Skyfire Avenue - Chapter 896
Skyfire Avenue Chapter 896-900
Chapter 896: The Definitive Moment
In the space of an instant everything changed, and Monarch discovered that this chaos was far more profound than he’d thought. Even if he were ten times stronger this power would remain incomprehensible to him. The only explanation was that this was part of the fabric of the universe, but how could it appear here?
Curiosity no longer superseded the fear that was creeping up within him. With his eyes dual points of golden light Monarch thrust his arms overhead to protect himself. He raced off to find an exit.
He aimed to rely on his immortal-level powers to break out of this encirclement. Once he broke free it would be far easier to clear away these pesky humans. Once they were dealt with he could carefully begin to examine the intricacies of this chaos. Perhaps he could use it as a weapon in his quest to overcome the universe.
He fixated on the idea as he charged, looking for a way to escape.
Much to his surprise, however, there was no border in site. He could travel thousands of kilometers in a blink, but no matter how far or how fast he moved there seem to be no exit. He didn’t know where to go, or which way to focus his power. Despite his god-like strength his attacks struck nothing but empty space wherever he directed them. Through his perception this reality he found himself was as stable as it was infinite, and there appeared to be no breaks for him to exploit. He found himself trapped in a never-ending expanse, a hostile territory with no border he could assault.
What to do?
The gravity of his situation began to dawn on him. He continued to fly in a direction chosen at random, all the while lashing out with his power.
After two whole minutes the Violet Prince managed to extricate himself from Luo Xianni’s dimensional prison. He looked haggard and monstrous, and was missing his left arm.
It was the result of Luo Xianni’s final photograph. Though she did not kill him, she’d managed to injure him greatly.
Elsewhere the avatar and the six remaining Paragons were near to the end of their conflict.
The four who gave their lives had succeeded in wounding the beast terrible, especially the final push from the Gods of Wine. Their addition continued to drain the monster of its vitality while the living Paragons pressed the attack. By now its power was reduced to Nirvana levels, and it continued to sustain injuries.
The six remaining Paragons were not having it easy, however. From the very beginning they had attacked this monster with their strongest abilities, never letting up. Exhausted, they were battling against a beast with its back against a proverbial wall, fighting for its life. No one was without considerable injury, but the humans were gaining ground.
With the Violet Prince free from Luo Xianni’s constraints, things turned bad. He chose not to assault the remaining Paragons and instead charged right at the site of the Banishing Strategy. Without Luo Xianni’s help none of the intrepid soldiers could survive against this monster, the Prince would have already broken through their man-made barrier.
Now, although the Prince was gravely injured, Luo Xianni was no longer there to dissuade him. He crashed into the defenders, killing dozens of soldiers with every wave of his hand as he searched for a way through.
Humans watching from home felt their hearts leap into their throats. They knew the definitive moment was near, when it would be determined if humanity would continue or be snuffed out. Prayers were said for the North, the East and the West. They were spoken for the soldiers and the battle, for the Banishing Strategy. They didn’t even know what the Banishing Strategy was, only that if it succeeded their species would be saved.
Boom! A huge number of mechas and drones went flying in all directions. When the Prince crashed into the front line he sent them soaring with a vicious punch.
The soldiers managed to ward him off for only a few moments. However, with the area of the Banishing Strategy nearby the Prince stopped cold.
The Strategy was in its middle stages. Already the aura it produced sent a chill down his spine. He hesitated, but the consequences of inaction won out and he continued his charge.
The stakes could not be higher[1. Interestingly, in Chinese this is ‘without lips the teeth suffer cold.’]. If Monarch perished the humans could use this terrible power to destroy everything they labored to build. Their immortal realm could be wiped from existence and all their dreams destroyed. More importantly the Violet Prince was not himself a full immortal. He still needed Monarch’s help.
He made the prompt decision that, no matter the cost, he had to help Monarch escape.
This Banishing Strategy was the creation of just four humans. The one the monster Prince chose to deal with first was not Ultus’ bearer, but Lan Jue. Of all these humans Lan Jue was the one he was most familiar with. There was no sense of kinship among the aliens, but the Prince and Princess had worked closely for years. She had been slain by his hand. It was also Lan Jue’s deception that helped them abscond with Ultus, right from under their nose. He was the reason they were in such a precarious position.
For these reasons the Prince hated Lan Jue, loathed this arrogant human meat sack. He had to die.
In a flash he appeared before Captus’ bearer. His face was savage and feral like a wild animal and he swiped at Lan Jue with his remaining limb.
Recognition of the danger flashed in the Jewelry Master’s eyes, but he did nothing. The mechas raced toward them to help but they were too slow. They had the heart but not the ability. Although Lan Jue was in many ways Captus after their joining, in the midst of the Banishing Strategy he could not defend himself. All he could do was pour all of himself into his task and hope it was enough.
The light of his vitality blazed around him like an inferno. I was so intense it affected the Prince. But just as the beast’s attack was about to find its target it was not the fires that stopped him. A figure flashed into view, appearing from nowhere and standing between them.
A shield of rippling waves shattered beneath the Prince’s attack. His fist buried itself in the newcomer’s chest.
BOOM! The blue silhouette was flung away like detritus, smashing into Lan Jue’s body but blocked by Captus’ power.
“A-Li!” Lan Jue screamed.
His friend had leapt in to take the blow for him. Crippled and bleeding, he regarded Lan Jue with a forced grin.
“How about that, eh? Just in time.” He smirked at his brother in arms, even as the sound of shattered glass echoed from his chest. It was the sound of his Core breaking.
No one survived a deadly blow to their Core – not a human, not an immortal. A broken Core was a death sentence.
Lan Jue’s tears came again, bitter and profuse. Yet Hua Li regarded him calmly. Five more figures were quickly converging on their location. They’d finally managed to defeat the avatar and had come to fend off the Prince. Injured from his conflict with Luo Xianni he was once again caught in a struggle he couldn’t free himself from.
Hua Li struggled to turn himself around, facing Lan Jue. “You’ve already sacrificed so much for us. Now you’re giving up your life!”
Anguish was clear in his voice. “Aren’t you doing the same? We would give it all so our people can continue. To the last drop of blood.”
“No,” Hua Li retorted. “I’m not like you. I cherish my life. I’m not giving myself up for all people, or my family. Poseidon Group can find some quiet corner to survive, and I could have gone with them. We would have made it work. But I didn’t… I stayed. My sacrifice isn’t for humanity. It’s for you.”
Hua Li’s smile spread wide across his face, as though he were finally free from some unspoken burden.
“There’s a lot I never dared to tell you, A-Jue.”
Hua LI’s expression surprised him. Lan Jue’s voice was hoarse as he answered. “Don’t say it A-Li. I don’t want to hear it.”
But Hua Li shook his head. “No, I need to say it. This is the only opportunity I’ll get.”
“Hera… I killed her.”
Hua Li spoke the words softly. But to Lan Qing, to Lan Jue, to Zhou Qianlin it was like a blast of thunder. Qianlin swayed and threatened to topple over. It was inconceivable that her sister would have been slain by one of Lan Jue’s closest friends. Lan Qing and Lan Jue may have been family but his relationship with Hua Li was just as close.
They were lifelong friends. Brothers!
Chapter 897: Hua Li and Mo Xiao
For a moment the smile on Hua Li’s face appeared more forced than genuine. He saw Lan Jue’s shock and it filled him with an indescribable regret.
“I’m the one who killed Hera. I didn’t know it would hurt you so badly. But, I had to.” His smile warped into a pained scowl and he clutched his chest. Were it not for the inherent vitality of his bloodline, the Prince’s attack would have destroyed him outright.
“Do you remember when you asked me why I don’t like Mo Xiao? You said she was a good woman. You’re right, she is. She’s always been good to me, but I don’t like her in that way. I told you I have someone that I love, someone I’ve always loved. Just Like Xiuxiu who always loved you but was never loved in return. We’re very similar this way. We just have… different tastes.”
Hua Li’s eyes were red from the emotion. “The one I love has almost superhuman talent, an open mind, and a good heart. They’re strong, and always willing to give help where and when it’s needed. From the moment we met I knew this was the person I was meant to love.”
“But life had other plans. They loved someone else and I knew I would never have a chance. I could only remain silent, give my blessings, and hope they were happy. But the pain never got better. I saw that wonderful face in my mind every day. I longed to be near whenever I could, as often as possible. But he was always with a woman. He never knew how I felt.”
“One day I couldn’t take it anymore. I convinced myself I had to kill her, that it was the only way I’d have a chance. Jealousy poisoned my heart and caused me to make a terrible mistake.”
Lan Jue couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He gaped at Hua Li, stunned beyond words. He’d never suspected… never expected to hear anything like this from his closest friend.
Hua Li looked deeply into his eyes, his expression oft and sorrowful. “I’m so sorry, A-Jue. I want to give my life to pay for the awful thing I did. I hope it can mean I don’t owe Hera. I knew our different orientation would mean we’d never be together but it never stopped my love. I didn’t want to leave without you knowing the truth. If there is a next life I hope I can come back as a woman, as beautiful as Hera or Qianlin, and I hope I meet you first.”
Lan Jue shut his eyes tightly and muttered through grit teeth. “A-Li, I -“
‘No! That’s not true!” The cry came a navy blue mecha that came their way. A petite figure emerged and tightly wrapped her arms around Hua Li.
“It wasn’t him! He didn’t do it!” Mo Xiao, president of the Poseidon Group, sobbed as she held onto her husband.
Hua Li’s face changed, growing pale and fatigued. “What are you doing here? Go, quickly. You need to command Poseidon.”
Mo Xiao looked at him sadly. “I knew this would happen. I knew you were going to make this choice, that’s why I didn’t want you to go. You’ve always felt like his life is more important than yours. But you don’t realize I feel the same about you!”
She snapped her head around and looked at Lan Jue. Her lips trembled.
“It wasn’t him. Hua Li didn’t kill Hera. He loved you so much, how could he hurt you in any way? It didn’t matter how sad he was he never wanted anything bad to happen to you. I knew how he felt about you but I liked him ever since I was young. That like grew into love, and nothing was going to change it. I… I’m the one who killed Hera!”
As she went on her voice became more and more hysterical. “Hua Li was never going to give me his heart, but I couldn’t stand to see him so sad all the time. I had to help him, and so long as Hera was alive Hua Li would never have his chance. So I killed her, for him. I came up with the plan, arranged everything, and in the end I succeeded. In doing so I destroyed you, too.”
“Hua Li never dared to tell you everything and you continued to sink into depression. I killed Hera, not A-Li. A-Li never once did anything to hurt you. Once he found out what I did he alienated me but, A-Li, everything I did was for you. I just wanted you to be happy and I was willing to do anything to make it happen. I never expected you to love me, but to be the mother of your child would be enough. Yet you wouldn’t even give me the opportunity to be with you, to see you every day. Why?! Why would you chose to give your life for this man who never knew your heart? You idiot!”
Hua Li stroked her long dark hair. “Aren’t you just as foolish? To say I wasn’t involved in Hera’s death simply isn’t true. If it weren’t for who I am and who I loved, Hera would still be alive. I never told A-Jue, even after I figured out it was you. I didn’t do anything to try and make it right. In the deepest parts of my heart I know I’m just as responsible for what you did to Hera. I had to try and pay her back. Mo Xiao, go back. All of this will be solved when I am gone. We have a child, and you have to take care of him. Flee now, while Monarch is still captured.”
Mo Xiao smiled. “You’re finally concerned for my well-being. That makes me happy. But do you really think that if you die I will continue living?”
“No!” Hua Li struggled, knowing what was to come, but with his Core shattered there was nothing he could do.
Mo Xiao deftly slipped a dagger into her own heart. With a soft grunt she looked up at him, a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. She hugged him tight.
“In the end, I’m happy to die in your arms… A-Li…”
Hua Li’s lips moved but no sound came out. He lifted his head and looked at Lan Jue, his face forlorn and unaccepting. Motes of blue light began to rise from Hua Li and Mo Xiao’s body. Eventually they both disappeared into an enormous bubble and floated away into space.
Lan Jue was stupefied by all that had happened. His mother and father were gone, now Hua Li had perished. But not before revealing that terrible secret.
However, even before the battle Lan Jue knew who had a hand in Hera’s death. He’d been struggling with it since he found out, but told no one.
The storage device Xiuxiu had left him had contained a lot of information. The worst of it detailed Xiuxiu’s collaboration with Mo Xiao. They’d conspired to earn Hera’s faith, and orchestrated her murder. It was why Xiuxiu’s last words were an apology. Lan Jue never suspected the people closest to him were responsible for one of the most terrible periods in his life.
Xiuxiu’s reasons her simple; love. When her suffering and Mo Xiao’s met, the two women came up with their plan. However Xiuxiu’s revelations did not reveal Hua Li’s special affections. Now it all made sense, why Mo Xiao would do what she did.
After Hera’s death Lan Jue was consumed by anger. He swore to hunt down the monster that killed her and tear them apart. But now, how could he let that anger go? There was no target for this deep-seated loathing.
Xiuxiu was dead. Hua Li, Mo Xiao – dead. Xiuxiu and Hua Li gave their lives to protect him. What was he to do with this resentment? When he looked at Qianlin he found no enmity or anger in her face. Instead he saw concern.
It was done. The past was the past, and it had to remain there. The only way left was forward and nothing else was important.
Lan Jue focused anew on the task at hand. Determination hardened his face and the light around him burned brighter than ever. He became a pillar of crimson light, the same as Captus. In choosing to give his life for humanity all past grudges were given up. Right now there was one thing which demanded all of him, and that was completing the Strategy so that Monarch might be destroyed and peace could return to the worlds of man.
Within the flood of energy the Strategy required, all distractions melted from Lan Jue’s mind. However a bone-deep weariness sunk into his soul, like he was being consumed from within. He could feel that his body might give in at any moment and be destroyed, but this was to be his fate. When he died all of him – body and soul – would be sacrifice on the altar of the Strategy so that it would succeed. It had to, so that Monarch could be defeated.
Mankind’s Paragons had lost another, and without Hua Li the fight was that much more perilous. Luckily Luo Xianni had injured the Prince gravely and in doing so made managing his attacks easier. Even so the remaining Paragons were being beaten back. It would only be a matter of time before more lives were taken.
Chapter 898: Too Little Too Late?
The Violet Prince watched all that transpired while he fought at the edge of the Strategy. Unbeknownst to the humans he was weakening. Luo Xianni’s powers had not only deprived him of his arm, but had also created fissured within him that were blocking his channels and tearing up his body.
This was certainly to the humans’ benefit, for if he’d not been so gravely injured how could they contend against an Infinite-level creature such as he? How could someone like Hua Li have completely blocked his attack?
He waited for Monarch to break free of containment, just as fervently as the humans were waiting for the Banishing Strategy to be complete. He wanted to see his master retake control of this situation and bring these lesser creatures to their knees.
This had been a battle of tragedies. More than ten Paragons were reduced now to single digits. This was before considering the very real possibility that Lan Jue and the other three sword bearers would be required to give their lives. If they did, only five Paragons would make it home.
Had they reached their limit? Lan Jue could feel that his body was near to bursting. It felt like his spirit was cracking, like crystal under too much pressure. Similar and equally uncomfortable sensations consumed Lan Qing, Qianlin and the Pharmacist as well. Worse, in fact, as they had reached their limit long before!
Li Ke appeared behind the Pharmacist. He did nothing – he could do nothing. He watched his wife with a tender gaze as she struggled mightily, and she looked back. She continued to fight, to struggle against the demands of the sword. Even without speaking she could see what was in her husband’s heart.
Keep fighting – for Jun’er!
Yes, for their child, their beautiful daughter, for all the mothers and daughters on every human world. They had to hold on until the last possible moment and keep this monster from destroying everything.
But Occisus demanded more. Its hunger for energy was fearsome and insatiable. Every moment sucked what little energy remained, pushing them to the edge of ruin. Powerful as the will of humanity was, it did not translate into energy. She wanted victory desperately, more than anything, but if she did not have what was required she would be destroyed all the same.
None of them expected to survive. They just wanted to hold on, long enough that their sacrifice could galvanize the Banishing Strategy.
All the pilots in mechas and drones, all the soldiers in distant warships bore witness to the battle. Prayers and desperate hope filled every heart.
Qianlin struggled as well, in some ways worse. Though her cultivation was not inferior to Lan Jue’s her Domain was not intended to be used in combat. Her inheritance wasn’t some almighty ancient god. In that way she was the weakest of the four, her spirit never having been tempered. She was the first one in danger of giving in.
A-Jue, I can’t hold on. She whispered the sad and desperate thought in her heart.
Lan Jue sensed it: Go, Qianlin. Wait for me on the other side. I’ll be there soon. It doesn’t matter where, we will always be together.
A small smile played on Qianlin’s face. Yes! So long as he was with her, not even death was something to be frightened of.
Tendrils of white light arose around her like threads of silk. They were cracks, coalescing together around her dharmic image as it began to break apart. She was one with her image, and once it was destroyed she would die as well, forever gone from this world.
Qian was ready, she’d prepared for this. She quieted her mind, and even Xuanyuan Shishi was silent. They put all their focus into the sword and Strategy. They were committed to dedicating all of themselves, no matter the result.
Suddenly, Qianlin felt a warmth flow from her limbs toward her center. It started gently at first, but became more intense as she neared her final moments. For some reason it reversed the pain she felt, going so far as to ease the pain in her soul.
She opened her eyes and looked toward Lan Jue. It was then that she saw all around her were dots of brilliant white light. They sank into her body. Demortus’ demands were lofty beyond what she could offer and though these motes of light were weak individually, there were too many to count. They were filled with the unique power of faith, and it served to slow her consumption.
This… this was…
The power of prayer. Qianlin understood immediately. The prayers of humans everywhere were sustaining her. And yet she was not filled with joy. Instead her eyes betrayed panic.
Perhaps this power would save her, maybe even survive. But what of Lan Jue? The people did not have the same faith in him. If he were to perish what would she do?
Her eyes desperately searched for Lan Jue’s form. When she did, to her surprise Lan Jue was also surrounded by small specks of light. They were pale blue, and through her perception she could sense that they were empowering him as she was being empowered.
She was at a loss? What was it? Could it be…
Yes. It, too, was faith. The faith of all the people!
When they saw Lan Jue and the others fighting, saw the Bloodiron Khans defending them, and heard the impassioned pleas of that Eastern announcer they were moved. People all throughout the galaxies began to pray. They prayed for the sword bearers and for all of mankind.
All of that faith united around them.
Lan Jue, Lan Qing, the Pharmacist, Zhou Qianlin. All the soldiers, the Paragons, the mechas and drones. They weren’t alone – they fought together on behalf of their species. They represented the determination of their people in seeing tomorrow. They were the instrument of every human’s desire to fight!
They had the strength and faith of everyone at their back.
The first wave of faith had come from Angel. Those hundreds of thousands saw their conviction manifest first. They wanted to see their representatives succeed from the bottom of their heart. They prayed loudly and earnestly for the Banishing Strategy to emerge.
This was the first time since the Banishing Blades appeared in the world of man that everyone wished to see its Strategy conquer the enemy. It seemed almost natural that it began to absorb the power of this faith, and not just around Qianlin but with all four of them.
Heavenly weapons were possessed of their own intelligence, and the Banishing Blades were the greatest heavenly weapons ever created. Of course it yearned to absorb the pure power of faith. More than any other energy, the faith of the masses could help to establish the Banishing Strategy – and maybe beyond.
Seeing their bearers earn the respect of all mankind, the swords were pleased. The esteem of these arrogant weapons soared. With these blessings the Strategy stabilized and began to grow again. It was nearing completion.
When he saw the light appear around them, the Violet Prince sensed things were spinning out of their control. At first it was insignificant but with time grew exponentially, feeding the swords and the chaos that they wielded. The first indicating Lan Jue and the others were consuming their own life force had been extinguished.
More frightening was the revelation that these four humans were getting stronger. All of a sudden their level of cultivation had surged to several times their original power. In a matter of seconds they were nearly ready to push through to the Infinite.
Each of them were surrounded by a halo of polychromatic light. It wasn’t coming from them, but from the Strategy itself. The flows of chaos also saw this mottled hue emerge within it, giving it a strangely beautiful appearance. Monarch, who was captured within it, was speechless and did not even attempt to escape.
How could this not cause the Violet Prince to be afraid? If Monarch perished he would be the last of his people. Caught amidst all of these humans he certainly would be unable to escape.
The Violet Prince made a prompt decision and acted on it without delay. A fiery purple light blazed from his chest and all of a sudden he was as strong as he ever had been. He knocked the Driver before him away with a single punch.
Even with the protection of Primordial Lightning the Driver’s bones cracked from the blow. He spat a mouthful of blood from the severe injury.
The Prince didn’t slow. In a flash he appeared once more before Lan Jue and threw a punch at the hateful human’s head.
No one expected the Prince to regain his power so suddenly. Among the five remaining Paragons the strongest were only Reflections of Heaven and Earth, hardly a match to a creature who commanded the powers of the Infinite. No one could match him for speed either, and by the time they reacted the alien’s attack was already reaching its target.
The Wine Master despaired – all their effort, too little too late!
However, just as the Prince’s fist reached Lan Jue the halo around him flared. He didn’t move and his body became instantly translucent. Thrown off balance by his zealous assault the Violet Prince toppled through Lan Jue and into the chaotic flows of the Banishing Strategy.
It all happened so suddenly everyone stopped.
The Clockmaker was first to snap out of it. Loudly she cried. “Everyone, pray for them! Pray the Banishing Strategy will work. Our unity is our strength, that is how we win the day.”
Chapter 899: Turning the Tables
She saw that what was coalescing around Lan Jue and the others was the power of faith. Pure and strong, it was easy to absorb and best to strengthen their efforts.
Of course it was only a temporary boost. Once that faith was gone the power would vanish. Their cultivation would return to the levels they were previously.
The Pontiff’s Citadel relied on this faith to boost their abilities. Part of the Pontiff’s failure to grow stronger had laid in the limits of the faithful who followed him. His influence extended only throughout the West, while the faith of Northerners and Easterners was separate and unique.
Lan Jue and his fellow sword bearers, however, were bestowed the faith of all of humanity!
It went without saying that this was a tremendous boon. Through the live stream, and the heroism of the Bloodiron Khans and Star Division, people worlds away were inspired by their acts. How could they not have faith in their champions?
Only the purest, most sincere faith could manifest in this way. It was not constrained by either time or space and appeared instantly where it was needed.
The Queen of Heaven Guanyin, Qianlin, was the main focus of that faith. Westerners especially placed their belief in her after what she did for their people. But beyond her they said their prayers for the Banishing Strategy itself and the courageous Paragons who were willing to sacrifice everything.
With their own eyes spectators watched as Paragons were felled one after the other, mostly in giving their own lives so that others can continue the fight or to weaken the enemy.
There was a universe of difference between a normal person and a Paragon. To the common man Paragons were living legends, hardly believable except for the fact that they were often in the public eye.
All of that power still was not enough for many of them, who were slain or gave their lives against an enemy that still threatened their species. This fact put a stark point on the fact that this enemy was powerful beyond belief.
They had to be united. Unity is strength!
This was the key the Clockmaker pointed out. All the soldiers of the armada bowed their heads in prayer, hoping against hope for the Banishing Strategy to overcome their foes. Those in other worlds who had yet to lend their faith did so at the Clockmaker’s demand.
Influenced by this universal favor, Lan Jue and the others continued to grow stronger. They no longer worried about failing to sustain the Strategy, even as its bottomless hunger continued to feed unabated.
Within the Strategy itself the multicolored light became more intense. An archaic and mysterious diagram was beginning to appear between the sword bearers.
Li Ke, who stood beside the Pharmacist, was shocked to discover that some of the people’s faith was directed toward him. His first instinct was to flee, but the gravitational power of the Pharmacist’s halo held him fast. He could feel the energy of prayer seep into him, nourishing his soul. It was comfortable beyond words, a sensation he hadn’t felt since being captured by the monsters.
The Pharmacist’s face went from strained to peaceful. She could see her late husband’s spectral body becoming more corporeal before her very eyes. He looked almost whole.
The people were not stingy with their prayers. Seeing this spirit beside the Harbinger Faerie, helping her, they assumed he was as important to the Strategy as she was. They had prayers enough for him as well, and thus did he benefit from this disaster.
The first to break through was, of course, Lan Jue. There were no dramatic signs to mark it, all of a sudden he just felt like a veil had been lifted from his eyes. Suddenly there was more to everything.
The universe became a rich and complicated tapestry. Everything he saw and felt was completely different than it had been before. His consciousness felt boundless and untethered.
The Infinite! Was this what it felt like to truly be one with everything?
In contrast to the dangerous instability of his breakthrough to Nirvana, now he felt only comfort. With this breakthrough all the damage he’d done in burning away his vitality was reversed. His spirit was restored, and even his Core underwent a qualitative shift. Instead of a solid, crystal-like center it became gas-like, suspended as a cloud of energy in his chest. Its power flickered to life amidst the many-hued halo that enveloped him.
Stranger still, Lan Jue could sense something in the depths of space calling out to him. Whatever it was, it felt as though it were gathering around him.
They were fragments of memories. Somehow he knew that they were pieces of the old masters left behind. Shards of what had been the Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Star of Purple Subtlety.
A stream of purple light extricated itself from him – the image of the Great Emperor. However the depth and wisdom in his eyes was more profound than it ever had been. He was towering, stately, and radiated an aura of godliness.
This was the true Emperor of the North Star! A piece only, yet still possessed of the great power the immortal once commanded. Lan Jue could see that as the mighty spirit gazed upon the Strategy there remained a lingering fear of the destruction it manufactured.
In the time of his reign the Emperor was slightly more than half again as powerful as Celestial Masters Yuan Shi and Taishang. If the Emperor in his fully glory was present, the Strategy may not have been enough to destroy him outright but would certainly have been a threat.
The next one to break through was Zhou Qianlin.
In the moment of her breakthrough a heavenly chorus rang out through space. As the soothing tones reverberated, ripples of white light radiated out around her. It continued to spread until it enfolded Lan Jue, Lan Qing and the Pharmacist as well. Thus connected the four bearers felt more intimately joined. Each of them absorbed faith different up to this point, Qianlin enjoying the most benefit. However, with her breakthrough it was now evenly distributed among all of them.
A tiara of water drops glittered like crystal against her forehead. Her dharma also appeared, but like Lan Jue’s was different than before. Her head was covered by a white gossamer veil, and a lotus flower bloomed beneath her feet. In her right hand she held a willow branch, and in the other a jar of pure water. Though just a shadow of the beloved Goddess of Mercy, her appearance was stunning.
Guanyin, one of the most beloved of the Buddha. It was nothing short of amazing that Qianlin’s dharma would be revealed as this ancient goddess upon breaking through to the Infinite. Her Paragon title was more apt than ever.
Lan Qing and the Pharmacist broke through at nearly the same moment.
Vairochana’s image appeared from Lan Qing in all its glory and split, replete with an aura of benevolence. Three mighty Buddhas of the past, present and future shone with divine light. Lan Qing opened his eyes, and from them emerged an ethereal golden mist to match the aura that encased him. He was surrounded by the soothing hum of chanting.
The Pharmacist’s change was more sensational. Her dharma had always been herself, but that appeared to have changed. In breaking through her abilities assimilated some inexplicable power, and instead of a dharma she was surrounded a burning garnet hue. The contrast was striking when set beside Lan Qing’s luminous aura.
Within the borders of that red light was a terrifying scene. Mountains of corpses and seas of blood stretched far and wide. Ghouls and spirits wandered the hellscape howling in rage. Other figured, visible only barely, wandered aimlessly throughout.
“So long as hell hath sinners, I will not ascend!” Ten words boomed into existence like a voice from the depths. The frightening vision of hell subsided and was replaced by the stern visage of the Pharmacist’s dharma. Its hands were pressed together before its chest, and the being was clad in the simple garb of a monk. Her dharma was revealed as Yama, King of the Underworld!
One after the other their breakthroughs were complete. It took only a matter of moments.
The four sword bearers revealed their legendary lineages, manifest by the power of faith; Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Star of Purple Subtlety; Vairochana; Guanyin; King Yama. Each one a figure from the highest echelons of the ancient pantheon.
Among them Vairochana held the highest status, though the others were considered lesser by small degrees only. As the fragments of these all-powerful beings stood in attendance, the vast powers of the universe gathered to their side. The Banishing Strategy grew ever more powerful.
Lan Jue and the others had arisen to the vaulted heights of the Infinite, and yet they were not assailed by the threat of universal protogenia. However this was not due to the protective aura from Zhou Qianlin. It simply wasn’t present, as though it ignored them entirely.
The polychromatic light of the Banishing Strategy was an energy that was born at the creation of the universe. Even the immortal qi surrounding Monarch dissolved under its all-pervading dominance. This was similarly true of universal protogenia, a derivative of this energy. So long as they remained within the embrace of the Strategy, the Lan Jue and the others did not need to fear destruction at the universe’ hands.
A real blessing in disguise! None of them expected this Strategy that they were ready to give their life for would protect them in this way. Slowly the Strategy was nearing completion, their plans finally coming to fruition.
They’d expected to only accomplish the minimum of what the Banishing Strategy could do, and use that to kill Monarch. Now, with the power of faith, it was growing stronger than they thought they could manage. Whether or not they would succeed was no longer the question, it was to what extent. This was, after all, the greatest weapon under heaven!
Upno sensing this critical change, Lan Jue delivered a message to the Wine Master. “Tell everyone to fall back to Angel. We’re fine from here on out. The Banishing Strategy will be complete any moment, and Monarch will be slain.”
When he heard this the Wine Master breathed a sigh of relief. It was finally going to end. However, in his eyes there was also sorrow. They had lost so many.
Satan, the Pontiff, the Terminator, the Keeper, the Bookworm, the Pauper. Jue Di, the Photographer, Poseidon, the Gods of Wine. They had all perished to see this war won.
Chapter 900: The Complete Banishing Strategy!
Only nine Paragons remained. They were all that was left of humanity’s greatest Adepts.
The Wine Master quickly relayed Lan Jue’s command. He also told Kang Hui aboard Tyrannosaurus, which thankfully could still fly. As commander of the armada it was his responsibility to give the order to fall back.
“Pass on my directive. Everyone is to fall back to Angel. Bastions take up the rear. Leave a couple reconnaissance vehicles behind.”
No more need be said. Everyone could see the dancing lights within the Strategy. Compared to when they first started the energy surging from it was inconceivable. Even laymen could tell that they were on the cusp of completion. Victory was eminent.
The five remaining Paragons stayed behind to bear witness while Kang Hui and his soldiers began to retreat.
Even though the soldiers were falling back, there was no decrease in the faith afforded to the four sword bearers and their Strategy. Though, it wasn’t just their Strategy anymore. Everyone, all throughout the galaxies, had a hand in its completion.
Monarch would never have believed that he would be caught by the wiles of man, but such was the case. He struggled and railed against his prison, sure that he could escape if only he found the right place to attack. Before his attacks felt blocked, like they were caught in a mire of that chaotic energy. Now that sense was gone. All of it was gone.
The confusion was gone and reality came back into focus, free from the flows of chaos. This lauded Strategy had its limits, he was glad to discover. Monarch was pleased that his golden immortal abilities were able to defeat their ploy. He grinned arrogantly to himself.
He glared at his surroundings as they once more became clear, and reached out with his perception. To his North was Ultus; to his South, Occisus; on his West arose Captus; at his East was Demortus. Before him arose a gate, and from it issued a murderous aura and an evil wind.
Something flashed behind his eyes. He wasted no time, moving quickly toward Ultus. It was the sword he was most familiar with, the one he’d left his mark upon. It would likely be the easiest one to conquer.
However as he moved forward to take the sword a portal appear. He slipped through, and was transported back to where he started. He hadn’t gained any ground toward Ultus.
The Banishing Strategy’s suffocating pressure had dissipated once his surroundings became clear again. It led him to believe the danger was passed. But he was wise, and understanding was clear in his face. Instead of moving forward to seize the weapons himself, instead he lashed out with a punch in each direction.
Faced with Monarch’s all-mighty powers the swords simply flickered. Monarch’s explosions of energies vanished without foundation. He was the most powerful being in a millennia, so he sensed the flows at they reacted to one another. He felt it as the manifestation of his power was shattered and swallowed up like it was nothing.
His manufactured human heart sank. Without question, he no longer possessed the power to threaten the trap he’d been caught in. It was in this moment a flash of purple caught his eye. It caught him off guard and he nearly fainted away, but turned fast enough to catch who it was. The Violet Prince was at his side.
The Prince was ablaze in violet light. Monarch recognized that he was consuming the essence of his Core to empower his abilities.
“Monarch!” The Prince greeted weakly.
The immortal regarded his progeny with an ominous glare. “Why are you here? Did I not order you to destroy the Strategy?”
“The humans staunchly resisted,” the Prince explained. “Moments before I could break free and attack the sword bearers, the Strategy changed. I was caught.”
Gazing upon the lesser alien’s beaten and crippled body, he knew it to be true. It meant that the humans had obtained some unknown power to aid them. Whatever it was, it had been enough to help them complete the Strategy.
Even now Monarch found it difficult to believe that his strength was incapable of breaking them free. The humans were no greater than Nirvana-level, how could they possibly contend against him?
It was well known that the gulf between an Adept of Nirvana and a denizen of the Infinite was vast. The difference between the Infinite and Immortality was larger still. The potential of an Immortal was vast as the heavens themselves.
At his level of cultivation it would require another ten thousand years before he arose to the next degree of domination. If crossing the threshold from one Paragon rank to another was a herculean task, rising in status as an immortal took eons.
Monarch’s face darkened. Finally he realized that perhaps he’d overestimated himself. At the final moment, when he thought victory was his, human beings proved their strength.
There was nothing in the genetic material he stole from mankind that told him what this trap was. How could it? There were so few humans who knew of the existence of the Banishing Strategy.
“Monarch, what should we do?” The Prince asked.
Monarch fixed him with a serious gaze. “The only thing we can do is try to break free. Perhaps we can overwhelm their ability to hold us here. I don’t believe these humans can maintain this trap for long. The amount of energy required to hold me here must be immense, and the moment they begin to falter that will be our chance. It’s a test of endurance, how can they challenge me in such a trial? This trap they’ve lain has only kept me stationary – it does not cause any harm.”
The moment these words left his lips, the four Banishing Blades glowed brighter. As more portals appeared all around them reality became less distinct. The areas around them started to change.
All of a sudden the swords seemed leagues away.
A deep and booming voice thundered through the interior of the Strategy. “In all of history you are the first to assume this trap lacks bite. Monarch, you must know what it is you face. Regardless, I shall tell you: it is called the Banishing Strategy. In the days of immortals it was called the greatest weapon under heaven. Is it not your goal to attain the highest state of immortality? I may as well tell you, even if you succeeded this very moment the Strategy would reduce you to dust. Were this not so, would its title be so audacious? What you face terrified the gods of old. You – will – die.”
The voice was Lan Jue’s. It was cold and callous, full of dark promise.
Monarch responded with a dismissive sniff. “Very well! I’m eager to see what your so-called super weapon is capable of!”
“Monarch. Are… are you sure we’ll be fine?” The Prince at his side sounded less than convinced.
Scorn dripped from Monarch’s voice. “This is nothing more than a trick to shake our confidence. Greatest weapon under heaven… they have no means to kill me-“
His haughty affirmation were cut short when suddenly reality began to tremble. In the distance eight glimmering portals revealed themselves. Shimmering around them the rainbow of color started to fluctuate. Monarch shook and the Prince quailed. The lights went out.
When the Prince looked at his master he was surprised to see shock on Monarch’s face. Before his eyes miniscule cracks appeared upon the immortal’s body, spurting golden light. They started on his head, but quickly spread until they criss-crossed every inch of him.
With a loud clap, Monarch’s body broke apart.
A beam of golden light escaped from where its head had been. It tried wildly to flee in any direction it could. However the flows of sword-energy that had vanished suddenly reemerged from the darkness. The moment the golden light crashed into these lights it froze, and revealed its true nature.
It was Monarch, though a miniature copy. The tiny golden homunculus was nimble, but was now frozen with an expression of disbelief writ plain on his face.
“No! Don’t kill me. I’ll surrender the immortal realm. I can teach you how to make one of your own. I can -” Before he could finish Lan Jue’s voice rumbled from within the tempest.
“Your pleas are useless. Did you think we would allow you to live, after what you did to our people? With every murder you only thought about consuming more – you never spared a thought for those not of your ilk. Goodbye, Monarch. You should be proud to die by the might of the Banishing Strategy.”
As the last syllable hung in the air, an unending torrent of cutting light descended upon him. Monarch’s immortal spirit was cut to ribbons and drifted away to nothing in the emptiness of space.
The Violet Prince witnessed the whole scene. His face had gone ghastly pale.
Monarch – the ascendant, he who consumed the power of both Queen and Consort, the master of their immortal realm – was dead!
How was this possible? How could they have killed a god?
He stood still, frozen in place, shaking ever so slightly. No thought of confrontation entered his mind, for in the face of that terrifying storm he felt insignificant.
When it swept through the Violet Prince was rent asunder until nothing remained. He was beneath even a final word from Lan Jue.