Chapter 771: Three Teams
“Every planet has at least one powerful progenitor. They are the root of the aliens’ aggression and consumption power. I also believe they’re chiefly responsible for the infection that poisons our people. Killing them will at least ensure that no more people are transformed. Meanwhile our soldiers will push the main attack which will keep the alien forces busy, too distracted to retaliate against the innocent humans. Maybe we can save these people.”
“Who knows if we’ll win the final battle; this plan may just be prolonging the inevitable. But if this is to be humanity’s final moments then we must do everything we can. This is my plan.”
The gathered Paragons quietly listened to his speech. When Lan Jue went into detail as to how he planned to save these people, Satan and the Pontiff looked at him with genuine surprise. They were Westerners, and the condition of these people were their direct concern. Meanwhile their governments and organizations were never friendly. On the contrary, the West had routinely tried to cause trouble for its Eastern counterpart.
They’d assumed that their army’s presence here was all about self-preservation. If they won the benefits to them were clear.
But when they heard him speak with such passion their opinions changed. They were willing to risk their lives to save people from another Alliance! It was completely impractical from a military standpoint. Nor was this a ploy to curry favor, since the West was effectively destroyed. Who would they hope to gain favor with?
It was as simple as people needing help, and them being in a position to give it. Satan and the Pontiff shared a glance, and both could see their surprise and disbelief mirror in the other’s eyes.
Lan Jue continued. “I want everyone to understand the dangers we will face. Based on our experience each of these planets should have a planetary doppelganger or royal alien as a defender. They will at least be equivalent to a Paragon of the third degree, Nirvana – I expect some will have achieved the Infinite. What’s more, there will definitely be lesser aliens planet-side that help them. The progenitors themselves will likely be Paragon-strength.”
“So, I believe it necessary to combine our strength in order to kill these monsters. If at all possible, we should try to kill their powerful defenders as well. We can save our fellow humans and weaken the enemy all in one stroke. Each one we take down improved the chances for our main force.”
“Our plan of attack calls for the armada to take and occupy one of the larger planets to serve as a base. This will be our first target. Once the target’s been killed we’ll move on to the next one. Based on current strength I think we can break into two teams, this will ensure a higher level of safety. Are there any questions, ladies and gentlemen?”
The Skyfire Avenue Paragons remained silent. Lan Jue had already proved himself to them. He had everyone’s utmost trust and respect. They were also not suited for interstellar combat. It didn’t play to their strengths.
“I support the plan.” Satan was the first to speak.
The Pontiff slowly nodded his head, looking at Lan Jue with solemn eyes. If he had the opportunity he would have torn this young man apart – he had been responsible for a great deal of suffering for his organization. Now, however, in the face of destruction enemies became friends. They had a common foe that they could not face on their own. The time for personal grudges was past.
The Terminator also nodded. “As do I.”
“Two teams isn’t going to work.” Jue Di was the voice of dissention. As the strongest among them, his voice bore the most weight.
Jue Di looked at his son and spoke with a matter-of-fact tone. “Three teams. I will be responsible for three planets myself. The remainder will be up to the rest of you, two planets each.”
If anyone other than Jue Di had been so brazen as to make the suggestion, especially before such a gathering of Paragons, they would have caused an uproar. But this man wasn’t just anyone – wasn’t just any Paragon. When he spoke everyone felt compelled to listen.
Lan Jue looked anxiously at his father. He wanted to say something, but thought better of it.
“Alright. That being the case let me set up the groups. His Majesty Jue Di will be team one, and will be responsible for three of the planets. For the remainder, his Majesty the Terminator will be leading one group. This group will be comprised of the Pontiff, Satan, the Cosmagus, the Epochrion, the Arcane Magnate, the Karmic Scholar and the God of Wine. Eight Paragons in total. The third group will be led by the Photographer. She will be commanding the Arhat of the
Descending Dragon, the Driver, the Pharmacist, the Infernal Vanguard, Qianlin, and myself.”
As he listened, the Terminator seemed apprehensive. Although the Photographer had achieved Nirvana like him, the groups seemed stilted. His own team was comprised of eight Paragons, with the Cosmagus and the Epochrion both being Reflections of Heaven and Earth. Although Neither the Pontiff nor Satan were of the same strength, they were well-versed in the world of protogenia.
But the team Lan Jue was in had only five Paragons. Only the Photographer had achieved Nirvana while the rest were only part of the Realm of Protogenia. Lan Jue and Qianlin where not even Paragons. With Jue Di they would have been fine, but without the man their team seemed weak.
With his brows furrowed, the Terminator shared his concern. “Perhaps you should add another Paragon to your team. We can manage will one less.”
But Lan Jue shook his head. “Thank you, your Majesty, but to be honest with you Qianlin and I will be achieving our breakthrough very soon. We will have seven Paragons then. Qianlin and I also have a special style we employ together, so I
believe this group is sufficient. In addition we will be responsible for helping the armada take their first planet and will have the help of Star Division thereafter, hence my grouping decision. So long as we’re together we’ll be fine.”
Hearing this, the Terminator had no more problems.
Of course Lan Jue had his reasons for choosing these teams. For a start he could not be on the same team as the Terminator, Satan or the Pontiff. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust them, but that he didn’t want them to witness his breakthrough with Qianlin. They were allies in this fight, but some secrets had to be kept.
His team also had the Pharmacist and Occisus. Her skill on the battlefield was no less impressive than a Reflection of Heaven and Earth. The Driver’s yin-yang lightning was similarly imposing. In a fight, the strength of those two was undisputed. With the addition of him and Qianlin and their Harmonious Sword technique, the team was anything but weak.
Though both the Photographer and the Terminator had achieved Nirvana, they were different. She had been immersed in the power of her station for many years. Were it not for fear of universal protogenia, breaking through to the Infinite under Jue Di’s tutelage was not out of the question. With her leading
the team, they could also teleport to safety if things became too overwhelming.
The team were set. All that was left were final preparations for the operation.
Jue Di had chosen three neighboring planets to be responsible for. He didn’t seem at all troubled by the scale of his job. Only a few of those in attendance knew how powerful the man truly was. However, they were all Paragons. The deep and mighty aura that surrounded him was felt by all.
The other two teams also discussed their targets and made their decisions. Once finished the Paragons broke into their individual teams to discuss specifics. Jue Di participated in Luo Xianni’s team.
“Father, your health…” Once the Terminator and the others left, Lan Jue broached the subject.
Jue Di silenced him with a wave of his hand. “This is hardly the time to worry about that. Besides that crystal has been helpful. At the least it will help to employ my power. Perhaps I will be able to get more crystals to help me further. In the end
this is likely the best decision for me, so you don’t need to fret over it. So long as everything goes according to plan we’ll be fine. Those planets and their denizens won’t trouble me unless the home worlds themselves appear.”
“Alright, but look after yourself.” Lan Jue cautioned.
Jue Di chuckled at the concern in his son’s eyes. “Look after your mother and make sure she doesn’t do anything rash.”
Luo Xianni sniffed. “Rash? Why don’t you say what you want to say, eh Chi Bupang?”
Jue Di rolled his eyes. “Come now, you don’t think I know you by now? The same goes for you, protect my son and daughter in law. Call if they run into a problem!”
“Yeah I’ll call alright, I’ll shout right in your face!” Her words were harsh, but her eyes never left Jue Di’s face. The faint light of concern hid behind her disdainful expression. Even she wasn’t sure about her spouse’s condition.
After years of cultivation in the Infinite Jue Di was at the
margin of what was permitted by natural law. However, unlike the alien home worlds he had no way to conceal it from the universe and its uncaring retribution. Though he had the knowledge and power to rise to new heights, he knew it would mean immediate destruction.
Yet, with the potential of facing increasingly powerful enemies would he be able to hold his powers back? Luo Xianni wasn’t sure she could, much less Chi Bupang.
They would only know when the time came.
Three bastions and twelve interstellar fleets spread out in formation. They quietly cut through the darkness of space toward the seven Western planets.
Chapter 772: Winning the Initial Battle
According to Lan Qing’s battle plan, the human forces would remain together through the whole fight, amassing at a single point. The bastions would give them support.
Although it was appearing more and more likely that the aliens were in the process of their evolution, Lan Qing was still preparing for the eventuality that they would join the better. Perhaps they completed their evolution quickly, or this whole thing had been a set-up. No bastion would survive being surrounded by the alien home worlds, their only shot was if they stuck together and faced the enemy as a unified front.
Of course, this was the worst case scenario. Lan Qing was trying to stick to the simplest strategy; stay together and punch through the enemy line. Head right for their heart.
The plan was hinged on many objectives that each needed to be successively achieved. Their first order of business was rather like life fire scouting, though on a much higher scale than when Lan Jue did it.
Before long a withered purple orb swung into view of the bastions. The poisoned planet was a shocking sight, as was the
horde of aliens in the space surrounding it waiting for a fight.
Obviously they had predicted the bastions’ arrival. There were three times as many now as when Lan Jue had come knocking, probably gathered from the other planets. Judging just by looks, the aliens seemed just as numerous as humanity’s twelve fleets, perhaps even more. Meanwhile the purple planet hung in the background, still and silent.
At least as far as they could tell, nothing looked different from when Lan Jue left.
The three bastions advanced in a V-formation, with Middle Heaven in the lead. On the left, Poseidon. Tyrannosaurus was on the right. Their support ships fanned out around them with Capital ships at the fore and the weaker ships behind.
The two sides maintained a safe distance and eyed one another across a swath of empty space – what was soon to become their battleground.
The humans could see more alien forces approaching from far away to shore up their defenses. Now that they knew where the humans intended to attack, they concentrated their power to
try and repel them. That was one of the differences between human and alien – they weren’t afraid to use everything at their disposal, any method no matter how costly or cruel, to achieve their ends.
In the Shattered Starfields, they had used asteroids to pummel their ships. In the North they had turned planets into time bombs. This time they looked ready to face the human head-on, without aid. They were confident in their numbers and ability.
Lan Qing’s voice resounded through all the ships. “Proceed with on-sight preparations. Do a final system’s check. Get ready to execute the first part of the plan.” It was wise to check that everything was in top condition after a long flight, especially before a battle. It was standard practice in interstellar battles.
The armada dimmed suddenly as ships conserved energy for the battle to come.
All of a sudden, twelve large ships launched forward. They were fast, and charged ahead at full speed almost immediately. No one spacecraft followed.
These twelve ships were some of the strongest in the armada.
They were their fleet’s flagships, each of them sovereign-class Capital ships. Although there was only a dozen of them, each ship was over ten kilometers long, and they burned toward the planet with an indomitable will.
Meanwhile Middle Heaven pressed forward. The front-facing section of its lithosphere actually split apart, revealing a honeycomb of densely packed cannons. One thousand and eighty altogether, their muzzles three hundred meters in diameter. Already an ominous light was growing in their depths.
Forget the aliens. The humans looked on in disbelief at what they were witnessing. Weren’t they just told to hold and check their equipment? Why the sudden attack? Where they just going to start shooting?
The Capital ships themselves already had their cannons extended. The space around them crackled and they burned with energy, ready to rain destruction upon the alien forces at a moment’ notice.
The command was repeated through every ship, and in response their cannons released a bone-jarring barrage into the enemy. They had just come into range of their weapons, and their reactions were markedly sluggish. In fact they had hardly reacted until the Capital ships had begun to pick up speed.
The space before them was covered in a hundred beasts about a thousand meters long. They looked like silk worms, dumbly wriggling in space, blocking passage forward. Their disgusting writhing became more frantic and they stretched themselves out into fleshy cakes.
But they were too slow. The salvo from the human ships smashed into them before they had a chance to completely transform.
Capital ships were equipped with anti-matter cannons that could only be employed in space. Aside from a bastion’s main cannon, they were some of the strongest weapons in mankind’s arsenal. The flash from their cannon fire briefly turned the universe white with burning power.
But a strange scene was revealed when their attack reached the oval-shaped beasts. They caved in as the beams of light reached them, but did not break. Instead the borders of the oval creatures lit up and spat out the diffused cannon fire. It seemed as destructive as before, but spread out in horizontal waves.
If they hadn’t seen it with their own eyes, no one would have believed it. However this wasn’t a complete rebuke of the Capital ship’s power. The closest line of them couldn’t resist the antimatter energy and were slowly dissolved into nothing. Still, their defenses served to greatly reduce the destructive power of the volley.
It was to the humans’ advantage that these creatures were also slow. Gaped still remained in their defensive line. Where
the cannon fire slipped through, all the aliens behind were burned away.
Screeches and sizzles filled the battlefield. The Capital ship’s attack was lick kicking a hornet’s nest, serving to send the aliens into a violent frenzy.
Their main cannons spent, the Capital ships swung around and blasted back the way they had come. Their secondary weapons systems lit up as they fired into the encroaching alien forces to cover their escape.
Even lesser weapons on a Capital ship were a sight to behold. They weren’t called the strongest fleet ships for no reason. Likewise their defensive were strong, and protected them valiantly as the ships fled from the field.
The front line of the alien attack was comprised of the shuttle- aliens, which specialized in explosive speed. Although there were a myriad of breeds in the alien species, each with different abilities, size always seemed to indicate strength. This was the same for the shuttle aliens, whose front line were all a thousand meters long or more. In a blink they were on the Capital ships, smashing themselves into their shields.
Even dreadnaughts, mighty as they were, would have fallen to this assault. But these were Capital ships, and their might was more than the aliens could overcome. Their shields rippled as the aliens flung themselves against it but did not break. What’s more, since they attacked from the limit of where their guns could reach, only a small numbers of the enemy were fast enough to catch them.
Suddenly the twelve Capital ships split, tearing off to either side. The beasts chasing them did not follow, for they were caught off guard by the enormous thing that had been waiting just behind.
The array of cannons lit up, an angry red. Just the energy that radiated from it was terrifying. So terrifying in fact that the aliens giving chase broke off and scattered.
For a bastion like Middle Heaven, what sort of destruction could it achieve?
The slower aliens making their way closer reacted the same and fled for their lives. The aliens were in disarray. Even those
creatures thousands of meters across heaved their lumbering bulks away, desperate to avoid what was coming!
Without their home worlds there were no aliens that could withstand the guns of a bastion ships. Instead, their only plan of attack was to overwhelm the humans with superior numbers. However they had been drawn in before they realized what was happening, and the glowing barrels of Middle Heaven’s cannons proved it way already too late.
As Middle Heaven inched forward the light from its cannons brightened. The promise of immediately destruction stopped the alien retaliation and sent them running.
This is called 品 formation. You can see how the character is a pretty spot-on representation of three death stars.
TJSS calls them ‘big mac-class’ in size.
Chapter 773: Profit at Another’s Expense
With the buffer given by Middle Heaven, the Capital ships safely made it back to the safety of the armada. The other two bastions and their entourage were still, silently watching what transpired.
They returned to formation quickly, just in time to bear witness to Middle Heaven as its payload was released.
Blinding, angry red light erupted from the front of the remolded planet. It was so fierce that it painted everything before it in the same blazing light. Distant aliens were a riot of squirming bodies trying to flee.
But in the next instant they were stunned to find that the burst of fire from them only extended a thousand meters or so. Middle Heaven shot backward toward where the rest of the armada was watching.
Those weren’t cannons… they were thrusters? They were using them for a quick retreat. Everyone – not just the aliens – were stupefied by the revelation.
What was Middle Heaven doing? Why thrusters? Those intimidating lights had all just been its engines getting ready to fire?
By the time Middle Heaven returned to position at the head of the fleet, the twelve Capital ships were back in formation and ready for orders.
After a moment of confusion the aliens gathered together once again. From across space it looked like they were getting ready to charge with their full strength. But the human ships were ready, their warships light up as all checks were complete. Preparations were made to meet the enemy head on.
Human technology gave them an advantage against the aliens at long range. Their enemies had nowhere to hide and no cover to protect them. The blitz attack had also caught them off guard and broke their formation.
Unfortunately the monsters were not impulsive, they were possessed of a superior intellect. They only surged ahead a short distance then stopped, like an enormous creature baring its fangs but refraining from the attack. Invisible sound waves brought a chorus of angry snarls and howls. A portion of them shrunk back and concealed themselves behind the planet. Like
in the North they used the planet as a shield.
As the aliens retreated the ships dimmed once more. Things returned to a quiet stalemate.
Lan Qing stood in Middle Heaven’s control room, staring at the screen before him with grim countenance. He carefully watched everything going on. Their brief skirmish had slain over four thousand six hundred foes and his people got back without a scratch. It had only cost them energy.
Profit at another’s expense, this was the first part of their plan. With all their troops the humans were still outnumbered and were in an unsafe position, even without the addition of the alien home worlds. A direct confrontation was not how they would snatch victory from their aggressors. They wouldn’t be able to break the line, much less assault the enigmatic planets hiding somewhere behind them.
Because of this Lan Qing’s plan was to weaken the enemy first. They would whittle down their numbers through several means. It would be difficult if not impossible for the humans to turn the battle to their favor if they fought a typical war. Reinforcements from other planets would continue to pour in if they got caught in a full assault and his own forces would be
hard pressed to keep formation.
At present humanity’s greatest advantage were their bastions, which were unparalleled by anything the aliens could put before it. In addition, humans had range whereas the aliens fought in close quarters.
Lan Qing’s plan was to take full advantage of their strengths.
Lan Qing had called it a rolling blitz.
Only the top commanders knew the whole plan, the rest only performed the orders as they were given. These orders were given face to face, for fear the enemy could hear their communications. The commanders themselves had shared nothing with their people prior to the surprise attack. Lan Qing’s order to prepare had been the secret signal to act.
How could the aliens, who saw the humans arrive on such weak footing, imagine that they would attack so suddenly and so fiercely? They had taken advantage of their Capital ships, Middle Heaven, and range to take them by surprise.
The difference in strength between the two sides was not much, though this was only because the alien home worlds were
not present. The humans were fewer in number but had three bastions, and coming in for close range combat would cost the creatures dearly.
Lan Qing’s plan was meticulous, and hinged on a simple premise; win enough small victories to win the war. Enough small changes can turn the tide of war.
The opening salvo didn’t inflict heavy losses on their foes. Nor were they able to recover vital crystals from those they killed. Still the humans had got off cheap for the damage they caused. Although the blitz had been costly, Capital ships were possessed of systems to recover energy from the space around them. So long as they weren’t locked in continuous battle they could restore what was lost through cosmic radiation. It was not so easy for the aliens to recover their forces.
But there was a deeper meaning for this opening attack. Ever since the start of this conflict the humans had suffered, and were ever at a disadvantage. Every clash had resulted in their unmitigated defeat.
It would be foolish to assume this didn’t affect the morale of their soldiers. Although the first exchange was quick and small, it had been performed without any losses on the human side.
This had a marvelous effect on morale, and strengthened cooperation and trust among the allied forces.
In this universe, truth was always more effective than promises. Actions spoke louder than words. Seeing the truth through action strengthened the bonds among soldiers. They saw themselves as a team, which was the basis for any victory. Once that unity was focused they could achieve anything.
Moreover, Middle Heaven had thrown itself into the fray in order to give their allies cover. It revealed its impressive maneuverability, and as backup helped the Capital ships return without incident. As guardian it allowed for them to test the waters, to see how strong their foes were and how they planned to fight.
The simple act had revealed a lot to the humans. Describe it as a success didn’t do it justice.
Both sides had withdrawn to their camps and – as before – stared at each other from across a stretch of empty space. Only now the enemy was shown not to be invisible. Middle Heaven had given them hope.
This latest bastion was brand new, so much that even the Eastern forces didn’t know what it was capable of. But it was huge, no smaller than the alien home worlds themselves, and could move with surprise agility. Everyone was anxious to see what it could do.
Now that the surprise attack was finished, it was time to rest and reorganize. Next would be the real battle. Lan Qing had enough confidence in their formation and the strength of their ranged advantage that he didn’t fear a sudden attack from the enemy. He would be happy if they tried.
Lan Qing called another meeting to confirm the next step in their plan. He summoned all the commanders now that the stage had been set. He would need everyone’s support for the fight to come.
“You look tired.” Lan Jue frowned as he walked into the control room and saw his brother.
Lan Qing was seated behind his desk with his eyes closed, thinking of something. Outwardly he looked normal, but they were brothers after all. It didn’t take long for Lan Jue to see the sag in the way Lan Qing held himself. The older Lan typically was an endless font of energy, so it was a stark contrast.
Lan Qing opened his eyes. When he saw who arrived he sat up straight, and the sharp look in his eyes returned.
“I’m fine. Take a seat.” He motioned toward a nearby chair.
Lan Jue took it.
“Congratulations on your initial victory. I’m hearing nothing but praise.” Lan Jue said with a smile. Even he didn’t know about the plan for a sneak attack.
Lan Qing shook his head. “We’ve only just started. Save congratulations for when we win.”
The smile fled from Lan Jue’s face. “You… always so hollow.”
Lan Qing shot him a look. “Are you ready for your part? How you perform will directly impact the success of our campaign. The arrow’s knocked, the bow is drawn – there’s no going back. Once it begins I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how dangerous things will be.”
“What is there left to prepare?” Lan Jue replied. “The Paragons are as strong as they’re gonna be in a few hours.
Qianlin and I have reached our bottleneck.”
Lan Qing’s brows knit as he looked at his younger brother. “You have to get back safely.”
Lan Jue was comforting. “Relax, I know what I’m doing. Even though the Violet Prince and Monarch are somewhere close, I don’t think they’ll put that much effort into hunting me down. We’re going to do everything within our power, don’t you worry. If there’s really no way to save those people we know the focus has to be on survival of the species.”
Lan Qing looked at him, surprise clear in his face. “I didn’t expect to hear that from you. I expected to have you come in here and demand we hold nothing back to save the hostages.”
Lan Jue smirked at him. “I know what’s important. Star Division will be leading the ground assault team, and I’ll link up with them once our own mission is finished. So, what’s next in your plan?”
Chapter 774: 48 Hours
Lan Qing fixed him with a flat stare. “You’ll know when you need to know. All I can give you is a time. Forty-eight hours, then you start your mission. We will have plans for our own actions at that time.”
“Alright! In that case I’m off to take a look at my division.” He rose to his feet and bade farewell to his brother.
Lately the Paragons of the Division had experienced much change. It was the soldiers that saw the greatest improvement. With the wealth of resources and support from Skyfire Avenue, Star Division had spared no effort in their training. Not only was their cultivation improved on an individual level, but their equipment was also a cut above.
Everyone knew their military exploits were already enough for the exuvium process. Skyfire Avenue had also assured them that if something should happen in the course of their service, the rewards from their exploits would be passed to their families. The people they love would be able to benefit from their sacrifice. It effectively assuaged family considerations that would have hampered their ability to act in the battlefield.
In contrast to the rest of humanity since the outbreak of war, Star Division had been running smoothly in every aspect. They had never been defeated, only forced to retreat. Star Division was the darling of military leaders, and no one had to worry about their morale.
The more they worked together the better they performed as a team. It was true for whole brigades and individual squads. In response their efficacy on the field had skyrocketed.
Skyfire Avenue’s independent research had also confirmed what they knew, that the aliens were especially susceptible to Discipline. Mechas flooded with an Adept’s powers were especially potent.
Star Division had their own section aboard Middle Heaven, a jurisdiction won through their continued success on the field. As they continued to develop as Skyfire Avenue’s military arm, even the Bloodiron Khans couldn’t keep up. In fact, there was no army that could compare.
Lan Jue drove a verti-car to the division’s encampment. It was quiet when he got there, no one was immediately visible.
These guys… what are they up to?
Lately he had been busy performing scout missions and helping his brother draw up battle plans. He had had no time to check on the status of his division. But there were Paragons to look after them, and Su Xiaosu was overseeing their training. He wasn’t concerned they were slacking. Still, as commander he had to survey the troops before the big fight and make sure they were up to snuff.
He parked the car and made his way to the training area. As he made his way he was accosted by a familiar face.
“It’s you?” There were no honorifics or respectful exchanges.
There was just surprise, and something strange underneath.
Lan Jue felt similarly awkward, as the Savage Goddess Tan Lingyun came his way.
It had been ages since their last interaction, ever since the creation of Star Division. Aside from training and missions they had had no interactions. He’d been too busy to spend time with his soldiers, and that included her.
She didn’t seem any different on the outside, but the strength of her aura had certainly improved. She’d definitely gotten stronger, more confident. Her overbearing heroism was more refined and she held herself with poise. Tan Lingyun’s eye- catching personage was helped by the skin-tight flight suit she wore.
Still quite the figure… Lan Jue said to himself. Tan Lingyun’s body struck all the right notes, enough that she turned a lot of heads wherever she went. Lan Jue was a man and was just as susceptible.
“Why are you here?” She blurted out. Immediately regret passed across her face. She was, after all, speaking to her commander.
Lan Jue smirked. “I’m here to check on everyone. How are things? Are you accustomed to your post?”
Tan Lingyun’s voice was calm. “No problems. If there’s nothing then I’ll head off.” She started to stride off, but paused when she came to his side. But whatever she was thinking she reconsidered, and quickly left.
When she passed him Lan Jue had a strange sense – like this woman who had given him so much trouble in the past was different all of a sudden.
He hadn’t noticed the moisture in her eyes. It wasn’t because of him, but because of what she felt. She had felt conflicted about Lan Jue for a long time, a fact which confused her deeply. She had assumed the moment she saw him that he was garbage
– a pretty handbag with nothing inside. Etiquette teacher… he seemed like such a joke.
But then she began to discover the abilities he had deftly hidden away. First was his command of spacecraft, and that was the first time she thought he might be worth more than he appeared. Then his spectacular display at the Grand Adept Tournament, even winning Champion. It was then her estimation of the man completely changed, when she realized he was the Lei Feng that had touched her so deeply.
She was a strong woman, who had pursued perfection with a dogged will. Lei Feng was the first man who had ever left such an impression. For a woman like her, only a man who could conquer her on the field of battle had what it took to conquer her heart.
Lei Feng had that power, but even Lan Jue didn’t know the sort of effect he’d had on Tan Lingyun.
Because of this conflict Tan Lingyun liked the masked man the most. Cold, expressionless, pure power… Lei Feng was her preference. Knowing who had captured her infatuation had been startling, she would much have rather found Lei Feng to be a stranger.
But the world was full of instances where you didn’t get what you wanted.
Every time she saw him the first thing she remembered was that effeminate, composed professor. Her heart only started racing when he put the mask on.
She didn’t understand it herself. In reality they were the same person – she should like Lan Jue. But when she looked on his face she still felt confused and unsure, not excitement. Then he puts on the mask, and she feels like she loses her self-control.
Later, when Lan Jue stopped wearing the mask so much, it was like Lei Feng had disappeared. He was no longer a part of her life, but the brief moment she’d spent with him was
something she would remember forever. She hoped he would return one day, perhaps in a different form, and she searched for him in Star Division all the time. After all, Skyfire Avenue’s soldiers were rife with strong fighters. There should be someone suitable for her, she thought. But Lei Feng’s impression had been first and had been deep, replacing him would be difficult.
When she was passing him, in a moment of weakness, she had thought to ask if he would wear the mask. Just so she could see Lei Feng for a moment. But thought the words hung on the top of her tongue, how could she make such a request?
They were on the precipice of a war like none of them had ever seen. She didn’t know if she would make it back. Perhaps Lei Feng would always have to remain a pleasant memory.
It was just a passing feeling, but one she was not accustomed to. It made her feel weak and out of control.
When she passed him, Lan Jue stood with furrowed brow as though thinking. Then a moment later he continued on his way.
The inside of the training area was just as silent as the
exterior, a fact that made Lan Jue even more curious. Shouldn’t they be training, he thought? Why was it so quiet? They were just about to go into battle and needed to be in peak condition.
Just then his communicator buzzed. It was Su Xiaosu.
“Boss?” She sounded a little excited. “Any instructions?”
“Xiaosu,” he replied. “I’m in the Division training area, why isn’t there anyone here? Where is everybody?”
He could hear her snickering. “Oh – oh, we’re at the second training field. Wait there, I’ll come get you.” She asked where he was specifically then hung up.
A short time later Su Xiaosu came running up to him. She was also in the Division’s flight suit, and it certainly treated her well. Lan Jue was surprised to feel her acting like he hadn’t seen since she was the Moonfiend Empress. It seemed giving her command of the Division had brought back that old fire.
“You’re looking well.” Lan Jue said with a smile. Seeing her like this also made him feel better. He knew the Division was in
Su Xiaosu answered with a smile of her own. “Not just me, everyone is doing great. The troops have improved, and I think I can honestly that the Division can outperform all those fleets out there. Of course, including the Paragons.”
Lan Jue nodded. “The soldiers, then? Why don’t I see anybody?”
“Come with me,” she said. “They’re training in the second field.”
Lan Jue hadn’t come to the area An Lun had set up for Star Division, this was his first visit. Su Xiaosu quickly led him to the second field. When he arrived he understood why things were so quiet.
He stood in a spotlessly white warehouse filled with sim pods. They were the upgraded DreamNet pods, and each one of them had the red flame of Star Division painted on the side. The sheer amount of resources that must have gone in to acquiring all of these was staggering to think about.
The troops were logged in, training.
Of course! How could he forget? Lan Jue slapped his forehead. In both Discipline and mecha piloting his soldiers were among the best. The sheer amount of destruction they could cause, even by accident, was too much to risk. A thousand Adepts in their suits would have torn up the bastion’s surface.
After DreamNet’s upgrade they could employ their Disciplines in the simulation, and didn’t need to hold back when training with their mecha suits. This was the advantage to having a warehouse full of new pods.
Chapter 775: The Mighty Star Division
Safety concerns were just as true for mechas as they were for Adepts. In DreamNet it was almost impossible to tell the distinction between simulation and reality, even when piloting a suit. What’s more, no one needed to fear accidents, safety was assured. DreamNet was undoubtedly the most suitable place for Star Division to train.
“How is the training going?” He asked Su Xiaosu.
She responded. “Very well. It was like the upgrade was tailor- made for us. The simulation is precisely what they would encounter in real life, even emulating levels of exhaustion. Training at full capacity their progress has been spectacular. Some of our people are god-ranked pilots already – one fourth of them, to be precise. And it’s not just me saying it, boss. You may not be the best pilot in the crew anymore.”
Lan Jue smirked. “That good, eh? That’s excellent news.”
Su Xiaosu stared at him. “Why do I get the sense you don’t believe me?”
Lan Jue was playful in his reply. “Oh, it’s not that I don’t believe you! But to make sure don’t you think we should test that out?” He was anxious to see whether their progress really was as good as she was saying. If it was they would perform well when their time came to infiltrate the planet. Once he was familiar with their strengths and limitations he could put them to most efficient use when the fight started.
“Alright!” She replied without hesitation. She brought Lan Jue to an open sim pod and had him enter. She then returned to her own.
Lan Jue deftly entered his login information. He wasn’t playing with Newblet or any training mecha today. He would be piloting DreamNet’s version of Thor. Of course this was an older version, sans the upgrades the real Thor enjoyed. In addition DreamNet could not handle any protogenic powers.
The technology that went into this upgrade was astounding. Not an ounce of energy users poured into the pod was wasted. It was also equipped with an energy recycling system that stored charges from Discipline for portable use, like on a bastion. A single person using a single pod wouldn’t generate much, but a thousand high-class Adepts together could create quite a stockpile.
It was a positive cycle.
Lan Jue re-familiarized himself with Thor’s controls, testing the waters. Everything was as fluid as it always had been, and he felt comfortable even after so long away from the simulated world.
“Boss.” Su Xiaosu’s voice caught his attention.
“I’m here.” He answered.
She went on. “How about I gather a small group for you to spar with, so you can see what I’m talking about.”
Lan Jue chuckled. “Alright! But do you think a small team can compete? Perhaps you should make it a little bigger.” He wasn’t being boastful, he knew his own capabilities. At his level of mastery the number of opponents hardly mattered anymore, especially against less skillful contenders.
Lan Jue was a God-ranked pilot. With the evolution and improvement of his Discipline his body had also developed. He suspected his hand speed was about as good as the ‘fastest hands
alive’, the Coffee Master. He could easily top one hundred commands per second. Once a pilot was able to reach those kinds of speeds all manner of complicated techniques were open to them. He was also a ninth level Talent. All things considered, he suspected that even if the Clairvoyant came back from the dead and came at him with his old mecha, he would stand more than a fighting chance.
Lan Jue was also well versed in martial arts, another style which could be employed with mecha suits. He’d tried it before with some success.
“We’ll start with a small team then go from there. Boss, you mustn’t hold back alright?” Su Xiaosu urged. Her mirthful voice sounded a little sinister.
“Alright, bring it on.”
No sooner did he say the words than an invitation to spar popped up on his screens. He accepted, and half a moment later Thor was standing in a large arena. It was a standard competition-style battleground.
Head to head… at least they’re confident. Lan Jue smirked to
himself in the sim pod.
There was a flash of light, and ten more mecha suits appeared on the far side of the arena. They came in all different shapes and sizes, with the only similarity being the Star Division flame standing out against the metal.
Star Division received tremendous support, not only from Skyfire Avenue but from the Eastern government itself. All of their pilot data was stored on DreamNet, so as a result they were given two sets of mechas made specifically for them. One was for use out in the real world, and the second was for DreamNet. The two were exactly the same.
Lan Jue urged Thor to wave at the distant competitors. “Come!”
Their formation seemed sloppy, but the moment they say Thor they shaped up. They raced at him in a semi-circle to try and surround the sapphire mecha.
Nothing special? Lan Jue mused. At first glance it didn’t even look like they were working well together. They approached all at different speeds, but all of them seemed built for melee
combat. There wasn’t a single long-range fighter among them.
Lan Jue felt an excitement boiling within him. He had spent so many days in silence with Qianlin, stabilizing his Discipline. It was time to make a little noise.
He wasn’t yet using his Discipline, but Thor raced ahead like a thunderbolt regardless. He made no overtures to juke or break the encirclement – he charged right in.
Lan Jue had great confidence in his piloting ability, a confidence that came from years of experience. Even if he was facing ten times the number of suits he was sure he could handle them easily. Thor would weave among them like a fish darting through water and destroy his adversaries.
Thor was fast, blasted ahead like a beam of light. In no time it reached met the small team. The first one Thor encountered was a larger mecha, a kind he’d never seen before. It was at least twice as large as Thor.
A large size meant more energy, power and weight. But it also typically made this sort of suit cumbersome to pilot. Heavy attackers all suffered from this deficiency.
Appearing right in the midst of them so suddenly was also Lan Jue’s attempt at seeing how they’d react. In a flash it vanished again and appeared at their flank. A sword crackling with electric energy was in its grip – Lan Jue’s new preferred weapon.
He couldn’t use Occisus in the simulation, obviously. But now that he’d chosen to use it in real combat, it was also his weapon of choice in DreamNet.
He thrust forward, aiming for the mecha’s armpit. From here the sword would slip right through the armor and into the opponent’s cockpit, immediately putting the suit out of commission.
Even such a simple strike was made very dangerous because of Lan Jue’s speed.
The other team members saw it from a different perspective. The blue beam of light that was Thor appeared suddenly in front of their team leader. Then, leaving behind a warped afterimage, their target swept sideways and stabbed at their comrade.
But the expected did not occur.
His sword hit its target, but Lan Jue immediately felt like something wasn’t right. He didn’t sense any obstruction, his sword sliding in all the way to the hilt. This definitely was not normal.
He hadn’t used any Discipline, and this sword wasn’t especially sharp. What about the suit’s shields? How could his attack have landed so easily?
As he pondered the enormous suit toppled on top of him like a corpse. Accompanying it was a powerful vacuum force that came from nowhere. In the same instant the other nine suits fell upon him like a swarm, suddenly several times faster than they had been.
The disjointed unit was suddenly on him, a circle of metal suits that gave him no route of escape.
Surround and destroy?
Lan Jue’s smile spread bigger. They had a plan after all.
The large mecha was also changing. After falling it had actually started to get larger, trying to keep Thor pinned. His sword and half his suit’s arm was stuck in the expanding trap. This thing seemed less like a suit and more like an ooze. Lan Jue was slowly being devoured by it.
What a unique suit! Liquid metal?
Lan Jue had to make a decision. He was in a dangerous spot, but even now he was not alarmed. He’d seen a lot on the battlefield, and though they had taken him by surprise this wasn’t going to throw him.
Thor’s body lit up as bolts of electricity shot out in all directions. A sound like thunder burst out from the suit, the sound of its shields. Lan Jue’s mecha was God-ranked, hand- built. Of course it had its own tricks to employ.
The electric wave tearing through the air in the midst of the explosion caused the incoming mechas to pause. Lan Jue used the brief respite to get Thor free. The suit dissolves into a flash of lightning and rose, tearing itself from clutches of the hulking lump of metal keeping it down.
Chapter 776: Sparring
Lan Jue’s face betrayed the ghost of a smile and his fingers danced over the controls like flowing water. Thor moved so fast its image blurred, breaking through a gap in their encirclement before soaring into the air.
But Lan Jue didn’t escape without cost. The sword Thor bore had been buried too deeply in the liquid metal mecha, and he’d been unable to pull it free. Said mecha reformed into its typical portly form before crouching low. The other attackers quickly spread out, unperturbed by Lan Jue’s escape.
Star Division’s commander didn’t press the attack. He was more interested in seeing how well this team worked together, how strong they’d become. Their opening gambit had been pretty good. If he had been slower, if it wasn’t for Thor’s superior construction, that fat mecha would have gotten him.
Lan Jue wasn’t given much time to think about it. The large mecha suddenly launched itself into the air like a cannonball, heading straight for him. In response he pulled Thor to the side to try and dodge – one could imagine the damage something that heavy could do, even if it clipped you.
But just then Lan Jue felt the controls grow sluggish. Though he dodged the fat mecha’s charge something had set him off balance. His sapphire mecha staggered in the air. He instinctively looked to the ground where he found another mecha who’d captured him in a beam of yellow light.
Gravity capture, he suddenly understood. The Adept below was using their gravity Discipline to try and pin Thor down. But it was still the fat mecha that surprised him most. Hovering behind him in the air it underwent a tremendous transformation.
Its lumbering body compressed, changing from a silvery soldier to an angry violet orb. Tentacles lurched out from within it and tried to wrap around Thor.
An alien planet?
He was flabbergasted, it was the last thing Lan Jue expected to see. Could an alien planet just appear here? His shock and alarm took its toll, Thor hesitated. Another mecha appeared over his head, while the one that had been dragging him from below vanished.
The sudden change in the gravitational field put him off balance again. He pulled Thor around and urged the sapphire mecha toward the ground. But, just then, an explosion burst from above him. A rush of air struck his Thor, sending it careening out of control right for the liquid metal warrior.
Alright guys, time for my Discipline.
Violet tentacles groped at Thor, ready to wrap him up. Lan Jue was forced to employ his Discipline. At just the right instant a blue light sprang up from within the mecha to create a net of electricity around it. The airburst behind it was cut off, and the tentacles in front met a wall of lightning.
Thor descending toward the ground and extricated itself from between its foes.
Fighting in the air against a gravity Adept was inadvisable. Although the Discipline didn’t effect Lan Jue much, its effects were significantly magnified against Thor’s weighty body and made control much more difficult. On the ground the adverse effects wouldn’t be as dramatic.
He had to deal with the enemy’s battlefield control first. He
came up with a plan.
Opponents who could control the flow of battle were the most troublesome. Through their skills they broke one’s rhythm and forced them to fight on their own terms. The fight was already ten on one, making his position even more precarious. So, Lan Jue’s first target was that gravity-manipulating Adept.
Thor slowed as it reached the ground – a result of increased gravity. Clearly this Adept was pretty strong, ninth rank he suspected. Anything less wouldn’t be effecting him so dramatically.
Lan Jue figured it out, but by now it was already too late to use the information. His only course was to reach the ground and deal with the Adept with his lightning Discipline, in order for Thor to be able to use its speed advantage.
Lan Jue was heading right for his target, but all of a sudden his path was blocked by another. A large mecha appeared with a mighty shield between it and Thor.
Thor suddenly sped up and punched at the shield with a fist. A sword constructed of amalgamated lightning burnt into being
within its free hand. Making a weapon with his Discipline was no difficult feat for the Demon Drillmaster.
Boom! Thor laid into the shield with the full force of its weight behind it, but the shield bearer only retreated half a step. He watched the shield undergo three changes in rapid succession; first it shook, bent, then snapped back into shape.
The expertly timed flexibility diffused Thor’s attack. What’s more, it stopped the mecha in its tracks.
Impressive shield control.
He only had a moment to appreciate the skill before a blinding light and teeth-clenching impact struck.
Lan Jue had only just coalesced his powers into the shape of the sword, so Thor would need a moment before the weapon could be employed. Evidently his opponent had planned for this and was ready. His foe would not be thrown aside.
But Thor staggered backward a few steps.
Meanwhile, the ‘alien planet’ above them descended to join the fight. The others mechas surrounded him again.
Lan Jue figured the shape-shifting orb of metal was his wretched apprentice. There were others besides him who’s Disciplines involved metalmorphosis, but none so crafty as to know that changing into an alien would frighten his opponents and give him an edge.
The one who got him with the sneak attack in the air had to be an Adept with control over air. Their mecha piloting abilities were stellar, he hadn’t seen the attack coming until he was right on top of him.
The door in front of him had also left an impression. Crowd control and shield defense. The defender’s Discipline had to involve the shield somehow, otherwise they wouldn’t have such precise control.
Screech! The ear-splitting sound of an alarm filled the cockpit.
Lan Jue’s screens were reading an energy systems crash.
“What?” Lan Jue looked at the error messages, which told him the energy transfer line had been cut. Thirty percent of
Thor’s energy was gone.
Cloaking! His fifth enemy had the ability to make themselves invisible – their whole suit invisible. But that was impossible! Did the mecha have a cloaking system as well?
He had to react. Thor split into identical copies, each one going a different direction. Ghosting. The invisible opponent just made this fight much harder.
One on one things would have been different Lan Jue would be able to make quick determinations and enact a plan. But this wasn’t one on one! There were ten enemies, and each of them were formidable. With all this support the cloaking mecha had plenty of opportunities to make his life hell.
He suddenly realized Su Xiaosu must have cheated him.
This couldn’t be a single unit. All of them were at least ninth level – what team had so many strong adepts? It’s was the only way to explain how much trouble he was having.
But I hope you don’t think you’re beating me.
Lan Jue grunted, and he drew his electric sword through the in air a circle. Both Thors performed the same action to separate itself from the series of successive attacks.
One of the double images vanished, revealing only the true form. He thrust forward with his sword, and the arena shook from the sound of crashing waves.
As he struck with the weapon, Thor seemed to enter an entirely different state. It sparkled with a deep blue light like it had suddenly become a living gemstone.
To his opponents, it felt as though the air had turned thick like mud. Their speed suffered markedly. Although Thor pierced only the air with its weapon, to the other pilots it felt like that sword was coming right at them.
Everyone felt it, powerful and overbearing. A beam of blinding light was spat from the crackling weapon that drew all the light from the blade itself, leaving it a deep cobalt blue.
All at once the arena looked as though it was submerged in water, everything was painted that shade of blue. Waves of energy crashed through the opposing mechas.
Discipline and martial arts. It doesn’t matter if your Disciplines change a thousand times, I’d still keep you down with this. Direct strength overcomes!
This is all he did. But then something happened he did not expect.
After a moment of surprise his enemies reacted. They were slower but could still move – after all they were ninth level Adepts with mechas that enhanced their abilities.
Chapter 777: Pleasant Surprises
A blinding light erupted from behind the mecha with the shield as its thrusters sparked to life. Its shield also flared with illumination, and emerging through the blaze was a bright yellow tiger’s head.
A wave of vigorous energy answered Lan Jue’s own, as lofty and indomitable as a mountain. Behind the glare was the fat mecha, almost certainly piloted by Tang Xiao. He’d transformed back from the alien planet to a standard mecha shape and hid behind the defender. All other members of their team quickly followed and lined up for protection.
Gravity went wild. One moment it was almost too much for him to move his arms, the next he was completely weightless. The constant, erratic changes were making it impossible to control Thor in its descent toward the line of contenders.
A figure suddenly appeared behind him. The deadly glint of a swiping dagger was coming at him again, aiming for another energy transfer pipe.
Thor’s armor and shields were impressive. How else could they get past his defenses unless by sneak attack? His opponent
knew it too, so they had no delusions of destroying Thor outright. Evidently their plan was to cripple him, and give their companions an opportunity to land more devastating blows.
The speed of these fighters was top-notch.
Lan Jue acted as though he didn’t see the mecha from behind, and did not immediately react. Thor’s sword was pointed firmly ahead toward the others. But just as the blow was about to land Thor seemed to give in to the gravity and dipped – just enough to avoid the deadly daggers.
Ting! Thor’s sword rang against the metal shield. At it did the tiger emblazoned on the shield grew clearer, and almost seemed to move like it was biting at the sword.
Unfortunately for the shieldbearer a surge of energy burst from Thor’s weapon, submerging the tiger in electric power and eventually swallowing up the mecha that bore it.
It was immediately consumed, leaving no trace behind.
The team’s defender was no more.
Next Thor swung its left fist backward, as though for a wild punch. Yet a dragging vacuum force sprang up from behind. It was strong enough to nearly freeze the sneak attacker, just enough for Thor’s fist – flickering with black and white power – to come crashing into it.
Boom–! The cloaking mecha exploded, filling the air with thunderous noise and shards of smoldering metal. Two opponents down, but they could take solace in the fact that their loss wasn’t a deficiency of skill. It was due to the enormous difference in Discipline. Lan Jue’s peak-ranked power, Thor’s outrageous construction, and his martial arts knowledge had turned the tide of battle. Lan Jue managed to defeat the most menacing of his enemies, the cloaker. Focused flow All-Heaven lightning removed their shieldbearer from the equation.
The advantage of strength was revealed.
Thor continued to power forward, through where the defender had been, following the course of the sword as it headed for the fat mecha. The sounds of crashing waves grew louder.
Momentum was focused flow’s strong suit. It struck with the strength and consistency of mighty ocean waves. Just like the
ebb and flow of the tide, Lan Jue’s next attack came on the heels of the first.
The large mecha didn’t try to dodge. In fact, it couldn’t. Instead it lunged forward to meet the electric blade without hesitation.
Liquid metal can’t survive All-Heaven lightning, why is he acting stupid? Lan Jue silently chastised. But when he saw his disciple dissolve into a puddle of mush and avoid the strike he didn’t know whether to laugh or curse.
If he hadn’t had to spin around and deal with the sneak attacker he could have focused on the sword, becoming one with the technique. But as it stood his flow had been broken as had his forward momentum. Of course, part of the reason he had to stop was for fear of being stuck in the puddle of student beneath his feet.
The floor of the arena was metal, and under Tang Xiao’s direction it turned to sludge below Thor. In the same instant a crushing gravitational pressure pressed down from above, hastening its sinking.
Even Lan Jue had to admit the team of Tang Xiao and this gravity Adept was something to behold.
Now the other mechas were coming in to attack. However, it was evident that Thor’s display of power had frightening them and changed their tactics. If they didn’t go all out now, they may not have another chance.
Two reached him first. One of them was shaped like a beast and lunged at him without a sound.
Good job, kid. It was Jin Tao, Lan Jue noted. From the beginning he had been hiding behind the others, hiding his presence from his teacher. Now he burst out, holding nothing back.
He chopped with his sword, while in the same moment channeling his Discipline through Thor’s feet. The fluid metal holding him down fractured into minute splinters.
Lan Jue narrowed his eyes as the electric light of his blade carved through the air, right for Jin Tao. But just as it looked like the lion-shaped mecha would be put down, it suddenly shivered and split into two, completely avoiding the strike.
Ghosting? Jin Tao’s that fast?
That technique was something only god-level pilots could pull off, and Jin Tao already seemed to have a good grasp on it. It was no accident he used it in just that moment.
Impressive job kid, you’re improving quickly! In a flash the metal lion was within clawing distance. Both images closed in on him from either side.
Lan Jue was adept at ghosting, and knew its benefits. Thor took a step back and whipped its sword around in a circle – Taiji sword style.
Jin Tao only felt the energy in front of him change, and half a breath later his mecha could hardly move. He saw himself moving toward the arc of the electric blade almost in slow motion.
With a deep and guttural roar Jin Tao’s mecha fused back into one and reached out with its claws. A golden light burst from within him and spread out in a corona of light. The force of it wrenched him free from Thor’s control. Its two front appendages, claws glinting, tore toward Thor’s head.
Lan Jue was positioned just right to thrust his weapon into the lion’s chest.
Jin Tao did not dodge. His name, the Frenzied Lion Mastiff, was not given in vain. In every fight he viciously fought in the face of death. His opponents feared him. What’s more he was an expert at close combat, and it could be said he was the hardiest soldier in Star Division.
If Lan Jue went ahead with the thrust it would leave him open to Jin Tao’s claws. He would hit his mark, but not without being punished for it.
Lan Jue didn’t back down, he had faith in the strength of his Discipline. He saw that Jin Tao wasn’t going to retreat either. The young man was assured his ferocity and outright strength would shake his opponent to their core.
The lightning sword slipped into the lion’s chest, its doughty armor was no match for All-Heaven lightning. As electric light coursed into the mecha he could see it struggling.
But in a move that shocked the Jewelry Master, the lion mecha’s claws blasted off at the wrists and toward either side of
Thor’s head. If it was just Lan Jue he could easily have dodge the surprise attack, but Thor was less nimble. By the time he was preparing the mecha to react, it was already too late.
Bang-bang! The two blows, one on top of the other, caused Thor to shake. The lion’s claws were lodged on either side of its head.
“Not good!” Lan Jue muttered to himself.
He barely got the words out before a bone-jarring explosion erupted above him. The claws’ explosions were so intense it actually knocked the other mechas back a few steps.
Thor, of course, got the worst of it. In this critical moment Lan Jue didn’t hold back and reached out with the full breadth of his lightning Discipline to try and mitigate the concussive damage.
But it was too quick. Thor’s head and shoulders were a mangled wreck. Thankfully his Discipline had saved the cockpit.
Insane. That was the only words he had to describe his disciple.
Little more than half of his mecha remained, but Lan Jue wasn’t out of the fight yet. Thor sprang to its feet and lashed out with its sword. The movement birthed a hail of electric bolts that covered the ground. Tang Xiao’s slippery mecha was instantly shot full of holes.
Liquid metal twice as strong would be no match for All- Heaven lightning! Tang Xiao was taken out of the fight.
Like a demon-possessed corpse Thor flailed. The unstoppable power of focused flow tore erratically across the battlefield. All of the remaining mechas were annihilated, but in the end more than forty percent of Thor had been obliterated.
Their tactics had been strange, but Lan Jue could tell his opponents weren’t working wholly in unison. If they had, things would have turned out worse for him.
There was a flash, and Thor’s lumbering remains appeared outside the ring. The pilots he’d battled against were waiting.
“Professor!” Tang Xiao’s beaming face met him.
“Professor!” Jin Tao’s happy greeting was half a second behind.
Lan Jue grunted. “I see how it is! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you two, and this is how you greet me?”
Chapter 778: Guardian Angel
“Heh heh!” Tang Xiao chortled. “We just wanted to show off a bit for you, Professor. We haven’t been lazy! You should blame Jin Tao, he’s overzealous. It was him who damaged your mecha.”
Lan Jue also chuckled. “Enough finger-pointing, tell the truth. The claw thing was your suggestion.”
Jin Tao spoke up without giving Tang Xiao a chance to answer. “Professor is so wise!”
Tang Xiao yelped at the injustice. “I’m not responsible for everything bad!”
Lan Jue scowled at him. “If not you, then who? You’re right, you both have improved quite a lot lately, it was I who was lacking. I haven’t been around to guide you. Later I’ll make sure to direct your cultivation.” As he spoke, an insidious grin spread across his face.
Never mind Tang Xiao, the markedly tougher Jin Tao also shook at the prospect. “Professor, we have cultivation to attend
to. We have to go.”
The two of them fled, with the others from their team in hot pursuit. The Demon Drillmaster’s particular brand of instruction was well known throughout Star Division. They weren’t anxious to experience it unnecessarily!
“Boss,” Su Xiaosu’s voice interrupted. “Are they up to your standards?”
Lan Jue looked her way. “They were one unit?”
She stuck out her tongue at him. “Leaders from ten units, but I didn’t have a choice. Everyone wanted a chance to spar with you when they heard you were here. I had to pick the best representatives. Their cooperation was less than perfect, as I’m sure you noticed.”
Lan Jue watched his soldiers as they fled. “They have pretty good battlefield experience. That puts me at ease.” Indeed he could tell that group only just started working together. However, although their teamwork could use some polish, they were still able to play off each other’s strengths. A battle rhythm can’t be rehearsed, it comes through cooperation. That
was the only way to kick their efficacy up to a new level.
With this in mind Lan Jue was very pleased with the result. If all of Star Division’s unit leaders were like them, his group of fighters was in excellent shape.
“Let’s go,” Lan Jue said to her. “I want to look in on their training.”
Su Xiaosu led him to another area. He didn’t join them, but instead looked down from his bird’s eye vantage as they drilled below. He could tell at a glance that the individual units’ tactics had been trained into their marrow. Surprisingly, this training area was a lot like Monteux, complete with simulated alien foes.
These sorts of war games were especially helpful for Star Division. They must have recorded the environmental data of Monteux and the aliens themselves to use in their training, so that it was as true to the real thing as possible. It was clear this hard work over the last few days was a result of their passion and resolve.
As he looked down from on high, the battlefield was like a raging fire that spread out in all directions. His soldiers were
stable, methodical, and worked well with their brothers and sisters in other units. Close-range and long-range specialists were well coordinated. Then there were support fighters and their myriad abilities which counteracted alien attacks.
“It looks like there are even more aliens than when we were really on Monteux!” Lan Jue swept his eyes over the horizon.
Su Xiaosu confirmed. “Yes, by quite a lot. This is a prerequisite for this maneuver. The more pressing the odds, the more likely they are to fight to their full potential. Anyway, who’s to say how many enemies we’ll face when the real fight begins? Right now they’re simulating a situation where they have to fight a vastly stronger enemy force on limited energy reserves to see how long they can hold out. I think it’s very useful for them.”
Lan Jue nodded in agreement. “Very good. It’s also integral that they learn as much as they can about alien fighting styles. You all have been working hard.”
Xiaosu beamed at Lan Jue. All of their progress was, of course, under her direction.
Lan Jue looked back down at the others. “Our offensive begins in forty-eight hours. Let them rest for the last twelve hours before we’re dispatched. No training, let them regain their strength. We want them to be in top shape to avoid casualties. I won’t be commanding them in the beginning, Xiaosu. I need you to do that for me.”
“Of course, boss!” She responded without hesitation.
Lan Jue left without interrupting his soldiers’ hard work. He was impressed by what he saw, pleased by progress he hadn’t anticipated. He was even more confident of their chances now, when the final hour arrived.
He wasn’t privy to all of Lan Qing’s plans, there were some aspects of the assault he wasn’t clear on. He didn’t know anything about how he intended to face the creatures outside the planet. Lan Jue wouldn’t be involved in that part. Most importantly for him was taking care of what he was responsible for.
When he returned to his cabin, Lan Jue looked more relaxed than when he’d left. Qianlin was seated on the bed in silent meditation. A pale white light hung over her. It wasn’t bright, but thick with mystical energy like the aura of an immortal.
Lan Jue walked over to her side and sat, but did not meditate.
Instead he just sat there and watched her.
Lately the sense of manifest destiny pushing things along had followed him wherever he went. Everything the Clairvoyant had told them had come to pass, all but the end result. Lan Jue had been striving now for a long time to help humanity’s chances. For his friends, for Qianlin. No effort would be spared to save them from a gruesome death at the hands of a heartless enemy.
I dragged Qianlin into this, he thought. But she isn’t the only one – everyone’s affected. Everyone must be considered. She will be safe by my side.
After some time, seated cross-legged across from her, Lan Jue also slipped into a meditative state. These last few days he had refrained from cultivating with her, since they were both at the border of ninth level. If they continued to work together as they had, it was likely neither would be able to hold back their breakthrough. It was better to work independently to stabilize their own Disciplines and prepare for that fateful moment. They had to hold back as long as they could to get the best result.
Two days passed quickly. For forty-eight hours a strange calm settled over the human armada, although troops moved consistently from one place to another. On the eve of the attack Lan Qing had his people within view of a mid-sized planet in the outskirts of Europa’s system.
He moved like this to keep the aliens guessing and confound their planning. If they didn’t know what the humans were up to they couldn’t formulate a plan of defense. Lan Qing also knew that many aliens were hiding on the far side of the planet, a fact he wouldn’t be aware of were it not for Lan Jue’s scouting data.
Forty-eight hours may have sounded like plenty of time at first, but the soldiers soon found the time vanished like a message written in water. Their preparations were done quietly and orders were often given in person to prevent interception by enemy forces.
Each division, brigade and unit was only given enough information to perform their part of the plan. Only a select few had all of the information.
Zeus-1 quietly slipped out of Middle Heaven’s hangar. The moment it was free of the small planet’s orbit the ship engaged its Blinding Stone. Aboard were all of the Paragons who were to participate in the operation, as well as Lan Jue and Qianlin. Zeus’ Amazons were responsible for piloting the vessel.
Everyone’s face was hard and solemn. For good reason – the task before them was daunting, perhaps more important than any other part of the plan. The main force could retreat if the situation started to sour. Lan Jue and his people didn’t have that luxury.
Several days had passed since their last scout mission, and it was impossible to know how many survivors remained on the planet before them. But Lan Jue held out hope that there would still be many lives to save. Innocent humans were being kept as hostages, as experiments, harvested for their genetic material. They would be saved, even the ones that had been twisted by the poison of the progenitors.
Zeus-1 approached the planet from the side. A direct assault would result in failure. There were too many aliens for that to succeed. They had to slip in, and avoid psionic detection to the best of their abilities.
The planet that was chosen had an auspicious name; Angel. Snow covered vast swaths of its frigid land mass, which was shaped like a seraph with its wings spread wide. Sadly, its once pure white hue had been corrupted and stained purple.
The second part of Lan Qing’s plan had a code name. He called it operation Guardian Angel.
Zeus-1 approached at a forty-five degree angle relative to the armada. It came to a stop when it got close and cut all electronic systems. There, in darkness and silence, it quietly waited for its chance.
Jue Di had not come with them. He was strong enough that there was no need for him to use a spaceship. He had left before them to prepare, for he was responsible for taking three of the planets by himself. No one knew how he intended to do it, but everyone had faith that he would succeed.
Chapter 779: Again the Main Guns Brighten
Lan Jue sat quietly aboard his ship, looking out at Angel through the window. Qianlin sat behind him with dull expression, although from time to time her eyes would flit his way. She had come to rely on him, and when he wasn’t around she was visibly agitated.
Lan Jue’s team, Team Three, was led by the Photographer. Under her command, besides Lan Jue and qianlin, were the Arhat of the Descending Dragon, the Driver, the Harbinger Faerie, and the Gourmet – seven people altogether.
Zeus-1 would drop them off on Angel first before moving on to the other planets. Because of Angel’s importance to their overall battle plan, they would be dispatched first. They were just waiting for their moment.
The Driver made his way over to Lan Jue’s side. “Are you nervous?” He asked quietly.
Lan Jue cast him a sideways glance. “Are you?”
His friend chuckled in response, his words heavy with pride. “Don’t forget my name – I’m the Driver! I’ve been chasing adrenaline my whole life. It doesn’t look like there’ll be a more heart-pounding mission for me to participate in for all the rest of my days. I’m thrilled. If you’re scared big brother can intervene, ask the Photographer to leave you behind.”
“We’re all going!” Lan Jue quickly retorted in irritation.
The Driver sat beside him. “My only regret is never having found a wife. I was always looking for the next adventure, keeping women at arm’s length. Ah…”
“Are you afraid you won’t be coming back?” Lan Jue asked.
The Driver shook his head. “Whether I do or not isn’t an issue, really. I just wish I had a son of my own. Someone to pass my skills on to from a young age. I would have trained him to be the greatest Driver in the universe. Who knows whether that day will ever come.”
Lan Jue shrugged. “Who’s to say it won’t? On the contrary, it must. Did you think you would be a Paragon one day? Now you are, what does that tell you?”
The Driver laughed gently. “This is true. You know these ladies that follow you around are quite something! When did you plan on introducing one to me?”
Lan Jue stared at him flatly. “You have a mouth, introduce yourself and leave me out of it.” Introducing other men… it would spell the death of him. Those ladies were already nursing hefty resentments against him, Lan Jue didn’t dare even think about offending them again. If they survived this fight then he would have to find a way to solve his women problems, but they had to live first. Thinking about it made his head hurt. These weren’t the old days, when having many wives was common practice. He couldn’t just wed them all, nor was he such a man.
At this time Luo Xianni also came wandering over. “What are you two young gentlemen talking about?” She asked. Outwardly she didn’t look much older than either of them, but they knew the truth.
He glanced at her and chuckled. “Auntie, we’re talking about having children.”
Her eyes immediately lit up. “Children? Children are wonderful! A-Jue, have you decided to have kids soon? You should, quickly and en mass. I’ll help look after them, I’d love
the opportunity since I’ve never had any of my own.”
Lan Jue cast his adoptive mother a helpless look. “Alright, alright – at least wait to see if we live through this fight.” He didn’t dare tell her the prospect of her looking after his kids worried him. Without question the sentiment would not go over well.
“Eh?” She said suddenly. “It’s starting?”
Lan Jue’s pupils contracted. He shot to his feet and peered out the window toward the armada. Just as she said twelve ships had separated from the others. They weren’t moving forward, but instead were spreading out. Middle Heaven was in the lead, a bright spot against a deep black backdrop.
The twelve ships followed as the East’s bastion pressed forward.
The other two bastions – Poseidon and Tyrannosaurus – were on the move as well. They slowly moved forward in a triangular formation with Middle Heaven in the front and the support ships filling in the spaces in between.
They weren’t fast. On the contrary, they moved at a snail’s pace, but ever forward toward their destination. It filled everyone with a suffocating sense of pressure, like a rolling war machine that promised to crush anything before it into dust.
The aliens reacted, with beasts surging toward the planet from all directions. They also arranged in formation. It was then a strange scene emerged.
A thick and impenetrable mist gushed out around them – a violet smokescreen that was belched from beasts that looked like mutated pufferfish. They waddled to the front lines with their big bellies and spat the smog before the arrayed defenders. It took only a few moments before everything was lost in a purple haze.
The Keeper stared at the spectacle with furrowed brow. “This smoke likely isn’t just to hide their positions. It will affect our radar systems, too.”
Zeus-1 was still keeping its position secret, so its systems were still offline, including radar. However the Keeper’s hypothesis was sound, and they knew enough about their cunning foe to know their actions were anything but random. There was a reason for this.
As time stretched on even Angel disappeared in the poisonous fog. A vast swath of space was hidden from view.
But the human armada made no signs of stopping. They advanced with the same slow, indomitable pace. Middle Heaven revealed its honeycomb of guns once more, their barrels glowing ominously.
As it had shown before, Middle Heaven could use this barrels to launch itself backward and out of harm’s way. This time the rest of the human army was spread out behind it like the wings of a swallow, with nothing behind it. This meant Middle Heaven could advance and retreat at a moment’s notice.
Meanwhile the smog was only growing thicker. It billowed like a cloud of cosmic dust that no human instruments were able to penetrate. Indeed the aliens had many tricks up their sleeves, and this was one they’d never encountered before. It was a tactics well suited to their weak ranged fighting capabilities.
Human ships could not see the enemy, nor could their systems get a lock on any target. The advantage of their ranged guns was severely curtailed.
“Admiral, sir! All of our scanning and targeting systems are unable to penetrate the fog. Our guns can’t find their targets.” Lan Qing and his people discovered the problem quickly.
He nodded. “Keep our scanners up, stick to the plan.”
Lan Jue was seated behind his desk in the control center, with a hundred soldiers busily checking systems all around. Middle Heaven was different from traditional bastions. The Admiral was, of course, responsible for all of the ship’s final decisions. However, he also personally managed several of the ship’s systems. The control board in front of Lan Qing was large and complicated.
The opposing sides were drawing nearer by the second, and human ships had all begun to shine as their weapons were charged. The battle was about to begin any moment. Yet the humans could no longer see any sign of their enemy through the fog.
Lan Qing spoke through the special communications channel they’d set up. “Begin!”
With his calm command Middle Heaven’s myriad guns blazed orange in much the same way it had before. The aliens, meanwhile, remained a mystery though there was no sign of movement. They hid behind the screen, seemingly unperturbed by the threat of Middle Heaven’s weapons. Their bastion’s guns would strike the planet first, and the explosion of a planet would obliterate anything near it – including the humans. What’s more, the aliens were sure their attackers wouldn’t put their own planet in danger.
Judging solely by Middle Heaven’s size, its main guns were more than likely capable of destroying a planet. The aliens believed this without a shadow of a doubt. This was their reasoning behind using the planet as a shield.
If their leaders decided to cast out their misgivings and destroy the planet, the morale of their people would collapse. It would be pointless anyway, because the humans could not know the location of the home worlds behind the seven planets. If they dared to push through they would be surrounded and summarily destroyed. The power of the home worlds had been revealed to the stubborn humans more than once.
Finally, Middle Heaven slowly came to a halt a short distance behind where it had been during its first attack, though still within firing distance. The aliens did not rush to meet them. They just waited… waited for their prey to come closer.
If the humans fled from the mist that would serve their purposes just as well. They would not pursue them. Their main objective was to stall for time, so they did not rush to engage.
Suddenly Middle Heaven lit up – more accurately, its guns flared to life. A wall of angry red energy burst forth. They fired without pretense, not in a sustained stream but instead as a hail of energized orbs. They sizzled and burned as they made their way toward Angel.
Without question, this was Middle Heaven’s main weapon.
Were the humans really going to disregard the safety of their own planet?
Because Zeus-1 was position closer to the side of the planet, Lan Jue could spy some of the condition behind the mist. He saw the aliens moving erratically as the orbs neared.
Chapter 780: Circular Attack
Of course, no alien was interested in facing a bastion’s main gun! They quickly moved to the sides, trying to avoid Middle Heaven’s attack.
Kang Hui, who had been seated behind the control board in Tyrannosaurus, shot to his feet when he saw the red orbs. He thought he knew the plan, but it didn’t involve attacking one of their own planets!
Wasn’t the plan to use their ranged advantage to weaken the enemy? Why, then, would Lan Qing use his main guns right out of the gate? It was completely different than what they’d discussed!
He didn’t know the full scope of Middle Heaven’s capabilities, but he could guess. Lan Qing’s confidence in it, he had to assume the East’s bastion was formidable.
Angel would be no more.
Angel wasn’t a particularly large planet. If Middle Heaven’s blast didn’t outright destroy it, at the very least the damage
would be apocalyptic. It would likely never recover or be used for human habitation ever again.
Yet as he watched, a scene unexpected by all revealed itself. As the orbs reached the halfway point between the bastion and the planet, they changed. Where they had been tightly packed spheres of energy, now they began to break apart.
Their angry red light flared brighter, like the corona of light from a space ship’s engines. At first it was kept close but soon spread out as the orbs themselves vanished into nothing.
All of that for nothing? Was Middle Heaven really so useless? Doubt filled the minds of those who looked on, let down by the spectacle. The aliens were just as confused.
But the truth was quickly revealed. Indeed the individual orbs had dissolved, but that didn’t mean their energy had dissipated. The many tightly compacted salvos of energy had broken apart and merged into a sweeping blast of power.
The scope of it had obviously been precisely calculated. As it collided with the wall of mist a magnificent display was revealed to the human spectators.
A breadth of misty space was burned away in a circular shape. A red light burned at the borders that disappeared as the mist receded. Then, with a burst of light and an ear-splitting roar, an explosion of red light emerged. It was so bright and so fierce that Angel was lost in its glow.
What was that?
The concussive force of the blast rippled all throughout the purple haze, ripping it apart. Its shockwave roared across space and burned away the fog like the crisp morning sun. The alien forces behind were revealed.
The blast embraced and surrounded Angel, but caused it no damaged. The aliens that had fled from the assumed trajectory of Middle Heaven’s attack now found themselves in the middle of it.
In an instant scores of aliens were reduced to a field of mangled flesh and blood. Those creatures which where specialized in defense survived much of the initial damage, but only just. This was Middle Heaven’s might, and destruction was unavoidable! Countless scores of the beasts were no more.
The shock of what they witnessed stunned every spectator. Not only did it clear away the mist, it also ripped their enemies apart. The surprise was similar to their first fight against the alien home worlds, though this time the bitter realization that they knew nothing was suffered by alien and not human victims.
Lan Qing had pondered over a solution to the alien tactic of hiding behind planets since witnessing it in the North.
Middle Heaven’s primary power source was molinite. It powered the ship’s engines as well as its engines – the main gun array included. Because the element was so unstable by nature, it would have been impossible to amass enough of it in a single shot. Eastern scientists then came up with a novel solution; prime diffusion.
By using rare metals that reacted well with molinite, they constructed an array of guns instead of a single cannon. They were constructed all over Middle Heaven and could be used either as weapons or as engines. How they were used depended on the amount of energy used and how it was channeled. It just needed to be programmed in advance. This attack had been modeled after the burn patterns from rocket engines.
If the payload had maintained their orb shape it would have frightened the aliens, but otherwise not caused a lot of damage. At beast it would have pressed them together, or had them hide behind the planet.
But the humans’ tactics were clever. What started as a salvo of compressed energy quickly broke apart at the halfway point, just long enough for the aliens to have moved from their path. However, they couldn’t fly fast enough to avoid the detonation.
Strike where it is not expected. This single surprise attack had killed far more than the twelve Capital ships from before had put down. The alien forces around Angel were thrown into chaos.
The human armada sped their approach and quickly charged their weapons. With high spirits, riding the momentum of Middle Heaven’s opening attack, they charged into the fight.
Was this the true power of Middle Heaven? Admiration was clear on Kang Hui’s face as he witnessed the aftermath of Lan Qing’s initiative. Scope, power, control… that attack worked flawlessly on all fronts, designed to blaze a path for them to follow.
Preparing everything in two days had not been an easy feat. Yet Lan Qing, in silence and alone, had set everything up perfectly. His opening move had not only annihilated their foes but also inspired his troops. In a blink everyone was in position and moving in to press the attack.
The twelve Capital ships rushed into the remaining alien forces, guns blazing. They held nothing back. Meanwhile Tyrannosaurus and Poseidon pressed ahead without engaging. They were quietly waiting in the wings, though just their presence was a deterrent against alien aggression.
Just then, an orb of dark purple was launched from Angel’s surface. At first it was inconspicuous but quickly broke atmosphere and entered space. It garnered notice when it shrugged off three blasts of Capital ship fire.
It was revealed to be an enormous creature in the shape of an enormous globe. The only reacted it had from taking three direct hits was to flatten out, and thus deflect the shots away.
This alien was over ten thousand meters in diameter – among the largest they’d ever seen. When the danger of the Capital ships had passed it stretched again to create a protective shell that warded off five more shots. It hung there brazenly denying
the power of human technology.
All of a sudden the creature began to spin as though it were caught in a whirlpool. Several of its smaller brethren were sucked into its orbit, saved from destruction. All the while shots from human vessels bounced off its surface.
For a moment it seemed as though the titanic beast collapsed in on itself, only to burst out like an overripe tomato a moment later. A host of aliens were blasted from its corpse right into the human armada, over a thousand of them.
In an instant the separation human ships were depending on was gone.
But they had a plan. Once the Capital ships had come into firing range and released their payloads, all the support ships had begun to slow. Lan Qing adhered to the principle of exploiting one’s advantage to the fullest, and humanity’s range was among their greatest assets.
The soldiers slowed, then stopped, then sped up, then stopped. The timing and rhythm closely followed Lan Qing’s commands. The tactic was employed to make sure all ships
stayed in formation, and didn’t break from the alien assault. It protected his troops from losing focus as the alien forces were flung their way.
The first ship to react was Middle Heaven, and it did so without quarter. Beams of red light fired from the forward array. The barrels glowed like angry eyes, glaring at the encroaching aliens.