ding them, I started to run into a problem. When

Ming told me that the pill put my body into stasis, he

definitely understated how strong its affects were. I was

having problems forcing my body to respond. I couldn get

the denser energy into my muscles, because the stasis pill

was blocking me. I drew deeper from the stone around my

neck and focused the energy into my lower core. I then

spiraled the energy quickly up through my heart core to my

upper core to help increase my concentration level, and I ran

into problem number two.

The fire element seemed to condense in my upper core,

and I was having problems controlling the heat. I couldn

use water element, because, well, steam being pumped into

your brain pan was a bad idea. I needed metal aspect, but if I

tapped into the metal cores I had in place, it would

imbalance the formation. I tried to purify the energy in my

middle core, but it was so intensely hot that I couldn clear

it of the fire aspect. The deepest part of my consciousness

was starting to become concerned. The stress on my upper

core was quickly becoming a serious issue. I really didn

want to melt my brain. I wasn ready to panic just yet, but

things weren looking good. Suddenly, I felt a familiar


”Ming! Thank the gods you are here. The stone and pill

you gave me aren working correctly. ” I risked losing my

concentration to talk to him, but I needed him to adjust the fire qi around me. ”The combination is making me cook

from the inside out! ”

Ming blew through my wards again, and walked to the

edges of the energy building around the formations.

”Ming, I need your help. Please, shift some of the fire

energy away from the formation so I can balance the

temperature in my upper core. ”

He kept his eyes on the floor, apparently observing the

formation plates. For some reason, I felt a spike of anxiety.

Why wouldn he look at me?

”Jim, I told you that I do everything for the greater good. ”

I was having trouble focusing on him and maintaining the

energy levels throughout my cores.

He kept circling me, refusing to meet my eyes with his

own. ”I am the uncontested leader in this Empire. I am the

only Emperor-ranked cultivator since my father passed, and

I cannot allow a challenge from a student who doesn follow

my ideals. ”

I could feel the confused look upon my face.

Ming looked up for a moment before returning his focus

on the formation plates. ”Don look at me like that, Jim. You

and I both know it would only be a matter of time before you

surpassed me, and your empathy would have led you to rebel

against me. ”

I started to get a sinking feeling in my stomach. ”Ming, I

have never betrayed you. I would not turn on you, even if I

did surpass you. You are my best friend. My brother. My own

sense of loyalty wouldn allow me to turn on you. ”

He continued to look at the formation, as if he were

looking for something. ”Jim, I know you feel that way now,

but in the centuries of life ahead of us, you cannot guarantee

me that your views would not one day override your sense of

loyalty. No, it is better this way. ” He still wouldn meet my

eyes, just keeping up his slow walk around the circle.

The heat was building in my heart core now, working its

way down my body from top to bottom. The qi spiral was out

of my control. If I stopped cultivating, the stone on my chest

would explode with the backlash. There was enough energy

contained inside it that I had no doubt it would mean instant


Maybe it was time to panic.

I looked up at Ming just as he started to touch one of the

corners of the jade formation plates. The plates he had gifted

me, along with the focusing stone and pill. Despite the heat

trying to melt me from the inside, I felt my blood run cold

with realization. He had set me up.

”Ah, there it is. We can have you leveling half of my

palace, now can we? ” Suddenly there was a clicking sound,

and the entire array shifted into a shield formation. Instead

of the shield facing outward, however, this one was set to

contain whatever was inside the array. ”If you only knew

how many times I have had to use this trap array over the

past two hundred years, you would be astounded at how well

it has held up. ”

My eyes widened with disbelief. I had to pause to gather

my thoughts before asking, ”Do you mean you have done

this before, Ming? How many of your students have you

destroyed with your fear? ”

”It isn fear that drives this, my student. ” He looked at

me with pity in his eyes, the first time he was able to meet

my gaze for more than a second since walking into the room.

”It is simple common sense. Do you mean to tell me that you

haven noticed how those who came before you were slowly

disappearing? You honestly couldn tell that they were

burning out, one by one, as the years passed you by? ”

”No, Ming, ” I said while shaking my head. ”I actually

believed you when you told me that they were off on special

assignments. I had no reason to doubt you. ”

He turned to walk away from me. ”Then you were a

greater fool than I thought. You might have been a powerful

cultivator, but you were far too naïve to make it in this world

without my protection. I will see you in the afterlife, Jim. ”

He was already talking about me in the past tense. I felt a

burning rage begin to build inside me. My best friend, my

mentor, and the leader who held my undying loyalty, was

about to throw me away like a piece of garbage. Ming may

have been like an older brother to me, but he forgot one


I was not some meek kitten, or powerless peasant. I was

now, albeit temporarily, an Emperor-ranked cultivator. I

was, quite literally, the second most powerful person in the

entire Empire. I had over six centuries of knowledge and

experience, and I would not be tossed into the midden heap

that easily.

I gave up on trying to save myself, throwing away my

fear, and began concentrating on destroying Ming. I spun

out threads of qi as thin as spider silk in a cloud so dense it

was visible to the naked eye. I cast them about me in an

attempt to find a gap in the shield formation that had been

activated around me. It took me but a single breath to find

over a dozen tiny gaps in the formation plates. I shoved as

many threads as I could into the gaps, widening them bit by

bit, forcing the plates farther apart and allowing more of my

energy to escape.

The shield cracked. I felt it happen just as the heat in my

head caused blood to begin pouring out of my eyes, tinting

the world around me red. That was fine, now the world

looked more like how I felt. My rage was building at the

injustice Ming had leveled in my direction. The greater good?

My death would only serve Mings good, and I would make

him pay for it in blood. I forced the cracked shield wide open,

and stood up.I cast my qi threads as wide as they could reach in the

confines of the room, and used them to latch on to all of the

thousands of high-level cores placed around me. I knew I

was dead, so there was no need to hold back now. I drained

the cores. Every. Single. One.

The influx of power was like nothing I had ever

experienced. Killing the Rock Wolf Horde sixty years ago was

nothing compared to this. I became a pillar of qi, the energy

flooding me, threatening to wash me away.

No, it was too dense for qi. The power became more than

simple qi; it was concentrated enough that it had become the

rarest form of energy. This was pure and unfiltered mana. I

couldn contain it.

However, I could direct it. I chose to point it in the

direction of the main palace where I knew Ming would be

walking towards, smug in his own victory. There was a cone

of intensely white light that poured out of me like a wave,

erasing everything it touched like it never existed. I could

feel myself disappearing, the wave erasing me just like it did

everything else. I only needed to hold on for a few seconds

longer. The wave needed to reach the palace, to ensure Ming

was caught up in the destruction, before I could let go.

I felt it then, a sense of resistance. Something was trying

to push back against the wave, but it was like trying to hold

back the ocean itself. This power would not be denied.

It wasn Ming trying to hold the wave back, it was the

wards placed along the inner wall of the palace complex. I

felt them shatter like glass, and the walls were washed away.

I began to rise into the air, buoyed up by the mass of energy

that had been built around me. This was more than the cores

could have possibly contained. I had no idea where this much

mana could have come from. It was like I had broken open a

floodgate on an invisible dam, and the floodwaters would

never end.

I heard laughter. Was it me, laughing like that? It was me,

but it was more than just my own voice. It was like a

thousand voices were shouting out in maniacal cackles, their

volume loud enough to shatter my ear drums, turning the

sounds around me into a roar that shook what was left of my

cooking brain matter. I was only alive now because of the

force of will I had to see this done. I looked out across the

plateau that held the seat of power in the Empire, and I was

stunned as I saw the devastation.

Nothing remained. A massive city built around a towering

castle, where millions of people lived, that had stood for

millennia was just… gone. The towering castle pagodas were

laying on their sides, shattered like toys kicked by an unruly

child. Their size meant it took them longer to be erased.

Miles away, I saw the edge of the city melt as if it was

consumed by the lava from a volcano.

The wave of mana was washing over the far side of the

plateau, dissipating as it fell down the steep sides of the

flattened mountain top. As the mana was turning into a mist

and washing away, there were… things… left behind. They

were like nothing I had ever seen. They were similar to the

demons found in the deep forests at the northern edges of

the kingdom, but they weren solid. They were like the mist

given form. I felt a deep sense of dread as I watched them

run into the distance.

Then, I saw him. Ming was standing at the edge of the

former inner wall, a dazed look upon his face. He had a

shield around him, diverting the mana around him like a

rock in a stream. He looked up at me, his eyes wide in shock.

I felt the rage keeping me afloat begin to die. I had missed

my chance. Instead of killing Ming, I had killed millions of

innocent people. I fell, my heart going cold as my brain got

hotter. This whole time, the stone around my neck had not

stopped pumping fire energy through my meridian system,

passing through my lower and heart core and dumping into

my upper core, melting my brain with the heat. I was done. I

fell into darkness, and I knew no more.

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