After the darkness had consumed Ning Hao, Zhang returned to the cave where the camp was and stood towering over the body of a certain unconscious beauty. It is simple to say that whatever power the fragment soul in the Graveyard had accidentally granted him was also overwhelming him.
Zhang’s mind appeared to be dormant as he stood motionless with tens of boneless husks that used to be people laying on the ground all around him. As the mist danced and coiled around Zhang’s body his blood red eyes focused on Wenji. It was as if he had lost his sense of self as he continued to watch her as seconds turned into minutes and minutes turned into hours.
Time continued to flow as Zhang’s grip tightened on the sword made entirely of bones in his hand, for some unknown reason he did not do a thing and simply stood watch over the beautiful maiden in front of him.
It was not until many hours later did Wenji’s eyes slowly open and before she could catch a glimpse of his fearfulness, the black mist that coiled around Zhang’s body began to dissipate and with it the dark abyss on the ground also began to disappear. Sword of bones in his hand also broke apart and shattered to pieces before falling into the fading abyss.
In but a flash all traces of the black mist was erased and Zhang was restored to his regular self. At the same moment, Wenji regained her consciousness, Zhang’s mind slowly began to clear and he awoke from what appeared to be a hazy dream.
As if cold water had been splashed onto his face, Zhang shuttered before the memories of the events that transpired after Ning Hao stabbed him flashed before his eyes.
“Ar-are you alright?” He managed to squeeze out as his psyche tried to process the events that had occurred.
“Wha-what happened?” Wenji said as she tried to get up but found out she couldn't due to be bound by ropes.
“I don’t know; I just woke up moments ago.” Zhang said.
Like many powerful people before him with strange powers, Zhang did not want others to know that he was different. He did not want the girl of his dreams to see him as a monster, so he decided to foreign ignorance.
“Let me help you out of those.” Zhang said as he pulled out a small dagger from his robes and began to cut Wenji loose of the ropes that were constricting her.
“Whatever happened here doesn’t matter, all that does is that we are safe.” Wenji said as she got up from the ground.
“Let’s gather whatever we can and get out of here.” Zhang suggested.
With a nod from Wenji the two of them began to collect various magical treasures off the bodies of the deceased. Compared to Zhang’s initial harvest this one was dozens of times bigger, there were things such as cultivation and medical pills, to magical weapons, talismans, and interspatial rings filled with demonic beast pelts and demonic beast parts.
They had also found out what had happened to Little Red and Little Blue, the two pups had been drugged like everyone else and were fast asleep. Glad that the pups were unharmed, Zhang placed both of them in a small sling which he tied to himself.
“I think you have to bind the rings with blood before you can use them.” Wenji said as she withdrew a small dagger and pricked her finger. Once a drop of her blood dripped onto a blue interspatial she had picked up and held in her hand, the intricate carvings on the interspatial ring began to light up.
“Here you try.” Wenji said as she handed a red interspatial ring to Zhang.
Due to Wenji’s insistence, Zhang prickled one of his fingers and also binded an interspatial to himself. Thanks to his experience using the black interspatial ring that contained his clan’s tomb, Zhang was able to quickly search through the contents of his newly bonded ring.
“This ring contains about five by five meters’ worth of space inside of it.” Zhang said after scanning the contents of the ring.
“Mine too.” Wenji said.
“Let’s head back to our old camp and see what we managed to pick up there.” Zhang said to Wenji.
With interspatial rings filled with loot on their fingers and the two pups cozy in Zhang’s sling, Zhang and Wenji left the cave that might have led to their demise and headed toward their old camp.
Luckily for them, they did not happen across any more misfortune and were able to safely make their way through the forest unhindered by demonic beasts and people.
Upon making their way to a familiar clump of trees and making their way through twisting branches and vines, Zhang and Wenji arrived at their old camp. The camp had basically no changes to it and seemed to have been left untouched since they had left, even Wenji’s demonic beast pelts that she had kept at the camp was still in their hut.
“So there’s at least two thousand and eight hundred of them total, you take half and I’ll take half.” Zhang suggested after all of the demonic beast pelts inside the five interspatial rings that they had picked up were counted.
“I’ll take enough so that I have thirty, I don’t want to attract too much attention to myself.” Wenji said with a wary smile.
“Also I only need thirty to move on to the next stage, but if you keep the majority of the pelts then you’ll more than likely get the first place prize for this stage of the tournament.” Wenji added.
“But you’ll take half of these treasures, won’t you?” Zhang said as he pointed to a mound of magical items that they had also collected.
Once the magical treasures were divided and the pups awoke, the next five days went by in a breeze since neither Zhang nor Wenji needed to hunt demonic beasts and any more and whatever food they needed could be found Ning Hao’s interspatial ring.
By midnight on the last day of the first stage of the tournament, all of the jade slips that every contestant had received began to glow in a brilliant white light.
“Hold onto my hand.” Zhang said underneath the moonlight with a big smile on his face.
“This is where we part ways if fate will have it we will meet again.” Wenji said with a smile as she began walking backward and disappearing into the woods and the white light from the glow jade slips enveloped Zhang and every other contestant.
“Congratulations everyone!” A loud voice rang into Zhang’s ears as the sound of many thousands of people applauding soon followed.
As his vision was restored Zhang found himself in the Red Cloud Sect once against with countless spectators present in the stands while hundreds of torches drove away the darkness and granted light.
“Now all contestants please have your demonic beast pelts tallied so we can announce the winner of the special prize for the first stage of the tournament. Everyone will receive a small jade slip with the number of pelts recorded on it so they can use it as their pass into the next stage of the tournament” The master of the Red Cloud Sect, Hong Chi said in a cheerful tone.
“How many did you get?” A whisper flew into Zhang’s ear as he felt a hand pat him on the back as he was looking at Hong Chi who was standing high up on a balcony at the far end of the stadium.
Looking back, he could see his missing friend, Cai Cao with a broad smile on his face.
“I got enough.” Zhang laughed, not telling Cai Cao how many pelts he got and saving the surprise for when they have their pelts counted.
“How many did you get?” Zhang asked Cai Cao.
“Enough.” Cai Cao said with a laugh as they two of them walked toward a row of tables set up to help contestants tally up the number of pelts they managed to collect.
“Contestant Meng De, thirty-one pelts!” A disciple of the Red Cloud Sect announced as the name Meng De appeared on a large crystal screen underneath the balcony where Hong Chi was standing.
“Contestant Chen Ma, three hundred and thirty-one pelts!”
“Contestant Zhen Yu, thirty pelts!”
“Ha you little bastards might as well give up, my brother here has a thousand and five hundred pelts!” Someone yelled as Zhang looked over he could spot a group of people from the Blood Lion Sect crowding together in front one of the tables.
“Contestant Wang Fu, one thousand and five hundred pelts!”
Three hundred pelts had been astounding and had the crowd talking but once it was announced that someone had one thousand and five hundred pelts the crowd went nuts.
“Contestant Fang Yu, two thousand pelts!”
Looking toward where the announcer’s voice came from, a young girl would be seen amidst a crowd of stern looking uniformed men.
“Two thousand pelts!? Who the Fuck!?” The men from the Blood Lion sect cursed.
After it was announced that someone had two thousand pelts, all of the following numbers could not come close to comparing. For some time as the thousands of remaining contestants had their pelts tallied, the crowd was sure that Fang Yu was going to be the winner of the special prize.
That was of course until a familiar name was added to the large crystal screen that recorded every contestant’s name and score.
“Contestant Zhou Zhang, Two thousand eight hundred and ninety-two pelts.” An announcer said, adding Zhang’s name to the top of the list on the crystal screen.
“It’s that kid! He’s only a fragment realm cultivator how the hell did he manage to get so many pelts!” The men from the Blood Lion Sect yelled in anger. Unlike Fang Yu who was an elementary realm cultivator and was surrounded by followers, Zhang was a mere fragment realm cultivator who was standing with only Cai Cao beside him.
Although many people were skeptical that Zhang was able to collect all of those pelts once they saw his level of cultivation, but there was nothing to complain about because the rules simply stated that as long as one had the pelts at the end of the tournament then points will be credited.
“Of the tens of thousands of contestants who had entered the first stage of the tournament, about three thousand and two hundred made it to the second stage of the tournament. However, I would like to thank all contestants for their participation. If any of you wish to turn in your demonic beast pelts and parts for essence stones, then a disciple of the Red Cloud Sect will be more than happy to help you.” Hong Chi said.
In a way, the tournament was a way for the Red Cloud Sect to keep the population of demonic beasts in the Beast’s Forest at bay. If demonic beast populations grew too high then they would leave the forests and attack human settlements, but thanks to the tournament thousands of demonic beasts would be slain.
The Red Cloud Sect could also use the tournament to gather demonic beast pelts and parts to create weapons and armor for their disciples, overall the ones who benefited the most from the tournament was the Red Cloud Sect.
Once every contestant’s pelts were tallied, Zhang was ushered up the balcony where Hong Chi was after he handed Cai Cao the sack that he had kept the two pups in.
“Congratulations on being the winner of the special prize.” Hong Chi said once Zhang arrived in front of him.
With a wave of his hand, Hong Chi produced a jade box which he lifted up and showed to the audience in the stadium. As Hong Chi’s image was projected onto the large crystal screen, the jade box opened to reveal a red colored medallion.
“That’s a Teleportation Jade!” Someone in the audience yelled as they caught sight of the contents of the jade box.
“Here you go little friend, this will allow you to escape whatever dangers you face three times. After three uses it’ll crumble and turn to ashes.” Hong Chi said as he handed Zhang the jade box with the Teleportation Jade in it.
Once activated the teleportation stone would teleport its user a considerable distance away from the location he or she had previously been, generally such stones are considerably rare and very useful for cultivators.
“I’ve set an inscription on this Teleportation Jade so that it can be binded to its master and if anyone besides its master uses it; they will be ripped to threads as the space around them is tears apart.” Hong Chi said so that no one would get any funny ideas and try to rob Zhang.
With a wave of his hand, Zhang stored away the jade box into his interspatial ring. Perhaps if he had stored all of the pelts that he had gotten in his black interspatial ring then when he withdrew them Zhang would have noticed the glowing pendant that was a part of the statue of the Zhou Clan’s ancestor.
“Now that the first stage is complete we will move directly to the second stage.” Hong Chi said after handing Zhang the Teleportation Jade.
“For the second stage of the tournament will be tested for their ingenuity. Everyone will be placed into the Marble Maze where they will have to use their smarts to find a way out. Only the first three hundred who make it out will be able to move onto the next stage so decide your path carefully.”
“Marble… Maze…” Zhang mumbled as he recalled the horrid memory of walking through the white marble hall for a month in his mind.
“Sect Master Hong… Is this marble maze made of white marble?” Zhang asked in a low tone.
“Yes.” Hong Chi replied with a smile.
“$%#%$#$.” Zhang cursed in his mind.
“Let the second part of the tournament begin!” Hong Chi said with a clamp a massive gate rose out of the ground in the center of the stadium.
“Best of luck to you.” Hong Chi said as his essence wrapped around Zhang causing him to levitate into the air before gently placing him back in the stadium.