While the moon’s rays were blocked out of sight by the dense forest canopy, Zhang, and the pups kept each other warm in the clump of trees that they had found earlier. To be on the safe side Zhang did not start a fire and simply gathered a bunch of dried leaves to use as insulation to keep himself and the pups warm.
As the cold night’s wind howled through the twisting tree branches and the snaking vines the sound of snapping twigs awoke the two sleeping pups. With their ears perked up and their eyes glowing in the dark, the pups sprang to their feet and nudged at their master until he awoke.
“What is it, boy?” Zhang asked the pups before he too heard the sound of snapping twigs.
While Zhang quickly grabbing his sword and placing his hand on its hilt, the two pups charged out from their clump of trees.
Following their lead, Zhang also charged out of the clump of trees to find a shadowy figure lying on the ground with the two pups atop of it.
As he got closer and closer Zhang’s sword was withdrawn from his scabbard and he was prepared to attack. Without any doubt in his mind, he knew for certain that he could not trust most of the people in their forest and if he was not prepared to kill then he would be killed.
“Sto-sto-stop.” A voice drifted into Zhang’s ears as he arrived in front of the shadowy figure pinned down by the pups.
To his surprise, the pups were actually not attacking but instead were covering their victim in saliva. Once the faint glimmers of moonlight that managed to peek through the thick canopy landed upon the shadowy figure a familiar face came into view.
“Wenji! What are you doing here? Where’s your group?” Zhang asked with a surprised look on his face as he saw the girl of his dreams appear before him in one of the most unlikely of places.
“I got separated when we were teleported here.” Wenji said as her eyes twinkled as a bright ray of moonlight acted like a spotlight and shone onto her. If one thought about it such a large ray of moonlight being able to pierce through the thick forest canopy was highly unlikely however Zhang was too mesmerized to bother with logic.
“Let’s go, it’s not safe out here.” Zhang said as he helped Wenji up from the ground and handed her a handkerchief to wipe off some of the drool the pups had slathered her face with.
To be honest, if the pups did not react the way they did to Wenji then Zhang would not have been certain if she was really who she appeared to be.
So after leading Wenji through the twisting vines and branches to his not so hidden hideout, Zhang helped prepare a bed of leaves for her while trying to strike up a conversation.
“The pups sure have taken a liking to you.” Zhang said with a smile as he nudged Little Red who was lying beside him.
“They sure have.” Wenji laughed as she rubbed Little Blue’s head gently.
Since it was late and there was a long day ahead once the sun rose, after some chitchat Zhang and Wenji reach covered themselves in leaves and went to sleep. If anyone were to approach then their furry sentries will alert them and either attack or cover the intruder in salvia, perhaps both.
So as the dried leaves provided them with a hint of warm, and while the twisting vines kept them safe as the night grew darker, Zhang and Wenji fell into a deep sleep. But once their faces were covered in saliva thanks to their two furry companions, Zhang and Wenji awoke to a beautiful morning sun that was just peeking into the forest through small gaps in the canopy.
“Would you like me to help you find your group? Or maybe we can just stick together like we are now?” Zhang asked Wenji once they were both awake, trying to guide her into staying with him.
“If you’ll have me then I’ll stick around.” Wenji replied with a smile after a moment of silence.
“So the first order of business is food and shelter, then we worry about hunting those demonic beasts.” Zhang said as he stood up from where he was sitting and picked up his sword.
“Okay, you work on getting the food and I’ll build the shelter.” Wenji replied.
With a nod, Zhang and the two pups headed into the woods to try to find out if there were any animals to hunt while Wenji stayed in the clump of trees, collecting wood and building shelter.
First, she gathered dozens of long tree limbs that had fallen to the ground and then leaned them against each other and bound them together with small vines. Once the branches were tightly tied together, she proceeded to cover it’s outside with an abundance of leaves and branches.
Not long after as Wenji wiped the sweat off her brow, a hut large enough for two people and two furry canines stood erected in front of her. The hut came equipped with two beds of leaves and even a curtain made of vines.
“Now to make some finishing touches.” Wenji said with a smile as she continued constructing the hut.
In the meantime, Zhang and the two pups were stealthily making their way through the woods, trying to not be seen or detected. Their objective was to either track down from regular animals or a fragmented realm demonic beasts, since any demonic beast that was stronger than the fragmented realm would give Zhang and the pups a hard time.
“You two keep your noses out, I want to make a good impression on her.” Zhang whispered to the pups as he imagined himself dragging back a tiger or something of the like back to camp and showing Wenji how strong and courageous he was.
With a bark from the two pups are a reply Zhang continued to move through the forest. Before long the pups picked up the scent of some animal within the area and jolted into a bush.
Before Zhang could draw his sword and run after them, Little Red jumped back out of the bush with a rabbit in its mouth. After it arrived at where Zhang was standing and dropping its prey onto the ground, Little Red gazed at Zhang with a triumphant look on its face.
Not long after Little Blue returned and began barking at Zhang, signaling for him to follow him as it jumped back into the bush. With his sword still drawn and Little Red’s rabbit safely stored away into a sack, Zhang followed Little Blue into the bush while Little Red scurried behind him.
“What is it boy?” Zhang asked as he made his way through the bush.
With a bark, Zhang saw Little Red sit proudly beside the body of a freshly killed deer. Once it caught sight of its sibling, Little Red posed triumphantly by putting one of its paws atop the dead deer’s body.
“Alright enough showing off, let's head back to camp.” Zhang laughed as he looked at how silly the tiny pup was standing atop the deer that was roughly a dozen times its size.
So after putting Little Blue and Little Red for a job well done, Zhang hoisted the deer over his shoulder and began heading back towards camp. With the deer and rabbit as their food source, Zhang, Wenji and the pups would have enough to feed themselves for the next few days.
As they were moving through the woods the pups suddenly stopped in their tracks and their fur stood on end. Soon the sound of tumbling trees was audible and echoed throughout the forest.
“Let’s go see what’s happening.” Zhang said to the pups. Although the logical choice would be to return to camp and try to avoid stumbling upon trouble, Zhang felt it was best to observe the occurrences that happen around him so he knows how to deal with them when they happen to come his way.
It did not take long for Zhang and the pups to arrive at the scene where all of the commotions wer originating from, while hiding within a bush and peeking out, Zhang and the pups saw a group of fifteen or so cultivators battling a sloth that towered above them.
“Everyone attack at once, catch the Snow Sloth off guard!” One of the cultivators yelled to his comrades.
From the looks of things, Zhang could tell that the sloth was at least at the Elementary Realm and that the cultivators were struggling to overpower it, since many of them had large gashes that were visible through their ragged robes while the sloth itself only had some minor injuries.
“You two be quiet so we don’t catch anyone’s attention.” Zhang said in a soft whisper. Since the two pups themselves were demonic beasts, there was a possibility that people would possibly harm them to get points for the tournament. So for the most part Zhang and Cai Cao had kept them out of sight when they were out in public.
“Use the fire talismans!” One of the cultivators fighting the Snow Sloth said as he pulled out a red colored talisman from his robes and sent it flying toward the sloth.
Moments later once the talisman struck the sloth a small explosion occurred as a coat of flames appeared on the Snow Sloth.
Although it was coated in fire the Snow Sloth continued to attack the cultivators with a flurry of attacks, most of them missed but for the few unlucky people who were struck a massive amount of damage was dealt. There were even a few people who after being struck by the massive sloth losing consciousness and having streams of blood flow out of the corners of their mouths.
“They're probably dead…” Zhang mumbled as he looked at a few of the people whose bodies smashed into trees and went limp.
As the cultivators fell to the fury of the Snow Sloth, Zhang’s anticipation continued to increase and his eyes began to shine. If everyone in this group of cultivators were killed then once the sloth left, Zhang would be able to loot all of their things or better yet if the sloth died too then he would be able to claim it’s pelt. In the end, no matter the outcome he would not suffer any losses and only stood to gain.
Before long the Snow Sloth’s was charred black while half of the cultivators that were engaging in battle with it laying on the ground either dead of heavily injured. The pace of the battle moved so quickly there wasn't even an opportunity for any of the combatants to think about pulling out their jade slips and withdrawing from the tournament.
If there was even a moment of hesitation in their moments, then a single strike from the Snow Sloth would prove to be disastrous.
“Retreat! Pull the wounded out of here and retreat!” Someone yelled, prompting many of the combatants to flee.
But of course sometimes fleeing wasn't the best decisions, mostly because once someone started running away they would no longer have vision on their opponent, in this case, the Snow Sloth. As a few people were fleeing they had the misfortune of being pursued by the sloth.
Like many people say, a person's misfortune is another person’s fortune because once the sloth and the other cultivators departed, Zhang made his way out of the bush and began checking the bodies of those who had been killed in battle for usable things.
“You two keep watch and tell me if anyone or anything comes around here.” Zhang said to the pups as he bent over and began searching one of the dead cultivators.
“I think this is a fire talisman.” Zhang thought as he found a few red colored talismans.
Of the group of fifteen cultivators, a total of five of them had been slain by the sloth and from their bodies Zhang was able to recover a large variety of things. Some he could identify while others he could only guess their uses, but whatever Zhang could find he would stuff them into the sack that was slung over his shoulder.
Upon checking the last body Zhang and the pups began heading back to their camp after retrieving their deer that had been left in the bush they were in when the fight was unfolding.
Wary of being followed back to camp, Zhang had the wolves on high alert and on constant watch.
Although the sloth was not slain and Zhang could not collect its pelt for the tournament, he had made a tremendous haul taking the treasures that the other contestants had.
By the time the sun set Zhang and the pups had arrived in front of the clump of trees where their camp and Wenji were waiting.
To Zhang’s amazement, a large warm looking hut came into view after he pushed past the dense branches and twisting vines that kept their camp hidden.
“Welcome back.” Wenji’s voice could be heard coming out of the hut.
“We’re back.” Zhang said as he walked toward the hut while making sure the deer he hoisted over his shoulder was showing.
Although he had no part in hunting the deer he would certainly not miss out on claiming credit for doing so to make a good impression on his crush.
“I'll get to cooking if you can start us a fire in the meantime.” Wenji said before she began preparing the deer for dinner.
With a nod Zhang started creating a fire pit by digging a hole in the ground and before long a fire small enough not to give up their location was lit.
Afterward, a large flat surfaced rock was lodged into the sides the hole and began to glow red with heat.
Since they did not have pots and pans, the rock would act as a natural frying pan that will be used to cook the deer meat.
Once Zhang finished his task and Wenji arrived beside him with some deer meat, a sizzling sound could be heard as they placed the fresh deer meat on the fiery hot rock.