Chapter 901: Shards of Primordial Spirits
Monarch and the Violet Prince had been destroyed, forever erased from the universe by the power of the Banishing Strategy.
Red light drained out from Lan Jue’s eyes. He had been the one to guide their concentrated power. Now that Monarch was destroyed, at last the threat of alien aggression had passed.
He revealed no pleasure from their victory, no excitement. There were still problems to address – chief among them, how to restrain the Strategy safely. They hadn’t been sure they could even succeed in establishing the attack, and thus had given stopping it not even a passing thought.
Through the power of faith they were ultimately able to overcome the enemy. The Banishing Strategy had been enacted and was stable, endowing them with a caliber of strength that far outstripped their wildest imaginings.
As the prayers of billions were continuously laid upon them, the swords thirstily drank of their gifts. The Banishing blades used it to complete what the sword bearers couldn’t do on their own.
In a series of flashes Lan Jue and the others appeared, standing at the four corners of the Strategy. However, none of them were holding their weapon.
Lan Qing looked from one to the other, his expression uncertain. “What now?”
Lan Jue smirked at his brother. “How do I know? Wine Master, could I trouble you to report Monarch’s death to Kang Hui? All remaining enemies have been destroyed. That should curtail the faith flowing into it. I’m afraid if we don’t do something to weaken it the Strategy will continue to solidify.”
The Wine Master interjected, curious. “What’s the problem with that?”
“Well, to start if it keeps getting stronger I’m not sure we’ll have the means to stop it,” he answered. “It would remain here forever, and this whole area would be too dangerous to ever go near again.”
His old friend nodded. “What do you think is needed to get it to stop?”
Lan Jue pondered out loud. “According to our estimates we would need to be Da Luo-level immortals if we wanted to exert that level of control. If one of us were that could be enough.” He sounded unconvinced even as he said it.
Lan Qing wryly added his voice. “And it has to be you. You were the one who led the Strategy.”
The Wine Master sucked in a surprised breath. “So you’re saying that anyone who enters this field will be instantly killed?” If the Strategy would bring down a god, he shuddered to think of what it might do to a normal person.
“Not necessarily,” Lan Jue answered. “If one of us – the sword bearers – guided someone through then they would be fine. After all, we’re part of the Strategy ourselves. But if someone were to enter without us it would probably end as you’d expect. I… don’t recommend you try it.”
The Wine Master’s brows furrowed in thought. “If it’s simply a matter of closing of a section of space that shouldn’t be too great of an issue. It’s impossible to expect you to reach the highest level of immortality any time within the conceivable future! Are there any other dangers we need to consider?”
Lan Jue explained further. “Right now the Strategy is still under our control, and there is no immediate problem. However, I think it’s fair to expect that the zone will expand once we leave and are no longer maintaining its borders. None of us can know how large it’ll spread, but if I had to guess I’d say it would at least swallow up Europa and everything around it. But before we consider that, it isn’t completely unthinkable for us to reach Da Luo.”
As he spoke, he swung his eyes toward Europa floating placidly in the distance.
Monarch and the Violet Prince had been vanquished, but the fruits of their evil labors remained. Basking in a pale golden glow the newly crafted immortal realm flooded the area with its aura. Lan Jue and the others, now risen to the Infinite, could feel it clearly from where they stood.
Indeed this was their next problem. What were they to do with the alien’s immortal realm?
“We can deal with that later. Right now there are more pressing matters.” Li Ke interrupted them. His voice bore a somewhat urgent tone.
Lan Jue turned his attention toward the spirit. “What is it, brother-in-law?”
After absorbing so much faith, Li Ke was almost indistinguishable from any of them. The Pharmacist was even holding his hand, and the smile on her face betrayed her happiness.
Li Ke, however, was not smiling. “You have to gather the spirit shards. Fragments of what remains of the Paragons’ souls. In a way what we call Paragons can be likened to ‘half immortals’, Taoist magicians of the ancient times. After spending so long cultivating, their souls become like primordial spirits. Primordial spirits don’t disappear so easily, just like the ancient gods whose essence remains even though they lost to universal protogenia. Even now, thousands of years later, we can still feel their echoes. If we hurry and gather these shards now, there’s a chance we could bring them back to life!”
Lan Jue froze when he heard it. If this were true and they could return their friends and loved ones to life, today’s victory would be absolute.
“How do we do that?” He asked urgently.
Li Ke explained. “The four of you have reached the Infinite. If you search your feelings you can sense them.”
“Excellent!” With such good news, how could Lan Jue ignore it? Even Lan Qing’s steadfast demeanor hid a buzz of excitement. If Li Ke was right they could bring Luo Xianni and the others back from the dead!
Lan Jue shut his eyes and reached out with his perception. He began to search the area for any sign of these spirits.
He was calm now, and no longer burdened by the dangers he’d faced before. His sense of his surroundings was different. Suddenly there was something more, hidden behind a veil.
In theory space was largely empty. Aside from relatively miniscule pockets of matter, space was defined by how much nothing there was. However when someone’s consciousness reached a certain level of understanding, they found this to be untrue. Their perception was more sensitive than even the most advanced instruments, telling them that there was something else.
Even up to now Lan Jue and the others radiated polychromatic light, a residue from the Banishing Strategy. So almighty was the Strategy’s influence that universal protogenia still couldn’t apply its pressures on them.
Safe for the time being, Lan Jue searched his consciousness until he came upon a strange and arresting impression. However it was not human. Far from it, in fact – it was what remained of the three-headed avatar.
The pulses of primordial energy were odd and uncomfortable. They seemed desperate to gather together, as though hoping it could reconstitute itself. It made Lan Jue shiver, for he knew that somewhere within the six souls that had made up that beast was a whisper of Monarch’s consciousness.
Monarch was gone, completely destroyed by the Strategy, leaving these spirits on their own. It was almost pitiful to feel these fragments trying to piece themselves back together, like they had a chance to somehow come back.
Now that he saw them, how could Lan Jue give them even a shadow of hope?
Lan Jue lifted his right hand and summoned an electric blue light from the ether. When they light fell upon the cluster of spiritual energy it released a haze of pale purple which blanketed the area, sparkling with points of illumination. It was Lan Jue’s Boundless Starlight Domain.
As Lan Jue became stronger, both his control over the Domain and its menace had increased exponentially. Heavenly Lightning began to crackle the moment his Domain manifested itself.
The blasts of lightning that tore into the cluster of souls was nothing short of harrowing. But before these evil fragments could feel fear, they were burned from existence. Nothing remained. They would never threaten the worlds of man again.
Lan Jue had called his Domain to prevent these fragments from scattering, but also – more importantly – so that his lightning would not hard the spirit shards he sought to save.
With the last vestiges of his enemy destroyed, Lan Jue breathed easier. When he began to search anew his perception settled on something nearby.
A copper-gold halo surrounded appeared. Near it, a fragment nearly as strong as the ones Lan Jue had wiped out lingered. Though weaker, it was more persistent and slowly drew itself closer to the golden light.
Lan Jue raced over to where the light shimmered and reached out for it.
“Qianlin,” he called. She hurriedly came to his side. Lan Jue’s Boundless Starlight Domain could destroy nearly any enemy that crossed his path, but it was not built to heal or rescue. What was better for this purpose that the Light of the Goddess of Mercy?
The golden light was radiating from Jue Di’s astrum, the Compliance Rod. The spirit that was so desperately trying to stay with it was what remained of Luo Xianni.
Only the simplest desires were left to these broken spirits. It was clear what mattered most to Luo Xianni was finding the Compliance Rod, for within it she could be together with Jue Di.
Luo Xianni pointed with her right hand. She was also now of the Infinite and could sense what Lan Jue saw. With the utmost care she guided Luo Xianni to the rod and the spirit of her lost love.
When a primordial spirit left one’s body it was assailed by the cruel power of universal protogenia. It was torn apart, and ultimately dissipated into the vastness of space to be lost forever.
Chapter 902: Preserving Immortal Essence
Protected by an astrum, the fragment of a soul could persist for much longer than normal.
Once Luo Xianni’s spirit was recovered Lan Jue continued his search. He quickly found the Pauper, Keeper, Bookworm, and the gods of wine. They were also conveyed into the Compliance Rod.
However, when he looked for Hua Li he was surprised and saddened to discover there was no trace that remained of him.
“Li!” When he returned to the corpses of Hua Li and Mo Xiao his heart was a tempest of emotion.
Zhou Qianlin gripped his hand. She said nothing and only hung her head before the scene. To claim there was no animosity within her would have been a lie, but be it Xiuxiu or Hua Li, they gave their lives to try and make it right. They died protecting Lan Jue. Could hate survive in the face of such sacrifice?
A thought came to Lan Jue. He extricated his hand from Qianlin’s and reached forth to search the bodies for any residual parts of Hua Li’s soul. But then a blue light from the distance captured his attention. As it approached, he watched in shock.
The one who came looked a lot like Hua Li, if more mature. He regarded Lan Jue with a calm expression, and was wreathed in pale blue light.
He nodded once he was close. “We’ll take him. The Poseidon family has its own ways.” Hua Xu answered Lan Jue’s unspoken question. There was no indication any of this had affected him emotionally.
Lan Jue regarded him with a pained and conflicted expression. “Uncle, I…”
Hua Xu cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Destiny makes fools of us all. I can only hope that you see some way to forgive them. When the light of one’s life goes out, it should extinguish their follies.”
Lan Jue nodded his head. Hua Li and Mo Xiao were dead, harboring hatred and resentment would serve no one. He didn’t bear any ill-will toward his fallen brother.
Hua Xu extended it right hand, and from it floated a deep blue crystal. It slowly floated through space glittering in the dim light until it came to the bodies of his children. It flickered with a blue light that hung over the bodies, and moments later when it vanished so too did Hua Li and Mo Xiao.
Hua Xu nodded a final time toward Lan Jue, then turned and left.
However, he did not go far before stopping. He turned back and fixed Lan Jue with his eyes. “After this fight, it will take a long time for the Group to recover. Hua Li hoped that you could help look after he and Mo Xiao’s child. It was his desire that their little one could live on Skyfire Avenue. Is there anything that might make this impossible?”
Lan Jue did not immediately reply, so Hua Xu continued. “You might not expect it from looking at our family, but our heirs are not immediately granted the full rights and powers of the bloodline. They employ the benefits of the family to choose their own path, and ultimately undergo the process of accepting the lineage. So it is destined. Of course none of us wish for this burden, neither I nor Li wanted to carry this mantle. I failed. Under cover of this conflict, as Hua Li was leaving to join the fight, Mo Xiao sent a ship back toward Skyfire Avenue bearing their child. I ask that you seek his aura, and bring our heir to Skyfire Avenue so that he might grow and prosper. When he comes of age, if he so chooses he can return and take up his rightful place as leader of Poseidon Group. If he does not…” Hua Xu stopped, a smile on his face. He didn’t finish the thought before a flash of blue light conveyed him far away.
Lan Jue heaved a sigh. A piece of Li still existed somewhere! Li, he thought to himself, I’ll do whatever I can to grant your final wish. I’ll look after your son.
The battle was finally over, and the Wine Master left to spread the good news across all the human worlds. However when Lan Jue returned to his fellows his face was no less serious and burdened. They looked into the distance where the gold-blanketed legacy of the aliens remained. They silently regarded Europa, immortal realm of their enemy.
“Brother, what are we going to do about this?” Lan Jue asked.
Lan Qing’s deep voice replied. “Under the power of faith the Banishing Strategy is strong. As its guides we can direct its power to smother and destroy Europa. We can erase every last trace of these aliens, once and for all.”
“No.” Li Ke answered quickly and firmly. Everyone turned their attention to him.
He explained. “Creating an immortal realm is phenomenally difficult. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it’d taken ten thousand years of preparation for the aliens to succeed here. It was based off of what Monarch could piece together from the ancient immortal realm of our history, so its existence isn’t actually a threat. Now that the aliens are dead, we can take this realm for ourselves. Think about it, all four of you have reached the Infinite and the moment you leave the protection of the Strategy universal protogenia will leech your vitality. The only way you can continue to grow as Paragons is if you do so under the protection of an immortal realm.”
Lan Jue bitterly shook his head. “I have absolutely no interest in continuing this journey. It was never my dream to become an immortal, all I ever wanted was a normal life. Besides, so long as he we don’t deliberately seek cultivation Qianlin’s Domain can protect us from universal protogenia.”
Li Ke paused, then wryly chuckled. “You still can’t destroy this place, even despite your personal desires. The immortal realm is the only way in which you can bring the others back. You have your selfish motives and so do I. I want my body back, to live a normal life where I can be with my family. Small as that chance might be, I have to pursue it no matter how remote.”
Lan Qing blinked in surprise. “You’re saying we can use their primordial spirits in the immortal realm to bring our friends back?”
Li Ke answered. “Theoretically yes. An immortal realm is replete with immortal qi that circulates through it as ubiquitous as the wind. Its basis is in faith, and I could sense that Monarch’s intention was not to kill the humans once he’d succeeded in his desire to bring about the immortal realm. What he really wanted was for humans to submit and accept him as their god. Then he could feed off of our faith. Right now Europa is sustained by the faith of all those Monarch consumed. However, this had made the realm unstable. Immortal qi will continue to be consumed but not replenished. For you four, it would be different. You’re heroes, and if you claim the immortal realm as your own you can inject it with the faith of the masses. You are the only ones that can stabilize this place and replenish its power.”
“Not only will immortal qi protect you from universal protogenia, it will also nourish and restore the fragments of primordial spirit you’ve gathered. I dare say that with the help of immortal qi you could bring Jua Di back to life quickly. The others may take more time but are likely to walk the worlds of man once more.”
Nearby, Chu Cheng extended the golden skeleton he carried, the remnants of the Terminator. “Is there a chance his Majesty the Terminator…”
Li Ke sighed and shook his head. “Too much time has passed, his primordial spirit has already dissolved. A Paragon’s spirit can only survive about an hour before it returns to the universe.”
Chu Cheng’s disappointment was visible. He could say that the Terminator had given him new life. Without the Northern leader’s help Chu Cheng’s rise would never have been so quick. With the Terminator gone, the responsibilities of being the North’s sole Paragon fell to him.
Lan Qing pressed the spirit. “So what do you suggest we do now, comrade?”
Li Ke’s response came without hesitation. “First we should go to Europa and see if anything remains of the three home worlds. If it does that poison must be removed. Using the Banishing Strategy to surround Europa was not wrong, for if we find that there is no saving this immortal realm it can quickly be destroyed. That responsibility will be left up to the four of you. In addition, if in the future anyone wants to enter the immortal realm they could only do so with your blessing and guidance. Until one or more of you achieve Da Luo status as immortals the Banishing Strategy will persist. In the meanwhile, you simply need to control it.”
Lan Qing looked at Lan Jue, who nodded back. “It sounds like the best course of action. Let’s go to Europa, and see if we can’t solve any problems we come across.”
With Monarch dead, in principle there should be nothing remaining of the three alien planets. However, they couldn’t be sure until they went to Europa and searched it themselves. With the backing of the Banishing Strategy they would make sure everything was in order.
Were it not for the possibility of saving his friends and family from permanent death, Lan Jue would much have preferred destroying this immortal realm. He’d have liked to see it pass into history and erase any possibility of future trouble.
The four sword bearers didn’t rush into the immortal realm. First they guided the Banishing Strategy’s power so that it settled over Europa, and only then began their trek to the gold-wreathed planet.
“Let’s go.” Lan Qing ordered.
The four of them entered into the newly remoulded planet’s atmosphere together. Immediately they were embraced by the multifaceted aura of the Strategy and the effects it provided. The golden light of Europa caused them no trouble, and they entered without issue.
All they felt was their bodies becoming lighter, and suddenly they were in what seemed to be a whole new reality.
Space was a vacuum, and while it didn’t threaten a Paragon’s life it could not be called comfortable. They left the distressing sensation behind as they slipped into Europa’s atmosphere.
They took their first breaths of Europaen air, filling them with delight. It seemed like just being here was increasing their cultivation by the moment.
Li Ke and the other Paragons didn’t come with them. It was dangerous until Lan Jue and the others discovered otherwise, so they were told to remain behind. Only Lan Jue, Lan Qing, Zhou Qianlin and the Pharmacist stepped foot in this immortal plane.
They looked at each other, nearly speechless.
“So this is the immortal realm?” Qianlin managed to say.
Chapter 903: The Immortal Realm
Lan Qing’s voice betrayed his awe. “No wonder they were so dead-set on creating it. There’s something… incredible, about this place.”
The immortal realm was replete with immortal qi that flowed like the clouds. In some areas it was rich, in others thin. Each of them could feel the power nourishing their bodies, and without question they knew that cultivating here would be more fruitful than anywhere else in the universe.
Any hint of universal obstruction was absent the moment they entered into this world. Here they no longer needed Qianlin’s Domain to protect them. They took to this place like a fish to water.
Lan Jue bit the tip of his tongue, fighting the bone-deep comfort. “We have to see if there’s anything left of the planets. This place has to be controlled from somewhere, let’s see if we can find its center.”
They didn’t split up, choosing instead to remain together and sweep the area with their combined perception. They search for dangers while simultaneously taking in the view.
They were surprised to find that while the immortal qi was immensely helpful, their perception was limited here. They could only extend their consciousness a short distance, which make their task more difficult.
However it was not anything more than a nuisance. They had time, and so they cautiously combed the picturesque vistas around Europa.
The planet was nothing like it had been before the aliens took control. Everywhere they turned were exotic flora, and flows of immortal qi whispered through valleys and over mountains. It was the definition of a fairyland, Heaven stretching out before their eyes.
After about ten hours they came to the peak of a mountain where they discovered a palatial building. Before its grand gates was a board upon which was inscribed two words; Heavenly Court.
“You can’t say Monarch didn’t do his homework. It seems he had a real appreciation for our ancient culture.” Lan Jue said wryly.
They’d search nearly everywhere around Europa and had found nothing until now. Even here there was no trace of any primordial spirit or malicious vitality. Clearly Monarch’s death had left this place without a ruler.
Immortal qi was thickest here in the Heavenly Court. This had to be the center of this immortal realm though it was less opulent than one might expect. All they found was a single gemstone that looked markedly like a vital crystal. The energy it produced was released in waves and quickly became immortal qi.
This had to be what was powering this immortal realm, the collected vitality reaped by the planets in their rampage across the cosmos. Somehow this crystal was supporting the entire planet, stolen vitality circulating through it like blood.
With no aliens left to fear Lan Jue didn’t give a second thought to delving deeper into the secrets of this place. He pulled forth the Compliance Rod and released the spirits contained within out into the air.
As they’d suspected, upon reaching the earliest levels of immortality Jue Di had maintained his consciousness even as a spirit within the astrum. Once his spirit was freed it immediately set about absorbing the immortal qi around it. The other souls did so as well, though more slowly.
The Pharmacist heaved a sigh. “Now that our victory is complete, I’ll collect my husband and bring him here.” Li Ke was a part of Ultus, but as a spirit was not bound to its precise location. With Ultus part of the Strategy protecting Europa, this was the best place for him to be. He could be here, and their family could be whole.
Lan Jue nodded. “Spirits should have no problem here. I’m not sure about the other Paragons, though.”
His fears were warranted, for although they could guide their friends here the moment they were left on their own the dangers of the Banishing Strategy would turn on them. The Heavenly Court could only control the flows of immortal qi, and not how accessible this world was. For these reasons it was difficult to say whether the Paragons could even get close.
When they returned to space the four sword bearers underwent a series of small experiments. As anticipated, although Li Ke’s spirit was not strong it was sustained by Ultus and thus could enter into the immortal realm without issue. However this was not so for the Paragons. They were barred from stepping foot on Europa.
They also found that they could enter even after shedding the chaotic qi of the Strategy. This meant that only a Paragon who had achieved the Infinite could enter. The immortal realm was so named for a reason, there were standards for those who could witness its beauty. Lan Jue did not worry about what would become for this place for his mind was on returning to Skyfire Avenue. That was his home, it was where he planned to live out his days.
When his father returned he would certainly be interested in taking over management of the immortal realm. He would take on the mantle of being the modern Jade Emperor.
Lan Qing was supportive of his brother’s plan. After discussing it with Li Ke, the Pharmacist decided to remain behind with him here. For the time being Jun’er would be left under Lan Jue’s care. The Pharmacist would, of course, visit often until such time as her daughter reached the Infinite and was able to join them in the heavens.
“Well Qianlin, it’s starting to look like I’ve taken the job of a kindergarten principal. I’m now responsible for Jun’er and Hua Li’s son.”
Qianlin laughed prettily. “You have experience after working at the NEU, don’t you? Teaching children should be relaxing by comparison.” [!. This is absolutely not the case.]
Lan Jue wrapped an arm around her slender waist. “Teaching them won’t be a problem. But how is that going to influence having one of our own, hm?”
Her face reddened. “How many were you thinking?”
“The more the better!”
The Immortal Realm
Jue Di sat upon the throne within the Heavenly Court, lost in quiet contemplation.
“Chi Bupang, what are you thinking about?” Luo Xianni sat by his side, plucking grapes from a bunch in her hand and lazily popping them into her mouth.
Jue Di cast her an irritated glance. “I am Jade Emperor, master of the immortal realm. Can we not use my real name?”
She answered his onerous request with a snort. “Well hello there Master No-one. There’s only a handful of us in this place. The Keeper and Bookworm have returned to Skyfire Avenue to continue their research since they weren’t at all interested in staying here. Li Ke and the Pharmacist, that sweet couple, never come our way. Bize and Aubert are growing grapes, and if they’re successful will create a wine without equal in all the universe. Sadly it loses its taste without the addition of immortal qi. If that wasn’t the case they’d be millionaires in the East. So to put it bluntly, about the only person you can boss around is me so I don’t know who you’re trying to impress, Your Majesty!”
Jue Di scowled. “Those sons of… they pile everything on my shoulders and just run off. I’m tired of this crap.”
Luo Xianni chortled back at him. “Everyone has their own aims, just like us no? With the Pharmacist here at least there’s enough faith flowing through that the realm is stable. What do you need to fret over? Now you behave yourself, you’re almost a Golden immortal already and you’re thinking of leaving? If you think you can go on then! I won’t stop you.”
“You! You’ll be the death of me, woman!”
Luo Xianni just shrugged. “I think it’d be pretty absurd if I could irritate a god to death, I’d like to see it happen. Should we give it a try?”
He denied her the pleasure with a dramatic ‘harumph’ and proudly shot to his feet. “I was thinking that with how slow time passes here those boys should have visited at least once already. Ahh, idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Perhaps we should have a child of our own to keep us busy, at leasr you won’t be lonely. What do you think?”
Luo Xianni was suddenly bashful. “This is no good… not at our age.”
“Time doesn’t pass in the heavens,” Jue Di said with serious countenance. “Besides, you said yourself that you’re the only one here I can boss around. There’s no escape, heh heh!”
Planet Skyfire, Skyfire City, Skyfire Avenue.
This famous lane didn’t permit any vehicles or any robots to cross it, much less mecha. Even the patrolling police must patrol on foot, the most ancient of methods. That’s because this is a street for pedestrians, a lane for nobles, hidden away within this high technology world.
Fresh yet uniform stones covered this 2048 meter long lane. The buildings on each side of the lane were of completely different types, but every single building had its own unique aspects and history. There was ancient French gothic-style pointed buildings, the sprawling and majestic jade-carved buildings of ancient China, and were even Roman-style buildings.
This street, which seemingly had no high technology present, was set within the most central, most developed area within Skyfire City. Supposedly, here, every single square meter of earth was worth as much as one of the newest, top-tier Michaely P12-class high atmosphere hovercar.
Three years had passed since the disaster. Things were back to normal and humanity had prospered, free from alien threat. The dark days were behind them.
After the battle was done Lan Qing – The East’s super soldier, the youngest admiral in history, backbone of the Eastern army, Peerless Light emperor of Middle Heaven and commander of An Lun – announced his retirement. However, he was sure to let everyone know that he would not be leaving the Eastern Alliance. If he was ever needed he would appear. He also mentioned he would be looking for a spouse.
I didn’t take long for the news to spread, and soon woman all throughout the human worlds – as young as eight and as old as eighty – were expressing their desire to be Mrs. Lan Qing. The lucky girl was never publicly revealed.
The ones known as the Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Pole Star of Purple Subtlety, Guanyin the Queen of Mercy, and the Pharmacist later known as Queen Yama, vanished from the public eye. Legends claimed they still used their powers to protect humanity.
As many anticipated, Skyfire Avenue became the strongest Adept organization in all the Alliances. The Wine Master continued to serve as chairman of the council, though it was only the others councilors who knew that he cursed the post every day. He was constantly heard to mutter his displeasure about how a certain someone was shirking their responsibilities.
In the North, master of the Hades bloodline Chu Chng took up the position vacated by the late Terminator as leader of the Great Conclave. The North remained as the largest Alliance, though two thirds of those planets that had once belonged to the West chose to join the Eastern Alliance. The ones that chose the North were those that were nearest to its borders. Angel and its sister planets, of course, decided to join with the East.
Over the three years these seven planets had recovered well. Only one system of faith prevailed through the whole system, loyal to the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin. As far as they were concerned she was the only one responsible for pulling them back from the brink of extinction.
The East’s total power and influence grew significantly after the conflict. Poseidon Group officially announced that they would be basing their operation out of the Eastern Alliance. Their family would continue operate out of their home planet. The East was more than happy to accept.
Poseidon Group retained its title as the richest organization in all of human space, although they kept a low profile after the human-alien war. More surprising, after the fighting was done the group agreed to hand over control of their sole bastion to the Eastern army.
The Eastern armed forces still controlled far fewer than the North, and likely would never be able to compete on that front. However, the two bastions universally accepted as the strongest in human space were under their command.
The North had spent the last three years restoring order to the people. Because the East had enjoyed unity through the crisis it was able to prosper more quickly, ultimately catching up to the North.
Right now it was spring. Cool winds blew down the Avenue and rattled shuttered shop windows.
A young girl, perhaps ten, wandered down the lane clad in a pretty white dress. Her hair was pulled into a simple pony tail and though young she was as pretty as the mythical faeries of old. She was destined to be a beautiful woman when she grew up.
She wasn’t alone. Two young boys walked with her on either side.
The child on her left looked just barely old enough to walk on his own. The one on her right was a little older. They were perhaps three and four, respectively.
“Sister Jun’er, I’m hungry!” The boy on the right complained. He looked up at her and pouted.
“I know! We’re on our way to the Gourmet’s house to have a meal. Uncle said he was going to cook us something nice today.” Jun’er said, placating the child.
He swallowed a mouthful of saliva in anticipation. “Great! I want some chocolate!”
Jun’er crinkled her cute little nose and shook her head. “If you eat too much chocolate you’ll rot your teeth. Daddy spoils you, he lets you do whatever you want. When you’re with me you have to do what I say.”
The young boy was strangely compliant. “Okay – I’ll listen to sister Jun’er. But see how good I am? You have to promise to marry me!”
“Absolutely not,” Jun’er replied. “I already have a fiancé. I can’t agree to marry you. Any you’re only four years old. Do you even know what it means to get married?”
The young boy refused to give in. “Of course I know, it means two people stay together forever. Daddy told me once, he said if I like a girl I have to bravely go after her. He said going after what you want is half the battle. The girl I like the most is sister Jun’er, and I want to make you my wife. Say you’ll marry me, Jun’er.”
She snipped back at him. “No, of course not. We have the same daddy, how can we get married? That’s wrong.”
The child petulantly pursed his lips. “An adopted daddy and a real daddy are different. What do think I’m still a baby? Your fiancé is daddy’s real son.”
As the young boy spoke he flashed a jealous glance at the boy on her left, who was also carefully picking his way along the road by their side.
The other boy gave a fierce look back. He pressed himself against Jun’er and flung his arms around leg. “Sister, give me a hug!”
She did as he asked and wrapped him in an embrace. “Don’t be scared, Lan Zhou. I’ll protect you. I won’t let anyone bully you.”
The boy on the right kicked up an even louder fuss. “That’s not fair, sister, you like him better!”
Jun’er stared at him with her dim eyes. “What’s unfair? He’s my fiancé, I’m going to marry him when we get older. Of course I’m going to treat my husband differently. Isn’t daddy nicer to you? Let me tell you, Hua Yun, if you keep teasing Lan Zhou I’m not going to play with you anymore.”
“Me!” He whined. “He’s so small, how can he be your fiancé? Even mommy and daddy say you’re too old for him.”
Jun’er paid him no mind. “Age isn’t a problem. You’re still a kid, you don’t understand. Anyway you should be glad, when I was your age I wasn’t even allowed to leave my house. I spent every day lonely by myself. You get to stay on Skyfire Avenue and everyone treats you so well. What do you have to complain about?”
There was a flash recall behind her eyes when she said it. She remembered those days clearly, when she was lonely, all by herself. Then that warm voice had appeared.
Daddy, for me to be your real daughter I just have to marry your son. Right?
Lan Zhou happily snuggled against her, perfectly content. He puckered his lips and planted tiny kisses on her cheek. As she held him he began to get drowsy.
Hua Yun looked at Jun’er and then at Lan Zhou. He huffed in irritation. “I’m gunna get strong, you’ll see. One day I’ll steal you away and make you my wife!”
“Ow! Why’d you hit me in the head?!”
“Stop daydreaming! Do you want to go eat at Uncle Gourmet’s or do you want to marry me?”
“I… I wanna eat! I’m so hungry, let’ hurry.”
On a humble street there sat a set of storefronts.
On this early morning the doors were pushed open and a men issued forth. He pulled up the metal grating to protect against theft and set up his display.
The showcase was stocked with decorations for advertisement. Most of them were carvings made out of olive pits, simple artistic pieces.
They weren’t exquisite works of art and the store itself was nothing special. On this small and narrow street it hardly inspired a second glance.
The tall man settled on a stool by the front door with a smile on his face. His eyes settled on the store across the street.
A gentle fragrance wafted over from the shop. Over its door was a board upon which was written ‘Brimstone Bao Zi Shop.’ It was evident by the state of the shop that business wasn’t booming.
The door opened and a silver-haired women exited with a table she set up outside. She flicked her wrist and cast a cigarette across the street.
The large man caught it out of the air and placed it in his mouth. He lit it with a lighter in his right hand.
The silver haired woman produced another cigarette which she kept for herself. But in a blink the stick disappeared.
“What are you doing?” The silver-haired woman complained to the man.
He smirked at her. “Smoking too much is bad for a woman.”
She snorted derisively at him, spun on her heels, and disappeared into her shop. She came back out a few minutes later bearing a tray.
Six bao zi [1. These are delicious steamed buns with fillings. You can get them with all kinds of stuff inside, from corn to red beans. I used to eat them so much my bao zi guy would have a pack ready when I swung by after classes.] were arrayed on the plate. They didn’t look too appetizing with their yellowed skin. There was also a bowl of congee, two eggs and a small dish of pickles. [2. Xian Cai – salted pickled veggies. I hate it but my wife goes wild for the stuff. All of this is a very traditional Chinese breakfast.]
With a pleased look in his eye the man placed himself on a stool by the table she set out and dug into the meal. He ate like it was the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted.
The silver haired woman stood by his side with a napkin in her hand. She quietly watched him eat.
“I hear you have a nickname, ‘Everyone’s Favorite Husband.’ I told everyone you were mine, but no one believed me. What should I do?”
“Pugh!” Congee spewed all over the table.
Northern Alliance. The Great Conclave.
His coal-black suit set off the young man’s fiery red hair. Chu Cheng frowned as he mulled over several pieces of business held in his hands. The Conclave was a large and influential organization, and there was much that required his direct input. Often he was busy from morning to night.
Knock knock! Someone rapped their knuckles against the door.
“Didn’t I say I wasn’t holding audiences today?” Chu Cheng answered impatiently.
“Mr. Big Shot! I can’t come say hello?” The door swung open and someone entered.
When he saw her, Chu Cheng’s sharp glare turned to shock.
She wore leather thigh-high boots that covered most of her legs, leaving only a few inches of lily-white flesh visible between their tops and the bottom of her leather short-shorts. Her torso was hugged by a tight fitting vest that left her arms bare and dipped low in the front.
“Lina Lee. What are you doing here?” It was none other than the Vampire Princess who had disturbed his work.
Lina shrugged. “No reason. I thought I’d come and find something fun to do. Take me out to a nightclub or something.”
Chu Cheng’s face fell. “Can’t you see I’m busy? Does the Dark Citadel’s Succubus know you’re here?”
Lina responded flippantly. “Her Majesty the Queen and I get along wonderfully. What does she care? I’m not here to stir up trouble. Besides, she’s busy with her immanent breakthrough and doesn’t have time to worry about what I’m up to. Ugh, ever since we established the Citadel on Skyfire it’s been a total bore. There’s no chaos you know? But the Queen insists on it, and she likes to dress up and play shopkeeper with those two friends of hers. I need to get out and have some fun from time to time!”
Chu Cheng sniffed. “I’m busy, I don’t have time for you either. Feel free to go stag.”
In a few swings of her long legs Lina was in front of him. She fixed him with her smoldering eyes, full of dark promise. “You really don’t have time for me? I was gunna let you do whatever you wanted.”
Chu Cheng squared his shoulder and adopted a righteous air. “What kind of man do you take me for?” He shot to his feet and declared: “Of course I have time!”
Waves of crystalline blue rippled through the area. Down in these depths, the Poseidon bloodline was the uncontested master of the world.
Two men stood shoulder to shoulder, watching the lights play through the ripples. They looked remarkably similar in appearance, most of the differences due to age.
The older man sighed. “Are you sure you don’t want to gout and have a look? Even if we don’t tell anyone you’re still alive?”
The younger man shook his head. “That’s all done, now. I’ve done all I needed to do. The rest of my days belong to her. The Heart of Poseidon brought me back but it can’t bring back what I’ve decided to let go.”
He turned and looked at the beautiful woman, frozen in time within an icy coffin.
Eastern Alliance. National Eastern University.
An antique bicycle trundled along the road toward the university gates. It stopped a dozen or feet back and a man in a meticulously tailored suit hopped off. He pushed the bike the rest of the way.
He looked exceedingly normal except for his fine clothes. He was around thirty, with black frame glasses perched on the bridge of his nose [3. . Writers tend to put themselves in their works.]. As he entered the school and pushed his bike down the lanes, he was occasionally greeted by passing students.
After a little while he hopped back up on his bike and made his way toward the university’s electives building. When he arrived he dismounted and placed the bike thoughtlessly to one side. He didn’t enter the offices and instead made his way to one of the lecture halls. He was a little late today, and if he didn’t hurry he feared me might be tardy for the start of class.
He pushed open the doors to a pitched lecture theatre and was met by a full house. Everyone’s eyes swung his way.
“Good morning, Professor!” [4. Traditional start to every class, depending on how strict the teacher is. Everyone rises and greets the teacher then are told to sit. In university we did this at the start of every semester, but were usually told by the teacher that it wasn’t necessary.]
“Hello everyone, please sit.” The young instructor took up his position behind the podium and smiled at everyone.
“We have an interesting class planned for today. If I recall, last time I told you that I would be handling lunch today. I see we have quite a few students who brought their appetite! I’m not sure to make of your unusually eager participation.”
A student quipped. “What’s on the menu, Professor Lei Feng?”
Lei Feng smirked. “Ma La Tang, spicy soup. I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with the dish. For today’s Etiquette class we’re going to learn what real Ma La Tang tastes like. That will be our lunch.”
A fiery woman – clearly not a student – sat in a far corner. She was dressed in smart black business attire and also wore black-rimmed glasses. A strange expression flitted across her face and she muttered: “Lei Feng!” She said it with a wry grin as she thought back to a time not long ago…
At last we’ve come to the end of Skyfire Avenue. Frankly speaking there was a lot in this novel I wanted to write for myself. My favorite part was the beginning, but many of my dear readers expressed a lack of understanding. Later I changed direction and focused more on conflict and combat. This book was an experiment, with the beginning following more of a novelltype arrangement. I truly enjoyed the world of Skyfire Avenue and the people in it. I’m curious who you liked best.
Readers who are familiar with me will know that my works are seamlessly connected. In some ways I’m disappointed with where this novel ended – there was a lot I didn’t exactly agree with. However, it is time to put the novel to rest. Perhaps when I have matured I will revisit it and make some modifications, and add some things I feel it needs.
It was my hope, when I started writing Skyfire Avenue, that I might be able to teach my readers about some of the finer points of etiquette and high culture. I fear I wasn’t very successful. As you continue to make your way through like you will encounter more of the things we discussed in the novel and then you will understand. I was very meticulous in my research, and much of what I described you can find today.
I find myself conflicted. Skyfire Avenue has been completed, so what will the next project be? I suspect many of my readers already know. It’s a project that’s been brewing in my mind, that I’ve been preparing for, for a long time. I think you will be pleasantly surprised when I tell you it is part three of the Dou Luo Da Lu series, <
Readers of the previous novels and its peripheral works will be able to guess some of its content. The Dou Luo Da Lu series is undoubtedly my favorite to work on, and now it’s time for it to continue its progress. What marvels await us in the third installment? We’ll have to wait and see. All I can say is I’ll be returning to my roots as a more experienced and mature author. I promise to provide you all a feast for your imagination. I’m sure you all will enjoy <
Before RXW approached me with the offer to translate Skyfire Avenue, I had never even read a Chinese novel. My translation experience did not extend past paragraphs of medical texts. I’ve forgotten precisely when I began working on Skyfire Avenue, but it had been a project that has spanned years. Over that time there have been challenges and triumphs, and I have grown professionally during the course of this novel.
As Tang Jia San Shao expressed above, many of you shared similar concerns about the beginning of this story with readers throughout China. The author was bold in his decision to try something new, which ultimately didn’t have the effect he wanted. While there were ups and downs with the path he chose, I think we can agree that it created an engaging world, with multifaceted characters that were fascinating to follow. Tang Jia San Shao’s experimentation produced a unique work that I think stands alone in a difficult genre, completely unlike any other translated work. As a whole, while it may have felt tedious from time to time, I feel that the final product would not have been as satisfying if the setting had not been established as the author had chosen.
Where I was as a translator and reader changed throughout the course of the novel. In the beginning I was a novice, translating part-time between classes. I had passion for the prospects ahead and excitement in pursuing a new skill set. I think in some ways that might shine through in the product. Over time, when readers dwindled and I felt more like a burden to my employer, that passion waned. I always strove to make sure that my work was as engaging as I could make it, however, and I think that my ability to understand the intent and ‘voice’ of the author improved.
Now as we close the proverbial book on Skyfire Avenue I hope that all of you enjoyed the journey. Though I did not create the world Lan Jue lived in I did have an opportunity to put my mark on it, and in so doing I’ve become invested in its reception. If it brought you any measure of joy, if it made a tough day better, if you laughed or scoffed or got teary-eyes than I’m proud I could help bring that to you. I’ll see you wherever the journey brings us next.