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Hope - Chapter 1 - Blood Pact - Path Of The Dragon Book 1 (Dark Fantasy Wuxia Xianxia Cultivation Web Novel)

Deep within an ancient temple on the outpost world of Verotas, four men stood in a circle around a dragon. At their feet was a complicated series of runes, circles, and symbols.

A large, resplendent, silvery door of polished starsteel blocked the only apparent entrance and exit to the ritual chamber, and beyond it came the sounds of a vicious battle. Explosions shook the foundations of the building as thousands of battle cries roared in a litany of defiance.

"Hurry brothers," said one of the men, "he's almost upon us!"

As if to emphasize his point, the defiant roars turned to agonized wails as something slammed into the building itself like a wave. The starsteel door groaned as dust fell from the ceiling.

Silence followed. Broken only by the breathing of the men and the dragon in the room as though there were a dark, empty void beyond the starsteel door.

The men picked up their pace as much as was possible. Each of them released a cloud of vibrant, crackling energy that flowed into the complicated inscriptions at their feet. The runes lit up with a bright blue glow and a sphere of energy formed around the dragon in the center.

"We're counting on you, Ming," said one of the men, "We're sending you to a world with exceptional cultivators. Find one who stands out as a genius even among them. A peerless warrior capable of stopping even Fang Zhuyu's followers. Return to your home world with them and bring them to join the fight. Everything rests on you, Ming."

"I will not fail in my sacred duty, elders," said the dragon as lightning crackled over his dark black scales. Though he hardly seemed to notice.

"Then our sacrifice shall not be in vain," said the man, "the sending is almost complete. May the heavens smile upon you."

Faint sounds came from beyond the starsteel door. Slow, lethargic footsteps and a chorus of overlapping whispers that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.

The footsteps stopped. The runes on the starsteel door flickered like a candle in the wind and went out as the shining, polished metal groaned. Splotches of red, gold, and black rust bloomed upon its surface and raced across it as the smooth, silvery metal wore away.

The hinges broke apart into dust and the door fell with a tremendous crash, releasing a cloud of rust that swirled in the air like a thick, metallic fog.

Ming growled fiercely at the doorway, but the four elders didn't even turn around and kept their focus on their task as sweat beaded their brows.

From the shadows beyond the temple doorway, a dark figure emerged. A skeleton draped in shadow so thick it clung to his bones like clothes. Even in the light of the room, he remained utterly black as though the light refused to touch him.

He stepped forward onto the fallen door. The ruined metal seemed to boil with decay beneath his feet, rust rising like steam from every footstep.

"I'd heard tales of the mighty lightning dragon cultivators. I'm disappointed with the truth. How can you hope to stop him when you cower before me?" said the man with a dispassionate, hollow voice.

The four men said nothing, their focus entirely on their work, and the dragon glared at the shadowy skeleton.

"Hmm... a sending? You are desperate. Who could you hope to call to your side? Not that it matters. You were too slow and nothing in the universe has a hope to stop what's coming," he said.

He raised his hand, and a black sphere of roiling shadow appeared in his palm. Darker than the darkest night, it gave off an aura of danger and cold death.

He casually threw it at the elder closest to him.

The shadow ball smashed into the old master. Darkness stripped flesh from bone, turning it to dust and the bones of the wise, respected, kindly man clattered to the floor.

With the circle broken, the three remaining masters forced the sending to complete before it should.

Ming rose in the air, surrounded by the bubble of their energy. "No!" he screamed, but he could do nothing.

The three elders who remained charged the shadowy skeleton. He waved his hand and a wave of dark energy pulsed outward, stripping them of life in an instant. Their bones fell at his feet.

The shadowy skeleton looked up at Ming. The empty sockets where his eyes should be bored into him as though piercing his very soul. "There is no escape. Only death and eternal service," said the skeletal man. His voice sounded tired and apathetic yet it was filled with palpable waves of power.

Another orb of purest darkness formed in the palm of his hand. He tossed it at Ming.

Ming's eyes went wide as the dark power soared toward him. The bubble of force around him rippled and glowed. It exploded in a brilliant flash of light, and he disappeared moments before the attack could land.

The sphere of shadow crashed into the roof and detonated, blasting a gaping hole in the ceiling.

The shadowy man looked at the space where Ming had once been and sighed.

"It doesn't matter. The master will be freed. Nothing you do will stop that," he said.

Threads of darkness flowed out from him and across the bones of those he'd slain. Shadow wound around them like snakes, and their skeletons reassembled. The once noble elders rose to their feet, wreathed in shadow. Much like the one who'd slain them.

The skeletal man turned on his heel and walked slowly away and his slaves followed him out and down the long steps of the sacred temple.

Shadow poured from the skeletal man as he walked, oozing down the steps and worming its way into the mountains of slain disciples and temple guardians. Each of them rose as horrors in his thrall.

Yet, he scarcely seemed to notice them as one haunting whisper overshadowed the rest, speaking to the skeleton of shadow.

"Yes, master," he replied, "it shall be as you command."

***

Ming fell from the sky and landed in a heap on a foreign world. He shuddered with rage and grief. Thousands of god rank cultivators and the old masters slain like they were nothing... who could possibly stand against such power?

He took a deep breath and focused on his mission. He would find the most incredible expert the universe had ever seen, and bring them back to his world. He would make sure that the old masters' sacrifice and that of his martial brothers wasn't in vain.

He closed his eyes and focused on feeling the Essence of the Heavens and the Earth... of connecting to the energy around him, so he could sense the powerful auras of these peerless experts.

Only... he felt nothing.

He furrowed his brow and concentrated harder. Still nothing. He tried to cultivate. To absorb the Essence of the Heavens and the Earth and refine it within him, but he could not.

There was none.

"This... this cannot be!" he snarled.

He tried desperately to sense the energy of this foreign world in the vain hope he'd simply missed it. But, it was barren. Lifeless. If it had any Essence of the Heavens and the Earth there was so little that he couldn't even feel it.

He roared. The force of his voice tore through the air. The trees around him flew apart into splinters, and the ground beneath him cracked.

He stood among the splintered branches and panted with barely constrained rage.

This world had no Essence.

Everything here was pitifully weak! Just his voice was enough to destroy the trees in this forest. He didn't even want to think about what would happen if he released his full power.

He coiled up and sat on the ground, his head hung low.

The ritual had been ruined. Instead of a world filled with peerless experts that could save his world... he was sent here. A world with no cultivation. No experts. Not even weak ones. It was hopeless.

Ming sighed and looked up at the blue sky. So many had given so much for him to be here... to have this chance... he couldn't give up so easily.

Perhaps... perhaps there would be someone... some expert that had managed to cultivate even in this barren world...

The thought brought a spark of hope back to his being, and he took off from the ground.

He released a fraction of his energy, and a dark blue mist blanketed him.

He vanished from the sight of any he did not wish to see him, and shot across the sky like an arrow loosed from a mighty bow in search of one who could cultivate even here...

***

Three weeks later, Ming was going insane.

He'd scoured this pitifully small world multiple times in that time and studied the people here closely, but he hadn't found a single cultivator!

Billions of humans! But, their meridians were fragile and never used. One drop of his power and they would shatter! Less than a drop! Pathetic!

He had to give these humans credit though... they were weak, but they'd found other ways to make themselves strong. They had technology that was beyond his own world.

Horseless carriages made of metal with wheels took them where they wanted to go at a far faster speed than their weak legs could carry them. While strange metal tubes with metal wings soared through the sky.

Unfortunately, it was all worse than useless. Even children ran faster than their metal boxes, and any true expert could soar through the sky far quicker than those silly winged tubes!

Even their mightiest weapons were no match for his enemies...

He sighed and flew through another of these strange cities without walls, filled with buildings shaped like spears that stabbed the sky.

He sneered. "How tasteless," he said, "just cramming as many people into as small a space as possible... is everyone in this world to be treated like paupers?"

He soared through the sky at a lazy speed. He could return home, but to go back alone... he would have no chance.

Maybe he should take back one of these humans? They were weak, but that was in this desolate world... perhaps in his world, they could cultivate.

He'd have to strengthen their meridians, so they wouldn't instantly explode from the atmosphere of energy. Actually, their whole body would need to be remade, so the gravity of his larger world didn't crush them like insects before they could draw a breath.

It would cost him dearly, but it was better than giving up wasn't it? Better than leaving his world to die, or returning alone? But who to choose? It would require a great sacrifice from him. Who was worthy of such a gamble? Who might pay off?

He studied the humans while they were blissfully unaware of his presence. He saw how some strained against metal and pushed their muscles to grow... how they forced their bodies to become stronger.

Of course, a child from his world could destroy them... but he admired that they tried at least. Maybe one of them?

They trained their bodies in this world... would they have the fortitude of mind, body, and spirit to do what was needed to become strong?

He turned his attention to the scholars and scientists of the world... they studied each and every day and bent their minds to solve problems.

It was they that had created such incredible contraptions... ways for these puny humans to overcome their lack of Essence... perhaps one of them?

How would their minds cope with the Dao? With cultivating endlessly? With the life and death battles that were to come?

He looked at the artists of this world... some of them made works that experts from his world would kill for. The storytellers, painters, and all those who exercised their imagination... they already dreamed of worlds beyond their own. Would they be the best chance for him?

He sailed through the skies and stared at the humans beneath him. The fate of his world depended on his choice. Who should he choose?

They would have to start cultivating from scratch. Maybe a child would be best, but the older ones showed more of who they were, and once they started cultivating their lifespan would increase anyway. How did they cope with such miserably short lives?

It was depressing.

Suddenly, he was torn from his thoughts when he felt... something.

He froze in mid-air and turned to the source. It was the first time he'd felt anything like it in this world.

He drew closer... it felt... odd... almost like the aura of an expert, but... different. Had he finally found an expert? Someone who could cultivate even in this world?

He flew faster and faster... and as he did, he noticed that the aura spread further than he'd first thought. How had he missed this before? It was massive.

Because there was no Essence, or other cultivators and just a general lack of auras and energy in this world, it carried incredibly far.

It would never have reached him so easily in his world. He flew closer and as he did so, he picked up more of this strange aura. It felt powerful... incredibly so. Yet, it lacked the distinctive signature of a cultivator's aura. Lacked the hallmarks that would allow him to sense the rank and power of the one it belonged to. How odd...

He flew for miles, and as he did so the aura grew thicker and more oppressive. Like a dark cloud hanging over their pathetic city and permeating it.

How could the humans not feel it? How could they not bow down and kowtow before the source? It made even he, a descendant of The Great Lightning Dragon, feel awed.

He soared closer to the origin of the overbearing aura.

What monster could this belong to?


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