Chapter 781: Cosmic Battleground
In being thrown across the battlefield, the aliens had no formation to speak of. They were subject to the combined might of the human armada the moment they arrived.
Among them was a thousand-meter long monstrosity that looked like a crocodile. It wildly swung its tail, and spat orbs of dazzling purple energy from its maw at the ships closest to it.
But in the midst of its thrashing strikes an orange glow met it. The force of it knocked the creature a thousand meters away. Although its defenses were strong enough to protect it from being destroyed outright, the explosion stunned the monster. Its attacks missed, the human ships were safe.
The humans in their orderly formations were effectively defended. More than a thousand foes were cast at them, but their ships were many and their fire concentrated. Under the sustained barraged the wave of enemies were quickly destroyed.
Vital crystals of carrying sizes twinkled like stars, marking where an alien had died.
In the distance, the large shapeshifting alien had already flung the second wave their way. It had had more time to prepare this time, so this second batch was three times the size of the first. While the humans were busy with those, aliens from around the planet closed in on their defensive line.
The orb-shaped alien had swelled to ten times its size, a hundred thousand meters of undulating purple flesh. Even compared to the planet it came from it was a sight to behold. It turned once and swallowed up a host of creatures, turned again and spat them forth.
Humans may have puzzled out a way to counteract their enemy’s tactics, but so had the aliens found a way to render their range ineffectual. Throwing them into the humans like this wasn’t to cause damage – though it was great if they did. It was intended to send the humans into disarray, to disrupt their cooperation and make them weak.
A host of monsters from the planet came buzzing toward the armada like locusts. Their main force was drawing ever nearer. It was clear they had prepared better than the humans had thought.
This was not to say Lan Qing wasn’t ready for them. Middle
Heaven fires back like an angry hornet’s nest, firing beams of saffron light into the aliens as they neared and wiping out the first two batches thrown toward them from the planet. The stronger ones survived, though they were shot away and barred from damaging nearby ships.
The human ships quickly retreated. As they fell back they pummeled the aliens with secondary fire. Their withdrawal was orderly, and included the three bastions. It was an impressive feat by itself to maintain order among the twelve fleets – more than ten thousand ships, all told.
They punished the enemy as they fell back. Though individually these fleets could not compete with the destructive power of a bastion, together the carnage they wrought was no less impressive. Beneath the hail of cannon fire the monsters were kept at bay.
The defender class of aliens were too slow to get to the front and protect their brethren, while the faster attackers could protect themselves from being blasted to bits. The humans’ retreat was not fast, but was just fast enough so that the aliens couldn’t overcome them.
The mightiest defender they faced was Middle Heaven, which
remained between them and the rest of the human ships. It lashed out at them with bursts of yellow light like a deadly guardian. It pinpointed the most threatening parts of the alien horde and pick them apart, protecting the smaller vessels much the same as the aliens had done by protecting themselves behind a planet. In both attack and defense Middle Heaven was indispensable.
Despite the aliens’ natural defenses and survivability, they couldn’t withstand the sustained battery from their prey. By retreating and attacking at the same time they were able to maintain their ranged advantage.
Yet the aliens were malleable in their tactics. The massive orb gathered up another bunch of aliens to throw at them – this time exclusively tortoise-like defenders. They were thrown to the fore where they immediately linked together to form a tightly-packed shield. Instantly the efficacy of human cannon fire was greatly reduced.
However, so was the aliens’ ability to attack. They remained safely behind the turtle shells, pushing them forward. The defenders were well adapted to protecting themselves but did not have the speed of the attackers. In order to protect themselves the fighters had to push the shell before them in order to avoid being blown apart.
Even so, the aliens advanced faster than the humans could retreat. The distance between them began to shrink. The creatures were adept at close-range fighting, and their goal was clear – get in close where human ships could no longer rely on their guns.
From the start of the battle, humans had relied on Middle Heaven to keep them in a favorable position. However the aliens were not pushovers. They quickly recovered from the shock of being outplayed. They came in now from all sides to surround the human, too many to deal with all at once – at least five times the number of warships they’d brought. None were particularly large, but they came in such numbers that they were nearly as difficult to put down.
Now was the key, whether the humans could survive against the full strength of the alien horde. At present, at least in regards to strategy, the humans were not in an inferior position. Whether or not they would ultimately succeed only time would tell.
At long last, it was time for Zeus-1 to make its move. It moved in from the side of Angel, silent as a ghost. Now that the aliens were engaged in an all-out fight with the human armada, their numbers were fewer around the planet. Lan Jue’s approach was made much easier with fewer defenders to spot him.
Zeus-1 shot forward like an arrow under Mika’s deft control. Between Lin Guoguo’s psionic pulses and the Blinding Stone, they were effectively invisible. They flit between groups of aliens rushing to join the attack, drawing closer to the planet’s surface by the moment.
Everyone aboard the ship knew their roles. They were ready, and anxious to do their part. Lan Jue held tightly to Qianlin’s hand as he waited for his opportunity.
Their task was the most difficult. The bulk of the alien force might have been directed at the armada, but the strongest ones would be amassing on the planet. Taking on the progenitor would be easier said than done, as difficult as it was dangerous. It would undoubtedly be defended by mighty protectors.
Alien strength was on full display this time, mightier even than they’d shown during the campaign in the Northern Alliance. Although they were proving capable enemies against Middle Heaven and the others, it also served to prove Lan Jue and his brother right. Their home worlds must be in the process of evolution.
Where they not, no matter how clever Lan Qing’s plans the humans would have been outmatched. If they were here
humans would be no match for the devastation they would cause. At best they would be an irritation.
As they passed through the thinning purple mist, Lan Jue’s eyes grew sharp.
“Take care of yourself!” The Terminator, who until now had not spoken, strode forward and clapped his massive hand on Lan Jue’s shoulder.
Lan Jue answered with a resolute nod, then walked ahead. The others of his team followed, headed for Zeus-1’s hangar doors.
Zeus-1 wouldn’t be able to land. They would have to disembark and descend to the planet themselves. From there they would seek out and destroy the progenitor.
“Boss! Go get ‘em!” The four amazons cried in unison.
He grinned and shot them a thumbs-up.
Once they hit the atmosphere Zeus-1’s Blinding Stone was less effective. The ship appeared and disappeared in the thin purple atmosphere. The frantic glimmering caught the attention of two nearby aliens. They heaved themselves around, preparing to attack.
But just then two foreboding beams of white light shot out. The two large creatures froze for half a breath, then split into two halves and tumbled away.
Several figured ejected from the sapphire vessel once the coast was clear and headed for the surface. Zeus-1 peeled away, leaving a contrail in its wake as it re-entered orbit. Once it was again out in space, it disappeared from view.
Lan Jue tightly gripped Qianlin’s hand. With his mind fixed on the task at hand, he led the way. He didn’t bring out Thor, it was too obvious a target. Nor was it suitable to use with the team.
The Pharmacist, Pauper, Driver and Gourmet splayed out behind him. Luo Xianni was nowhere to be seen. Six figures shot through the air toward the far side of the planet.
They didn’t have time to hide themselves or evade detection. They raced ahead as quickly as they could. This was a blitzkrieg, their job was to burst in, cut off the head of the snake and retreat.
They were discovered by nearby aliens right away. One of them that looked like an eagle let loose an ear-piercing shriek. It then charged at them with talons bared.
The Harbinger Faerie glared at it was an expression cold as ice. In a flash she was in the front of their team with her first two fingers extended forward. Twinkling starlight appeared around her, when all of a sudden scores of copies of her legendary blade appeared in the air. They swung and stabbed all around, protecting the humans within. Under their security they pushed on.
Chapter 782: Unstoppable
The eagle-type alien was destroyed by the sword array moment after calling the signal. At present no one in the Avenue could match the Pharmacist in sheer attack force. Her Domain fed off of slaughter, and the more she killed the stronger she became.
Many aliens from the surroundings came to heed the eagle’s cry. If it were not for Lan Qing and his army in the space around the planet, Lan Jue’s team could have twice as many Paragons and they would have quickly fallen. But as it was the situation was made easier by the beast’s reduced numbers. There were few enough that the Pharmacist was able to defend them by herself. She was unstoppable, and the path she carved was lined with the mangled corpses of her enemies.
Strangely, the vital crystals that emerged from the slain aliens vanished as soon as they appeared in flashes of pink light.
Under the Pharmacist’s guidance the team continued toward the far side of the planet.
Elsewhere, Zeus-1 was racing for another world, bringing the next team to its target. Mika was squeezing every bit of speed
from the ship as she could. She didn’t know the situation her boss was facing, all he knew was that her way of helping was to put pressure on the other planets under alien control.
Zeus-1’s systems were operating and overloaded capacity. So long as they held this pace, they would reach their destination in a matter of hours. Once they were free of Angel’s orbit they locked in to a trajectory, free from alien menace.
Mika turned her head just as Satan was approaching. Right away a chill came over her face. She defiantly turned her eyes back onto the screens.
“Mika!” His deep voice intruded.
She didn’t respond, as though she hadn’t heard.
A biter grin spread across the former leader of the Dark Citadel. “Don’t be angry with me, not now. Perhaps I won’t be coming back from this fight, and I wanted to use this opportunity to explain a few things.”
A slight change came over Mika’s harsh countenance. Yes!
This fight held the future of humanity in the balance. Her boss had accepted the most important and most dangerous task. So had her father.
Her features softened ever so slightly. Whatever their history, she was Satan’s daughter. His demonic blood flowed through her veins.
“What do you want to say?” She offered.
Satan responded with a sigh. “I’ve made many mistakes, but few fill me with regret. I have come to understand what happened to your sister – who did it isn’t important. Whether or not we win against these monsters, Europa is gone. The Citadels are gone. The chances are that I will be gone. I was hoping you might promise me to take over the mantle of the Dark Citadel.”
Mika paused. Eventually she turned her face back toward him. “Take over the Dark Citadel? I have no interest in commanding a group of sordid, evil men. As far as I’m concerned the Dark Citadel shouldn’t even exist.”
When Satan looked at her his eyes were bright, burning. “You’re looking at it too one-sided. Sometimes that which you
see with just your eyes isn’t true. Sometimes what’s most important isn’t immediately visible. You’re right, the Dark Citadel was filled with evil and compulsion. Do you think the Pontiff and the other hypocrites are any better? What they’ve done is far more evil than anything I’ve ordered.”
Satan made no effort to modulate his voice. The Pontiff, seated a short distance away, heard all. However he did not react, and sat in silent meditation.
Mika scowled. Her father was right, she knew a little of the dark deeds the Pontiff’s men had performed. The former Moonfiend Empress had shared them with her.
“None of you are any good!” She seethed.
When she said it the surroundings Paragons looked at her with strange expressions. The Keeper outright laughed. She was probably the only person who would dare to say such a thing to these men.
Satan was not embarrassed. Instead his grin deepened. “You’re absolutely right. But listen to what I have to say; the Dark Citadel commands the dark underbelly of the Western
Alliance. Its soldiers are powerful, temperamental, and varied. I’m not sure you’ve considered how much damage they could cause if you simply let them loose in the worlds of man.”
Mika didn’t reply, but it was clear she was carefully weighing his words.
He continued. “They would cause turmoil, everywhere.”
“What could the ‘mighty’ Dark Citadel do, now?” She countered. “What is stopping governments and armies from exterminating the rabble?”
Satan sniffed derisively. “So naïve, child. You believe they hate us – you are wrong. What is light without darkness? Without us, many faiths throughout the human worlds would be rendered pointless. What’s more, you underestimate the world of darkness, its ability to repopulate. If there is nothing to control it, the darkness will grow and spread out of control. The chaos it would cause, while not comparable to the destruction these aliens have wrought, would nonetheless consume the worlds of man.”
“The Dark Citadel was not created solely to wield power. It is
a check against the spread of evil. It is built to manage it before it becomes unmanageable. Under my vigil the corruption of it is contained, and its deeds curtailed. So long as there is good there will be evil – it will never be eradicated. But, it can be controlled. Have you ever heard of these ‘sordid, evil men’ causing problems in the West? The Dark Citadel handles these problems before they arise. Our purpose is a service to mankind, which is more than I can say for our sanctimonious counterparts. Do you still think the empire I built is so wretched, now?”
Mika had grown up in the Dark Citadel, but this was the first time its mission was explained to her in such a way. She didn’t know this was their purpose. For years she’d wondered why the Citadel was allowed to exist, why it wasn’t simply wiped away by other government leaders. At first she thought it was because of Satan’s strength, but now she understood the truth.
“You see that the poison part of mankind needs to be retrained. If they aren’t, think of what these monsters could do in the wake of this tragic time.” Satan’s disposition became imperatorial. “You are my daughter, the blood of demons surges within you. There is no shirking your responsibility.”
Mika was silent. She quietly felt the weight of this responsibility settling on her heart.
“Do you think I’m strong enough to command their respect?” She asked.
Satan smiled. He knew his words had struck a chord.
“They will respect you – not because of me, but because of who you are, and the man you call your boss. Humanity faces a storm of apocalyptic proportions, and if we lose then there is nothing fret over. Survivors will scatter to any dark corner they could find, every man woman and child fending for themselves. But if we defeat them there will come a period of recovery. During this period much will change, not least of which the disappearance of the Western Alliance. After all, its most important planets have been all but demolished. Who do you think, in this situation, will pick up the pieces? The North’s cowardice has struck a mighty blow to their image. You can bet the East will take advantage of the power vacuum. Much of what had belonged to the West will come under Eastern control, or perhaps they will come to some agreement with the North. Already your boss is a commanding voice in the world of Adepts
– for all of mankind, in fact. With his support, there is nothing you won’t be able to accomplish. I am sure his accomplishments will one day surpass even Jue Di’s. What do you have to fear, with such a mountain of a man at your back?”
Mika’s anger flared. “I will not cause the boss any trouble.”
Satan chuckled at her. “This isn’t causing any trouble, child. You’re preventing it. Do you think he wants to see the dredges of society run amok?”
“There is the Hades bloodline,” she countered. “I’m sure they would want to take control.”
Another chilling sniff was her answer. A flash of yellow light lit up the Paragon’s eyes. “After so long do you think the Hades bloodline has what it takes to manage the Citadel successfully? If that were to pass the chaos would be felt throughout all the Alliances. Do you suspect that is what Skyfire Avenue wishes to see happen? Rather than put such an important task in the hands of amateurs, don’t you think they’ll support a family with a history of achievement? With your Talent you need only give yourself to the demonic blood and becoming a Paragon would be easily accomplished. Once you cross that threshold, there would be no reason the dwellers of the darkness would not follow you.”
Mika paused. Uncertainty filled her heart.
Satan did not try to convince her further. He rose to his feet. “Think about it. Motivating the strength of your bloodline may affect your character, but you and your boss have been together
a long time. With his abilities, I’m sure he would be able to find a way to help you.”
With all said, he turned away and returned to his seat.
A realization suddenly came over Mika, and she snapped her head around.
Were these going to be his last words?
Chapter 783: Commencing
Satan seemed calm as a lake surface, with no change in his expression. However, Mika could see the struggle hidden behind her father’s eyes. His deep eyes were pits of blackness.
The Dark Citadel had been thoroughly wiped out. How could this not be a significant blow to the king of devils?
As Zeus-1 continued to pick up speed, Mika’s heart was heavy. At the end of this fight, no one knew who would be going home. She was just as uncertain whether they’d defeat their enemies.
Come one! We have to win! Mika grit her teeth. Everything depended on killing the alien menace.
In the distance they could still see the battle raging between the human and alien forces. Flashes of glaring light flashes over and over again. The armada continued to fight on its back foot, retreating as its guns fired at full bore. They managed to keep the distance that was so integral to their ranged strategy, however the aliens were slowly closing in.
Some of the vessels had begun to suffer damage. Rare were the
aliens that slipped through the hail of cannon fire, but when they did they threw themselves at the ships with abandon. They could hardly see each through the flashing lights and clouds of gore.
Middle Heaven was a resolute boulder in the center of the stream. It stayed at the rear of the retreating forces, shielding its allies by virtue of its secondary weapons systems alone. So far none of its fighter planes had been deployed.
The aliens were enraged at Middle Heaven’s brawn. Incessantly they threw themselves at the ship, desperate to destroy it. Only once the planet-turned-warship had been destroyed could they clear away the humans. But despite their reckless charge, no matter what the sort of alien, they were all destroyed or thrown aside before the might of Middle Heaven.
The bastion’s energy stores seemed endless, and it alone destroyed nearly as many of the aliens as all twelve fleets that accompanied it. From its position between the humans and aliens, Middle Heaven was perfectly positioned to punish the enemy while protecting its allies.
However, the aliens’ numbers seemed equally limitless. They’d caught up to where they were pressing in on the armada
from three sides. As they continued to add pressure, they closed the distance to their prey. They just needed to get close – once the distance was covered the beasts could employ their powerful melee attacks to wreck the human vessels.
All of a sudden both sides were assailed by a thunderous roar, as a blast of energy was released. The massive beam was white- hot but quickly turned red, like a laser shot but far too large. In a blink one one-hundredth of the alien horde was burned to ash. All that remained were their glittering vital crystals, hovering in space. As the residue of the attack’s power hung in the air, the aliens were visibly taken aback, causing the pressure of their charge to ease a little.
The humans were quick to take advantage of the pause and continued to fire indiscriminately into the enemy forces. The distance between them began to increase again.
But what just happened? There was only one thing of human creation that could cause such destruction, and that was a bastion. Tyrannosaurus’ main cannon sizzled in the cold vacuum of space as it continued to retreat.
Up to this point neither Tyrannosaurus nor Poseidon had engaged the enemy. If Middle Heaven was the armada’s shield,
these two were the spears behind it. As the danger to the humans increased, Tyrannosaurus at last bared its fangs.
As the battle raged, alien forces had been unable to spot the Northern bastion charging its guns. As a result, a gaping hole had been carved through the heart of the horde. Aliens were painfully reminded that it wasn’t just Middle Heaven they faced. There were two more like it! Poseidon’s guns were still dark, and since the beasts had never encountered Poseidon Group before they did not know what to expect. But it was larger than Tyrannosaurus, and usually that meant more firepower.
Lan Qing sat behind his control panel, watching intently as streams of data flit across his screens. He rarely gave orders as the battle raged, and when he did they were rich with code words and secret meanings.
The first phase of their war plan was in full effect. Lan Qing had been careful not to underestimate his enemy, whose numbers were three times what Lan Jue saw in his scouting mission. The Eastern admiral had prepared for the worst eventuality and it served them well.
Why were Tyrannosaurus and Poseidon not firing their
weapons like all the others? To conceal their power. If they had started the fight throwing everything they had at the creatures their enemy would grow cautious and cunning. The likelihood of gaining and losing ground increased.
Lan Qing didn’t want to see that happen, it was unpredictable and they needed to create space for the Paragon strike teams. A base of operations was needed before they could push further in.
Hiding behind the planets had been an effective tactic, one that had perplexed and frustrated the humans to no end. The circular sneak attack was effective but it would only work once. These were intelligence creatures, and the only way to really punish them was in outright war.
Attacking and retreating was not just advantageous for creating distance and maintaining a range advantage. It drew their enemy away from any defensible positions or places to hide, revealing their numbers and exposing them to mankind’s strongest weapons.
Tyrannosaurus’ attack proved the efficacy of their plan. Ten thousand aliens or more had been felled in a blink, and their momentum was thwarted.
Lan Qing was unconcerned with the prospect of the aliens fleeing. Surely they felt they had the advantage. Recharging a bastion’s main gun took time, giving them the opportunity to press the attack. If they gave the humans a chance the next attack would hurt them even worse.
As he anticipated, Tyrannosaurus attack threw the alien horde into a frenzy. Scores of beasts rushed ahead heedless of cannon fire. They braved the hail of burning light, desperate to snuff out these puny human lives.
The alien creature that had depended the planet and thrown aliens at them had also flown in to join them. It moved with incredible speed, catching up with its smaller brethren moments later. Its presence on the battlefield threatened to give the enemy an edge.
Now, in the presence of the mighty leader, the alien attack was much more menacing.
The human ships continued to be pushed back, and inch by inch the bloodthirsty aliens closed in. With each passing moment the humans were in an increasingly disadvantageous position. Tyrannosaurus was still recharging for another blast. All that was left was Poseidon, but was it enough to stem the
A rain of blood followed in the Pharmacist’s wake. The aliens continued to throw themselves at her, only to be impotently cut down by her storm of steel. Lan Jue’s party was quickly nearing the far side of the planet.
The attempts to dissuade them never let up. The further they pressed ahead the larger and more powerful their foes became. Several monsters over a thousand meters long attempted threw themselves at the humans, seeking to stop their invasion with their huge bodies. Yet it proved a foolish endeavor that only put them in the path of destruction. Faced with the Pharmacist’s deadly rush they were cut apart before they knew it, and the humans had another vital crystal.
With unstoppable vigor Occisus’ array conveyed the party toward the planet’s far side. Soon they would arrive at the progenitor’s location.
Lan Jue pulled Qianlin along at his side, gripping tightly to her hand. Their powers were in constant communication, and as Lan Jue’s powers flooded into her her powers likewise were conveyed back to him. They modified each other, fused, then shifted again in perfect harmony.
Under such conditions, what could be expected to happen?
Lan Jue’s face bore a slight smile. He’d waited for this – waited so long and fought so hard to suppress his powers, so that he and Qianlin might advance.
Now they had come to the final, integral step.
In the distance they could see the aliens’ numbers receding. The obstacles that kept them from their target were fewer, and in response Occisus’ manifestations flung around them even faster.
Under the Pharmacist’s direction they arrived. Not far off the enormous and cancerous vessels were in full view. Without question, the progenitor they were about to face was bigger than any they’d seen before. It had to be, if it was funneling vital energy directly to its home worlds!
Suddenly the sky went dark. A familiar sensation tickled at Lan Jue’s mind from somewhere before them.
Chapter 784: Infinite Violet
As the light dimmed, the air around them suddenly felt thicker. Its quality changed, and the presence Lan Jue felt wasn’t moving toward them, but instead toward the progenitor.
A doppelganger? From Monarch. Lan Jue knew the chances of running into one of them was high, but all the same his heart began to beat faster. These monsters were at least equivalent to a Nirvana-level Paragon, and if the progenitor was as strong as they suspected this fight wasn’t going to be easy. They were deep in enemy territory, beset on all sides by danger.
“Everyone be careful!” Lan Jue cautioned. His mother was close, but they had to rely on their own strength too.
A violet-gold light flashed in the horizon, and a sense of foreboding that difficult to describe swept through the area. The oppressive pulse of intention even sent Occisus’ sword array into chaos, causing them to vanish and revealing the people that had been hidden within.
Lan Jue stared with wide eyes. The strength of Nirvana couldn’t do what they just witnessed. A terrifying thought occurred to him – what if the home worlds were disguised as
humans, and were hiding on these planets? What would they do?
If this was their ploy it would be a good one. Foregoing evolution to draw the humans in for a sneak attack… it would spell the end of their species, without question. What sort of carnage could a creature on the cusp of immortality produce?
As the thought wormed through Lan Jue’s mind he narrowed his eyes. It was the nightmare scenario, but he was wise enough to know the chances of it happening were slim. Prior to evolving they were subject to the restrictions of universal protogenia. They would be putting themselves at tremendous risk if the alien home worlds chose to fight. But, what if?
They had been surprised before. They thought the aliens couldn’t teleport twice in a short time, but they were wrong. The beasts spent a great deal to do precisely what the humans weren’t expecting. Who was to say they wouldn’t make a similar gamble if it meant destroying the humans’ final line of defense?
“Careful!” He urged again.
The Pharmacist seemed to understand his worries. “That isn’t
him, it’s fine.” She had had the same thought, but it was different for her. She knew Monarch better than Lan Jue did.
She had come face to face with him in the Shattered Starfields, during her failed assassination attempt. His riposte had been weakened, having just teleported, but she could feel him through her connection to Ultus. She knew Monarch’s aura as well as she knew her own.
What she felt from the nearby aura was very similar, but lacking in one key component. She couldn’t feel Ulttus, and that meant this couldn’t be him. At worst the creature had powers of the Infinite – not an immortal. They had a chance.
Lan Jue shook off the fear that had gripped him. Excellent, this wasn’t the real thing!
In the distance the image of the Violet Monarch glared coldly at them. Forsaking needless chatter, it stepped forward and greeted them with a single punch.
Everything between them and the alien doppelganger warped. It was like reality was compressed then exploded in all directions. Instantly the humans were bombarded with a
painful sensation that threatened to drive them mad.
The Pharmacist was in front. She lifted her right hand to defend herself and Occisus appeared in her grip, milky white like it was made of flawless jade. In response her dharmic image appeared, and the boon of her Slaughter Domain once more transformed her into a Reflection of Heaven and Earth.
In an instant woman and sword were one. The promise of murder hung thick in the air as her image swelled. As it did, Occisus grew and brazenly swiped the air before it.
A flash of white energy tore through the sky. The power from the doppelganger’s punch was cut in half and pushed to the side. In the same instant a dull grey light burst from behind the Harbinger Faerie and shot into the distance, evading the enemy’s punch.
It was the Gourmet, Infernal Vanguard. Using Hades’ unholy flame he’d paved an escape route for them. It removed them from the scope of the doppelganger’s attack. The backdrop greyed as suddenly the humans were deposited closer to their attacker.
The Monarch doppelganger grunted, vanishing in a blink and appearing before the humans. Its hand shot out, fingers bent like hideous claws as it groped for the top of Lan Jue and Qianlin’s head.
It was incomparably fast. By the time the humans were delivered from the Infernal Vanguard’s route of escape, it was waiting for them.
A dragon’s roar shook the earth, and a golden serpent coiled up around the two non-Paragons. Instantly the doppelganger’s attack destroyed it, but Lan Jue and Qianlin were spared for the moment.
Gripping tightly to Qianlin’s hand, Lan Jue didn’t hesitate. Both of them became bolts of lightning and fled. Before the doppelganger could follow it was surrounded by an expanse of white energy from the Pharmacist. This time Occisus’ power was deadly frigid.
Monarch’s doppelganger held its ground. Both of its hands lashed out, one toward the Pauper and gourmet, the other reaching for the Pharmacist’s Banishing Blade. The two men were thrust away.
Just as it seemed ready to grab Occisus, its hand turned over and it flicked out a finger to strike the flat of the blade. “Ding!” The Pharmacist and her weapon were knocked away, but the doppelganger didn’t follow.
It was finding Occisus’ deadly power to be troublesome. It showed the truth, this beast wielded the power of the Infinite!
In only this brief exchange the truth was revealed to them. The doppelganger’s powers were inferior to Jue Di, though indeed ranked among the Infinite. Still, in a blink it had forced three Paragons to retreat. Its strength was clear.
Only one more of their number was close enough to engage.
He engaged a step behind the others. Bolts of crystalline purple light coiled around his fist as he delivered a simple and unobtrusive punch.
Captus appeared in Lan Jue’s hand and his eyes burned with fervent light. Likewise there was a flash of blue by his side when Qianlin’s Banishing Blade was summoned. The two of them looked silently at one another, looking at their reflections in
each other’s eyes.
In perfect harmony both sword were thrust forward, toward the dominating alien.
A bright light burned in the doppelganger’s eyes, red and violet and angry. It stood in defiance of the Driver’s punch, reaching out to grab him with its own hand.
Its purpose here was clear; to destroy all the humans. Of course killing a handful of Paragons was certainly easier said than done. Even at the doppelganger’s level a human’s Talent had a constraining effect. And indeed this creature was just a shadow of its true self, and did not possess the protogenic comprehension of its victims.
The monstrous effigy moved in to destroy the Driver, before turning its attention to the others. However, much to its surprise, the moment its hand clapped onto the Driver’s fist it felt lightning rip through it. As though struck by lightning the doppelganger shook and shivered from thousands of empowered volts before retracting its arm. The Driver fled before it had time to recover.
As its prey ran the beast lifted its arm. The hand that had stopped the Driver’s attack was partly hidden beneath burning coils of electricity, but the damage was clear. Of course the Driver himself was not nearly strong enough to cause lasting damage to something so strong. However, it was important to remember that his combined yin-yang lightning was sanctified with immortal qi.
Immortal qi, an enduring legacy from the immortal realm of the ancient days. What alien creature could match it? It bore the power of tribulation lightning in its depths.
What Lan Jue and the others did not know was that tribulation lightning was created from universal protogenia. It was the foundation of that terrible, destructive force. The realm of immortals was used to shield the universe’s most powerful from this.
Defending oneself from the constant threat of elimination was taxing, so the wisest of the ancient conceived of methods to protect themselves. Among them was channeling universal protogenia, transforming it at just the right time into a weapon.
It became necessary that one needed to know how to manipulate universal protogenia to become an immortal. Only
if it was proven they could command those forces would they be allowed to serve their functions in the immortal realm and contribute to their shared protection. Thus where they able to call upon the power of the immortal realm.
For the alien home worlds, that which they feared most was what they fought so fervently against – universal protogenia. Monarch’s copy could not defend itself from the echoes of tribulation lightning that lived in the Driver’s Discipline. It had surprised the beast, for it thought it knew the scope of the human’s power. Carelessness had brought consequences.
Its reprieve was short lived, as a moment later Lan Jue and Qianlin’s sword attack caught up with it. Focused flow and a thousand swords as one – Harmonious Blades, without reservation!
Against a foe as powerful as this, Lan Jue didn’t dare hold back. It was now or never – the time to break through had come.
Chapter 785: Ascending to Paragon
Glimmers of blue and red light intermingled in the air, bound by a halo of gold. Where the attack passed through the air it left a wake of motley color. Lan Jue and Qianlin’s attack quickly reached the piece of Monarch.
The doppelganger’s face fell as it witnessed their attack coming. It turned to flee its scope.
But at that moment a captivating voice called out. “Take advice from Luo Xianni. A camera is all you need.”
Ka-cha! As the sound of a camera’s shutter clacked, Monarch’s avatar froze in mid air. All the space around it was thick and still, only allowing the light of the Harmonious Swords to pass through.
At the crucial moment the doppelganger called on its enormous power to its full advantage. An explosion of energy erupted from it, and the beast itself was lost in a violet vortex. Luo Xianni’s pocket of frozen space shattered under the hurricane force that was the monster’s power.
No longer a man, the tempest that was the doppelganger was too large and unwieldy to avoid the attack that came at it. However its size was a boon, and the Harmonious Swords could only strike a piece of it instead of its whole form.
When the gold-wrapped power arrived the violet energies around it were quickly defeated. Lan Jue and Qianlin reappeared. Then a marvelous scene was revealed.
A flash of brilliant cobalt blue emanated from their location, quickly followed by a milky white counterpart. The two swelled in strength and brightness until they were interwoven columns of luminescence that rose into the sky.
All of the earth and sky was caught in the splendor, imbued with an unnatural stillness. A magnificent and staggering aura swept through the area before the dual columns of light burst out in all directions.
It was a strange power, once that filled the surrounding Paragons with a sense of clarity in mind and body. They felt cleansed, energetically and spiritually, and empowered. It wasn’t a fleeting sensation, either. The power lingered within them, strengthening them to their core.
Among them it was the Driver who felt it deepest. It was like all the lightning and thunder contained within him was seething, crashing in waves all through his body. More than just his energy, the transformative nature of this power seeped into his very essence.
The violet light in the sky brightened and was interspersed by flashes of gold. They illuminated every minute detail of the world below. In the distance the violet light coalesced to reform the body of the doppelganger. It stared in disbelief at its attackers.
What was this?
Once again the tell-tale ka-cha of Luo Xianni’s camera arose. The doppelganger froze again. What was different this time was that he had been injured by the Adepts’ Harmonious Swords and breaking free of Luo Xianni’s control was more difficult.
As the cloud of golden light expanded above them, nearby aliens fled. They sensed the power in it, and not only refrained from coming close but fled from the area altogether. Whatever birthed that light felt invincible and even beasts would not carelessly throw their lives away.
But could they really elude destruction?
The golden cloud continued to spread, and wherever it expanded scores of aliens fell from the sky. They crumbled into ash before ever reaching the ground. On the earth below, the purple fungus that caked the surface roasted as though beneath an intense heat, eventually withering away into nothing. Even the enormous artery rising into the heavens shook, and a screech of terror filled the air.
A titanic, purplish-black creature lifted itself from the depths of the earth. It looked like an octopus, and heaved itself out of the ground with its tentacles. Its body alone was five thousand meters in diameter, and stretched to ten thousand if one included its appendages. The shadow of the colossus stretched over a wide area.
It belched a poisonous black fog in the direction of the golden cloud. The beast seemed intent on containing the deadly power it emitted. However, before it got to close the mist would burn away.
From the aura the creature exuded, the humans knew it had the power of Nirvana. Precisely as they expected, the progenitor was the strongest they’d ever encountered. They suspected that
this was the perfect specimen, the apex of its breed, in order for it to provide for the home worlds as it did.
The two columns of light piercing the clouds eventually merged into one and changed to gold. Everything around it was painted it spectacular light. Locked in the air, Monarch’s doppelganger struggled against Luo Xianni’s bonds.
The Photographer herself appeared among the other Paragons. None of them moved in to fight or take advantage of the marvelous display. The power that flooded their bodies, enervated them, was so intense it locked them in place.
Still it increased, growing with every passing moment. One second was like a full day of rigorous cultivation. The Driver’s reaction was most intense, but it was the Pharmacist who received the greatest benefit in the moment.
She was still channeling her Slaughter Domain, which through conflict had swelled her power to a Reflection of Heaven and Earth. Beneath the light of the golden cloud she could sense its influence flowing through her. Occisus pulsed with energy, and with the addition of this strange power she was surprised to feel her status as a Reflection solidify.
In other words, in just a matter of seconds she had broken through to the next degree of Paragon. Had she held back on her breakthrough to Paragon there was a chance she would have achieved this on her own. However, she did not, and the bridge that spanned the two levels was vast. It was unthinkable that she should so easily rise to the next level.
In addition, her breakthrough also seemed to break another seal holding back Occisus’ power. The runes on its surface flared and two more were added. Its aura swelled and merged with its mistress to where it became difficult to tell what was the Harbinger Faerie and what was the Banishing Blade.
The surprise in the doppelganger’s eyes deepened. The golden cloud actually filled him with dread. It could sense the universal protogenia flowing within it, slowly gathering together.
Lan Jue and Qianlin were finally revealed, kneeling within the column of light and the banishing blades floating at their backs. Both Demortus and Captus shimmered with light, and golden runes blazed on their surface.
Lan Jue sat in stillness, peaceful as a Buddha. Behind him an image had slowly begun to take shape. It was stately and ancient in appearance, from another era. Though it was only a faint
outline, the aura it exuded made the onlookers want to prostrate themselves in worship.
Another image appeared behind Qianlin. This one looked exactly like her.
A corona of blue light pulsed within Lan Jue’s chest, growing clearer with each moment. Its influence spread through him until Lan Jue looked like a glimmering statue of sapphire. The air around Qianlin was misty and ethereal and made her seem all the more like an immortal goddess.
Monarch’s fragment sucked in a breath and began to swell. A blinding purple light shot out from it as it called upon all of its power. But just as it was preparing to attack, a deafening peal of thunder stayed its hand.
Brrrrruuuuuummmm. All of the power the doppelganger gathered scattered. The sound frightened it so deeply that it immediately turned and fled. Glistening pearls of light twinkled in the depths of the golden cloud, hints of lightning rumbling within. Just the prospect of it terrified the beast and forced it to run for its life.
The progenitor, until now only threatening violence, shook violently. All of its tentacles dropped. But it could not flee like the Monarch’s avatar! It was rooted here, deep in the earth with no way to extricate itself.
“What is that?” The Pharmacist stared in awe at the golden cloud above them.
It was clear that Lan Jue and Qianlin had chosen to break through right after using their Harmonious Swords. What the Pharmacist didn’t understand was the spectacle they produced. No one seemed to know what the two were doing.
Luo Xianni had been ready to attack, but the thunder had darkened her features. She shook, just like the alien beasts, and her power fell away.
“That is the presence of universal protogenia. It seems to have taken a form similar to tribulation lightning, like in the ancient days.” She couldn’t be sure, either.
“Tribulation lightning?” The Pharmacist said in shock. “How is that possible? Didn’t it disappear with the immortals?”
Before she finished the thought another blast of thunder sounded. A single bolt of golden lightning ripped through the cloud and descended toward Lan Jue. In the same instant – whether it was Luo Xianni, the Pharmacist, the Gourmet or the Pauper – all of them fell from the sky. It was as though an enormous, invisible hammer had come crashing down from above that none of them could withstand.
“It really is tribulation lightning!” Luo Xianni cried out in shock and alarm as she desperately tried to protect herself from the pressure. She simply couldn’t understand why such power would appear now, or what Lan Jue and Qianlin had done to summon it. It was unimaginable, where they even human?
Tribulation lightning was a manifestation of universal protogenia, the most destructive force in all of time and space. How was it that Lan Jue was able to withstand it? Even she and Jue Di would be burnt to ash if they were struck.
It was the first time she had felt it, this fabled lightning. Although it had not be directed at her, the fear that gripped her was so absolute she couldn’t move a muscle much less save her son.
Chapter 786: Tribulation Lightning?
The sole Paragon who seemed to fair well against the staggering force was the Driver, still hovering in the air.
As he watched the golden bolt of lightning viciously strike Lan Jue, a cracking sound surrounded him as well. His own Discipline flared out of his control to create a shell of purple lighting. After striking his friend, the golden lightning released a burst of energy that crested against the Driver’s purple shield. Their clash made his whole body shake, but his Discipline was infused with a pale golden hue.
Luo Xianni watched what was happening in the air above them with shock clear in her eyes. She expected Lan Jue to be immediately turned destroyed, but instead the unexpected revealed itself. Not only did Lan Jue survive, he was still peacefully meditating as before. The image that had emerged in the air behind him was clearer.
What was going on? Tribulation lightning was somehow useless against her son?
The cloud cover above them shifted, changing from gold to deep blue. The light filtered through it and spread across the
ground, turning the world blue as well.
The lightning was changing? Typically that was a sign that it was getting stronger.
The Pharmacist, standing beside Luo Xianni gaped at the scene as well. Even under the protection of her legendary weapon, she couldn’t move.
Lan Jue chose this moment to breakthrough because of what he saw from the Pharmacist. She had taken the plunge in the midst of battle as well, and in that moment she had called upon Occisus’ power – summoning the Gates of Slaughter – which frightened away the Violet Prince and allowed them to escape.
His assumptions were well founded. Breaking through with Qianlin, they could call upon the might of two swords. If they could command something like the Gates of Slaughter, their combined abilities would prove even more potent. It greatly increased their chances of destroying the progenitor.
What he did not anticipate was that their combined breakthrough would inspire such changes to the protogenia around them. The reaction was entirely different than what had
occurred for the Pharmacist. They were in an abstruse state that he had no means to control.
The golden cloud became blue, but the aura it exuded only became stronger. It flashed again, and another bolt of pristine blue light lashed at Lan Jue. This time the result was different.
When the golden lightning tore into him, Lan Jue was surrounded by a blooming golden light. It filled him entirely, and shone from his every pore so that everything around him was a shining gold. The manifestation of his dharma was even more distinct.
Now when the blue lightning came crashing down, it struck him dead center and disappeared. There was no flash or outward sign other than the continued clarification of the image at his back. There wasn’t even a blast of thunder, as though Lan Jue had completely absorbed every ounce of energy from it.
The Driver watched it all in awe. He couldn’t help it when he spoke. “Hey, this guy… he doesn’t even leave me any. I’d even take the leftovers!” He could acutely feel the benefits Lan Jue’s breakthrough was having on him.
He had also absorbed some of the immortal qi from the thunder essence, and through it he knew that the lightning that assailed Lan Jue held similar power. It was also why he was not affected as much as the others, and obtained the greatest benefit.
However, Lan Jue completely absorbed the second blast and left nothing for him to draw on. In the last few moments he could sense his powers surged through the Realm of Protogenia and approach Reflection of Heaven and Earth. He was more than halfway there, and if he could just squeeze a little more from his friend’s breakthrough he might be able to cross the threshold! How could he not be impatient?
The corona of light around Lan Jue slowly receded back into his body. He seemed different, not just in his crystalline appearance but also his temperament. A stately and imperial air hung over him, much as it did the tribulation lightning.
The cloud changed again, darkening from blue to purple. The Driver felt this change most prominently, and the power within him rose sharply in response to it. His whole body trembled.
Brrruuummm!! A roar of thunder rattled the earth.
This time the lightning was split in two; one thick and imposing, the other minute and agile. The larger one sought out and struck Lan Jue, while the smaller one arced away and toward the Driver.
When it landed, the Driver’s body was wracked with shivers. The surge of power burned so badly his eyes rolled back in his skull and slowly merged into him to strengthen his aura at an alarming rate. Something appeared in the air behind him as well, the image of a black hole. Something seemed to be trying to fight its way out from within it.
All the Paragons below looked on, dumbfounded.
Three times they witnessed the lightning fall from the sky to strike Lan Jue, and three times they saw him unharmed. They could distinguish the effects of this lightning through what it did to the Driver. Almost instantly the aura surrounding their friend rose to its limit. It was unthinkable! When did improving a Paragon’s cultivation become so easy?
That’s not to say they weren’t affected. Each of them could
sense their essence nourished by this strange power. It wasn’t just cultivation, but their intrinsic knowledge of protogenia that improved. A small but hugely substantive change.
It was very difficult to change the protogenia of a Paragon once they solidified it. It only happened when they rose to the next level of power. That was the moment of adjustment. One could imagine how much influence Lan Jue and Qianlin were having, if they could modulate one’s understanding of protogenia.
After three blasts of lightning, everything seemed to change.
Yet it wasn’t over. The cloud above them changed color for a third time, now turquoise in hue. Strangely it was nearly translucent, making the sky seem clear and calm.
The progenitor had begun to sag under the power exuded by the cloud. It lay prostrate on the ground, never daring to move for fear it would draw the lightning’s ire.
What was Nirvana in the face of such intensity? Even the Monarch’s avatar, bearing the might of the Infinite, fled in the face of it. Even a true immortal would deign to elude this
This time, three bolts fell from on high. Though they were all the same color, they bore three distinct qualities.
Chapter 787: Lan Jue’s Dharma
The first bolt was deep of color, with profound depths of power and a jade-like glossy shine. It was rife with vital energy, and when it struck Lan Jue the man seemed to be full of it as well. Suddenly he was a conduit of life, and the ground below which had been rid of the progenitor’s pestilence actually began to sprout new foliage. In an instant the ground below could almost be described as lush.
The second bolt descended, measurably calmer. However this one was thick with a sense of righteousness. Lan Jue was baptized in the electric fires and his aura swelled tremendously. While it grew, his powers were likewise calmed, and the image behind him was clearer.
The third bolt was clear as crystal. When it landed Lan Jue was cleansed of all things negative and diminishing. It was as though the bolt that ran through him filtered away what was not needed and affixed him as the center of the universe in this moment.
Zhou Qianlin was also affected by these lightning bolts. Her figure shifting in hue after each one.
The rise of Lan Jue’s presence was staggering, and before anyone could react he had pierced the barrier to Paragon. Throughout the process the image behind him proceeded to coalesce. Now it was indistinguishable from reality.
It was a man, over a thousand meters tall clad in a snow-white robe. Thousands upon thousands of twinkling lights shone from it like a host of stars. All of a sudden everything was illuminated as though by the rising sun. Even the lethal cloud could not conceal the beautiful skies above. However it was not the sun, but the light of countless stars that glimmered in time with the sparkling lights upon the image’s robes.
Looking closely, one could see the face of the dharmic manifestation was Lan Jue exactly. Upon its head was perched a violet-gold crown encrusted with gemstones. It stood with its hands clasped at the small of its back and an expressionless countenance, while Captus floated in the air before it.
The Banishing Blade’s reaction was to buzz in response to this enormous presence. For a moment it was as though sword and image regarded one another, sensed each other’s essence. Neither moved.
Possessed of boundless simplicity the image peered into the
distance. Where it's stern eyes were cast a murderous impression prevailed. Lifting its hand, the manifestation casually waved at the turquoise cloud.
In response the cloud shifted colors again, this time adopting many at once. A rainbow of colors roiled within it before six separate spears of electric light were released. All of them hit Lan Jue in quick succession. Though they were all different, they descended so quickly that no one could individuate them.
Beneath the hail of lightning Lan Jue voiced a small cry. This time his presence underwent a fundamental shift, while the clothes that concealed him were ripped apart. A pure white robe
– exactly like his image – replaced them, and his head was adorned with a crown. The heroic young man, now in his robe and crown, looked all the imperial.
His eyes were shut when a line of enigmatic light etched itself on his forehead. They were stars whose luminescence fluctuated in the glare.
Qianlin was also undergoing her own metamorphosis. The image behind her had also begun to grow, quickly matching Lan Jue’s in size. Streamers of soothing white light waved around the beautiful figure before settling upon Qianlin and covering
her in its pure embrace. The girl’s body shook, then rose only to settle across from Lan Jue.
A halo of white light radiated around both of their heads. An arrow appeared between them, the Arrow of Compassion, which blazed with a blinding light. It pulled the two inexorably together until there was a flash of white light. The two merged, and all of a sudden there was a deluge of potency from Lan Jue. The sky went dark, but all was still clear by the light of the myriad stars.
Beams of starlight fell upon him, through him, and for a moment Lan Jue was indistinguishable from the essence of the universe.
“Nirvana!” The Photographer gasped in surprise.
After delivering the last six lightning strikes, the cloud that had caused such awe and terror dispersed. The oppressive energy that cowed the Paragons had gone, but the shock remained. None of them could comprehend the extent of what they’d witnessed. How was it Lan Jue could advance so far so quickly?
Nirvana? Was it even possible to rise to such heights directly?
If so, it would be the first time in all of human history.
“It is not just his power,” Luo Xianni determined. “It is the two of them.” Just as it had been before their breakthrough, once Qianlin joined with Lan Jue their powers increased. It was a terrifying prospect for Adepts, and much more so for a pair of Paragons. Undoubtedly the two were at least Reflections on their own.
First it was Lan Qing, now Lan Jue and Qianlin. Without question the next generation of Paragons had already surpassed their predecessors. They were the new masters.
Luo Xianni found Lan Jue’s dharmic image to be somewhat familiar. Although she couldn’t put her finger on it, she was certain it was no less potent than Lan Qing’s Vairochana dharma.
They were different, certainly. Vairocana issued a sense of calm, its light illuminated all things, and it was full of a boundless compassion. Lan Jue’s image was towering as the clouds, grandiose, supreme. That deadly aura and scornful stateliness was in precise contrast to the calm of Vairochana.
Lan Qing’s dharma was mighty, but not vicious. It was a power of forgiveness and benevolence. It was power delivered through the Buddha. Yet Lan Jue’s was entirely different, his dharma was as imperious as it was deadly. Even tribulation lightning moved to its command. Even in ancient times, the appearance of this incomparable power was rare.
What precisely his dharma was, only Lan Jue and Jue Di knew. Lan Qing also must have had some inkling. If Lan Jue did not understand it so thoroughly, could he have succeeded to completely in his breakthrough?
Lan Jue’s dharmic image pulsed with an overbearing aura that filled the onlookers with abject fear. At last the starlight dimmed and the storied scene had passed.
The image lifted its massive hand and Captus rose from above Lan Jue’s head. It released a flood of angry red light as the weapon grew to massive proportions in the image’s grip.
Chapter 788: Master of Stars, Supreme Emperor
It brandished the weapon almost casually, then a red light arose that filled the spectators’ eyes. It stretched to the horizon where an eruption of red light lit up the skies. It collapsed upon screams so loud and desperate the seemed to spread across the whole planet.
Ever since the golden cloud had appeared no aliens dared come near. The only creature that could not flee was the one Lan Jue’s dharma target; the progenitor.
The artery that connected the earth to the sky disintegrated beneath the power of Captus. Waves of vibrant vital energy rushed out from it in waves, then were directed back into the ground with a wave from Lan Jue’s mirror image.
Only a crater remained where the Nirvana-level progenitor had lain. The jagged indentation looked like it had been carved away and swallowed up by a black hole.
Lan Jue’s dharmic representation peered onto the surface of Captus, peering into the golden runes etched on its blade. A frightening and enigmatic power surged from the weapon. With
a smile, both man and weapon shrunk. Eventually the image vanished into Lan Jue, and Captus returned to hovering above his head.
The runes had concealed themselves again and left behind seven twinkling lights. They were clearer even than what Occisus had produced.
Was it done?
The surrounding Paragons swallowed and fought for words after the spectacular scene. Was this mighty beast felled with a single stroke of the sword? Only the Harbinger Faerie, bearer of Occisus, had an inkling. She sensed that Captus’ power had awakened in the hands of Lan Jue’s dharma. Thankfully the strength of it was enough to reign Captus in, otherwise its power was enough to split the planet in two!
Luo Xianni understood it from another perspective. She recognized Lan Jue’s dharma as an inherited legacy and these kinds of innate dharmas awakened ancient wisdom. These hints of forgotten knowledge solidified one’s comprehension. That sudden period of enlightenment allowed the Paragon to perform great feats, like destroying the progenitor.
Put simply, a display like that would not be happening again any time soon, not unless Lan Jue could attain the power of the long lost immortals. Or, alternatively, if he were to somehow tap into the ancient knowledge again.
Lan Jue remained in meditation as though all the chaos around him passed outside of his comprehension. After a while, his eyes opened. He could sense everything that occurred, felt the changes. He awoke an entirely changed entity.
The energy within him was unchanged – not increased, and in fact reduced. However, now he was a part of the universe around him, as inexorably tied as the stars. Protogenia was molded by his every thought and gesture. The power of reality was at his fingertips.
Control. Control over everything.
At last he had arisen to the status of Paragon. Like his brother before him, he did so in large strides to emerge as a Reflection of Heaven and Earth. No… he had gone further.
When he joined with Qianlin he felt the energy of the stars, the planets, and all living things as a part of them. He could feel
them as clearly as he sensed himself. With a thought he knew all that was happening in the nearby battle out in space.
His consciousness stretched out into the vast expanse of deep space. But something made his expression change, a suffocating sensation of pressure coming in from all directions. It hit him so hard he lost his breath and threatened to break his mind.
With a heady sigh Lan Jue retracted his perception.
Immediately he felt better.
Universal protogenia? He was stunned to discover he could sense it so soon after breaking through.
He turned and draw his eyes to the spot where the progenitor had been, now a hole one thousand meters deep. The red light of Captus had consumed it and any residual sense of the creature’s presence. As far as he could see the fungal growth it had produced was quickly withering away.
Even more stunning was how quickly things were returning to normal. As the poisoned earth was cleansed, new life sprang up. Wild explosions of vegetation arose from the desolation. This must be a result of his dharma, he thought, redirecting the
progenitor’s vital energy back into the ground. Although some of the devoured energy was gone forever, what remained was enough to restore a large amount of land to its former splendor.
Success. The first part of their plan had been accomplished. The enemy was stronger than they had predicted, but it’d all worked out. Things would be easier now.
Lan Jue descended from the sky. The other Paragons were below to greet the newly awakened Paragon.
The Driver sighed emotionally. “Missed it by just a little bit – a little more and I would be a Reflection of Heaven and Earth. So unfortunate.” Indeed, in the end he was not able to employ Lan Jue’s emulsion of power to push him into the next level. However he was guided to the border of the realm of Protogenia. He need only solidify his dharma, then he would be able to take the next step.
He was not the only one who learned from the experience. The Gourmet, whose progress since his breakthrough had been slow, could sense a qualitative improvement. The Pauper could feel growth as well. His dharma was inherited just like Lan Jue’s, and his comprehension of it was deepened. He was also just a step beyond becoming a Reflection.
Just as a normal Paragon’s ascension was beneficial to Adepts, Lan Jue and Qianlin’s breakthrough was a great boon to the Paragons nearby. It was an unforeseeable but welcome circumstance.
Lan Jue smiled. “Don’t be greedy, how many people do you know who have improved as quickly as you?”
The Driver chuckled. “Hanging around you was one of the best decisions I’ve made.” Ever since training yin-yang lightning with Lan Jue, his Discipline had skyrocketed. It was so fast even he could hardly believe it.
With time his strength had grown to glorious heights, he’d become a Paragon, and now he saw the next step looming on the horizon. None of this had been within the realm of his imagination just a few years ago! All of this was made possible by Lan Jue, and though he didn’t often say it he was deeply grateful for the friendship they shared.
Luo Xianni smiled happily at her adopted son. “All of us were aided by your breakthrough. But why would this process summon tribulation lightning? It is supposed to come when one crosses the threshold to immortality!”
Lan Jue shook his head. “My breakthrough has nothing to do with tribulation lightning. That wasn’t what you saw. That was a thundercloud, and the lightning was there to help me through the process not impede it.”
Luo Xianni’s curiosity got the better of her. “What is your dharma?”
He grinned at her in response. “Its name is even longer than my brother’s. I’d rather not say.”
Her eyes sparkled. “What are you doing? Keeping secrets from your mother?”
This earned a sigh from Lan Jue. He muttered his answer. “Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety.”
For a long moment the others just stared at him.
The Gourmet was at a total loss. He’d grown up in the North, and though he came from Eastern blood he was never taught the history and mythos of ancient China. The Driver was similarly
flabbergasted, though he had some inkling as to what it meant.
The Pharmacist and the Pauper stared at him with wide, unbelieving eyes. Both of them had inherited dharmas and were possessed of deep historical knowledge.
Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety? What in the world was that?
This ancient deity had many names; Master of Stars, Attendant of the Highest Stratum of Heaven. In ancient times he was lauded as guardian of the golden gate of immortals. It was also said he was a transformation of the great Yuan Shi. The one who made Captus, Celestial Master Lingbao, was one of his contemporaries and a Pure One.
Respect for the Heavenly Emperor was loftier than the North Star. He was among the greatest deities of the Taoist pantheon, hence his position as the North Star, master of the Purple Subtle Enclosure. His Buddhist name was the Blazing Light, Taoists called him the Mysterious Celestial of Jade. Master of Great Learning and Integrity. Gatherer of All Under Heaven.
Among the Taoist pantheon he was ranked just under the
Jade Emperor. Known as Master of Stars, Supreme Emperor.
When the Pharmacist realized what Lan Jue had inherited, she grinned from ear to ear. No wonder… no wonder Captus was glad to reveal its full splendor in the hands of his dharmic image. It was the Emperor of Purple Subtlety!
Immortals who existed in the realm of Daluo could call upon the full might of Captus. How much truer was it for a Heavenly Minister? It was as powerful as the underlying truth that composed the universe.
Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Star of Purple Subtlety… and the Palm of Five Lightnings.
With that thought, the cloud of heavenly lightning began to make sense. The first golden bolt destroyed ignorance, the Way of Execution for the Five Lightnings. The second blue bolt was Lan Jue’s specialty, All-Heaven Lightning, created when Pan Gu split heaven and earth. The third purple bolt that was shared with the Driver because it was his own Primordial Lightning.
The fourth were the three turquoise bolts as one, Triple Purity.
At last were the six lightnings employed by the Palm technique to punish evildoers. Individually they were; Heavenly thunder, Earthly thunder, Cloud thunder, Water thunder, Demon thunder, and War thunder.
Thunder magic was a gift of his inheritance, and what allowed Lan Jue to possess and employ his dharma.
He held back for so long, and allowed the magic to gestate within him. When it was released his explosive growth was nothing short of astonishing. The Emperor of the North Star was no less potent a dharma than Vairocana, and in fact in combat was more advantageous. After all, the Emperor of the North Star was noted for his prowess on the field of battle.
This is the real name of one of the ‘Four Heavenly Ministers’ who, as far as I’m aware, are in charge of managing all things in heaven and earth. They are just under the Three Pure Ones in terms of hierarchy.
Chapter 789: 11-Word Title
Luo Xianni blinked sluggishly at him. “This is your father’s doing?”
Lan Jue nodded.
“Chi Bupang, you won this one,” she muttered.
Lan Jue’s protogenic manifestations had changed over time. His Discipline was thunderbolt, so he chose the moniker and likeness of the God of Lightning Zeus. When he re emerged onto the scene, although his ascension agreed with his powers it lacked the tempering needed.
Becoming a Paragon was always assured for Lan Jue. The question was how far he’d go afterward. Under Jue Di’s tutelage, with the thunder essence and the immortal qi within, he was guided to the source of the Emperor of the North Star. With help Lan Jue was given the most suitable dharma for his powers.
It seemed like the long months of suppression had finally paid off.
After his breakthrough Captus seemed less mysterious and inscrutable than it had been. Its secrets had begun to be revealed to him. Of course he would need time to stabilize his newfound powers, but right now there was a mission to complete.
Lan Jue’s communicator had been destroyed in the process. Only Thor’s Promise and other metallic and moisture- containing items had survived the electric fire. His modesty was preserved by the coagulation of his energy into the robe of the Emperor of the North Star.
Luo Xianni gave her communicator to him. He immediately dialed in his brother’s number.
“It’s done.” His report was two simple words.
“You broke through?” Came the response.
He was about to hang up when he heard his brother speak again. “Alright, Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Star
of Purple Subtlety. Eleven words… not bad. Don’t worry, I won’t tease you too much.”
Lan Qing hung up before his brother could respond.
“You-“ He was speechless. Karma, it was revealed, was a real bitch. He had been merciless in the abuse of his brother for the name he inherited. Now look what that got him.
“Can we just call me the North Star?”
“Did you help when father gave me my name?”
“Fine, you win!”
Eleven words was eleven words, what’s the big deal!
All that had occurred on Angel had been visible even out in space. When the golden cloud appeared it lit up the far side of the planet. The aura it produced had frightened all the aliens nearby and sent them into a panic. That alone positively influenced the battle in humanity’s favor.
Out in space, humans had been in the weeds. An overwhelming number of alien enemies had been closing in on them inch by inch. Despite the pressure they’d held ranks and maintained their range advantage. Although humans were fighting on their back feet, the aliens were the ones who took the most punishment.
However if the aliens broke their line the situation would have quickly reversed. It would likely have become a massacre on par with the loss of the North’s Seventh Fleet.
But would Lan Qing give them the chance?
The moment that powerful, globular beast joined the fray human tactics changed. Or, more accurately, Middle Heaven rose to the occasion.
Deep blasts issued from the warplanet as it rushed into the enemy’s midst. Like a monumental cannonball it tore through their ranks. The humans watched, stunned and alarmed. They weren’t aware this was part of their strategy.
Although the bastion’s strength and defenses were formidable, the aliens were also more than your typical foe.
Enough ants could kill an elephant. Once it was surrounded how would Middle Heaven protect itself from destruction? What’s more, they relied on the bastion for the success of the mission!
The aliens would not give up an opportunity to finish the fight in one strike. Middle Heaven’s brazen charge crushed a number of aliens, but scores more came swarming in to replace them. They came at Middle Heaven with their strongest attacks.
Then, all of a sudden, the bastion lit up on all sides. The honeycomb cannons that had been on just one side now appeared on practically every inch. It blazed like a star that was birthed in the center of the alien horde. The red light that poured from it threatened to outshine the nearby sun.
The heat and pressure warped everything within a certain radius. Red eventually gave way to incandescent white. Any alien caught within the scope of the blaze were immediately charred, their defenses incapable of withstanding such intense temperatures.
However the range of the burn wasn’t overly large, perhaps three thousand meters in every direction. After that the heat quickly dropped off, in sharp contrast to its earlier attack.
But don’t forget, the aliens were adept at close combat. In order to cause Middle Heaven any damage they had to crowd in, so the area around the bastion had been thick with enemies. The intensity of it was so sudden and so overbearing that what wasn’t immediately destroyed was temporary blinded by the light.
Countless numbers of alien creatures were killed in a matter of seconds.
In fact the force of it was such that even the temperature on Angel increased by several degrees.
Shocking was the only way to describe this sudden change. The other bastions and the twelve fleets had only been given one order. Shield your eyes.
It was an important order to follow, lest Middle Heaven’s daring act blinded their own people.
The white-hot fires easily consumed all beasts within range. The thick press of aliens that had rushed in was now a field of ash.
The light continued for a whole minute before eventually dampening. It left behind a smoldering Middle Heaven that seethed red and angry like a ball of flame. Its entire surface was an undulating field of golden red that warred with the frigid environment of space. The heat was so acute that it didn’t need defenses. Any alien that got close would sure burst into flames.
All around the bastion vital crystals twinkled in the red glow. They were all different - some large and some small – and they glittered like gems lain upon black velvet.
Suddenly there was an ear-piercing screech. The titanic beast that had nearly rushed in to attack Middle Heaven shook with rage. A powerful vacuum force was directed at Middle Heaven – not in the hopes drawing the bastion near, but to gather the scores of vital crystals around it.
The creature had made a quick and effective choice. It’d rushed in like the others to try and put the bastion down, but its reaction had been quicker. Once a living creature reached a certain level of power, it could sense dangerous intentions no matter who the enemy was.
When Middle Heaven charged into the horde the beast had made to meet it, but an ominous sensation stayed its
reciprocation. This moment of hesitation had saved its life. Its smaller brethren, who rushed in to block its progress and attack, were no more.
Middle Heaven hovered in the pocket of clear space, making no attempt to recover the vital crystals on behalf of humanity. For the aliens, so long as they didn’t lose the vital crystals the destruction of a body meant little. The vital energy held within could fortify their numbers quickly.
Then space lit up once more. This time, though, it didn’t come from the bastion, but instead from behind it.
A beam of burning white light a thousand meters in diameter pierced the darkness and where it passed reality bent from the disruption. Rippled spread out all around them.
The beam was well aimed and struck the alien orb dead center. The creature’s vision and perception had been affected by Middle Heaven’s blaze, and so it didn’t have a chance to evade. Though the ominous sense had remained, without vision the monster assumed it was still Middle Heaven.
The attack was too sudden.
The white light ripped through its enormous body instantly, slicing through it like the beast wasn’t even there. Its passage swept away any smaller aliens caught in its path and though it persisted for less than a second, it had erased a huge swath of foes from existence.
On the heels of the beam came six crystal clear blue orbs. Their approach had been concealed by Middle Heaven’s girth until spreading out once they reached the battlefield. Each one of them was at least five hundred meters around, not terribly impressive to look at, like small crystal asteroids caught in Middle Heaven’s orbit.
Chapter 790: Soft Water Bomb
The crystal orbs floated silently through the darkness of space and toward where the alien forces were thickest. The aliens, meanwhile, were in total disarray.
Middle Heaven’s sudden charge and attack was so fast they still hadn’t recovered. When their senses returned the highest order of business was protecting oneself by any means necessary. Then, the spear of light erased scores more of their brethren and destroyed their leader. All of a sudden they were a snake without its head, how could they not be mired in chaos?
So it was that when the orbs arrived the aliens didn’t know whether to advance or retreat. They glimmered prettily as though they were comprised of gemstones. Within them were ripples of power, like a world of water was contained in each one.
They looked slow, but it wasn’t long before they penetrated the clusters of aliens. Once surrounded by enemies they quickly swelled to several times their size.
There was no violent explosion or blinding flash. The orbs’ expansion was silent as death but spectacular to behold.
Whatever it touched instantly froze solid like an ice sculpture. Alien victims hovered in air unmoving. The creatures looked like the orb had, crystalline and transparent. However the state was short lived for moments later they dissolved into water and melted away. Only their vital crystals remained. The blue light was like an exfoliating current that washed their bodies away.
After expanding the six orbs covered a huge area, even larger than Middle Heaven’s blaze. They so dazzled the spectators that every eye was locked on them.
In a matter of minutes the situation had turned. Under the weight of sudden disaster the alien forces collapsed. In a blink one fifth of their forces had been destroyed – not something that could be easily shrugged off.
Screams of terror filled space as the beasts fled for their lives.
The human armada had begun to move after the appearance of the crystalline orbs. They halted the retreat, and with guns blazing, turned around and pressed the attack. There was too much happening at once for anyone to keep track of, but the end result was clear. The alien forces were routed.
All of this was part of Lan Qing’s plan.
From the beginning, the humans had been in an inferior position. In the hearts of these soldiers a fear had begun to creep into their hearts that the enemy was too much for them to overcome. But was that the truth of it? Were these alien monstrosities invincible? Lan Qing used his own prowess, his own masterful command to show them that the aliens were not to be feared. Their foes were not the perfect predators. Like anything else, they had their weaknesses.
Indeed, Middle Heaven revealed its true strength in transforming itself into a small sun. The warplanet itself was its greatest weapon. Its Solar Flare was one of the bastion’s most potent attacks.
All of its cannons had been flooded with molinite and fired simultaneously, putting the newly discovered element’s potency on full display and thereby obliterating everything around it in spectacular fashion. It was the first time an attack like this had been attempted.
During the research phase this wasn’t intended to be used as an offensive maneuver. Solar Flare was designed as a defensive technique to escape encirclement. As could be expected, the
powerful attack also had its detriments, most important being its limited range.
It wasn’t that the scope was limited by design, the amount of energy it consumed was nothing short of stupefying. Middle Heaven’s molinite core couldn’t sustain it for long without becoming unstable. If they tried it would likely result in a cataclysmic explosion.
Thus was the Solar Flare attack limited in scope, and reserved for instances like this or when facing the alien home worlds’ tentacles.
Lan Qing had used his enemy’s advantage against them. With Middle Heaven as bait he drew them in, and Solar Flare did the rest, with tremendous results. What’s more, while the enemy was blinded by the glare, it had given Tyrannosaurus and Poseidon enough time to charge their main guns.
Typically it was difficult for a bastion to effectively use its main guns in the midst of battle. For one, the energy it consumed was prohibitive. Also it left them open to counterattack since they couldn’t employ their weapons again for a time afterward. Timing was imperative.
Lan Qing had carefully studied all of humanity’s previous clashes with these alien creatures. The two he paid closest attention to were their defeat in the Scattered Starfields, and the disaster in the Northern Alliance.
He learned that the aliens feared their bastions’ main cannons. Humans had managed to discover weapons of great destructive power, possibly surpassing even universal protogenia. But because bastions were not living things, they weren’t constrained by the same restrictions the alien planets suffered.
Lan Qing noted that the aliens did whatever was necessary to prevent the bastions from using their deadly weapons. And they were successful, Lan Qing could not find a single instance when a bastion’s attack actually hit an alien home world.
His enemy’s fear of these weapons could only mean they were effective. Against the aliens, and against the living planets they came from. He formulated his plan so that the armada could employ these weapons of mass destruction to their fullest capabilities. In this way they could turn the tables and punish their foes.
Originally the aliens had been spread out, specifically to avoid
having large numbers of their troops caught by bastion fire. They also understood these human weapons, and knew that they needed time to charge before use. It was obvious when bastion ships were preparing to use them.
Frightened as they were by the power of these hips, the aliens learned effective ways to prevent them using their weapons. They became so good at it, in fact, they began to look on them with disdain.
Their hubris was viciously punished this time.
Firstly, the aliens knew little to nothing about Middle Heaven. They didn’t think its fighting systems would be so different from its predecessors. What’s more, the ship had recently used its main guns and wouldn’t be able to again for some time. At least so they thought.
But how could they knew Middle Heaven was replete with molinite, and possessed stores of energy that put any other bastion to shame? The time needed to charge its guns was significantly shorter. Nor was the circular blast Middle Heaven’s real main attack.
They were caught entirely by surprise, much to their dismay. Under the cover of Middle Heaven’s impressive display, Tyrannosaurus was able to furtively charge its own guns and in one fell swoop put down the enemy leader. Its white beam had destroyed no small number of smaller aliens as well.
The six orbs had, of course, come from Poseidon. Just like Middle Heaven, the aliens did know what to expect from the mysterious bastion. The orbs themselves were called Soft Water Bombs – a name that didn’t inspire fear by any measure. However they were also sometimes called Poseidon bombs, as they were the bastion’s main attack.
Soft Water Bombs were the product of the Group’s own military research and development. Using their own secretive methods and materials, they were able to create a unique material they called Soft Water. It was especially adept at assimilating all sorts of matter, especially living things.
This meant that if human ships attacked Poseidon, its bombs would do little to the attacking vessels themselves. However, all life within would be consumed, leaving them empty husks – ghost ships. Even more terrifying, by its nature the Soft Water Bombs slipped passed most defenses effortlessly.
This was Poseidon Group’s secret weapon, one which only its highest leaders knew of. Even Mo Xiao was only made aware of its existence once she was chosen to bear Hua Li’s child.
Poseidon Group’s decision to participate in this fight was about confidence, but not confidence in Lan Qing. The group had great confidence in itself, and held nothing back to prove it.
They had already done their research to ensure the Soft Water Bombs were effective against alien forces. The six shells it released far surpassed Middle Heaven’s Solar Flare in enemies destroyed. It was particularly suited to contend against the aliens. Like the beasts the Soft Water consumed what it touched and turned it into harmless dihydrogen oxide. Only their vital crystals, protected by its vibrant life energy, survived the baptism.
Middle Heaven remained still, never moving from the spot where it ended its charge. Meanwhile Tyrannosaurus and Poseidon went on the offensive, following the twelve fleets as they chased down the fleeing alien survivors.