but although they loved to trade barbs they fought well together. All this talk of kill- stealing was nonsense. Both of them had agreed to share the credit for their teams’ exploits before the battle. What purpose did their bickering serve? None, but they couldn’t get enough of it. They were quiet for now, but their bickering was endless.
A bolt of lightning tumbled from the sky, killing a beast that was lurking underground near the squad. That kill belonged to the Driver, to ensure his people didn’t fall into its trap.
Skyfire Avenue surged ahead, overcoming all obstacles. But
Lan Jue face grew darker with every inch forward. They were strong, and their progress was fast. In part, this was due to the help of Lan Jue and the two other captains. Yet Lin Guoguo could find no trace of human consciousness.
This made Lan Jue’s heart sink. It meant it was likely all humans have been wiped out before they’d arrived. Swallowed up and used as fuel for the aliens’ evil plans. It also made him uneasy, since their long-range telescopes had certainly picked out human on Monteux. So why were they pulling humans onto the planet’s surface to fight? If there was some plot, the enemy was going to move on it soon.
Boom–! An explosion rang out, and an alien fell from the sky.
Railgun fire! Installations were going ahead as planned. It was good news – the first success opened the door for the second.
Right now, Lan Jue’s job was to make sure Star Division didn’t get in too deep. Some aliens were too much even for mechas. They were the sort that were capable of fighting out in space, and were too dangerous for Division soldiers to take on by themselves.
This was also why Lan Jue wasn’t in the thick of it. He had to save his energy for that eventuality. He wasn’t there to fight, just to make sure things went smoothly. Star Division had to be protected.
Monteux’s recapturing continued without a problem. Losses were kept low. However, the other two planets were less fortunate.
A huge number of aliens had waited for them to land. Once they did, the humans were immediately thrown into a frenzied and intense battle for their lives.
For the North, Terminator and Chu Cheng were responsible for a planet each. However their numbers were limited, and they were losing men to overwhelming enemy forces. Close to one fourth of their soldiers were shot down on the approach, and only about half of those survived the crash. The waiting alien forces set upon them the second they got out of their ships.
Thankfully things were looking good out in space. Humanity’s forces had taken control of most of the area. Those aliens which hid behind the planets didn’t dare stick their heads over the horizon. The moment they did human cannon fire blew them apart.
Admiral Kang Hui stood in his office, sternly giving orders. “Turn on the scanners. Find those planets.”
The eight bastions closed in, but kept their distance from the front lines.
Kang Hui had anticipated the ground forces finding resistance. By Kang Hui’s estimations most if not all of the humans on these planets were gone. Callous as it was, it meant they should have been using their ships to pummel the surface with orbital fire. Even the weaker ships were capable enough to clear out large numbers of aliens at a time.
But the pressure was too great. The people wouldn’t have it! And he understood their thought process; if they were willing to sacrifice their people now, who’s to say they wouldn’t be the next one Northern guns were turned on? So, it was decided for them that survivors had to be rescued at all costs. However this tied the military’s hands, and cost them the lives of their soldiers.
Thankfully, though, things still seemed under control.
The eight bastions came ever nearer while the fleets cleared
the way ahead. Kang Hui couldn’t think of any tricks the enemy could use to turn the situation around.
Chapter 742: I’ll Decide What’s Permitted!
“Increase artillery support to the ground teams, except for Monteux. Allow nearby ships to provide cover fire for our troops.” Kang Hui ordered.
“Admiral, that won’t be permitted. There are…” His first officer timidly interjected.
Kang Hui’s response was cool and unyielding. “I’ll decide what’s permitted. Are you saying our soldiers aren’t people, too? If we keep this up, how many will die before we take the planets? Follow orders, soldier!”
“Sir!” The officer had no choice, in battle the Admiral’s orders were to be obeyed above all else unless directly contradicted by superiors. But in a battle this crucial, what was the likelihood of that? Nothing was more important than remove this threat to humanity. The military leaders would all stand behind Kang Hui’s decision.
They could see the cover fire increase from space. Things started going smoother on the three planets almost immediately.
“Sir, railguns have been installed on Monteux. Four of them so far. So far the East has handled their mission well.” Finally, some good news.
“Have admiral Lan send over his data.”
A few minutes later satellite images from the Eastern fleet started coming in. He looked upon the ground team’s progress in silence.
What power! What overwhelming power! With no more than ten people they were protecting the whole ground assault team. Of course, those ten people were Paragons!
Inwardly Kang Hui sighed. He had been told in no uncertain terms that if this gambit was a success, to turn their weapons on the other Alliances. But Kang Hui was a smart man, and he had seen the power of these Paragons with his own eyes. Everyone one of them was capable of bringing Armageddon on their heads. That was even before they considered Jue Di. Provoking him would be begging for death.
The leadership simply didn’t understand. The East’s rise wasn’t something they could prevent. What they should be doing is working to maintain a good relationship with them.
Strength has always been the way of the universe and the path to dominance. For the sake of humanity, Eastern prosperity wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Besides, Kang Hui had Eastern blood, and after this fight he would undoubtedly be one of the strongest voices in the military. He would work for cooperation rather than aggression.
Kang Hui was honestly a little nervous ever since Admiral Lan brought his An Lun army. Middle Heaven was a staggering sight to behold, even larger than Terminator had been. As for how much carnage it could produce, they could only imagine.
Whatever capabilities it had, the East’s latest bastion was undoubtedly stronger than it looked. He didn’t trust its cumbersome speed, either. Why keep the stony exterior that slowed it down so much? It wasn’t like remodeling the planet’s surface would have been difficult for modern technology.
It was impressive enough as a feat of engineering – the first planet to be turned into a Bastion!
He hoped there would be an opportunity for them to see what Middle Heaven could do. Militarily, the implications of a super- bastion frightened and excited him.
“Tell the Admiral to take control of the planet as quickly as he can.” Kang Hui said.
Lan Qing was, of course, aboard the massive bastion that used to be his base planet. He was watching after the ground crew, but what Kang Hui didn’t know was that Lan Qing had already ordered his fleet to prepare for attacks from ‘friendly’ forces. When Monteux was under their control, the ships would move in to defend their people.
This was, however, only a defensive maneuver. He didn’t anticipate much trouble, not least because of his father’s presence. If Jue Di didn’t have to watch his power consumption, he could destroy a planet by himself.
He watched the screens as data continued to stream it. It looked like everything was still going well on the ground.
“Have we found anyone alive?” He asked his brother.
“So far, nothing,” Lan Jue replied. “I think it was a ploy by the aliens. But why would they want to lure us to a fight on the planet’s surface?”
Lan Qing answered confidently. “Don’t think too much about it. You need to focus on taking over your sector. Leave the rest to me.”
“Bro. Come on, do you need to be so harsh all the time?” Lan Jue joked.
Lan Qing paused for a moment. “This is war. You should call me Admiral.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “You need to relax. When we finish this fight I’m gonna tell dad to find you a girlfriend. It’s a’out time you started a family.”
Lan Qing’s face turned hard and hostile. “Get back to the fight!”
Lan Jue cut the connection, suddenly in a better mood. He’d been nervous before, so nervous he forgot something important. Who was his brother? Prometheus the Wise! If Lan Jue had foreseen a problem, of course his brother had!
The situation still wasn’t clear to him, but further consideration would have to wait until they finished taking the planet. The alien home worlds still had the opportunity to surprise them.
So far, while the aliens were many they hadn’t come across the stronger breeds. The truly powerful ones he feared to see were as strong as the Paragons. Lan Jue was sure the aliens weren’t lacking in that class of powerhouse. But where were the Violet Prince and Princess, or others like them? What about Monarch?
The fact they weren’t on the field meant things were only getting started.
“Boss, I sense something.” Lin Guoguo announced.
Lan Jue’s eyes lit up. “Where?”
“I’ll take you,” she said. Without wasting any more time she urged her mecha toward the horizon.
Lan Jue followed close behind. The Driver and Pharmacist remained behind to look after Star Division.
As Lin Guoguo led the way she ignored the aliens that charged for them, attempting to block their path. Bolt after bolt of All- Haven lightning turned them to ash before they got close. The vital crystals left behind were swept up as they flew passed.
In the distance, the shell of a city came into view. Even from this distance, though, they could see signs of corrosion on its towering buildings. It looked like the whole thing had been devoured and digested. It’d been stained purple by the ordeal.
Lin Guoguo gasped. “These absolute bastards!” How many people used to live in this city? How many of their compatriots had become fuel for these monsters?
Guoguo’s senses led them to a building that looked like it may once have been a church. “In there,” she said. “I can sense about ten life forms… humans.”
Lan Jue was suddenly serious. “Wait here. I’ll take a look.”
“Boss, be careful,” she urged.
Lan Jue, though, changed tack. “Never mind, come with me. Pack up your mecha.” He didn’t feel comfortable leaving her outside by herself. They were deep in enemy territory, and a powerful creature could appear from any corner. She was safest by his side. He left Thor’s cockpit.
“Alright!” She answered before appearing before her mecha in a flash of light. Both of them stored their suits.
Lan Jue went down to ground level, but didn’t place his feet on the poisoned earth. He remained hovering about a meter above it. Lin Guoguo was a step behind him.
Lan Jue surveyed the building with a scowl. He spread his hands, and a gentle power emanated from him to push open the corroded doors. A rotten scent exuded from within the building. A pale blue light sprung up from within him to protect both he and Guoguo from the toxic cloud.
“In there,” she confirmed.
Lan Jue entered.
The interior of the building had fared better than its façade, but a carpet of poison purple blanketed the floor. The aliens’ sickness would not be denied by walls.
The interior was spacious and stretched far back. There, at the end of the room, was huddled a group of people. They looked at Lan Jue and Lin Guoguo.
Could there really still be people alive in here? When the thought crossed his mind, suddenly Lan Jue felt an abiding unease. They did feel like humans, but their reactions were strange. That was to say, they were completely emotionless. Something definitely wasn’t right.
The destitute people scrambled to their feet and raced toward Lan Jue.
“Save us. Save us!” They shouted the words as they raced forward. They moved quickly across the carpet of purple,
seemingly unfazed by its corrosive properties.
Lan Jue felt stricken. He didn’t move.
The light within the church dimmed. When they got close, Lan Jue could see that their eyes had turned deep violet. They felt like humans, but they were not themselves.
Controlled? Could they be saved?
He was still lost in thought when the closest one leapt up at him.
“Boss, be careful!”
BOOM! The victim erupted in a grotesque explosion of purple blood and flesh.
They use a phrase which means, roughly, ‘let the leadership deal with it when we’re not in time of war.
Chapter 743: Progenitor
Lan Jue felt his shield shiver. The explosion was much more intense than he imagined. The other people detonated as well, one after the other. Lin Guoguo and Lan Jue were caught in the middle.
The intensity was enough to reduce a mecha suit to ruin. However, at Lan Jue’s level of cultivation it posed no danger to him. He sensed the corrosive nature of the explosion immediately, but more important was the surge of psychic energy that followed. These people weren’t alive, they were just mimicking a particular psychic pulse. In fact there was a sense of relief when their tortured existence passed.
The aliens were truly evil creatures! Lan Jue’s hands curled into fists.
They left the church and returned to their mecha’s cockpits.
“Attention Star Division. All soldiers listen up, this is commander Lan Jue. If you discover any signatures of human
life, do not approach. Keep your distance. We’ve discovered…”He shared the awful experience with his teams then did the same with Lan Qing.
It seemed their original feelings had been correct and the chances of human life remaining here were slim. The aliens had taken the whole planet, so there would be no place for humans to hide. Any humans the long-range telescopes discovered were likely these booby-trapped puppets.
“Be careful and continue your mission.” Lan Qing urged his brother. When they hung up he immediately opened a connection to Tyrannosaurus.
“Admiral Kang Hui, this is Lan Qing.”
“Admiral, what is it?” Kang Hui looked upon the screen, surprised by the young heroic face that greeted him. He was continually impressed with the man, whether it was his mannerisms, command or abilities. Kang Hui felt that An Lun’s commander was one of the best military minds alive today.
Lan Qing shared his brother’s information.
As he listened, Kang Hui’s face turned dark and angry.
“Admiral, it’s clear there are no more humans on the planet’s surface that aren’t soldiers. We should begin pummeling the planet with orbital fire to reduce casualties and take the planets faster. Have you discovered anything about the alien planets?”
Kang Hui replied. “Nothing yet. There’s too much interference to see anything behind the human worlds. I agree with your assessment but I can’t order a full bombardment. The military leadership and parliament would not allow it. If I gave the order it would immediately be rescinded by my superiors. I hope you understand my predicament.”
Lan Qing fell silent. Then he nodded. “I won’t trouble you, Admiral.” He knew it was risky even for Kang Hui to tell him as much as he had. The North was in a precarious position. Although it would make their jobs easier, laying down fire on one of their own planets would do irreparable damage to the psyche of the Northern people. In a sensitive time like this with humanity on the path to success, he couldn’t force that order to be given.
The operation must continue! Everyone would just have to give their best.
Lan Jue returned to the front lines. Star Division had continued to press ahead without meeting any serious resistance. The enemy’s numbers had begun to thin. They weren’t as tightly pressed as they had been at the landing zone. Meanwhile Lan Jue’s people had acquired quite a number of vital crystals, but the aliens had also begun to change up tactics.
The ground beneath them started to churn. Whenever an alien fell its crystal was folded into the poisoned earth and swallowed up. Already this simple change helped the aliens recover a hundred crystals. Clearly the enemy knew they were in danger of losing their power source.
They had to find the progenitor. Killing it would revert the land back to normal and give them the advantage.
Just then, a sound caught Lan Jue’s ear.
“Left flank, forty-five degrees. Straight ahead six thousand seven hundred kilometers.”
It was a familiar voice. Jue Di.
Six thousand seven hundred kilometers? That was the other side of the planet. Lan Jue was starting to understand. His enemy really was clever. The progenitor was hiding on the back side of the planet away from the human ships, beneath a crowd of space-faring aliens! With so many powerful aliens protecting it, would killing the progenitor be as easy as he thought?
If things weren’t looking good for them, it was far less favorable on the other battlefields. They also had the planet’s rotation to consider. Each of the planets moved slowly, but they did move. Eventually they would be brought right to where their enemy was waiting out in space, putting them in a dangerous position.
“Admiral Lan, I request air support. The progenitor has been located on the far side of the planet. Soon the planet’s rotation will bring us within striking distance of the enemy’s strongest. We need to kill that progenitor as soon as possible. “ Lan Jue firmly made his request.
“Alright!” Lan Qing answered immediately.
Kang Hui had said he would decide what was needed in the heat of battle. The same went for the East, and they didn’t need to follow Northern orders when their own people were at risk.
So long as the situation warranted, Lan Qing would command his own troops directly.
Five of the fleets attached to Eastern command began to move. Three surged ahead while the remaining two swept around to approach from the flank.
Back on the planet, Lan Jue called out his orders. “Fall back!”
Star Division could continue to press forward. If they wanted to kill the progenitor, the three commanders weren’t going to be enough.
Star Division’s flying-v formations changed direction and began an orderly retreat. Lan Jue, the Driver, and the Pharmacist covered their retreat to make sure none of their people were left behind or harassed. They fought their way back to the landing zone quickly.
By the time they got back Lan Jue was feeling more relaxed. Twenty railguns had been installed on the high ground. The arteries of the progenitor hadn’t snuck back in from below.
Twenty railguns was enough to ward off a dreadnaught. Aside from the railguns, their engineers had also constructed a makeshift base with secondary defensive weapons in case the enemy chose to attack them there.
Paragons from the Vanguard squad had also started to return after Lan Jue’s order to retreat. They returned with the most vital crystals. A progenitor’s tricks and bucking earth wasn’t enough to keep the crystals from their grip. You couldn’t snatch food from the jaws of a tiger.
“We found the general location of the progenitor, but it’s on the other side of the planet. If we go at it directly we’ll have to fight our way through their strongest alien defenders. We need to bring enough power to match them. Once we take the progenitor out we can take the planet.” Lan Jue told them his thought process.
The Wine Master nodded. “Sounds good. What’s your plan?”
Lan Jue explained. “The lives of our people are important. We’ve established ourselves here, so we’ll leave Star Division to cooperate with An Lun’s people and make sure this place stays safe and to extend the green zone. We’ll go, kill the target, then come back.”
“Alright,” the Wine Master replied. “Who’s coming with you?”
Lan Jue thought for a moment. “This is a sneak attack, so we don’t want a lot of people but we need enough power to get the job done. It’ll be me, you, the Clockmaker, Driver and Pharmacist. The five of us should be enough. You and the Clockmaker will keep us safe, and the three of us will lead the way.”
The Wine Master nodded. “So be it. The others will stick to the plan.”
Star Division’s standing orders had been to save any survivors, but they didn’t seem to be likely any more. They would better serve here, helping to spread their base and clear out the enemy. The first wave of ships had brought a hundred railguns that needed to be installed. Once they were, humanity would have a mighty staging area to work from. More guns were also on the way, and installing them had to be a priority. Under their protection the ground forces would be fine even once the planets rotated into the line of fire.
“I’m going with you!” Luo Xianni appeared before Lan Jue.
“Mom, your condition…”
She chuckle at his concern. “Relax, I’m fine. I’m not your father, I’m not affected as much by the restrictions. Besides, if you don’t need my help then I won’t do anything, just make sure you’re safe. If we run into a strong enemy then you have back-up. It’s fine, your father is also keeping an eye out.”
“Alright, then we have no time to lose. Let’s go!” Lin Guoguo was waiting nearby with a small verti-car she’d brought from Zeus-1.
Everyone climbed in. Of course, the Driver was given the controls. As his name implied, he was adept behind the wheel.
Although a verti-car wasn’t as fast as a Paragon, this one was equipped with a Blinding Stone. Perfecto for the covert nature of their mission. Lin Guoguo also went with them, pairing her psionic obfuscation with their Blinding Stone to make them practically invisible. Once the verti-car was up in the air, it was like it never existed.
Under the Driver’s expert control the verti-car tore through the air, agile as a swallow and faster than any normal driver
could manage. He was pushing the vehicle to its limit.
Lin Guoguo flooded the area with her psychic powers, she didn’t need an amplifier in this case. The car was small enough for her to hide without much effort.
The car was only big enough for eight people. Lan Jue and the Driver were up front. Even at Lan Jue’s level of strength he felt dizzy as the car sped along. The Driver was pulling out all the stops. Aliens filled the sky but the Driver dodged among them like he was doing it for fun.
At first this didn’t make much sense to me, but I was probably tired. In the event the explanation isn’t clear, a host of aliens is waiting in space on the far side of the planet, hiding from the human ships on the other side. As the planet rotates, Lan Jue and his team on the ground and slowly being brought to the far side and thus right below where the alien space horde is waiting.
This leads me to think he did mean the other planets would rotate their back toward Monteux and somehow put Star Division in danger.
Chapter 744: Space-Time Solidification
Monteux’s landscape flit by below them as they raced for the other side of the planet. It would be about three hours at this speed before they reached the progenitor.
“There aren’t as many aliens as I thought there’d be,” Lan Jue noted through a scowl.
“Mh. I noticed that, too.” The Wine Master replied.
When they made their landing the aliens had stretched as far as the eye could see. However, now as they flew into the far side of the planet where they were anticipating denser numbers, they found the opposite. That wasn’t to say their foes were few, but they weren’t overwhelming either.
“Could they have fled to get away from the railguns?” The Pharmacist pondered out loud.
The Clockmaker nodded her head. “That’s a possibility. Maybe they’re relying on the planet’s rotation to keep them out of firing range while they wait to take the offensive. After all, it will take time for any ships of ours to make it here. The faster
ones will have to wait for the others to catch up to perform their sneak attack.”
Lan Jue added to her determination. “That’s why the war council was so adamant about retaking the planets. They make a strong launch point and rear guard to protect us from alien trickery.”
“Yes. We’ll think more on this when we’ve dealt with the Progenitor!” The Wine Master said.
Star Division’s strike team penetrated further into enemy territory. Alien numbers increased, but only marginally. After an hour they had begun to come around to the other hemisphere of the planet. Here the atmosphere thickened to the point where vision was impaired, but not enough for them to fail to note that their enemies were increasing. A few stretched over five hundred meters long.
“It looks like we were right.” The Driver watched as the monsters zoomed passed their windows.
“Drive carefully. We mustn’t be discovered.” Lan Jue warned.
This earned a chuckle from his friend. Relax, I’d lose face if we were discovered. Won’t happen.”
Indeed the Driver’s technique was flawless. Even as the air became more heavily dotted with lumbering alien bodies, he effortlessly flew among and around them.
“I’ll lead the strike.” The Pharmacist growled.
Lan Jue nodded. Aside from Luo Xianni and Jue Di, the Pharmacist was the one to turn to if they needed to cut down a host of enemies quickly. It was the same for Lan Jue and Qianlin’s Harmonious Swords. The Pharmacist was the natural choice for leading the attack.
Alien numbers held steady, though they couldn’t be sure since it was impossible to see the situation above the atmosphere. An inexplicable tenseness filled the humans. Some of the beasts were over a thousand meters long, and had the fighting capabilities of a dreadnaught. Occasionally they spotted some three thousand meters or more, and they could square up against Paragons. The largest one Lan Jue spotted was five thousand meters long.
It still troubled him that the Violet Prince and Princess’ whereabouts were unknown. They were the most terrifying foes they would face. They were in the lion’s den, and if they showed up fleeing would be difficult.
The further they went, the more tense the atmosphere became.
Below the ground had gone from pale lavender to deep purple. Thick veins the size of felled tree trunks slithered across the surface in a singular direction. They undulated rhythmically like they were swallowing something. The progenitor’s presence made Monteux look like a giant organism. Rather, like a parasite had taken over, and was draining the planet of its essence.
The predatory nature of these monsters was terrifying to behold.
Lan Jue’s eyes blazed with determination. If the Prince or Princess showed, he would face them with the Harmonious Swords.
“That should be it!” He swung the car around suddenly and
the screens fixated on a single image. All eyes went to the picture; a mountainous feature at the center of the pulsing veins. It rose over a hundred meters tall and its body was such a deep purple as to almost be black. The veins slithered around it like the arms of an enormous octopus. They rose to the mountain’s apex and pointed high into the air.
“Are they siphoning power to their homeworlds?” Lan Jue said in surprise.
Luo Xianni watched the screen with a frown. “They don’t look thick enough. They would have to be larger if they were to span space. There has to be a middle-man somewhere transferring energy to the planets.”
A cold light flit through the Pharmacist’s eyes. “Is this it?”
She didn’t need to ask, it was the progenitor, the strongest one Lan Jue had ever seen. The aura around it was no less fierce than a Paragon. Overhead no less than five three-thousand meter long aliens hovered, with a host of smaller ones between. They formed a formidable wall of defense. That’s why the Driver had swung the car so dramatically. There was no gap to get closer!
Lan Jue turned around and looked at his companions. “We don’t have many opportunities to get this done. Things look alright down here, but we don’t know the situation above the cloud cover. We need to kill this thing as fast as possible and flee before the enemy can react.”
Luo Xianni smirked. “Luckily momma came with you. I can handle all of this. The rest of you focus on killing that ugly thing. The Wine Master will get us back when the job is done, and I’ll handle battlefield control.”
Such a dominant temperament! A host of terrifying beasts milled outside their window, but all Luo Xianni had to say was she would take care of ‘battlefield control.’
Lan Jue nodded toward the Pharmacist. “I’ll act as your support, sis.”
“Alright!” She replied quickly. Then, she produced a small china bottle which she promptly opened and imbibed. Her aura became volatile.
After everyone made their plans, the Driver’s somewhat disgruntled voice piped up. “What am I, the getaway driver?”
Lan Jue smiled. “Getting us in and out safely is an honor.
You’re doing an important job. Alright everyone, get ready.”
The verti-car’s doors hissed open. They needn’t fear discovery right away. The Blinding Stone’s powers extended to a small circumference around their vehicle. Lin Guoguo and the Driver were left behind as the others exited.
Luo Xianni flicked her wrist and a flash of pink replied. Her camera had appeared in her palm. She looked at the writhing mass of enemies with the same cunning smile she always wore, like they didn’t trouble her at all. She pointed her camera, then nodded to let Lan Jue know she was ready.
Then, she vanished.
The Pharmacist looked at Lan Jue and the color drained from her eyes, leaving them pearl white. Lan Jue’s, a dazzling azure blue. A shell of All-Heaven lightning sprang up around them.
She took in a deep breath and with it the Pharmacist’s aura swelled, surging passed what Lin Guoguo could conceal. She stepped forward into the air and a shimmering image appeared at her back. It looked like her, perhaps seventy percent, with a
white sword in its grip.
The Pharmacist had used some decoction to increase her powers nearly to a Reflection of Heaven and Earth.
Hummmm—The ethereal buzz swept through the area with an intense and murderous aura. Overhead the five largest aliens turned simultaneously in her direction. Their fear was palpable.
The progenitor also sensed the disturbance. It cried in alarm and a host of tentacles sprang out from the ground around it. They lashed and swiped frantically all around the monstrous creature before reaching for the Pharmacist. Above them a giant head descended through the clouds.
Just the monster’s head was five hundred meters tall and a thousand meters across. The section of its body they could see was another five thousand. Its rage and power filled the air with a choking pressure that even a typical Paragon could not produce. It had to be stronger than the Realm of Protogenia, or a Reflection of Heaven and Earth. It was more comparable to someone who’d achieved Nirvana.
It opened its enormous maw, ready to swallow the Pharmacist
But just then, a voice like chiming silver bells rang out. “Take advice from Luo Xianni, a camera is all you need!”
Her voice seemed to carry a strange power with it as it swirled through the air. The sky became pink, but not from light. A pink camera ten thousand meters across filled the sky. The thunderous ch-k of its shutter boomed, and space-time solidified.
Whether it was the progenitor or the monster on the other end of its poison umbilicus, neither could move. Everything froze. Everything except for the Pharmacist and Lan Jue. They exchanged a look then launched ahead.
The Pharmacist released a warcry and a white light surrounded her alluring frame as she became one with her sword. Occisus stretched large and wider as it tore through the sky until it was a blinding beam of white light.
Chapter 745: Hit-and-Run
A glimmer of sapphire light clung to Occisus’ point, but quickly spread to hang over its entire length. If one looked closely they would see the faintest hint of red that seemed to delineate between the blue and white.
The farther it traveled the larger Occisus became, beginning at only a dozen meters or so to hundreds now. Anything unfortunate enough to be caught in its path was cut in half without thought. Tentacles that tried to block its path were severed, unable to stop the white sword from its single-minded purpose.
Shhtk! The enormous Banishing Blade and all the murderous power it bore were buried in the progenitor’s body, then through to the other side. When it emerged a block crystal was impaled on the tip. It was only a meter or so in diameter, but the vital energy that surged from it was startling.
Occisus swung through the air, back to where it had come from. Meanwhile the giant creature overhead had begun to move. It struggled against Luo Xianni’s control and was gaining ground.
In a flash of light Occisus disappeared. Lan Jue and the Pharmacist were deposited back in the air. Both of them looked drawn from putting so much energy behind a single strike.
Silver light emerged around the two of them and in a blink they were gone. The pink hue that hung over the area also dispersed, while a streak of pink light swept through the air. Back and forth it went three times across the sky until it vanished entirely.
Aaaaagghhghhrrr! The roar from the herculean monster above rattled the earth. Its massive girth descended from the clouds as the beast vomited purple energy over the area. But there were no humans for it to accost. Still it was an impressive display, empowered through the veins connecting it to the progenitor.
Time returned to normal. With a loud crash the progenitor collapsed to the ground with sprays of white energy leaping from its wounds. It sunk in on itself, caving under its own weight.
The white light turned to blue, and though not as intense as its predecessor the surrounding aliens were choked with fear. It consumed the progenitor’s corpse by degrees.
The verti-car dashed through the air back in the direction of the human base. Everyone was on board.
Lan Jue was in high spirits. “Using teleportation to run away is probably my most favorite thing.”
Perfection, that was how he would describe their mission. Luo Xianni’s battlefield control had been seamless, leaving just enough time for Lan Jue and the Pharmacist to perform their task. Strong as the progenitor was, the Pharmacist was stronger. Frozen in place, all it could attempt was to try and resist their charge. It’d failed.
If they’d attacked with technological weapons, it was unclear whether they’d have been able to pierce its defenses. But Occisus was no typical human weapon. With Captus’ help and the All-Heaven Lightning the power was nearly god-like. In a blink they’d pierced to the monster’s heart and stole away with its vital crystal.
Although Lan Jue and the Pharmacist could not employ the Harmonious Swords, their combined might was still terrible to behold. It’d taken them practically no time to put down the progenitor, despite its strength.
The silver light that had whisked them away in the moments following had, of course, been the Wine Master granting them succor. The second pink light was Luo Xianni. Against a Nirvana-level time-space master the behemoth’s attacks had been pointless.
The Clockmaker hadn’t even had time to join the fight. She had been swept away to safety with Luo Xianni.
Lan Jue’s mother’s voice reached his ears. “Run away my ass! This was a strategic retreat, don’t open your mouth if you don’t know what you’re saying, you stinky brat!”
“Right, I’m sorry…” Lan Jue hurriedly replied.
Everyone was thrilled with the death of the progenitor. Its death was a great boon to the incursion team. At the very least they would no longer need to fear the corrosion seeping from the earth. The possibility existed than another progenitor was hiding somewhere, but it was unlikely to be as powerful as the last. Killing it had been a true victory.
“Mom,” he queried.” Do you think the crystal we got from the progenitor could help you and father?”
“From what I was able to sense it may have some use,” she confirmed. “But at best it would heal the branch and not the root. When we get back give it to your father. Let’s see what he thinks.”
“Alright.” It was the first time they’d encountered a vital crystal this potent. It was a priceless treasure, to be sure. They might have been able to get a few more from the monsters in the sky, but conditions were too unclear for them to try. They had to retreat for safety.
“Admiral Lan, are you able to see any difference in Monteux’s color from orbit?” Lan Jue opened a connection to his brother.
“Were you successful?” He asked.
Lan Jue replied. “The mission was victorious. There are a lot of aliens on the far side of the planet, and it was difficult to get a clear read on the whole situation. We won’t be needed the air support.”
“Oh？You know?” Lan Jue said.
“Two of our fleets went to the far hemisphere but were unable to find a concentration of aliens. I had them await further orders, but as far as we could tell the main force had moved on.”
Lan Jue’s heart skipped a beat. “They aren’t there? So what now?”
Lan Qing went on. “I’ve already explained the situation to Admiral Kang Hui, we’re waiting for his response. If my guess is correct this doesn’t bode well for us. The alien home worlds may have already left. We’re in the wrong place. We don’t think they can transfer, but that doesn’t mean they can’t fly of their own accord, and fast. They could have fled while we were unable to get scout teams to put eyes on them.”
Lan Jue sucked in a breath of surprise. If his brother’s determination turned out to be true, it would mean a great deal of trouble for them.
From the time the planets had transferred into the North to the beginning of their assault, a good deal of time had passed. It’d taken half a month for the Alliances to gather forces and
create a plan of attack. If the alien planets had completed their invasion and left, how far could they have gotten in half a month moving as fast as they could? And if they did but no one saw anything, what did that mean? It meant they had the ability to cloak themselves!
“We need to confirm this immediately.” Lan Jue said.
Lan Qing agreed. “Yes. But right now we’re still concerned with alien traps. We haven’t been able to find the alien horde out here. We have to wait for more guidance from the Admiral. He’s already told us to move in, move around the planets and take a look. We should know more soon.”
The elation they’d felt after killing the progenitor quickly faded. Lan Jue’s voice was low. “Have you seen any change in Monteux’s color?”
“We’re seeing it recede from up here,” his brother responded. “Your team was successful.”
“Admiral, I request permission to put together a scout team, and move into enemy territory. The enemy blockade seems much lighter and we need to know if the alien planets are still in
Lan Qing was quiet for a moment. “Be careful.”
The Paragons had listened in on the conversation and their moods had soured just as much as his had. If it was as expected, things had gone south. What was the enemy up to? So many aliens had been left aside, but the planets themselves? If they weren’t here to evolve, then why? And where?
Wherever they went, widespread devastation was sure to follow. If word got out it would undoubtedly lead to panic. All the planets would need to do is move through the North depositing progenitors, and the results would be catastrophic.
The Driver didn’t need prodding. He urged the verti-car to the fastest it would go and brought them back toward the base. Meanwhile Lan Jue was giving orders. He told the remaining Amazons to bring Zeus-1 over to pick them up. Jue Di was with them, so there was no need to fear for their safety. The other Paragons were left behind to assist the ground troops with retaking the planet.
Zeus-1 arrived quickly and the verti-car slipped into its cargo bay. Once everyone was aboard the sapphire ship pointed its nose toward space and fired its engines.
The Blinding Stone was activated and Zeus-1 vanished into the darkness of space. Lin Guoguo kept them hidden beneath a veil of psionic energy to protect them from prying alien forces.
Now that they were over it, they could see the purple color draining from Monteux’ surface. The progenitor’s death had vastly weakened the aliens’ control. Yet Lan Jue and the others were not pleased with the situation. They knew how cunning and lethal the alien planets were. What were they planning? If all of this was just to buy time, then the aliens sacrificed a great deal for an unclear objective.
Lan Jue was burdened with these questions as Zeus-1 rocketed off into space.
“Make your way into the interior and start the scanners.” Lan Jue told Su Xiaosu.
“Aye, aye!” She replied immediately and before long their equipment was sweeping the heavens for any sign of the alien
“Don’t get flustered. You have to maintain calm no matter the situation.” Jue Di had walked over to Lan Jue’s side and spoke quietly with him.
Lan Jue handed over the black vital crystal they acquired. “Father, do you think this might be able to help you?”
It was a meter across and shaped like a hexagon. It flooded the cockpit with rich vital energy the moment he pulled it out, nearly staggering everyone nearby. However, interspersed within that energy was a twisted energy, something evil that thirsted for murder and destruction.
In Chinese medicine theory they refer to the ‘root and branch.’ In diseases the root is the primary cause of the disease, while the branch is it symptoms and manifestations. For instance, in the case of a fever the root is Wind-Heat (a viral infection) and the branch is absence of sweating, high temperature, headache and so forth. The underpinning theory of medicine in China is to treat the root of the disease primarily, dealing only with the branches tangentially or if they are serious enough to cause the patient danger. As an example, in the case of dysentery you would want to stop diarrhea and
replenish fluids before attacking the root cause of the disease (expelling the pathogen) because the symptoms can kill your patient.
Chapter 746: I Know a Way
Jue Di grunted and waved his hand. In response a golden light hung over the vital crystal, isolating the toxic energy from its surroundings.
The Wine Master walked over to them. He produced a dazzling blue stone and handed it to Jue Di. “Take this, your Majesty.”
Tear of Neptune, the s-ranked power gem from the depths of Lyr’s oceans. By now these formerly disregarded gems had grown scarce. The East had used most of them for their research.
Jue Di smiled. “With this I’ll be able to use the full scope of my power, at least a couple of times.”
He took the power gem, and as he spoke a pale blue light sprang up around the Tear. The light grew and spread until it swallowed up the black vital crystal. The Wine Master looked on, impressed. Although he could galvanize the energy of the Tear himself if he wished, he wouldn’t able to do so in such a balanced manner.
The vital crystal began to shake once the Tear’s power washed over it. Visible strands of black slithered out into the air around it, only to be neutralized by the Tear’s aura. It was the Tear of Neptune’s primary use, filtering impurities. Only once the Tear cleansed the vital crystal would it be fit for use by humans.
Zeus-1 soared through space behind Monteux. It was as Lan Qing had said, although their radars still picked out a fair number of aliens nearby, there were nowhere near as many as they’d seen during their approach. There were especially few stronger breeds. In fact as far as they eye could see, they were greeted by nothing but empty space.
Where the hell did these things go! Lan Jue clenched his fists and scowled. His disquiet was growing by the moment.
Humanity’s struggles against the alien offenders had been long and bitter. Could they really have left, now at this climactic moment? Or was this some trick?
Suddenly, he sensed a great surge of energy coming from beside him. He swung his head toward Jue Di and was surprised to see his father’s eyes had gone pure gold. He felt his perception sweep out in all directions, disregarding the ship and any other obstructions.
Jue Di’s whole body was covered in a dim golden shell of light, and the vital crystal he held was like a star captured in the palm of his hand. The vital energies from within it were swallowed up into the Paragon’s body, having been filtered by the Tear of Neptune.
Lan Jue didn’t know the power, he just came up with a name.
His father really was on the cusp of the immortal realm!
After a minute Jue Di’s face changed. “Nothing. I’m sure of it, there aren’t any aliens the further in you go. Even if the alien planets could hide themselves, they wouldn’t deceive my Sight. There’s nothing out there – they likely evacuated long ago.”
Lan Jue sighed. He immediately got in contact with his brother and told him the news.
Lan Qing’s face fell in much the same way his father’s had. They hadn’t even thought this was a possibility until it was too late. “Admiral Kang Hui has ordered ships to move in to sweep and scout. It doesn’t seem like they’ve found anything, either.”
Lan Jue was at a loss. “What now?”
Lan Qing seemed to consider for a moment. It was Jue Di who answered. “Let’s go back to Middle Heaven. I know a way.”
Lan Jue paused. Jue Di seemed to reconsider. “Never mind, there isn’t time. I’ll go myself.” He stepped forward, and suddenly he was gone.
Although he wasn’t a space-time Adept, when a Paragon reached the level he had their understanding of the fabric of the universe was vast. He was back on Middle Heaven in a blink.
Lan Qing was waiting for him hen Jue Di appeared.
“Father, what’s your plan?” The enemy was so inscrutable even the God of Knowledge was unsure of how to proceed.
Jue Di stood proudly before his son. “Before in situations like these we had that old snake-oil salesman to show us the way. He’s gone, but his apprentice is with us. Bring me Jun’er. I’ll help her and we’ll see if we can’t find some trace of these things.”
“Alright,” Lan Qing replied.
A short while later, Lan Qing led Jun’er to meet his father. When he saw her his stern face broke into a fatherly smile. He dropped to his haunches. “Jun’er. I’m Grandpa Bupang.”
“Hello Grandpa Bupang.” She said. Jun’er was smiling, but there was some anxiety in her reply.
Jue Di seemed to sense it. “Do you feel something, Jun’er?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know, just a really bad feeling.
Like something bad is going to happen.”
When she said it, even Lan Qing felt his stoic heart tremble. And for good reason, little Jun’er was the successor to the Eye of Tomorrow.
Jue Di’s smile never faltered. “It’s alright Jun’er, don’t rush. Let grandpa help you see a little clearer. Why don’t you call your master.”
“Ok!” Jun’er muttered a few sentences under her breath. Suddenly, a bright light appeared before her that coalesced into the image of the Eye of Tomorrow. She held the tiny image in her equally tiny hands. Her pretty face was lit by the undulating eminence of her master.
Jue Di placed his calloused hand on the little girl’s shoulder. “Take it easy. Take your time, search your feelings. Tell us everything you see.”
Jun’er felt a flood of warmth pour through her body from the middle of her back. The gentle heat was very comforting as it flowed through her to her eyes. In response, the image of the Eye of Tomorrow sharpened. She shut her eyes. Immediately it was as though a dense fog had lifted.
“Purple planet. They feels scary.” She muttered.
“Where are they?” Jue Di urged.
“So many… so many tentacles. Wrapped around a planet.”
“Many people are dead. It’s… it’s so scary. So many people are dead Grandpa Bupang.”
“Don’t be scared,” he said soothingly. “Bupang is here to protect you. You’re going to be fine.”
‘Thousand-Yard Stare,’ but in English that’s used for people with PTSD. Jue Di doesn’t strike me as a guy with PTSD.
Chapter 747: Alien Plot
Jun’er’s mood eased at Jue Di’s comforting words. “The purple planets are flying away. The one is purple now, too. They put something inside of it.”
“Ah! The inside of the planet is burning, so hot! Ah!” Jun’er’s eyes popped open, her face was covered with sweat.
Lan Qing and Jue Di exchanged a look. Each could see the shock in the other’s eyes.
The Eastern admiral rushed to a control panel and opened all communication channels. “This is Middle Heaven. Repeat, this is Middle Heaven. All Eastern troops evacuate the planets immediately.. Evacuate.”
Zeus-1 had been waiting for new from Jue Di. When they heard the order come through their computers they were struck with fear.
“Brother, what is it? What did you find?”
Lan Qing’s voice was harsh. “Get back now, close in on Middle Heaven. The Aliens have destabilized the planets’ cores, they could explode at any moment. They were waiting for us to close in and get caught in the blast. It’s why they didn’t have much of a presence.”
Lan Jue gasped. Suddenly everything was clear, and that feeling of dread sprang up stronger than ever. Star Division was still on Monteux, along with many of their Paragons. All five Eastern fleets were in its orbit.
“Wait, don’t rush. We can’t act rashly in our retreat.” Lan Jue said. He’d become strangely calm.
“Huh?” Lan Qing looked at his younger brother on the screen, confused.
Lan Jue patiently explained. “They set this up according to how they expect we’d react. Somehow they’re controlling how and when this explosion will happen. If they see us order a full withdraw, the aliens will trigger the explosion. The North and West won’t have any chance to get their people pout. We have to be smart – get in touch with Admiral Kang, and let’s do this slowly, together.”
Lan Qing was known for his intelligence. His reactions had been quick and thoughtless because of the shocking news. But his brother’s quick thinking helped him understand.
“Alright, I got it. Never mind the rest, you get back here and we’ll talk about it.” Lan Qing replied.
Lan Jue smiled. “Brother, you know I have to be with my people through this. I can’t leave until we’ve safely gotten them out. Keep this quiet, don’t tell anyone but Kang Hui. Let’s take this slow.”
Lan Qin narrowed his eyes as he looked at his younger brother. They shared a look for a long time, before eventually Lan Qing nodded. It wasn’t the time to argue, it was time to act.
“This is Admiral Lan Qing. I’m rescinding the previous order. The problem’s been resolved, stick to your jobs. Fleet commanders…”
Lan Qing gave his amended orders, then told Kang Hui the situation. Everything continued according to their battle plan. With the exception of Monteux, the other planets gained territory and started building defensive structures. The alien
forces were slowly pushed back – everything seemed to be going well.
The eight bastions began to move in. Their fleets parted, as though to give them passage. Powerful cannons hummed as they charged and pointed toward the four planets. Humanity looked ready to storm their former worlds.
On Monteux, on the skull of the beast Lan Jue and the others had encountered by the progenitor, the Violet Prince and Princess stood. The Prince eyes were shut, and a small smile spread across his lips.
“It seems they’ve finally realized Monarch and the others aren’t here. They’re moving in, Monarch’s plan was well- considered. Our mission is nearly complete.” He spoke with a dulled, detached voice.
The Princess answered. “We should prepare to leave. Shall we trigger the reaction now?”
Her counterpart shook his head. “Wait for a moment. Humans have learned, they are more cautious and are approaching slowly. The explosion will take ten minutes to
trigger, we’ll begin once they’ve gotten closer. Everything is already prepared. Those ships that threaten Monarch… those Bastions, they are also gathered. Our victory today will leave them with nothing to defend against our plans. Their lesser vessels mean nothing.”
The Violet Princess nodded. “Then we wait.”
“Hm?” Uncertainty suddenly crept into the Prince’s eyes.
In space, the bastions cannons released their blazing payload. Dozens of energy beams tore through space toward the planets.
The Violet Prince’s brows furrowed as he considered. “Their bastions have moved in for the attack? Their people are still on the surface! What is it they are trying to achieve?”
Suddenly, all of the aliens felt a tremble rush through their bodies, the Prince and Princess being no exception. They shook their heads, pain evident on their perfect features. Blasts of white light erupted all along the surface of the worlds and spread until they covered the planets entirely.
Energy interference waves, used to counteract electronic equipment. It also had a distinct effect on psionic pulses. Psychic energy was how the aliens maintained information about their surroundings. As the interference waves spread far and wide, their ability to gather information was reduced to zero.
The Violet Prince and Princess were essentially blind. They couldn’t see the transport ships lifting off and blasting away. The ships couldn’t use their radar or communication equipment, either. But previous orders had told them what to expect and how to react. Kang Hui had concocted the strategy.
However, not everyone followed orders with the precision they should have. Because not all the information was given, the West’s withdrawal was slow. They weren’t given all the information, and therefore were unable to react efficiently. It made no sense to pull back when their victory seemed assured.
The allure of the vital crystal was strong. Although the military accomplishments of the West were not grand, they had acquired many vital crystals for the Citadels to use, in order to grow their strength and influence.
Chapter 748: Middle Heaven’s Protection
Most military leaders were obedient enough to head the retreat order. But the commanders of the Citadels were thirsty for riches and chose to ignore them.
“We have our own ships. We’ll stay and take out some more of these creatures, it’ll be fine.” The Pontiff cooly gave the command.
Satan, on the other side of the planet, cursed under his breath. “Bastard. He dares to disobey my orders. Are vital crystals worth more than your lives? You have five minutes to get your asses back here.”
In contrast to the Pontiff’s Citadel, Satan’s people had not continuously suffered at the hands of Lan Jue. Though he was greedy, he was less desperate and more sensitive to commands. Despite his covetous nature, he understood that live was more important.
“That was an order to retreat, do you hear me!” Satan’s angry shout crackled through the Dark Citadel’s communications channels.
“But, your Majesty, the vital crystals…”
“Idiot! Do you think the army strategists are stupid? Do you think they’d order a general retreat for no reason? I’m leaving, if you want to wait here for death then so be it.”
Satan screamed, his heart filled with a disquiet he couldn’t put his finger on. It had only gotten worse when he got a message from the daughter he’d been estranged from for years. The note was simple.
Seeing her name on his communicator stirred a host of complicated emotions, but chief among them was unease. Without it he likely would have reacted much the same way as the Pontiff.
Satan relayed the order to Lucifer, telling them to retreat as quickly as possible. The Paragon didn’t bother with a ship and instead shot through the air by virtue of his own power, and into space.
“What are they up to?” The Violet Prince shut his eyes and tried to penetrate the disturbance with his psychic energy. But he was thwarted by the scale of power of it, only succeeding in causing himself more pain.
The Princess was grasping at straws. “Perhaps it is a precursor to their invasion? These are what the humans call ‘interference waves.’ We mustn’t wait, it’s time to act.”
An ominous lint glinted in her companion’s eye. “You’re right. Whether they’re attacking or fleeing we must react.”
They exchanged a look, then suddenly vanished in a tornado of purple energy.
Zeus-1 and Majesty blasted through Monteux’s atmosphere at intense speeds, fleeing the battlefield. Moments after speaking with his brother, Lan Jue had alerted his troops. They were the first to gather by the transport ships in preparation to
withdraw. Construction of the base and railguns had continued, though robot engineers were left the task. This perplexed the enemies and gave the humans cover for their retreat.
When the EMP missiles struck, the ships were guided into orbit by pilot experience alone. They fled the area with exceptional discipline.
Detonating a planet took time. No matter how strong the aliens were, a world that was the result of several millennia of compression wouldn’t explode with a word. It needed to undergo a process. However, no one knew how long that process would actually take. If it was on the shorter side, retreat might already be too late for those on the ground.
What’s more, only heaven knew the scope of a planetary explosion. How far would its destruction reach? They’d never bothered to calculate how much energy these worlds contained in their cores, or how resilient they were. Every planet was complicated and unique.
However, beyond all question the explosion would be catastrophic.
Lan Jue stood in the bridge on Zeus-1, his hand wrapped around a metal rod. He continuously flooded the ship with his Discipline to give it the energy needed. The light spat from its engines were a brilliant gold. Paragons on Majesty were doing the same.
Star Division’s commander scowled, his face dark with rage. Lan Jue’s fury was not simply because of the loss of these planets. It reminded him of the half-healed wounds deep within himself, of the darkest period of his life.
Hera had perished under similar circumstances, had she not? When that planet exploded Lan Jue felt like his soul had been in the center of it. For years he was inconsolable, and the path to recovery had been long and difficult.
These beasts – they were unthinkably cruel!
If they had not discovered the alien plot, the humans’ plans would have proceeded. Their ships and bastions would have retaken the planets and begun reconstruction. None of them would have been able to flee when the plants exploded. Perhaps the bastions would have survived, their defenses were strong, but the fleets and all their soldiers? How could they have survived the raging destruction of a planet at close range?
Countless lives would have been lost in an instant.
It would have been an unprecedented loss for humanity’s military. Without a means to fight back, it would have spelled the end of their species at the hands of the alien menace.
Although Lan Jue and the men and women of the Alliances had learned a great deal about their enemy, their boundless cruelty and cunning continued to surprise. It was not easy to devour several planets’ worth of energy so fast, yet they did. What’s more, the energy required to detonate a planet was enormous. In order to prepare so quickly, it meant this had been their plan from the beginning.
Lan Jue’s first terrified thought was that they couldn’t think like humans if they wanted to fight against these monsters. The alien planets were no longer here, and whether they teleported away or left by some other means their target was somewhere else.
They were exactly as intelligent as Lan Jue suspected, which was why it seemed so strange for them to choose such an indefensible position as a place to evolve. Humanity’s armies were a threat, so they did whatever was necessary to stop them. Callously obliterating billions of lives and four planets was a
passing thought, tools to use to their advantage.
It was frightening how accurately these beasts were able to judge human reactions. They knew how the North would be forced to react if their planets fell into enemy hands. They would have no choice but to come with their full might. They even anticipated mankind would fret over their ability to teleport, and painstakingly kept that possibility alive in the minds of their prey.
Were it not for Jun’er and Jue Di’s efforts, they might have succeeded. Even if only half of their ships were lost, a third of their bastions, humanity would never had joined together again in mutual defense. Leaders and politicians would have chosen to look after their own, to flee in the face of overwhelming adversity. But by then the alien teleportation abilities would make them invincible. They would hunt down and kill the humans with impunity until they got the DNA material they needed. With mankind’s armies in disarray, nothing would stand in the way of their domination.
How many humans would remain if that were to occur? Would it really spell the end of their species? No one knew. The universe was a dangerous place, and they didn’t have any hidden strength to depend upon. It was all unsettling conjecture.
Yet the heavens seemed to favor humanity. It had given them Jue Di, Jun’er. The Clairvoyant…
Zeus-1 was moving so fast the view outside its windows were a blur. In an instant they were looking back at the rapidly shrinking Monteux. Majesty kept on its heels. Although the battleship was larger by a fair amount, it had its advantages. Its equipment was top of the line, and had several Paragons as support to ensure it could keep up. However, the ships would need repairs after being so dramatically overloaded. The intense speed and flow of power damaged their internal components.
Before long Lan Jue spotted Middle Heaven looming nearby.
It was easy to pick out – after all, it was a planet!
Middle Heaven was also on the move, and Su Xiaosu calculated a trajectory to bring them around its far side. Once in position they cut their speed and pulled into one of the bastion’s docking ports.
Lan Jue let himself relax, just a little. He was confident in Middle Heaven’s defenses. So long as they weren’t too near the blast, they would survive. But then he realized they were moving toward Monteux, and didn’t appear to be slowing.
After a moment of panicked confusion, Lan Jue understood. As he listened to communications passed along commanders he discovered five others were doing the same. Only two of the bastions weren’t pulling out to the front.
The bastions were going to use themselves to block the blast.
Bastions were the pinnacle of human construction, and that included their defenses. They had the best chances of surviving the blast of a planetary explosion. Although humanity’s forces were in full retreat, the planets could detonate at any moment. The bastions were determined to deflect as much of the blast as they could to give their people a chance.
It called to mind memories of Tyrannosaurus, when Admiral Kang had used the ship’s bulk to defend his fleet from the alien asteroid shower. Now Lan Qing and five of the North’s bastions were preparing to do the same. They tightened ranks, and waited.
Chapter 749: Big Bang
Lan Jue didn’t know why the West didn’t join the other bastions at the front. However, he did know it was the right decision.
Middle Heaven’s impressive speed was on full display. Twenty engine fixed to its surface glowed red-hot as they pushed the planet forward. From the back it looked like a sun. It lead the other bastions toward Monteux.
The first set of ships to reach safety were the Easts. They had been ready for the withdraw order. Lan Qing could be selfless when the time required, but he also had no qualms alerting his people to danger even if it wasn’t in everyone’s best interest. He knew Kang Hui was going to give his own people more time than others.
Lan Jue didn’t leave his own ship. Through communications equipment and radar he observed what was going on outside. When he saw ships bearing the insignias of the East fly passed An Lun and out into quiet space he heaved a sigh of relief. So far the East only had one bastion, and five fleets it was meant to protect. But where this might have been a problem for a normal ship, Middle Heaven was so large its whole entourage could fit safely in its wake.
Behind the warships were the transport vessels. They were ferrying An Lun’s best – including the Bloodiron Kahns. Middle Heaven was moving forward so quickly to ensure that transport ships got behind it before Monteux blew.
And not a moment too soon. The four planets began to change just as the East’s ships were getting to a safe distance. It started with their rotation, which slowed to a crawl. Even from out in space they could see the planet trembling. Thousands of acres of its surface collapsed into burning crevices that spat magma into the sky.
It was going to blow!
Northern Bastions had started to slow, then stop. Protecting their bastions were their first priority. Interstellar fleets and the people on board were expendable by comparison. Luckily their reaction had been fast enough that most were already safely behind the moon-sized ships. Not so lucky were their transport ships which were a few minutes behind. Despite the real risk of losing his soldiers, Admiral Kang Hui couldn’t put the bulk of his fleet – and the bulk of the North’s military strength – in the path of destruction.
Not Middle Heaven. It surged forward like it was duty-bound
to save as many lives as possible. In the face of the planet’s imminent doom, it proceeded.
Boom– — — ! A blinding light suddenly turned darkness into day as Dakkar exploded. The luminescence from its death spread across the whole sector. The shockwave that followed was like something from a nightmare.
Lan Jue found himself unconsciously clenching his fists. Monteux hadn’t blown yet, but he knew that when it did the results would be catastrophic. It was the largest of the four planets, which meant its death would be the most destructive.
Brother, you better have this under control!
He didn’t dare disturb Lan Qing in this moment because he knew his brother was piloting the whole ship. Now was not the time to trouble him with nonsense.
The ships were getting closer. In the distance, Saqi and Bollen had also erupted, one after the other. Lan Jue could feel Middle Heaven being buffeted by the first blasts of the shockwave. His radar flickered and fought static interference.
Only Monteux remained, but it shook so fiercely it threatened to pull itself apart. The cracks that snaked over its surface glowed like angry wounds. It was going to die any moment.
Just then a white light sprang up before Middle Heaven, spreading out line a fan. The returning transport ships just made it just in time, vanishing behind the screen of light.
Like clockwork all of the bastion’s engines shut off and went dark. Its forward momentum slowed, but the planet didn’t turn around. Instead an array of circular engines extended from the front of it and immediately sparked to life. It lurched perilously as the engines fought inertia. They were powerful enough not only to stop its forward trend, but also immediately thrust it backward in the direction it’d come from.
In the same moment a shell of orange-red light appeared around Middle Heaven. It covered every corner. Moments later Monteux gave in. First it collapsed inward, and time stood still for half a moment before it exploded out in all directions.
Within Middle Heaven, silver light flickered as people were deposited into the control room. By the time it receded the figures already had their hands on conductor rods and were pouring their power into the ship.
They were the strongest men and women in the universe. In the middle was the first among them; Jue Di!
Jue Di, Luo Xianni, the Wine Master, Gourmet, Pauper, Driver, Pharmacist, Clockmaker and Lan Jue. All of Skyfire Avenue’s leaders, as well as Bize, stood in solidarity in Middle Heaven’s defense.
When the impact hit, Middle Heaven shook like it was rattling from an earthquake. The humans’ faces were dour but firm. Clearly the ship had been too close to the blast, but no blame was pointed at Lan Qing. He’d done it to save their fellow soldiers.
Lan Jue knew his brother better than anyone, and he trusted him completely. Lan Qing wouldn’t do anything he wasn’t certain about, and if he flew in this close it was because he had faith in Middle Heaven’s ability to withstand it.
The universe around them was a tempest of frantic energy. The waves of destruction that came from the planets crashed into them, again and again. The East’s fleets rocked and trembled. They were the only one who had been able to get all their transport ships behind their bastion before the blasts. For the North and West, the fate of their transports went without
saying. What small ship could withstand the death of a planet? The answer seemed obvious. They would see who survived only once the dust had settled.
The raging explosions lasted more than ten minutes before they began to subside. Lan Jue felt like the East’s bastion managed valiantly, perfectly in fact. Only the initial shock had rattled the planet-turned-starship. By the end they hardly moved at all. It was evident Middle Heaven didn’t sustain much damage.
Sighs heaved through the control room. The Paragons staggered around like survivors of a disaster. If they had been closer to the center of the explosions, even with all their might they would have met their end. Only the Wine Master and the Photographer would have had favorable chances.
The Gourmet’s face was ghastly pale. “These goddamn monsters are too cruel. They’re evil. I wonder how the others are doing.”
The rest of his family was fighting with the North. Most importantly, the hope of the Chu Family and their most recent Paragon had lead the ground assault team – Chung Cheng. The Gourmet worried his nephew may not have survived the blast,
though he didn’t say it outright. Paragons were strong, but the Northern transports had been left to their own devices. It was unclear how they fared. Outside was a universe of chaos. The fission of four planetary cores caused too much interference for any reliable communication.
Lan Jue took a breath, his mind already calm. Detestable as the enemy was it served nothing to spit curses at a distant foe. The aliens had suffered greatly as well. They’d left many of their number behind to confuse and bait the allied human forces. There surely were no survivors of those left behind.
This was not to say humanity got away without cost. Many from the North and West, including their ground and mecha teams, had fallen. However, thanks to prudent intelligence and the help of the bastions they’d kept their losses to a minimum. Nonetheless, a deep and abiding fear of their enemy would persist.
Without early warning the blow to humanity would have been crippling. But as it was, the losses suffered by both sides made it palatable.
Lan Jue told the Paragons to rest while he himself went to go find Lan Qing. As he walked the halls he was in awe of Middle
Heaven and its first display of ability. Undoubtedly, the West and North were cowed by what they’d witnessed.
Monteux was large, its blast intense, and Middle Heaven had been closer than all the other ships. And yet it had not cost them much to escape unscathed. Though it was not a contest, the East had escaped this tragic battle with the fewest losses and the most vital crystals.
“Brother!” Lan Jue entered the Admiral’s office to find Lan Qing behind his desk, staring at his screens.
He didn’t raise his head. “I told you, here you refer to me by my title.”
Lan Jue walked to his side. “Relax, we’ve come out the other side of it.”
Chapter 750: Analysis
From the side Lan Qing looked as cold as ever. There was no sign of joy after saving the lives of their ground team. On the contrary, he was scowling at the data on his screens.
“What is it? We shouldn’t have suffered any losses, right?” Lan Jue asked.
His brother nodded. “But that isn’t a mark of success. I should have known it was the enemy’s intention to detonate the planets. That was my failure. If it wasn’t for Jun’er and father, we would have lost many people – maybe even all of Star Division. You know what that would mean.”
Lan Jue’s heart skipped a beat. He was right, if they had been even a little late in discovering the alien plot, his soldiers would likely have been lost in the blast!
His body broke out into a cold sweat. If that had happened the blow to mankind would have been serious. If this battle proved anything it was that Adepts were best suited for fighting the aliens. The Skyfire Paragons cut them down in droves. If these powerhouses had fallen it would have crippled humanity’s ability to fight back. It would have erased the core of Eastern
dominance in an instant. Even if they somehow survived the aliens after that, the East would have few deterrents against Northern and Western aggression.
Lan Jue’s face grew serious, and he nodded.
Lan Qing went on. “I’ll learn what we can from this experience. We mustn’t be caught in an alien trap again. What’s most important for now is discovering where the alien planets fled to. The war has only just begun.”
Lan Jue nodded again, fully understanding the implications. Indeed, there was a long fight ahead of them. The first play of the game had cost both sides, and it looked like that was going to be the norm.
“Then we should alert any occupied planets to be on guard, and search for any trace of the enemy. If they’re flying somewhere it’s the best we can hope for. If they teleported, there’s a fundamental flaw in our understanding of the aliens.” Lan Jue said, brows knit in thought.
But Lan Qing shook his head. “No, you and I see this opposite. If they teleported it is the best situation for us. I trust in the
Pharmacist’s information, and believe it costs the aliens tremendously to use their teleportation abilities. Father also said that they must be suffering from the restrictions of universal protogenia. The energy loss from teleportation and universal protogenia would be a vast burden to bear for these monsters. Teleportation would have been their best tactic for leaving the scene undiscovered, which makes it more likely. But two successive teleportations must be draining, and it’s unlikely they’ll make a third within a short period.”
Lan Jue’s eyes lit up. “So if we find them again, we can encircle and suppress them with no chance of escape.”
Lan Qing nodded in confirmation. “Just so. What worries me most at this moment is the psychology of our Northern and Western allies. The loss of four planets and potentially thousands of soldiers is devastating. Right now, this has the potential to cause us the most problems.”
Lan Jue’s face fell. He knew what his brother meant. A psychological schism could spell disaster for the species.
No alliance had the strength to face these aliens alone. Only together was victory possible. If their allies chose to abandon the fight, the monsters would continue their path of destruction
“We can’t let that happen.” Lan Jue said.
Lan Qing agreed. “I hope they hold up. The West didn’t seem to get out in time, their losses will be the greatest. In a little while we’ll be able to reopen communications and get a better feel for the situation.”
Lan Jue’s brows furrowed as he considered. “If it’s just the West then the loss is manageable. If it’s the North, that’s another story. Should I go see Admiral Kang?”
Lan Qing shook his head. “No need right now. Kang Hui may be their commander but he isn’t the North’s leader. These planets belonged to the Northern Alliance, their loss was a disaster.”
Wait and see. That was the only thing they could do.
An hour or so later communications were reestablished. When damage reports started coming in the two brothers were shocked, though they had anticipated the worst.
Most of the North’s warships had made it back in time, but some had broken formation and fell behind. Three Capital ships, five dreadnaughts, and more than twenty battleships had been lost. Only a third of their transport vessels made it back. Luckily the Terminator and Chu Cheng were among them.
It was a significant blow, but it didn’t cut them to the bone. The North would recover. Things were much worse for the West.
The West’s two bastions refused Kang Hui’s suggestion to move in, which directly resulted in tremendous losses for the Western fleet. The reason was well-known, Western bastion defenses weren’t the best. They didn’t dare risk the pillars of their military strength, no matter the cost. They sacrificed their soldiers in order to keep their flagships at a safe distance.
Because of this only the West’s fastest ships had made it back. Half of their fleet was destroyed and nearly all of their transports. Shockingly few of their people made it back in one piece – notably Satan and most of his people. For the rest, their avarice had doomed them.
It was the Pontiff’s Citadel that suffered greatest. Reluctance to leave behind vital crystals forced them to stay until the last
moment. They discovered something was wrong far too late, and only a handful survived. The Pontiff, Metatron and other Archangels were able to flee by virtue of their own ability to fly. The Pontiff was injured so severely trying to protect his people it seemed unlikely he would fully recover.
The fight was over. Looking out, the vista which had once revealed four beautiful planets was empty but for jagged remnants. No trace of the aliens remained.
Lan Qing immediately opened a connection to Admiral Kang.
He offered his plan to track down the enemy.
“I’m sorry, Admiral Lan. I’ve been given orders to return to Luo immediately. They have no appetite to continue right now.” After a minute of silence, Kang Hui gave him the unfortunate answer.
The North had succumbed to fear. Four of their planets had been lost. What of Luo? It was the heart of the Northern Alliance with ten planets in close proximity. If the enemy struck there it would spell the end of their nation.
“Admiral, we would like to request you put all occupied
planets on alert. If there is any sign of enemy forces they should report it to us immediately.” Lan Qing requested.
Kang Hui sighed. “I’ve already given the order. I believe the West will do the same, if they haven’t already. But the areas we need to protect are too vast, and the enemy is only three planets. They can do what we cannot. What if they teleport the next time we pick a fight? We’re stuck in a passive stance, waiting for them to make the first move.”
Lan Jue spoke up. “But do you think we can fight the aliens with nothing but a passive defense? If they’re still in your territory, what will the North do?”
Kang Hui was silent for a time before speaking. “I know what you say is true, but this decision isn’t mine to make. The North is in chaos, and it will only get worse once news of what happened here gets back. Already many of our important families have begun to flee into deep space with their own ships and all their riches. If this continues on a large scale, then…”
Lan Qing’s pupils contracted as he stared at the screen. “Then we don’t have much time. Admiral, as soldiers our greatest responsibility is to our country. If we can’t do that we aren’t qualified to call ourselves military men. If you agree with my
determination then I hope you can find a way to support us.”
Kang Hui nodded ever so slightly. “Your analysis makes sense, there’s a high probability you are correct. I will support you as much as I can personally. Be assured that I will continue to advocate for war. But I am just one man with limited power, I’ll need more support if I am to convince our leaders. If you’re able to convince the Terminator it would go a long way. After all, he has tremendous influence out here. With him and I together we may be able to convince the congress to act.”
Lan Qing nodded. Kang Hui’s promise had given them some measure of hope. With his responsibilities and status they couldn’t ask for anything more.
The Western military didn’t return their hails. Their bastions were already heading back toward the West with their tails tucked between their legs.
Things were worse than they’d hoped. Instead of ridding themselves of their enemy in one decisive stroke, they’d ended up worse off than when they began. Four planets were gone, along with all the soldiers that couldn’t get away from the blast. This didn’t only affect the North, the horror of their defeat would reverberate all throughout human territory.