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She saw that what was coalescing around Lan Jue and the others was the power of faith. Pure and strong, it was easy to absorb and best to strengthen their efforts.
Of course it was only a temporary boost. Once that faith was gone the power would vanish. Their cultivation would return to the levels they were previously.
The Pontiff’s Citadel relied on this faith to boost their abilities. Part of the Pontiff’s failure to grow stronger had laid in the limits of the faithful who followed him. His influence extended only throughout the West, while the faith of Northerners and Easterners was separate and unique.
Lan Jue and his fellow sword bearers, however, were bestowed the faith of all of humanity!
It went without saying that this was a tremendous boon. Through the live stream, and the heroism of the Bloodiron Khans and Star Division, people worlds away were inspired by their acts. How could they not have faith in their champions?
Only the purest, most sincere faith could manifest in this way. It was not constrained by either time or space and appeared instantly where it was needed.
The Queen of Heaven Guanyin, Qianlin, was the main focus of that faith. Westerners especially placed their belief in her after what she did for their people. But beyond her they said their prayers for the Banishing Strategy itself and the courageous Paragons who were willing to sacrifice everything.
With their own eyes spectators watched as Paragons were felled one after the other, mostly in giving their own lives so that others can continue the fight or to weaken the enemy.
There was a universe of difference between a normal person and a Paragon. To the common man Paragons were living legends, hardly believable except for the fact that they were often in the public eye.
All of that power still was not enough for many of them, who were slain or gave their lives against an enemy that still threatened their species. This fact put a stark point on the fact that this enemy was powerful beyond belief.
They had to be united. Unity is strength!
This was the key the Clockmaker pointed out. All the soldiers of the armada bowed their heads in prayer, hoping against hope for the Banishing Strategy to overcome their foes. Those in other worlds who had yet to lend their faith did so at the Clockmaker’s demand.
Influenced by this universal favor, Lan Jue and the others continued to grow stronger. They no longer worried about failing to sustain the Strategy, even as its bottomless hunger continued to feed unabated.
Within the Strategy itself the multicolored light became more intense. An archaic and mysterious diagram was beginning to appear between the sword bearers.
Li Ke, who stood beside the Pharmacist, was shocked to discover that some of the people’s faith was directed toward him. His first instinct was to flee, but the gravitational power of the Pharmacist’s halo held him fast. He could feel the energy of prayer seep into him, nourishing his soul. It was comfortable beyond words, a sensation he hadn’t felt since being captured by the monsters.
The Pharmacist’s face went from strained to peaceful. She could see her late husband’s spectral body becoming more corporeal before her very eyes. He looked almost whole.
The people were not stingy with their prayers. Seeing this spirit beside the Harbinger Faerie, helping her, they assumed he was as important to the Strategy as she was. They had prayers enough for him as well, and thus did he benefit from this disaster.
The first to break through was, of course, Lan Jue. There were no dramatic signs to mark it, all of a sudden he just felt like a veil had been lifted from his eyes. Suddenly there was more to everything.
The universe became a rich and complicated tapestry. Everything he saw and felt was completely different than it had been before. His consciousness felt boundless and untethered.
The Infinite! Was this what it felt like to truly be one with everything?
In contrast to the dangerous instability of his breakthrough to Nirvana, now he felt only comfort. With this breakthrough all the damage he’d done in burning away his vitality was reversed. His spirit was restored, and even his Core underwent a qualitative shift. Instead of a solid, crystal-like center it became gas-like, suspended as a cloud of energy in his chest. Its power flickered to life amidst the many-hued halo that enveloped him.
Stranger still, Lan Jue could sense something in the depths of space calling out to him. Whatever it was, it felt as though it were gathering around him.
They were fragments of memories. Somehow he knew that they were pieces of the old masters left behind. Shards of what had been the Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Star of Purple Subtlety.
A stream of purple light extricated itself from him – the image of the Great Emperor. However the depth and wisdom in his eyes was more profound than it ever had been. He was towering, stately, and radiated an aura of godliness.
This was the true Emperor of the North Star! A piece only, yet still possessed of the great power the immortal once commanded. Lan Jue could see that as the mighty spirit gazed upon the Strategy there remained a lingering fear of the destruction it manufactured.
In the time of his reign the Emperor was slightly more than half again as powerful as Celestial Masters Yuan Shi and Taishang. If the Emperor in his fully glory was present, the Strategy may not have been enough to destroy him outright but would certainly have been a threat.
The next one to break through was Zhou Qianlin.
In the moment of her breakthrough a heavenly chorus rang out through space. As the soothing tones reverberated, ripples of white light radiated out around her. It continued to spread until it enfolded Lan Jue, Lan Qing and the Pharmacist as well. Thus connected the four bearers felt more intimately joined. Each of them absorbed faith different up to this point, Qianlin enjoying the most benefit. However, with her breakthrough it was now evenly distributed among all of them.
A tiara of water drops glittered like crystal against her forehead. Her dharma also appeared, but like Lan Jue’s was different than before. Her head was covered by a white gossamer veil, and a lotus flower bloomed beneath her feet. In her right hand she held a willow branch, and in the other a jar of pure water. Though just a shadow of the beloved Goddess of Mercy, her appearance was stunning.
Guanyin, one of the most beloved of the Buddha. It was nothing short of amazing that Qianlin’s dharma would be revealed as this ancient goddess upon breaking through to the Infinite. Her Paragon title was more apt than ever.
Lan Qing and the Pharmacist broke through at nearly the same moment.
Vairochana’s image appeared from Lan Qing in all its glory and split, replete with an aura of benevolence. Three mighty Buddhas of the past, present and future shone with divine light. Lan Qing opened his eyes, and from them emerged an ethereal golden mist to match the aura that encased him. He was surrounded by the soothing hum of chanting.
The Pharmacist’s change was more sensational. Her dharma had always been herself, but that appeared to have changed. In breaking through her abilities assimilated some inexplicable power, and instead of a dharma she was surrounded a burning garnet hue. The contrast was striking when set beside Lan Qing’s luminous aura.
Within the borders of that red light was a terrifying scene. Mountains of corpses and seas of blood stretched far and wide. Ghouls and spirits wandered the hellscape howling in rage. Other figured, visible only barely, wandered aimlessly throughout.
“So long as hell hath sinners, I will not ascend!” Ten words boomed into existence like a voice from the depths. The frightening vision of hell subsided and was replaced by the stern visage of the Pharmacist’s dharma. Its hands were pressed together before its chest, and the being was clad in the simple garb of a monk. Her dharma was revealed as Yama, King of the Underworld!
One after the other their breakthroughs were complete. It took only a matter of moments.
The four sword bearers revealed their legendary lineages, manifest by the power of faith; Middle Heaven Great Emperor of the North Star of Purple Subtlety; Vairochana; Guanyin; King Yama. Each one a figure from the highest echelons of the ancient pantheon.
Among them Vairochana held the highest status, though the others were considered lesser by small degrees only. As the fragments of these all-powerful beings stood in attendance, the vast powers of the universe gathered to their side. The Banishing Strategy grew ever more powerful.
Lan Jue and the others had arisen to the vaulted heights of the Infinite, and yet they were not assailed by the threat of universal protogenia. However this was not due to the protective aura from Zhou Qianlin. It simply wasn’t present, as though it ignored them entirely.
The polychromatic light of the Banishing Strategy was an energy that was born at the creation of the universe. Even the immortal qi surrounding Monarch dissolved under its all-pervading dominance. This was similarly true of universal protogenia, a derivative of this energy. So long as they remained within the embrace of the Strategy, the Lan Jue and the others did not need to fear destruction at the universe’ hands.
A real blessing in disguise! None of them expected this Strategy that they were ready to give their life for would protect them in this way. Slowly the Strategy was nearing completion, their plans finally coming to fruition.
They’d expected to only accomplish the minimum of what the Banishing Strategy could do, and use that to kill Monarch. Now, with the power of faith, it was growing stronger than they thought they could manage. Whether or not they would succeed was no longer the question, it was to what extent. This was, after all, the greatest weapon under heaven!
Upno sensing this critical change, Lan Jue delivered a message to the Wine Master. “Tell everyone to fall back to Angel. We’re fine from here on out. The Banishing Strategy will be complete any moment, and Monarch will be slain.”
When he heard this the Wine Master breathed a sigh of relief. It was finally going to end. However, in his eyes there was also sorrow. They had lost so many.
Satan, the Pontiff, the Terminator, the Keeper, the Bookworm, the Pauper. Jue Di, the Photographer, Poseidon, the Gods of Wine. They had all perished to see this war won.
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