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Chapter 816: Europa and the Home Worlds

    Chapter 816: Europa and the Home Worlds

    There were two beams of purple light, marking the withdrawal of the Violet Prince and Princess.

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    The second flash of pink light deposited Lan Jue and the others in a different sector of space. After achieving the Infinite, Luo Xianni's transference capabilities could send her charges over vast distances. She could teleport between planets without aid, though distance did play a factor.

    The moment she sensed the two Infinite-level beings closing in, she gathered the other three and fled.

    "We should be near Europa." She glanced at the map on her communicator.

    "Mother," Lan Jue said, "there are going to be no small amount of aliens nearby. If you wouldn't mind..." His perception was itching with the presence of many powerful beings.

    She nodded. Another flash and they were gone. A few moments later a host of aliens swept into the area after sensing the humans, but found their targets vanished.

    Lan Jue and the others arrived at their destination. When they were safely within the bounds of reality again, Star Division's commander checked his map. However his glance was quick, for out of the corner of his eye the silhouette of Europa caught his attention.

    But was it Europa?

    As he gaped at the scene, his disbelief was mirrored by Qianlin, the Pharmacist and Luo Xianni. The planet occupied the same space it always had, but that was where the similarities to the Europa they knew ended. It had been a large planet - larger than Skyfire - that boasted the famed city of Reims, its beautiful cathedral, and the Dark Citadel as its opposite. It was the capital of the Western Alliance, replete with resources and citizens to use them. It was considered one of the greatest planets colonized by humans after their stellar migration, second only to Luo.

    Evaluating a planet occurred on several levels. These included economic status, political environment, and individual military strength. It was only recently that Skyfire had begun to close the gap between them. Some recent evaluations even put the Eastern capital above Europa, after its recent meteoric rise in strength and influence.

    The planet Lan Jue and the others gazed upon now was not that same jewel of the West. Its beauty was gone, and what lay there now was grotesque and uncomfortable to look on.

    The entire surface of the world wriggled and squirmed, making it look like some kind of mutated uterus. The planet beneath was hidden from view beneath what could only be described as a placenta that sported large black arteries pulsing along its surface. Some indescribable viscous fluid pumped through the vessels.

    At last they were able to confirm the presence of the three home worlds, so long absent from view. They surrounded Europa while tentacles thick as mountains penetrated into the afflicted planet's surface. Purple light hung over all three of them as they appeared to inject Europa with their energies. The power that radiated from them was intense and seemed to hum through the vacuum of space.

    The home worlds were so close to Europa it seems like their atmospheres were shared. It wasn't as simple as draining Europa of its vital energy this time. They were changing it, somehow.

    They'd learned from the spirit of the Pharmacist's husband that the planets were planning to evolve. But no one knew what that evolution looked like, or how the process worked. Looking on this strange scene the only conclusion they could come to was that their assumptions were correct - they were evolving, and it somehow involved the Western capital.

    Their first thought was the human cost. Europa had been one of the most populated planets in human space. Now it seemed all of its population had been sacrificed for alien domination. A stabbing melancholy settled in the hearts of the human scouts. Europa and everything it used to be was gone.

    Lan Jue was tight lipped and glared with hatred at the scene. Qianlin could bear it no longer and looked away. Indignation burned in the Pharmacist's eyes, and she seemed to only barely contain her need to rush in. It was understandable, for the last remnant of her fallen husband was in Monarch's clutches - right in front of her. It took everything within her not to try and take it back.

    "We have to go!" The Photographer's face was expressionless. She didn't wait for them to recover. They absconded in a flicker of pink light.

    Countless lumbering bodies surged toward the now empty space. They were led by the Violet Prince and Princess. Unfortunately for them there was nothing to be done against a Paragon with Infinite interdimensional power. Only the home worlds would have been able to stop her.

    Luo Xianni and the others hopped fissures in space-time. Although her face was even, Lan Jue could see the coldness in her eyes.

    They'd recorded everything. The intelligence they'd gathered was the most important piece of information in the whole operation. Their mission had been a success.

    They had finally confirmed the planets' location and condition, and the fact that they were indeed in the process of evolving. The decisive battle of the campaign was on the horizon. Their success or failure hinged on stopping the home worlds from completing their transformation.

    Luo Xianni didn't even let them play part of the distance. With help from Qianlin's Queen of Heaven Domain, she continued to hop fold space around them until they returned to Middle Heaven. Lan Jue raced to Lan Qing immediately with the recording.

    Half an hour later Lan Qing, Kang Hui, Hua Li, and all of humanity's Paragons including Jue Di were gathered around the holographic projection. The image of Europa hidden beneath the pulsing membrane soured everyone's expression. They could only imagine the devastation that had occurred.

    The Pontiff had his eyes shut tight in pain. He knew Reims was finished, all of its people - his people - gone. Nothing could have survived. The others were not Westerners, but they scowled at the scope of the tragedy.

    "It's confirmed, the planets are evolving. We should immediately petition the North and East for more military support." Hua Li's voice was cold and thin. His family came from this territory, and though their relationship with the West was largely economical these were their former countrymen!

    Poseidon, the Group's home planet, was not yet a victim of the alien attack. However how long before it was? They could not know what the next target of their insatiable hunger would be.

    Kang Hui scowled and sighed. "I fear that will be difficult. 'Distant water will not quench present thirst,' they're too far and too reticent. Even if they agreed to help it would be a while before they could send a sizeable force. We must act as soon as possible. Admiral Lan, you have to make a decision."

    The planets were confirmed to be near Europa and undergoing their transformation. Their single highest priority had to be stopping them. Kang Hui's intentions were clear; they had to abandon the rescue efforts here and make for the heart of alien strength. Destroying the home worlds was the only way to eliminate the threat.

    Lan Qing furrowed his brows. After a moment he slowly, but resolutely shook his head.

    "Admiral, now is not the time for a woman's kindheartedness!" Kang Hui's voice raised a few decibels. "These monsters have killed an inconceivable number of our brothers and sisters. I share your pain, but consider the priorities. We cannot hide behind the guise of protecting humanity and hesitate when it's time to strike. We will lose our best and possibly last opportunity to save our species. Everyone here knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that if we allow their transformation to be completed we will all come to a violent and bloody end. We have a chance to fight back but that chance is now. Admiral Lan, you must decide!" He pressed the Eastern commander again, firmer.

    Lan Jue couldn't hold back, adding his voice before Lan Qing had a chance to respond. "Unacceptable. We put out tremendous effort to save these people - a billion people! How can we simply cut them off? Think about it, what would happen if we bring our whole force forward only to have them waltz behind our lines and retake Angel? What would that do to morale? Those people down there may be Westerners, but they're fellow human beings just the same as you and I. How would you react differently if it was our families down there? I understand what you're saying but under these conditions we have to find a way to have the best of both worlds."

    Kang Hui's smirk was bitter. "I suggest haste, but only because our opportunities are limited and fleeting. Best of both worlds? Can you think of a way to make that happen?"

    Many days had passed since their initial victory against the alien horde. The fervor of triumph had cooled. As an experienced and storied commander himself, Kang Hui knew to expect tragedy in the midst of achievement. The final battle was yet to come, Armageddon still loomed on the horizon. What they decided right now could spell the end of their future as a species! This was not the time to take circumstances lightly, or be victim to one's gentler feelings. Kang Hui had wracked his brain for days searching for a solution, but no answers had been forthcoming.
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