Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The moon shone down upon the deserted valley, touched by no mortal hand, nor that of any ghost, or ghoul. Such was the beauty of the valley at night. Plants shone in the darkness with varying colors, and the lake reflected the light of the moon dancing through an ocean of distant stars that lit up the sky.
The serenity of these surroundings were, however, doomed to be broken as the treasures that lay within were far too great a draw for mortal beings to ignore. And so, it came as no surprise when the first visitors flew over the hill that marked the beginning of the valley and landed by the shore of the lake.
Five distinct shapes could be made out by the edge of the water as the group settled at the edge of the Lake. They were the first to set foot upon that blessed land
"The Immortal's Vale. It would seem that we've found it after all.", the man at the head of the group spoke.
His calm and assured voice would give the impression that all lay within his expectations and yet one look at his face would point to the opposite. Excitement and joy at finding what he had could be seen clear as the day upon his face.
Greed and awe colored the faces of all five individuals and yet none stepped forward. They had no need to rush, the garden was not about to run away from them.
"Who'll do the honors then?", the leader of the five asked once more.
"This has been your lifelong pursuit Senior brother. It is only right that you do so."
The voice came from the man at the leftmost of the group.
Nods of agreement from all the rest put to bed that particular question, as the group scattered about looking for their fortunes while the two that had spoken stuck around to collect the glistening water from the lake that held it.
And so for a while, there was silence as the two brothers went about collecting the water until the younger of the two had finished and went to look for something.
It was in this time while the elder of the two stayed by the lake that a shadow crept up behind him and the gleam of wind across the flat of the blade alerted him to his present circumstance. Caught unawares due to the serenity of the valley he found himself pierced by the thrust of a sword through his back.
No weakling, however, was Qui Guanting, Lord of the Five Peaks of Ararat. The greatest cultivator by most measures to have ever lived. Thus it was that despite the grievous injury he'd taken he stood himself up and faced his new foe. But his courage would not last long for what he saw left him shocked.
A familiar face, one that he would have placed along with those he called friends was what greeted him. And, so he asked the inevitable and as some would say the obvious question.
"Why?", the defeated and hurt tone left no question as to his state of mind.
"Under your rule, Ararat has prospered and yet somehow achieved nothing. We are stronger than any sect or alliance in the Central Realms and yet we dictate nothing. We have no say in the policies and decisions that dictate the direction of the Central Realms. It was only natural that the elders became unsatisfied. What is the point of dedicating your life to the pursuit of power and strength if you can never use it?"
For centuries, the Ararat had climbed the greasy pole of power untainted by greed and yet all of Guanting's struggles had been undone by those under him.
'What is that you wanted to do that you think I wouldn't agree to? Could you not have merely asked me? When have I ever disregarded the opinions of the elders? And, if Power was what you truly wanted then all you needed to do was ask. I'd gladly have given you my position."
Ararat had been founded almost a millennium ago now when five students having just lost their master had banded together to form a sect and it had slowly grown to the behemoth it was today under Guanting's leadership. That said, however, Guanting was not fool enough to believe that any of it could have been done without his four juniors.
"Do you truly believe the sect would accept me as Grand Elder if I was to question your leadership brother? Are you that blinded to the status you hold amongst all cultivators? More importantly, how could my leadership carry any weight while someone as strong as you existed. Regardless of your temperament, you will always be a threat with the kind of strength you possess brother. All you had to do was disagree and even if you give way I could never hope to truly rule."
Guanting tried to speak but as his attacker spoke he could slowly feel his body growing numb. The blade had been poisoned. It would seem that his enemies were taking no chances with him.
" You should know better than anyone else Brother, that the Central Realms have grown far too crowded. Resources have been growing scarcer by the day and it's happening far faster than we expected. if we wish to thrive then we must look outward and expand our dominions and power. That is something you would never have allowed. Think of all the good we could do with the power we now possess. We could ensure that what happened to our master would never happen again to anyone."
With a sigh, he said the last bit he had left to say. Mentally ready to let go and move on with what needed to be done.
" If only you weren't so stubborn brother."
Having said that he reached forward to take the vase that now lay empty after it had fallen from Guanting's hands.
"I have to admit I wasn't expecting you to actually find this place. I'd only come along to find a chance to be alone with you. But now even if you die you'll be the wise sage that found the ultimate Elixir. A man of the people.", he muttered to himself.
No replies came to him as the poison had done its work and the last vestiges of life were quickly fading away from the body that lay limp upon the ground as its breathing grew shallower.
There was, however, a slight disturbance that followed. A distant rumbling that only grew louder and an aura of power came from the direction of the disturbance. A regal aura that flattened the breath out of all that stood nearby.
The attacker, his eyes narrowed, looked towards the disturbance.
"For behold, the Immortal's pride lay not in his weapons nor his supreme arts but with his dearest and prized companion for all his years, the Golden Dragon.", he muttered to himself.
"A Divine beast at the pinnacle......How inconceivable."
And as it is with all men and women of Destiny, the thoughts of both men came to be known by the Dragon. The Dragon was not one that been there at the beginning of the Universe. Its birth however had heralded a beginning. A beginning of a new era. The era of the mortal races.
The Dragon was the last of its kind. A natural-born True Dragon. Born attuned to the creation of its universe. With all its laws and rules under the Dragon's thumb.
And so it was that before its very eyes, lay an interesting duality. A dying man that had done nothing wrong and yet under whose leadership issues had been unresolved and the man that killed him who had obviously killed someone he was close to but wished to resolve those issues and become a savior. One a Failed Saint and the other a Savior who sinned.
Of course, the reason for the Dragon's awakening was not to partake in this entertainment. It certainly was entertaining to watch the secular struggles of man as opposed to the dreary dragged existence it lead now as the Guardian of the Vale.
But the Vale itself had certain rules to abide by and murder was one that was against them. Banishment from this land of treasures was the only solution. A rather simple task. A True Dragon's control over space and time were unmatched. These were the natural gifts of their race. Caretakers of the Universe.
And so the Dragon banished the villain, who'd violated the sanctity of the Immortal's Vale and he looked down upon the slowly dying man's body. The Dragon saw in his demeanor, many similarities to the person he'd once called Master. His Master had been far less idealistic and therefore far more effective as a leader but there was underneath his Master's more pragmatic views a hint of romanticism that Guanting shared.
The Dragon after much consideration, moved by pity decided on a course of action that would he had no doubt incite censure if any of his race were to find out. As the dying man's soul entered the cycle of reincarnation the Dragon ensured he would know his old self and have his chance to perhaps right some of the wrongs he'd unknowingly perpetuated. A gift to the mortal, who'd been the source of brief entertainment for the rather bored Dragon.
The Dragon knew from reading the memories of the two mortals that it would be a while before anyone else reached the vale again. And so it begrudgingly returned to its resting place waiting for one that would set it free to roam the vast expanse of the Universe he called home after fulfilling his Master's desire.