“Treasure!” Zhang thought as his eyes brimmed with excitement. Ever since he was a child, back as far as he could remember, after hearing epic tales about adventurers who explored the vast unknown and laid claim to lost treasures of ancient empires, mainly tales of the Zhou Clan’s exalted ancestor, Zhang had always wished he could do the same.
One could say that Zhang had always wanted to live out the fantasy like tales of the Zhou Clan’s exalted ancestor who become a larger than life character, a legend of sorts within the clan.
Of course, after some time he had buried these feelings deep within himself, believing that in the end, legends are but exaggerated bits and pieces of fact and fiction.
However, after having become a cultivator, and immersing himself in what could be called another world, Zhang’s childhood dreams began to surface once again, especially after hearing about a supposed treasure that has been hidden in the mountains for countless years.
Only recently had he come to terms with the fact that all of those legends about his ancestor could possibly be true.
“There’s treasure hidden somewhere in these mountains! There’s treasure hidden in these mountains!” Zhang wanted to scream out in a crazed manner as he became so excited that he could not contain himself. Luckily moments before Zhang bursted, Wenji’s gentle hand jabbed him on the side of the stomach, bringing him out of the little world in his mind that he had drifted to moments ago.
Quite frankly for the younger generation of the Zhou Clan, the word treasure is considered a trigger word, while for the older generation of the Zhou Clan the words gold and money are considered trigger words. Upon hearing these words, regardless of how rational one thought they were, a tinge of excitement would take root they would sometimes drive them to do the impossible.
“Let's go find out where these slaves that they were talking about and our people are kept. If we can free them, then maybe we won't have to get our hands dirty. Actually, then we can really get our hands dirty and no one can put the blame on us.” Wenji whispered before lightly chuckling as a devious grin appeared in her eyes.
“I like your way of thinking. But since we aren't going to have any blame pinned on us anyway, why do we have to go find out where are people are being kept?” Zhang said before snickering as an equally devious grin appeared on his face.
“We will just have to recruit a few guides to lead the way. I’ll also show them that when even caning a dog, one must watch and see whose it’s owner.” Zhang said he and Wenji began to laugh in a soft devilish manner.
No longer attempting to remain hidden, Zhang stood up from the crouching position he was in and gently pushed open the window leading into the hall.
“An elemental realm cultivator and five fragment realm cultivators, it doesn't look like you'll be needing any help.” Wenji said as she watched Zhang leap into the hall through the window and swiftly arrive at where the five members of the Mang Clan were playing cards.
“Which one of you can lead me to where you're keeping all of the slaves and captives?” Zhang asked in a calm voice as he appeared out of nowhere and caused small commotion filled with shock and confusion.
“Who are you!? How'd you get in here?” Mang Chang yelled in a perplexed tone.
“Answer me, which one of you can lead me to where the slaves and captures are kept? Answer carefully, in the end, I only need one guide.” Zhang repeated himself while adding a slightly chilling warning at the end.
“Where do you think, this place is?!” The chubby looking man asked while his brows furrowed.
“I guess I'll just pick one of you to be my guide.” Zhang said as his shadow wiggled and the pummel of his black flying sword shot out into the air where he grabbed it and while using a single fluid motion severed the heads of two of the five members of the Mang Clan.
After quickly dispatching a fragment Realm cultivator and an elementary realm cultivator with a crescent swing is his sword, Zhang lunged forward and stabbed another fragment Realm cultivator in the heart.
By the time, Zhang had slain his third victim, the two remaining members of the Mang Clan had ample time to act, however after grasping their weapons as they tried to get onto their feet, they found themselves anchored to the ground by two pairs of skeletal hands.
“Do-do-don’t kill me!” Mang Chang cried as a terrified expression appeared on his face.
Seeing the pitiful manner in which Mang Chang was acting, the chubby looking man couldn't help but sneer before glaring at Zhang.
“If looks can kill, that glare you giving me would be more than enough.” Zhang thought before lunging his sword across the table once again and claiming the chubby man’s life.
“Alright, if you value your life, you'll lead me to where all of the slaves and prisoners are being kept.” Zhang said in a cold voice as he arrived beside Mang Chang and pressed the flat end side of his sword against the latter’s neck.
“I-I will take you wherever you want…” Mang Chang said in a stuttering and panicked voice as he proceeded to move forward.
Moments later, Zhang and his new guide ended up outside of the hall where they were greeted by Wenji who moved beside Zhang and promptly followed Mang Chang as he began to lead them to where the slaves and prisoners were kept.
“Hey, where's all of the people?” Wenji asked as she found it fairly odd how there weren't any guards roaming the grounds.
“N-no one ever comes or dare to cause trouble here so most of the guards should be gathered at the mess hall, passing time.” Mang Chang answered in hastily, fearful that a slow response would bring about unwanted consequences.
“Alright, quickly lead us to where we want to go and I can assure you that we’ll let you go. If you try anything funny, I'll make sure that you hoped that you were dead...” Zhang said he withdrew his sword from Mang Chang’s neck and allowed it to sink back into his shadow.
Without the cold sensation given off by Zhang’s sword pressuring against his neck, Mang Chang was able to slightly calm down, allowing him to walk a pinch faster.
Walking through the fortress under the remaining twilight glow of the sun, as he led Zhang and Wenji, a peculiar looking expression appeared on Mang Chang’s face.
Shortly after Zhang had withdrawn his sword, a hideous smile slowly crept onto Mang Chang’s face.
Moments earlier, believing that his fate was obviously already sealed and that it was not whether or not he would die it was rather when and where would he die, Mang Chang began to scheme and plot as a storm of thoughts raced through his mind.
Before long two scenarios began to play out in Mang Chang’s mind. The first scenario was what would happen if he tried to lead Zhang and Wenji, two experts who were capable of infiltrating the fortress without alerting anyone of their presence, toward the mess hall where hundreds of members of the Mang Clan were.
The end result, of course, was that before he could even make it into the mess hall, Mang Chang would find himself stabbed to death by Zhang.
The second scenario was somewhat different from the first, Mang Chang would lead Zhang and Wenji to the fortress prison where he would employ a series of hidden mechanisms to buy time so that he could rush to the mess hall and call for help.
“No… That won’t work either… although I don't know about the girl, that guy is certainly very powerful and is without a doubt an elementary realm cultivator. If anything, he might be really close to reaching the core realm. Although the traps in the prison would buy me a bit of time, before I could make it to the mess hall I would be killed…” Mang Chang, though, quickly labeling the second scenario a failure.
With those two scenarios of the question, Mang Chang began to ponder once again, trying to find a way in which he could alert the rest of the fortress and hopefully be able to survive the ordeal.
After wracking his brain for a while Mang Chang suddenly remembered the existence of a certain bell that was situated not too far from the fortress prison where all of the slaves and prisoners were being kept. A certain bell that has never once been rung ever since the fortress was erected a hundred years ago.
A bell that would echo and could be heard throughout the mountains, all the way to Twin Blade City.
Once this bell was rung, not only would all of the members of the Mang Clan within the fortress be alerted and instantly stop whatever they were doing and congregate, the members of the Mang Clan within Twin Blade City would also come running.
This bell was solely meant to be rung when the clan had located the treasure that was supposedly still hidden within the mountains.
Thus, with a third scenario began to play out in mind Mang Chang’s mind.
“I'll lead them into the prison, activate some of the hidden mechanisms inside, sound the bell and then try to hide in the nearest building. There's bound to be a few people inside the prison or outside that would arrive on the scene instantly, they'll keep those two busy while I wait for the rest of the fortress to gather. If anything, once the main forces of the clan arrive, those two will be done for.” Mang Chang thought as he felt that he had been able to concoct a foolproof plan.
“In the end, I might have to thank these two, because of them I won't have to pay back all of that money I owed everyone.” Mang Chang thought as he accidentally let out a chuckle, prompting Zhang and Wenji to give him suspicious stares.
“Just a little bit further, once we get inside the prison, stick close to me or else you might get stuck in one of the traps.” Mang Chang said as he hoped to hint at Zhang and Wenji about the existence of traps within the prison, which would increase his usefulness and thus give him enough time to enact his plan.
“Is that so? Then we will be in your care.” Zhang said in a calm voice before looking at Wenji.
“We should kill this guy soon.” Zhang said to Wenji through the look in his eye and a few facial cues.
“Definitely, he needs to die.” Wenji replied by nodding and cutting a line across her throats with her finger while eyeing Mang Chang’s back.
Considering the fact that Zhang and Wenji were pretty intelligent and that anyone with a head atop their shoulders would have been able to deduce from Mang Chang’s little accidentally chuckle that he was plotting against them, one could tell that Mang Chang’s plot wasn't as foolproof as he thought it was.
So, while Mang Chang continued to muse over his plan and while Zhang and Wenji pondered on which means should they dispose of their guide, the trio inched ever closer to the fortress prison.
“That’s the prison over, there. Remember to stick close behind me.” Mang Chang reminded in a clear tone void of the uneasiness and fear that he was plagued not too long ago.
“So, the prison is over there?” Zhang asked.
“Yes, it’s right over there.” Mang Chang replied promptly as he pointed toward a tall tower situated not too far away.
“Well, then I thank you for guiding us this far.” Zhang said in a cold tone which sent a shiver running down Mang Chang’s spin.
“But we haven’t gotten into the prison yet!” Mang Chang said in a loud tone as he turned back toward Zhang and Wenji. However mid turn, Mang Chang felt a sharp pain pierced through his back, through his heart and out of his chest.
“We’ll be able to guide ourselves now.” Wenji said as she and Zhang proceeded forward, leaving Mang Chang laying on the ground while blood gushed out from his mouth, preventing him from speaking.
Walking up toward the prison tower and pushing apart a pair of iron gates, Zhang and Wenji saw hundreds of people crammed into ten large cells.
“It seems these people have been here for a while.” Zhang said as he saw the dead expressions on the faces of the people locked in behind the walls of iron bars.
“Our people are probably being kept in the upper floors where it should be much harder to escape from.” Wenji guessed as she and Zhang walked passed one prison cell after the other.
“What do you say we give these people a little bit of hope before we move to the next floor.” Wenji said in a mischievous tone as she eyed a set of keys eleven keys hanging off a hook at the far end of the aisle they were walking down.
“Let’s.” Zhang replied with an evil chuckle.
In a matter of moments, Wenji could be seen with a ring of keys in hand and moments after that, the sound of clicking gears could be heard as cell doors were unlocked and allowed to swing freely.
“Freedom is now at hand, those who wish to walk with their heads held high and unbound by chains, here is your answer.” Zhang said as he took the ring of keys in Wenji’s hand and placed it on the ground before grasping her hand and leading her onward to the second floor.
With ten cells and only eleven keys, Zhang figured each floor had their own separate set of keys and the seventh key was meant to unlock the cuffs binding the prisoners.
“So, do you think those people will take the glimmer of hope we’ve given them?” Wenji asked in a curious tone, hoping to hear Zhang’s opinion.
“Although I’m not sure whether any of them still have the will to break free of their chains, once one person stands up the rest of them will. Once we return from the upper floors then you’ll see their choice.” Zhang replied with a chuckle as he and Wenji made walked up a flight of stairs and toward the second floor of the prison.