Chapter 608: Reaching An Lun

    Chapter 608: Reaching An Lun

    Their stay on Skyfire had been too short from them to use any of the resources Star Division had taken from the pirates. But they did have energy in spades. The worth of all the energy crystals they brought back with them was hard to quantify. They'd gone after the strongest and riches pirates of the Shattered Starfields, culminating in the Moonfiend Pirate clan. Their last campaign had been the most profitable of them all, including resources directly from the Pontiff's Citadel.

    The poor souls that the Pontiff had experimented on had been settled on Skyfire, and the Keeper set about eliminating the poisons in their bodies. Obviously, none of these people were eager to run back to the Pontiff and report on what they saw. They didn't even want to return to the West. For the time being a place was arranged for them, but when the question of their future came up Lan Jue and the Wine Master agreed to let them find their own way.

    Despite their terrible treatment, these young Talents would emerge from detoxification at sixth level, at the very least. These were meant to be molded into the Pontiff's reserve forces. They weren't weak, but the crimes they had to suffer were similarly intense. It was impossible to tell what sort of effect it had had on them psychologically.

    What they needed was guidance and freedom. Until then they couldn't know if they would be a danger to society. Su Xiaosu had approached him, saying that she could convince them to join Star Division, but after some thought he refused that idea on the same premise.

    They had been captives for years, their longing for a life of freedom was certainly stronger than any normal person's. If they solicited them now in their time of vulnerability many would accept, but it would be perilous for their spirit. Besides, Star Division was already strong, and padding its numbers wasn't the way to make it stronger. After widespread discussions with the likes of the Gourmet, the Wine Master and others, the consensus was to let them go their own way. It could be addressed again later, when it was clear how they were reacting, psychologically.

    As for Gabriel, Lan Jue had kept his promise and allowed the Arhcangel to leave. He'd been present for the Pauper's rise to Paragon status, and in fact had received some benefit from the experience himself. This was all news he was certain to bring back to the Pontiff.

    Skyfire Avenue had entered a golden age, and the Pontiff's Citadel had made no efforts to cause trouble any more. Right now, the focus was largely on the enemy at their doorstep. It didn't serve anyone for them to throw their strength behind hopeless pursuits. They'd suffered a terrible blow, and surely the Pontiff would be angry. But as far as Lan Jue was concerned, everyone had to suffer the consequences of their bad decisions.

    The Pontiff's Citadel had chosen a dark path, and it was up to them alone whether or not they would turn back. What was certain was that Lan Jue's actions would seriously impact the Citadel's development for years to come. They wouldn't even be able to contend against Satan and his ilk.

    Back on Skyfire, the Keeper and Bookworm had had to divide up the labor. With the wealth of alien Core's Lan Jue had returned with, and thanks to their earlier efforts, Skyfire Avenue's exuvium process was nearing completion. All it needed now was experimentation to test results. The Confucian Scholar took on the work of that himself. Meanwhile, with his free time the Keeper was developing weapons for Star Division.

    Their campaigns in the Shattered Starfields had indeed been lucrative, but had also revealed flaws. The first was their embarrassing lack of really big guns. They were woefully unprepared technologically for these aliens. Both ships had wonderful capabilities but were similarly deficiency in firepower. The mecha suits had been customized for the students, but were still not packing the punch they needed.

    Although Star Division was a force for quick hits and rapid movements, it just meant their destructive powers had to be twice as hefty. Infiltration meant nothing if you didn't mess things up while you were in there. They couldn't continue to rely on Paragons. What kind of fighting force would they be then?

    The Keeper made it his goal to get them all properly outfitted.

    Star Divisions' trip to the Starfields had been a tightly kept secret, but their results were widely lauded. Before even taking into account everything else, the fact that they brought back information on the aliens was an incredible achievement. That lone proved their usefulness, for now humanity at least knew where their enemy was, and how strong they were.

    Support from the government for Star Division was not a concern. The Avenue was itself doing well economically, especially after the haul from the Starfields. What they needed now was more people.

    Scientists and researchers from all over Skyfire converged on the Avenue, and under the Keeper's direction they began developing weapons. When they were completed they would be given to the Division first, and the surplus would be provided to the Eastern forces.

    The Wine Master reported to the parliament that Lan Jue would be setting out himself to scout out the alien forces. When they heard this, the politicians happily awarded the Avenue ten rare s-ranked power gems as a token of support.

    At top speed, it took Star Division's ships two days to reach An Lun. Looking down on its surface, nothing much appeared to have changed. A grim atmosphere hung over everything just as it had before. They deorbited and were directed into the heart of the military complex.

    Only a few of the people coming with Lan Jue this time had visited An Lun before. The military and Adept worlds were very separate, but that didn't mean they were ignorant of one another. An Lun was still famous in the East for what had transpired on its surface and in its mines.

    It was also where the youngest admiral in Eastern history, the An Lun super soldier Prometheus, had his command.

    An LUn had been the center of some of the East's greatest battles in history, and was an integral piece of its defense. Ever since news of the aliens, their numbers had swelled. Even though, though, they topped out at three hundred thousand soldiers.

    Among them was the newly formed Bloodiron Khans.

    The Bloodiron Khans were arranged in two parts; the main force, and reserves. Each were ten thousand fighters strong, and were the highest grade of soldier they could find. However, few if any of them had ever seen any actual combat, so it was impossible to tell how effective they would be when the time came.

    The soldiers on An Lun were widely regarded as the best in all the Eastern Alliance. A whole fleet was stationed there as well that they called the Yanhuang Fleet. 1 One could tell by the name how highly the fleet was regarded.

    The East had always been behind the other Alliances in the realm of technology and strength. Turning that around was not something that happened over night. So, thirty years ago the government enacted policies to change that, including the creation of a crack contingent of soldiers.

    We don't have the numbers of the North and East, so we have to make sure we have the strength to match their armies. 2

    The An Lun army was also established as a result of this need. So, even though there was only a single fleet stationed here, it was the result of generations of sweat and blood. Yanhuang Fleet wasn't an iota less impressive than its Northern counterpart, and was likely stronger in a fight.

    It was precisely the An Lun army's presence here that protected this important Eastern resource from repeated attempts to take it from the North. They were the watchers that kept the Eastern territories safe from aggressors.

    For all of these reasons there was a deep and abiding respect for the men and women of An Lun. It was true for normal soldiers as it was for Adepts. Now the metal world of these defenders was flitting below them. The excitement was palpable.

    Now they were soldiers too, part of their own army. Who was better? What was the An Lun army they'd heard so much about really like?

    Their minds full of these questions, led by their commander and four powerful Paragons, they disembarked.

    Lan Qing stood nearby with a welcome party. He was dressed for war, with two golden star glinted on his shoulders. When he saw the Wine Master and the other four Paragons exit the ship, he and his soldiers immediately snapped to attention.

    The Wine Master returned their respectful address with a nod. The Wine Master's station among the military was at the highest levels, equivalent to a chief of staff. It was only proper for Lan Qing to greet him as a superior.

    "We're happy to welcome Star Division." Lan Qing took a step forward and grasped the Wine Master's hand. He then went down the line, shaking hands until he reached Lan Jue. The two brothers clasped both their hands together, and at once Lan Jue could sense the chaos raging within his brother's body. Waves of protogenic energy pulsed from him, while his own energies felt oddly fractured. It was a sign that his resistance was failing. He couldn't hold back the transformation to Paragon much longer.

    "Congratulations," Lan Jue greeted joyfully.

    Lan Qing's hard face bore a small smile. "You're right behind me. I'm sorry I couldn't wait for you to catch up."

    Lan Jue laughed. "Don't be so cocky. It won't be long before we're shoulder to shoulder."

    The An Lun admiral led Star Division to quarters that had been arranged for them. The Paragons and officers of An Lun met for supper together in the mess hall. The fare was simple military food, bland and nutritious. Certainly there was no alcohol, it was strictly forbidden here.

    "We'll have to use tea in place of wine tonight. Welcome after your long journey." Lan Qing was on his feet, and lifted his small glass respectfully to his guests.

    1. Named after two legendary Chinese emperors, Yan Di and Huang Di (note the naming convention, the same as Jue Di).

    2. Note the odd choice of using 'we' here even though it's the narrator expositing. Very deliberate.
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