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Chapter 857: Li Ke

    Chapter 857: Li Ke

    The turquoise light of Ultus shimmered along its length. Pulsing, like a living thing. As its aura spread Captus, Demortus, and Occisus hummed from within their bearer's bodies.

    Lan Qing had since recovered from the shock of the revelation. "Bringing your honored husband back should be considered a priority. He has knowledge pertaining to the Banishing Strategy."

    Once he said the words, the Paragons and even a few of the Easterners instantly understood. They knew that Lan Jue, Qianlin and the Pharmacist had left for a secret mission, but now they knew what for. The Banishing Blades - legendary weapons that were capable of killing even the strongest immortals!

    The Pharmacist's lower lip quivered. All the way back from Monarch and up to this moment she had tried to commune with the spirit of her husband. Yet all she could feel was a hazy, impermanent sense of her lost love. She could not seem to speak with him.

    The possibility of bringing Jue Di back rested on the fact that his soul was that of an immortal. In many ways he remained as the will of a god. His essence was complete, and wholly contained within the Compliance Rod. Her husband, however, relied entirely on the power of Ultus to keep his spirit intact and his will alive. The chances of bringing him back into the physical world were small beyond measure.

    She knew this, but she had also seen what Qianlin could do. The faintest light of hope sparkled in her heart.

    Suddenly Ultus began to hum, and as the light around it expanded the faint image of a man appeared within.

    When she saw who it was the Pharmacist's whole body shook uncontrollably, and tears streamed down her face. Jun'er, seated nearby, also seemed to feel something and turned toward them. She couldn't see, but reached out with her perception.

    Lan Qing was also stunned when he saw who it was.

    "You... You are Admiral Li Ke?" Clearly this man was important to Lan Qing.

    Lan Jue fixed his eyes on them. This flickering spirit was not possessed of a solid body like Xuan Yuan Shishi or Jun Yongye. In fact he seemed only barely able to keep a recognizable form. Yet he could still make out the tall, lithe figure. He wasn't the most heroic looking, but he held himself with a sense of wisdom and refinement. Scholarly. His presence was gentle, and though there were no eyes its attentions seemed deep and profound.

    "Hello, classmate." Li Ke sighed emotively as he 'looked' at Lan Qing. The admiral's eyes were full of surprise, shocked to discover that the Pharmacist's husband was actually this man.

    Li Ke? When he heard the name a curious expression flit across Lan Jue's face. He faintly remembered hearing the name from his brother before.

    Being possessed of a fine memory, it took Lan Jue only a moment to recall. He cried out involuntarily. "You used to be called the East's most talented commander. They made an exception to enroll you in the military... upperclassman Major Li Ke."

    None of the others were familiar with the name, but at one point his name had caused a fervor in the East.

    Li Ke was two grades older than Lan Qing, and exceptional as Lan Qing was his brilliance was overshadowed by Li Ke. He had a thorough knowledge of Eastern and foreign disciplines, especially when it came to ancient Chinese warfare. In his time Li Ke was the darling of the Eastern military establishment.

    He had represented the East once in a mock battle meant to practice strategies. He went up against several illustrious commands from both the West and North, winning final victory against a Northern admiral. From that day forward he was considered the single greatest threat to Northern supremacy.

    His performance was so impressive, in fact, the academy broke its own rules and graduated him early. He was enrolled in the military with the rank of Major, and after only a few years was awarded Colonel Commandant. Unfortunately it was as they say, and only the good die young. One day, during a routine patrol, he vanished. If he'd had come back he was on track to becoming the youngest Eastern commander in military history. Even younger than Lan Qing when he took that title.

    Lan Jue had heard his brother mention the name before as a catalyst. Li Ke was his target in the academy, the opponent that made him work harder. He studiously examined every one of Li Ke's theses. Later, as Lan Qing rose in fame and prominence, he was referred to as one of the East's two rising stars.

    Lan Qing's determination was that the Eastern army would be a full twenty percent more effective if Li Ke had lived to become a commander. He'd assumed his classmate's disappearance was at the hands of the North or West, for who could have known back then that the alien planets lurked in the darkness of space.

    There was a conflicted look in Li Ke's eyes as well as he looked on Lan Qing. Especially when he saw the four golden stars on his shoulder bar. He'd achieved the goal Li Ke had set out to accomplish! Admiral in command of a bastion ship, the strongest power in all of human space.

    But once he fell into the clutches of the aliens, his dreams were shattered. In the end he was forced to give up more than his dreams, but his body as well. Most of what the beasts knew of human military tactics they stole from his mind.

    "Husband!" [1. While this may seem like a formal way to regard one's spouse, it is very typical for Chinese couples. It's how my wife gets my attention, sort of like the equivalent of 'sweetie' in the way we use it, but more acceptable in public.] The Pharmacist's quavering voice rose and the spirit's attention returned to her. The Pharmacist, choked with sobs, moved to hug him but grasped only air.

    Pain and regret flashed in Li Ke's eyes. However, without a body there was nothing he could do.

    The other Paragons could guess what was happening. Lan Qing briefly explained the situation to them.

    Li Ke took a few steady 'breaths' before speaking. "I'm sorry for the pain you've suffered. But right now it is more important that we deal with the alien planets. Soon they will complete their evolution, and when that happens they will no longer hold back. Beasts will appear in every corner of human space to destroy us. We must use what little time remains to establish the Banishing Strategy, and through it destroy them first."

    Li Ke desperately wanted to speak with his wife, and to be with the little girl who was sixty percent the Pharmacist and forty percent him. Yet much as it pained him there were more pressing matters. Time was short, and the future of the species took precedence.

    Zhou Qianlin supported the Pharmacist as she recovered her bearings.

    Li Ke turned to Lan Qing. "The secrets of the strategy are hidden within Ultus. I discovered them when I was forced to become the sword's spirit. I am familiar with the process, all that is needed are people to put it into motion."

    Lan Qing nodded. "Are you capable of handling Ultus and enacting it yourself, commander? Occisus is still under your wife's control. Lan Jue and Zhou Qianlin possess Captus and Demortus respectively. Each of them are Paragons - is this enough to summon the power of the strategy?"

    Li Ke repudiated the admiral's hope. "Impossible. The Banishing Strategy was one of the most taboo abilities, even in the ancient days. When the swords were first created, they were made with the intention of protecting the immortal realm. Before the strategy universal protogenia holds no power. But before its full strength can be drawn upon, it needs bearers who are immortals themselves. Immortals of the highest cast, Da Luo. Without an immortal realm such all-powerful beings cannot exist."

    He paused for a moment, then continued. "However, that doesn't mean we're left without options to combat the aliens. We may not be able to summon the full power of the swords, but when the aliens complete their evolution they will still be far from the likes of Da Luo. If we can use even a fraction of the strategy, that should be enough to slay these monsters. If we want to achieve this then the bearers must be the best of humanity - meaning, they must have achieved the Infinite. Four immortal-level Paragons would be even better, raising our chances to perhaps thirty percent. If they are only the Infinite that number drops to ten."

    The high demands of the Banishing Strategy caused everyone's faces to darken. In all of humanity Luo Xianni was the only remaining Infinite-level Paragon. One out of four that were required. What's more, three of the swords had already chosen new masters. Until Lan Jue, the Pharmacist, and Qianlin died these weapons would not be wielded by others. And they were still far from the Infinite.

    Lan Qing's solemn voice replied. "What if we can't produce four? What if their cultivation level was lower, would we still have a chance?"

    Li Ke shook his spectral head. "No such chance exists. In the moment when the Banishing Stance is summoned, it will release a staggering level of energy. If the bearer is not strong enough to control it the power will break free and cause untold devastation. The Infinite is the minimum to see it done."

    Here the spirit turned its eyes to Lan Jue and Qianlin. "But there is another way, a special lineage that is similar to the Banishing Blades. It can increase the amount of power the bearers can support. Now, I must search the auras of those gathered and find the one who is most suitable to bear Ultus."
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