For the next ten days, Zhang, Wenji and the pups continued to leave camp in search of fragment realm demonic beasts, on some occasions they would run what they were seeking while on others they would stumble upon situations where they had to run for their lives. Such situations included but were not limited to running into elementary or profound realm demonic beasts and almost running into other contestants.
There was even one time where Zhang and Wenji witnessed members of the Blood Lion sect attacking other contestants and robbing them of their belongings, which prompted the two to be even more wary when out looking for prey.
However today, the fourteenth day of the first stage of the tournament, everything changed for our two hunters. This was because while Zhang and Wenji were on their way back to camp after successfully hunting a demonic beast, they ran into one of Zhang’s acquaintances.
“Brother Zhang!? Is that you!?” A voice rang out from behind a bush as Zhang and Wenji were following the pups through the woods. Looking toward the direction that the voice was coming from Zhang saw a familiar face.
“Brother Ning Hao?” Zhang asked in a surprised tone.
Soon enough, Ning Hao and a dozen other silhouettes and people appeared from within the woods.
“Brother Zhang it’s great to see that you are alright.” Ning Hao said with a smile.
“May I ask who this is and where is Brother Cai?” He asked after a slight pause once he laid eyes on Wenji. Soon after he reached his hand out and offered to shake Wenji’s hand.
“This is my friend Wenji, as for Brother Cai I was separated from him when we were teleported here.” Zhang said as he introduced Wenji to Ning Hao. After which with a bit of reluctance, Wenji reached out her hand and shook hands with Ning Hao. Strangely enough, when Ning Hao and Wenji began to shake hands Little Red and Little Blue began to bark angrily.
“Demonic beasts!” A few people yelled as they spotted the pups.
“Calm down boy.” Zhang said as he crouched down and rubbed the two pups as Wenji pulled her hand away from Ning Hao. While Zhang was calming the pups down a few of Ning Hao’s followers had drawn their swords.
“It’s alright they are friendly.” Wenji said with a bright smile as she picked up one of the pups and hugged.
Soon after some talking and assurances, swords were put away and no one looked at the pups with hostility any longer.
“Brother Zhang if you don’t mind me asking, how many beasts have you managed to hunt so far and how about sticking with us? We have a pretty good system going amongst the group and everyone is on a steady path to getting enough points for the next stage of the tournament.” Ning Hao said to Zhang.
“I think we are fine with just the two of us, as for demonic beasts we haven’t had much luck and were only able to catch a single one.” Wenji said as she stood beside Zhang, shoulder to shoulder while pulling out the pelt of the demonic beast that she and Zhang had just hunted not too long ago.
“Only one? If so I insist that both of you stick with us, we’ll be able to help each other.” Ning Hao said with a smile as he eyed the pelt.
“If you insist then we’ll be happy to join you Brother Ning Hao.” Zhang said with a smile.
“Alright, follow me and I’ll take you back to our camp.” Ning Hao said with a grin as he gestured for Zhang and Wenji to follow him and his people, not bothering to ask if Zhang or Wenji had to go back to wherever they had set up camp to retrieve their things.
But had Ning Hao bothered to ask, Zhang would have told them that they have all of their belongings on their body and did not have a camp set up. This was because even after all of the time that Zhang had spent with Ning Hao, a part of him could never come to completely trust the person in question.
This was because, from a young age, Zhang had always been taught that nothing in the world is free and that everyone has a hidden agenda. Had it not been for the time he and Cai Cao spent together and the situations they had gone through then Zhang wouldn’t entirely trust Cai Cao either. As for Wenji, Zhang felt an unexplainable familiarity with her that allowed him to trust her wholeheartedly regardless of the fact of him liking her or not.
After trekking through the forest for nearly an hour, Ning Hao led Zhang and Wenji toward a large cave that opened up on the side of a mountain that was located towards the center of the Beast’s Forest.
Upon nearing the cave, dozens of tents and people could be seen inside.
“Welcome to our camp.” Ning Hao said with a proud smile to which Wenji replied with a snort.
Throughout the entire trip to the camp, she had noticed Ning Hao glancing at her and Zhang, which prompted her to stick even closer to Zhang then she had done before while at the same time causing her to dislike Ning Hao.
“The gaze of a lecher…” She thought as Ning Hao led the group into the cave where they were greeted by dozens of people who were inside.
“It appears the group expanded after entering the forest.” Zhang said as he noticed a bunch of new faces that were not a part of the Misty Mountain Sect.
“We’ve been allowing people from other sects to join our group since it’ll help strengthen the group as a whole. With so many hidden dangers in this places, numbers are surely needed.” Ning Hao said.
“If not for Brother Ning Hao I would have died to a group of demonic beasts.” Someone nearby said.
“You two must be tired, let me show you to where we keep the vacant tents for new arrivals are.” Ning Hao said.
“One tent will be enough for the two of us.” Wenji said.
“One tent?” Ning Hao asked with a perplexed look on his face.
“One tent please.” Wenji replied with a smile as she hugged Zhang’s arm.
“If you say so.” Ning Hao said with a smile, however for a second Zhang could tell that he was not very happy with the idea of Zhang and Wenji sharing the same tent.
Once Zhang, Wenji and the pups were shown to their tent, Ning Hao dismissed himself and headed off.
“I’m not complaining or anything but why are we sharing a tent?” Zhang asked in a whisper after he made sure there was no one around.
“Because I believe you won’t attack me once the sunsets and I do not wish to give anyone else the opportunity of doing so.” Wenji replied with a laugh.
“Are you sure about that?” Zhang said as he tied the flaps of their tent together and walked in front of Wenji.
“I’m quite sure, now let’s get some rest. You sleep here and I’ll sleep there.” Wenji said while sticking out her tongue at Zhang and then moving began laying some sheets onto the ground.
With a laugh Zhang began to help her lay out sheets onto the ground while the pups wrestled each other.
After makeshift beds were made on the ground, Zhang and Wenji began to talk to one another about a large variety of things until they both fell into a deep slumber.
Over the next ten or so days, Zhang got a grasp of the current situation within Ning Hao’s group. The group consisted of nearly one hundred people, most of which were people whom Ning Hao or someone else in the group had saved from demonic beasts.
As the whole the group had hunted enough demonic beasts for each person to have around fifteen pelts for a total of about one thousand and five hundred pelts and since only Ning Hao and a handful of other people have interspatial rings, all of the pelts are left in their safekeeping.
What Zhang noticed was that the people who were holding on to the demonic beast pelts for the rest of the group were all really close friends with Ning Hao, which meant there was an inner circle within the group.
However, the thought of Ning Hao possibly running off with everyone’s pelts did not cross Zhang’s mind because if he did there were plenty of people in the group who could overpower him and his inner circle.
Besides observing the group, Zhang and Wenji had also taken part when they set out to hunt. With deadly efficiency, they were able to split up large groups of demonic beasts apart and hunt down dozens of beasts at the same time.
The group of one hundred had split into two teams of fifty, one team would hunt throughout the day while the other team comprised of the stronger members of the group would hunt throughout the night. With the two teams hunting day and night, the group would be able to maximize the time allocated to them until the end of the first stage of the tournament.
Of course since they were traveling in groups of fifty which could be considered a fairly large group, a lot of attention was attracted and many battles broke out due to it. Most of the time the teams would run into rival contestant teams and a brawl would break out, however these brawls usually did not result in death or heavy injuries because there were only so many days left for the first stage and no one wanted to lower their groups battle capacity by fighting to the death.
So generally after some verbal warfare and some light punches the two groups would break off and go their separate ways.
“With only six days left should we go back to our original camp and collect those pelts we left there?” Wenji asked Zhang after they had both returned to their tent after an entire day of hunting demonic beasts.
“If anything we’ll go back the day before the first stage ends. But if we manage to collect thirty before then, then we won’t have to bother.” Zhang said in a soft voice as he laid down on some sheets that were laid on the ground.
“For the past few days, we’ve been getting two pelts every day, so if the pace keeps up and nothing goes wrong then we are set.” Wenji said as she laid atop some sheets that were laid out beside Zhang while Little Red and Little Blue snuggled up beside her.
As Zhang and Wenji laid down in their tent a shadow could be seen standing outside.
“Brother Zhang and younger sister Wenji, brother Ning Hao is calling for a meeting.” The person outside of the tent said before moving on to the next tent.
Moments later Zhang and Wenji emerged from their tent with the two pups in tow as they headed toward the group’s gathering place. By the time they arrived a large number of people had already gathered and Ning Hao had already began speaking.
“Brothers and sisters there are but a few days remaining for the first stage of the tournament. As we are nearing the end and are on track to meeting the minimum to move forward I would like to offer you all a toast.” Ning Hao said as a few people began to distribute cups of wine.
“Cheers!” Many people in the group yelled as they received their cup of wine and gulped it down.
Soon enough a cheerful mood filled the cave where the group was staying and everyone began to drink. At first, Zhang and Wenji were reluctant to join in because Zhang did not enjoy drinking very much while Wenji did not enjoy the aftereffects of drinking.
But after from insistence from the others they too have in and began to drink.
“I would like to thank you all.” Ning Hao said with a smile.
“Thank us? What for brother? We should be the one thanking you.” Someone in the crowd said as he gulped down a cup of wine.
“I would like to thank you all for helping me get first for the first stage of the tournament.” Ning Hao said while his smile was elevated to another level where it made some people feel chills run down their spines.
While many confused looks appeared on everyone's faces, a few people began to fall over onto the ground with bubbles foaming out of their mouths.
“Yo-you… What have you done!?” Someone screamed as they drew their sword. However once the person had drawn their sword, their feet became wobbly and they tumbled onto the ground.
“We-we are from the same sect; how could you do this to us!?” A few of the members of the Misty Mountain Sect yelled in fury as they charged toward Ning Hao with swords drawn. But much like everyone else they soon tumbled over also.
Since Zhang and Wenji were practically the last ones to drink the wine that was given out and since they drank only a few sips they witnessed as everyone else fell over while Ning Hao and his inner circle drew their swords and begun to systematically kill one person after the other.
“Run…” Zhang said as he grabbed Wenji’s hand while feeling his feet become slightly unsteady.
“There’s no getting away.” Ning Hao’s voice could be heard as Zhang felt an excruciating amount of pain appear on the side of his torso before tumbling over to the ground where his blood soaked the floor.
“Ke-ke-keep going.” He managed to squeeze out as tears stream out from the corners of her eyes while she bent over and tried to lift Zhang up from the ground. But her body soon lost strength also and she too fell over onto the ground.
“Kill everyone before the drug wears off. Tie up that girl there for me.” Ning Hao’s voice rang into Zhang’s ear before he blanked out.
While Zhang and Wenji laid on the ground motionless, a slaughter began as a sea of blood formed because the ground could no longer soak any more blood.