Chapter 698: Ninth Level, Ninth Rank

    Chapter 698: Ninth Level, Ninth Rank

    Skyfire Avenue,

    A month had passed since the failed attempt to destroy the alien planets. Humanity had fallen into a bleak despair, a fear that their foe could appear at any moment. The North's defeat was too large to go unnoticed, so they didn't even attempt to hide it from the public.

    Each alliance - be in the North, West or East - all adhered to the suggestion Lan Jue had made at the Eastern parliament. The resource-oriented and smaller planets were abandoned, and their populations were gathered closer together for protection.

    It was a large operation, but a necessary one. It was clear the aliens could appear anywhere, at any moment. The outlying planets were most vulnerable and thus had to be given up.

    Representatives from all three alliances met several times for high-level meetings, with aims to coordinate their military power. At least they had come to some agreements over mutual defense.

    When the scout team got back to Skyfire Avenue, Lan Jue continued to cultivate religiously with Zhou Qianlin. The Driver had completed the transformation of his Discipline and sheltered himself away. The Wine Master did as well, in preparation for ascension to Reflection of Heaven and Earth.

    As for the alien Lan Jue had recovered, it was in the capable hands of the Bookworm and Keeper.

    Preliminary analysis revealed what Lan Jue and the others had expected. The aliens' defenses were weaker against biological attacks, and more potent against engineered power. According to the Keeper their weakness lay in their complicated DNA. Somehow, the power of an Adept's Discipline broke apart the bonds that held their DNA together and subjected them to terrible consequences.

    "Boss, you seem pretty lethargic today." Ke'er saw her employer resting idly behind the counter of the Jewelry Shop and couldn't contain her curiosity.

    Everything seemed business as usual on the Avenue. Few normal humans were permitted to enter, so it was like the troubles of outside didn't exist here, at least on the surface.

    Lan Jue smirked at her. "Constant preparation is going to get the work done faster. I need time to rest like anyone else!"

    Ke'er giggled and trotted over to him. She hopped up onto the counter. "So what's your plan today, boss?"

    "No plan," he answered. "Rest, cultivate. How are things underground?"

    She beamed at him. "Couldn't be better! Who isn't interested in making themselves stronger? We're low on inventory, though. Most has been given to Star Division."

    Star Division's numbers had grown to over one thousand five hundred soldiers, including the unfortunate experiments Lan Jue had rescued from the Pontiffs clutches at Moonfiend. Their abilities had all been boosted by fantascia genetica, though, which made their progress slow and fraught with hidden dangers.

    Meanwhile Skyfire Avenue boasted more Paragons than anyone else, and only continued to add to their dominant position. It had always been their trump card, and they were finally reaping the benefits.

    In terms of military strength, the North was still the strongest even after their defeat at the hands of the aliens. The West had thrown all their resources into the creation of more Bastions to keep up, and their total martial capabilities had improved markedly.

    War had come to all corners of human space. They felt it like a dark cloud on the horizon.

    The communicator on Lan Jue's wrist began to buzz. He looked down and was surprised by what he saw.

    "Wine Master, you've finished?" He'd been locked away in meditation ever since they returned. It'd been forty days.

    "Yes." The Wine Master's voice replied from the other end.

    "Did you break through?"

    "Luckily," he replied. "Come, there's something I wish to speak with you about."

    "Alright." Lan Jue rose, waved goodbye to Ke'er, then left the jewelry shop.

    Lan Jue took a minute to appreciate Skyfire Avenue. He loved standing on its stone pathways and looking at the buildings lining the street. It felt like stepping back in time.

    "Hurry up!" The Wine Master's voice shouted in his ear. Lan Jue grinned then crossed the distance to the Gothic Winery in long strides.

    When he pushed the door open, the Wine Master was waiting for him inside.

    "I assume we're here to raise a glass or two for your good fortune? In congratulations for ascending to the next degree?" Lan Jue said with a grin.

    The Wine Master just looked at him. "It seems you're awfully relaxed."

    He shrugged. "If we don't take time for ourselves how can we get anything done? If I don't relax the alien planets will disappear on their own?"

    The Wine Master's eyes flashed. "Have you improved? Ninth level ninth rank?"

    Lan Jue nodded. "As expected. I've continued to absorb the thunder essence. With the Driver and Qianlin's help in cultivating, it's getting hard to hold back."

    Just yesterday he had reached peak rank. Now he bore the same power as he did when joined with Qianlin. She had risen to eighth rank, not far behind him. However, due to their connection Lan Jue had to stop cultivating. Now that he was at his peak he couldn't press himself any further. The next step was Paragon, and he had to cross that threshold with Qianlin.

    Until Qianlin reached her peak, he couldn't progress. What he hated before was now helping him to keep his Discipline constrained, purifying it.

    The Wine Master went on. "The Pharmacist still hasn't come out from meditation?"

    The process of the Pharmacist's breakthrough continued all the way back to Skyfire. Once they got back she announced that she would sequester herself in her shop to solidify her new powers. However, Lan Jue knew it was in part because of what she'd learned about her husband.

    She had waited for years, desperate for any news of him only to learn the news was sad. Ultus' energies could not be faked - the final shred of hope in her heart had died.

    It was hard to imagine the pain she was feeling. Lan Jue didn't know what he should do or say. All he knew was that she had changed somehow.

    "She isn't doing well. I'm worried she'll make a rash decision." Lan Jue sighed.

    He'd told the Wine Master everything that had transpired. The Wine Master nodded. "Who could have anticipated we'd learn of this connection. Whatever her decision, Skyfire Avenue will support her as much as it is able."

    For a moment he was silent, then quietly spoke again. "I called you here for something else. The Clairvoyant once called you a bridge, a hero to humanity who would defeat the aliens. He said you would help gather the strong."

    "Star Division is working toward that purpose, so I have decided to ask the Paragons to join as well. This would include the Keeper and Bookworm, though of course their focus will be research. Anyway, this decision will certainly strengthen the Division tremendously."

    Lan Jue furrowed his brows in thought. "You're planning to have Star Division join the war directly? Individually our men are strong, but are of little use in a battle in outer space. What if they get hit by a Bastion cannon?"

    The Wine Master waved a hand contemptuously. "I've already been in contact with the military. Of course it won't be that simple. We aren't going to be the brunt of the force, but we can be the tip of the spear. Simply put, we'd act like Arachnid - at the right moment, we strike fast and hard."

    Lan Jue's face darkened. "I think you need to find a better example. Arachnid was destroyed."

    The Wine Master sighed. "Anyway, you know what I mean. The military has already given us a lot of resources. Zeus-1, 2, 3 and Majesty have all been upgraded and refitted to give us everything we need. More importantly are the mecha suits, which will supplement our Disciplines and harm the aliens. Once we get in close, we can do some real damage."

    "The reason I called you here was to see if we can't convince more Paragons to join our cause."

    "More Paragons?" Lan Jue repeated. "Who do you mean? A-Li?" It was the first name he thought of. Other than him and those on the Avenue there was just the Pontiff, Satan, and the Terminator.

    But Hua Li was already commanding his own unit, the Poseidon Corps. On the surface they belonged to the West, but according to what Hua Li had told him they were largely free of outside control. They even had their own bastion - called Poseidon.  It was patrolling space around their planet, now. As the commander of his own army there was no way he would join another, no matter how good their relationship was.

    As for the Pontiff, Satan and the Terminator, they were all leaders of their own organizations. Kang Hui's sneak attack was front-page news all across human space, and who wouldn't want to play warlord? Right now Adepts were a hot commodity everywhere.

    "Have you forgotten? We have a couple old friends in the West." The Wine Master replied with a smirk.
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