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Chapter 873: Fire With Fire

    Chapter 873: Fire With Fire

    Such a powerful aura! Such powerful protogenia! Once the six avatars joined it wasn't so simple as adding up the sum of their parts. This new creature was several orders of magnitude stronger.

    This was undoubtedly a stalwart and deadly foe.

    Once more they were faced with a stalemate. Lan Jue blanched to think that if the Princess were still alive they would be doomed. He and Qianlin fought back against this new monster, empowered by the Harmonious Swords and the Boundless Starlight Domain that surrounded them.

    Pandemonium prevailed. Neither side could find an advantage yet. On the face of it humanity had the numbers, but each alien attacker was more than their match on an individual level. Whether numbers or strength would prevail, was as yet impossible to determine.

    Chu Cheng arrived on the scene a short time after Hua Li. He came to the Terminator's aid and helped equalize their footing.

    ξ

    Middle Heaven.

    A strange sphere had been carved out of part of the bastion's bridge. It was what was left after the Photographer teleported the enemy into space, a prompt decision that saved the ship from destruction.

    The Prince and his monsters were after the swords, but they would not have given up an opportunity to destroy Middle Heaven. This ship, more than any other, was responsible for the deaths of countless alien warriors. Destroying it would make their battle against the humans far easier.

    Flows of energy wafted around a room at the edge of the damaged section. Lan Qing knelt therein, surrounded by a turquoise light.

    Li Ke had begun the process of transferring control of Ultus the moment they left the others. It was a ceremony of acceptance - first, of Lan Qing as the sword's master, then for himself as the spirit of the weapon. In this way he would remain, his soul a part of the weapon so long as Lan Qing wielded it.

    In a way, he had to be the one to accept Lan Qing. But the process was not going smoothly.

    Lan Qing's qualifications were solid. He was strong, and his inheritance was a vestige of the old world. However, the root of his powers rested in Buddhism. The Banishing Blades were the tools of Daoist masters, and the benevolence inherent in Vairochana's legacy did not meld well with Ultus' keen and cutting nature.

    Lan Qing sat cross-legged on the floor with hands folded before him. Resting in the center of his core was the figure of a miniature Buddha, none other than Vairochana. Ultus hovered in the air across from the admiral.

    Some part of the Buddha was rejecting Ultus, nor was the power of Ultus respectful of the legacy it was faced against. As one of the greatest weapons in the Daoist arsenal, one could imagine the arrogance a Banishing Blade might possess.

    Even after years as the weapon's master, Li Ke never truly earned the weapon's acceptance. The reason was simple - he was never strong enough. Lan Qing did not face that problem, and instead it became a difference of ideals.

    Buddhism also required the protection of its dharma! Lan Qing meditated on this as he looked past Ultus' bloodthirst, past its cutting aura. But the blade struggled for it would accept the light of Vairochana. Neither side gave ground.

    If Lan Qing had not already been a Paragon perhaps the process would have been easier. After all, he had not accepted the lineage of Vairochana until after his breakthrough. Yet it was lucky that he was already so strong, for the dangers of the sword were minimal to a Paragon.

    All he needed was time to resolve their differences. After all, he just inherited the Buddha's legacy, he wasn't Vairochana himself.

    Back in the days when Celestial Master Tongtian was bearer of the swords he was captured by Dipankara Buddha. Ever since the Banishing Blades - and especially Ultus - were suspicious of Buddhist faith.

    Lan Qing and the will of the sword continued to clash, working through their differences.

    Li Ke stood to the side. His body ebbed and flowed with the energies that Ultus output, and anxiety was writ on his ghostly face. If this failed and Lan Qing was not accepted by Ultus, then his soul would be expelled. He would die a final death, and the seal that sustained him would burn away.

    He had thought, while searching among the Paragons, that Lan Qing would be suitable. He hadn't expected to encounter this problem. No matter how rushed or how desperate he was, though, he had to give them time. All that could be done was wait for Lan Qing to be accepted.

    The minutes ticked by, and inch by inch the golden light from within him stretched out. Whatever conflict constricted his essence loosened its grip. Part of the test to become the master of Ultus was to suffer its essence. For what master could wield a weapon he could not control? Lan Qing began to understand the weapon the longer he struggled against it.

    The Eastern admiral was aware of the sneak attack by the aliens even though he couldn't help. He felt the danger but continued to meditate because he knew rushing would solve nothing. Breaking off this process before it was complete could result in a backlash from Ultus that could threaten his life. It would at least injure him severely. Only once he had joined with Ultus and was accepted as its new master could he lend his strength to the fight.

    So he focused all of his keen mind and willing spirit on becoming the next bearer of Ultus.

    Lan Qing was not only wise but persistent, even stubborn. Tendrils of light reached out around him, crystalline cyan streamers of luminescence that seeped from his every pore. They were met with an equal number of threads from Ultus.

    Once he saw this Li Ke finally heaved a sigh of relief. The Banishing Blade was beginning to compromise.

    Eventually Ultus discovered it could not dissuade Lan Qing of his truth, and it's only option was to submit. It was a weapon of the gods and had the pride to prove it but even so the sword was possessed of only a rudimentary will. It may not agree with Lan Qing's lineage, but it needed a strong arm to wield it.

    Li Ke wondered whether this mighty weapon and Lan Qing coming together wasn't the best of both worlds. Perhaps the peace of Buddhist faith could allay the dangers of Ultus' sharpness.

    When Li Ke came to possess the sword he was already lauded as a once-in-a-generation Talent. He did not take precautions, accepted risks in order to gain quick success. How was Ultus any different? As he took and overcome these risks again and again, an abiding arrogance grew in his heart. His shortcuts were eventually his undoing.

    He looked at Lan Qing, seated stoically like a bodhisattva. He knew, however, that the admiral's body was enduring a world of suffering just below the surface.

    The elder Lan had been caught in the chaos of war since breaking through to Paragon. He'd wracked his brain every day and night, using everything at his disposal to combat destruction at the hands of the aliens. He'd been blessed with a string of shining successes. Using only three bastions and twelve fleets he'd continued to punish the vastly superior enemy force. At every step he'd been pitted against a foe just as smart as he who had a sordid history of outmaneuvering human leaders.

    It was to be expected that the speed of his cultivation would be affected by his change in focus. Since breaking through he'd stayed more or less the same, a Reflection of Heaven and Earth. He hadn't even had time to deeply explore the truths of his protogenia.

    Lan Qing felt the power of Ultus enter him like a hundred thousand daggers. It was a universe of agony that assailed him body and mind, testing his will. Lan Qing resisted by sitting quietly in the light of Vairochana.

    But the mightiest weapon under heaven was not so easily repelled. Ultus' deadly power was focused not on Lan Qing's body, but his very soul. He felt every excruciating incision carving him apart as Ultus continued to fill him with its power.

    Lan Qing grit his teeth and bore it. At the same time he focused his beleaguered mind on the sword's secrets.

    What he discovered was that the sword did not disagree with him. On the contrary, it was Lan Qing who could not accept the method Ultus chose to join their minds. Domination, not submission... Ultus was trying to control him.

    If Lan Qing had not been a Paragon he would not have sensed it, the feeling was faint and ambiguous. He realized Li Ke must have experienced this, and was influenced by the creeping authority of the sword.

    Lan Jue, Zhou Qianlin and the Pharmacist had not faced this trial when joining with their swords. This struggle was unique to Ultus. Submit? Lan Qing would not allow it!

    Giving in was not part of the admiral's nature. How could he give in to a tool? He knew that once he conceded to the will of the sword his spirit would begin to come under its rule. He would not have the means or right to summon Ultus' true power.

    So he endured, despite the pain. No matter how cruel or vicious Ultus' attack on his soul he had to persevere. With Vairochana firmly set in the center of his Core, armed with his knowledge of protogenia, guided by the Buddhas of the Three Times, he did not retreat. He experienced, he understood, and he adapted.
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