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Chapter 544: Another Vital Crystal

    Chapter 544: Another Vital Crystal

    Lan Jue brought Thor back to hover by the Gourmet and Pharmacist. The Pharmacist was back in her suit and her seven-star sword had vanished in a flash of light.

    Cries of victory rang across the battlefield, filled with crazed enthusiasm. They had seen the alien progenitor destroyed in spectacular and shocking fashion. Every soldier was brimming with pride.

    Lan Jue's voice addressed them through a universal communication channel. "We have slain a progenitor and earned an alien core for the Star Division!"

    He punctuated the declaration by thrusting Thor's robotic hand into the air. Behind the glimmering light was a crystal roughly thirty centimeters in diameter. It was surrounded by an undulating halo of violet light.

    An Alien Core! Quite the treasure after only their second fight, how could they not be excited? One step closer to the exuvium process! However not everyone was pleased. The Gourmet, Lan Jue and the Pharmacist were dour.

    This progenitor wasn't overpowering. It couldn't stand up to the full might of the Pharmacist. However, making the Pharmacist employ her full strength was telling enough. In terms of human equivalency, the progenitor was probably akin to a peak-level Adept.

    "I got the feeling it was still gestating." This time, Lan Jue's words were reserved for the two squad leaders with him.

    The Pharmacist replied. "I think so, too. The dark arteries we severed were providing it energy from the planet. That would mean the bud was its cocoon or egg, and the crystal monster inside was the product. That is to say, it was strong but not a mature progenitor. But if that's true, how terrifying would a fully grown one be?"

    It was her first time seeing these monsters face to face, and what she discovered shook her confidence. This one was affixed to the planet as well, and couldn't compare to the destructive powers of the ones that took out the North's seventh fleet. Not to mention they had the capabilities to fight in deep space.

    Obviously they hadn't seen how strong these things could ultimately get. From the recordings, everyone had seen the three alien planets and what they could do. It was the stuff of nightmares.

    The Gourmet added his voice. "We need to alert Skyfire Avenue right away. We'll send back all the data we've collected, too. Now that we've found one out here I'm sure there will be others. The Shattered Starfields lies right at the heart of human occupied space. If they can be here, then they can hit us anywhere. I shudder to think."

    "Absolutely," Lan Jue agreed. "Let's sweep the planet and see if there are any more of them here. This is the third time these things and I've crossed paths. I can sense... something. These smaller aliens, the hundreds we fought, aren't really aliens. They're perverted life created from the planet's energies. Mutations that heavily favor genetic traits of survivability. Note that when we fought them they could attack and defend, but didn't have any higher order of intelligence. Outwardly they look different, but really they're just skin deep. They are real living things, they're more like puppets. That's likely why they don't have Cores.

    "The situation we found on Taihua was very similar. I killed countless monsters there and none of them had one. It was only once the Wine Master killed the progenitor hidden there that we got it. Now the monsters there were much stronger, and that's probably because of how much life there was on that planet. All the more for the progenitor to use in its gestation. It seems as though a progenitor lands and uses its own DNA to create these puppets. They, in turn, assist in devouring the planet's life. I don't really have any way to confirm this theory, but that's how I think the true aliens take over a planet."

    The Gourmet's response was low and thoughtful. "It makes sense. We don't know a lot yet, but we're bound to learn more as contact increases. Send your theory back to the Avenue along with the other data for analysis. We need to prioritize bringing back a specimen. Third Brigade is already collecting samples."

    "Good," Lan Jue agreed.

    Lan Jue's communicator buzzed. It was Zeus-1.

    "Boss." Mika's voice greeted him.

    "Yeah, what's up?" He replied.

    "The infected area has started retreating. A quick look showed that it leaves barren land behind. Judging by its current speed, it should all disappear within a day."

    "Alright," he said. Lan Jue then hung up and hailed Majesty. "Xiaosu, take Majesty on a quick scout of the planet and see if there are any more violet areas. Search the oceans as well. No stone unturned."

    "Aye," she answered. Majesty's radar was broader and more sensitive. It was well suited for seeking out any more foes.

    First, Second, and Fourth Brigade set about searching the immediate area for any monsters that may have slipped through the cracks. They also kept an eye out for any indication of another progenitor. Third Brigade continued to gather specimens for research.

    However, it wasn't long before Third Brigade ran into a problem. Any sample they removed would immediately crumble to dust. Lifeless, drained dust. In fact the only thing they managed to hold on to were fragments of the arteries which were feeding the adolescent progenitor. Everything else defied their efforts. Experts from the brigade in botany and zoology concluded that the bogs were created when the alien introduced a substance that bonded with living material. Once the alien was killed and that substance deprived, the world quickly returned to normal.

    In the end they had to be content with whatever they could box up. Any clue was a small victory.

    Majesty made two circuits around Tempest, ultimately confirming that all alien life was extinguished. Tempest's scans were clear of everything. The Desert Tempest Pirate Clan seemed to have vanished into thin air. It was noted, though, that the battleship they were reported to have was nowhere to be seen, even though there were several more ships still in the hangars. Sadly they were too corroded for use.

    Their consolation prize came when scans picked up the pirate's treasure cache. It was buried underground, as pirates seemed to prefer, in an underground warehouse. It was protected by thick alloy walls. There were signs of damage as well, but not as extensive. Soldiers estimated it would take ten direct hits from a battleship to pierce those walls.

    There had to be something good in there.

    Of course where a battleship failed, Occisus would not. It wasn't the sharpest of the Banishing blades, but a godly weapon nonetheless. Warehouse walls were not a problem. When the Pharmacist was done, the Desert Tempest pirates' greatest treasures were revealed to them.

    Tang Xiao, as Lan Jue's disciple and a squad leader, had come over to observe. When he saw what was inside, his first reaction was to blurt out, "space piracy pays damn well!"

    His comment earned a number of sidelong glances, but that was just until they saw the riches for themselves. The cache was more than ten times the size of the Poison Wasp Clan's. Advantages of being an established pirate clan.

    The first thing to draw the eye was the fifty mecha suits, perfectly maintained, standing in solemn silence. Star Division soldiers were spoiled, but they still recognized quality when they saw it. Crates of weapons were stashed nearby.

    Lan Jue couldn't help but look impressed. The Desert Tempest was strong. In the end, though, the alien was stronger. Its strategy was insidious, hiding until its strength was gathered then attacking without warning. By the time they sensed something wasn't right, it was already too late. The pirates had all their gadgets pointed at space and weren't defended against an enemy from within. Their hubris ultimately lead to their doom.

    Yet, there were still questions. They were an established pirate clan, but this made them seem weak. They should have had no less than five hundred mecha pilots. Assuming they could mount a defense, it wouldn't have been too difficult to get all their ships off the ground. Under circumstances like that, could they have really been so easily obliterated?

    Lan Jue pondered the troubling question as he led the others into the warehouse.

    A section was reserved for stacks of power gems, meticulously organized. The fist-sized stones pulsed with enough energy to power a standard mecha for three hours. Best guess, there were two thousand of them here. This was a good day's work.
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