“Young master, if I may ask for you name so that once we return to the dojo, I can tell my uncle who it was that who saved us from those bastards from Mang Clan…” A young man who was not much older than Zhang said with a voice filled with gratitude and his hands clasped.
It turns out that out of the group of prisoners that Zhang had rescued, there was actually a small portion who belonged to the Tiger Claw Dojo.
“There is no need to thank me. It is only right that I lend a helping hand to those in need. If anything, please keep my involvement a secret for the time being.” Zhang replied with a lofty expression on his face.
“Then so be it, if there is ever an opportunity to do so, I Tong Meng, will repay this debt.” The young man said before leading a group of fought thirty people off into the woods.
“Since bringing so many people back to the city at once would attract too much attention, Uncle Chen, if you can arrange lodgings for them at our outpost. Also, I think it would be best if we make preparations to build another outpost deeper in the mountains.” Wenji said to Uncle Chen as she watched a blazing inferno that was once the Mang Clan’s fortress, dancing in the air off in the distance.
“Don't forget to cut down any trees near our outpost. Although the wind of currently blowing in the opposite direction from where our own fort is, it is best to be on the safe side rather being caught in a dangerous situation with your pants down.” Zhang reminded as the trees near the Mang Clan’s fortress began catching fire.
“I shall depart right away and begin preparations, young mistress. I will also have our men prepare in case the fire happens to spread into the air where our outpost is.” Uncle Chen replied in a respectful tone as he and the horsemen that had arrived with Zhang and Wenji earlier in the day began to take command over the large group of escapees and head toward the herb harvesting outpost.
For the most part, disregarding the group that belonging to the Tiger Claw Dojo that had departed with Tong Meng, the rest of the escapees had nowhere to go and choice to stick with Zhang.
“Let's move out, I’m sure the smoke and that bell ringing sound must have attracted a lot of unwanted attention by now.” Wenji said as she climbed onto her mount after petting Little Blue’s head.
“Alright, move!” Zhang said as he and Wenji began to move through the mountain and toward Twin Blade City, while avoiding the main roads, hoping to avoid running into anyone who happened to be heading toward where the Mang Clan’s fortress had stood.
For now, although he probably had enough power to wipe out the Mang Clan, Zhang did not feel that it was the right time to do so.
Wiping out the Mang Clan could possibly attract stronger forces which Zhang currently did not have the ability to deal with.
Being the strongest clan within Twin Blade City for nearly a hundred years, who knows how many powerful connections the Mang Clan had managed to forge over the years.
Perhaps within Twin Blade City, there wasn't anyone capable of contending with Zhang, however that did not mean that there wasn’t anyone within the region who was capable of doing so.
There was also the fact that, if either Zhang or Wenji were forced to fight against large numbers of cultivators who were at about the same level of cultivation of them, they would obviously be at a huge disadvantage that would result in defeat or worse yet, death.
While Zhang, Wenji, the servants of the Zhou Manor and the prison escapees made their way out of the mountains, using a series of backroads and small passes, a large force was gathering outside one of the four gates of Twin Blade City.
With thousands of armored men, hundreds of fragmented realm cultivators, dozens of elementary realm practitioners and a few core realm experts, and the flags of the Mang Clan fluttering in the wind, this group of people caught the attention of everyone within the city.
“Mang Lu, have you gathered the necessary supplies?” An elderly man atop a large steed asked a middle-aged man adjacent to him who was also atop a large steed.
“Patriarch, the bulk of our forces have been assembled and enough lumber and supplies have been brought so that we can establish a makeshift base around the area where the entrance into the treasure was discovered.” The middle-aged man named Mang Lu said in a respectful tone.
“Good! To think that after so many years and so many generations of searching, it was we who were the ones to discover the treasure.” The patriarch of the Mang Clan said with a face filled with excitement.
“Patriarch! Patriarch!” A strained and horrifying cry rang into the ears of the members of the Mang Clan, moments before they began their trip to their mountain fortress.
“What is it!?” The patriarch of the Mang Clan asked as a stern expression appeared on his face, replacing the previously joyful grin that he had.
“Th-the mountain! It's on fire!” A young man clad in leather armor reported after jumping off of his horse and arriving in front of the Mang Clan’s patriarch.
“Fire?!” The patriarch of the Mang Clan asked as he finally noticed dozens of pummels of smoke rising up into the air off in the distance.
Moments ago, he and the rest of the members of the Mang Clan were simply too caught up in what could be described as a blissful fantasy, so mesmerized by the dreams of vast riches that they failed to notice their surroundings.
“Ye-yea, patriarch, a large area around the foot of the mountain where our fortress is, has turned into a sea of flames!” The young man clad in armor said in a frantic tone.
“Mang Lu, you stay behind with a fourth of the men and watch over the supplies we've brought out from the storehouses. As for the rest of you, follow me!” The patriarch of the Mang Clan commanded as the severity of the situation seeped to the very core of his being.
After a hundred years, for the first time ever, the ancient bell within the fortress had rung. However, instead of signaling of the Mang Clan’s ascension to further greatness, it had alerted them of a calamity that could very well shake their very foundation.
Due to how quickly the fire had spread, by the time they arrived at the foot of the mountain the members of the Mang Clan could only stand in wait with expressions of dread and anguish.
This state of depression continued on for hours on end until finally three days and three nights had passed in a flash before the heavens decided to share its gift of rain, cloaking land in a curtain of water droplets.
With the coming of water and rain, the beast like flames slowly subsided, and before long a barren and scorched earth was all that remained.
“Everyone! Search for any signs of survivors!” The patriarch of the Mang Clan said with a heavy heart, already knowing that the chances of someone escaping the hellish inferno that had enveloped the mountain was slim to none.
Scattering into hundreds of small groups, the members of the Mang Clan began to scour the once luscious mountain side in the hopes of locating their kin or obtaining a clue as to what had occurred.
But with each charred tree trunk and each inch of scorched land they walked passed, their hope began to wither and die until it became a reflection of the landscape surrounding them.
“What could have possibly happened…” The Patriarch of the Mang Clan mumbled as his horse strode past a pair of large iron gates that had fallen flat onto the ground.
Of the once sturdy fortress that rooted the Mang Clan’s control over the Black Devil Mountains, only a few collapsed stone buildings remained.
“Patriarch, it seems that none of our clansmen were able to make it out of the fortress and were all trapped inside.” One of the Mang Clan’s members said as he could be seen standing in front of a large field of charred bones.
“Then there must have been some kind of foul play that had taken place…” Patriarch Mang said as a scowl appeared on his face while a storm of possible events played out in his mind.
“Check and count to see how many skeletons there are in the area where the prison was…” Patriarch Mang said after a certain scenario played out in his mind.
“Maybe the prisoners had gotten out and set fire to the fortress before escaping.” Patriarch Mang thought, shortly before his subordinates returned to confirm his suspicions.
“Patriarch! Besides piles of partially melted chains and shackles and a few dozen charred remains, there was nothing else.” One of the members of the Mang Clan reported after roughly ten or twenty minutes had passed since Patriarch Mang had given the orders to check the prison grounds.
“Search the mountains! Apprehend everyone you come across!” Patriarch Mang said as he swelled with anger and while twitching with rage, after listening to the report.
“Patriarch!” Another member of the Mang Clan yelled moments before arriving in front of Patriarch Mang.
“What is it!?” Patriarch Mang roared while the veins on his clenched fists bulged.
“We’ve… We’ve found it… We’ve finally found it...” The member of the Mang Clan yelled as he fell to his knees.
“Found what? What have you found? Have you found the ones who had set the fortress on fire?” Patriarch Mang asked in a perplexed tone, as he saw the mix of emotion on the face of the young man who had just arrived at the scene. While two streams of tears trailed down the young man’s cheeks, and a smile that seemed to be born through a combination of immense joy and immense sorrow, it was heard to truly grasp the emotions the young man was currently going through.
“Pa-patriarch… It was true… After a hundred years, we’ve found it… The ancestor was right… The ringing of the bell did symbolize the ushering of the Mang Clan’s rise to prominence... But none of them will be able to partake in the greatness that is to come... “The young man said in a broken tone as an immense struggle surfaced on his face.
“Found it? You couldn’t mean…” Patriarch Mang said as he became at a loss for words.
“We found the treasure…” The young man said while with a pained expression.
“Th-the treasure!? Tell me the details!” Patriarch Mang yelled as the previously angry and unhappy expression on his face was replaced with astonishment.
“As my search party and I were looking for survivors, we had spotted a peculiar valley that had appeared to have been untouched by the sea of fire that engulfed the mountain. Believing it would be the ideal place for those who had been trapped within the fire to have gathered, we quickly made our way into the valley. Although there was not a single person to be found, we had stumbled upon a large stone temple. Etched across the stone gates that led into the temple was the same symbol etched onto the twin blades that have been passed down through the generations within our clan.” The young man retold as excitement began to appear in Patriarch Mang’s eyes.
“Di-did you check to see what was inside this temple?” Patriarch Mang asked while grabbing the young man’s shoulders and slightly shaking him as a faint smile began to surface on his face.
Unlike the young man and the people who had perished within the fortress, Patriarch Mang wasn’t a part of a branch family, he was a direct descent. Meaning he was not very much attached to those who had perished within the fortress, so although he was somewhat saddened by the death of his kin, upon hearing news of the treasure hidden in the mountains, an immense joy overtook him.
“We tried to, however, the stone door was simply too heavy and did not budge even an inch.” The young man said in a resigned tone.
“Lead me to where the temple is. Send word for all of our people to cease searching for survivors, for now, the temple takes priority over all else.” Patriarch Mang said before following the young man roughly two miles to a small out of the way valley filled with lush green trees.
With a large procession following behind him, Patriarch Mang eventually arrived in front of a pair of massive stone gates and a massive stone temple that appeared to have been cut directly out of the earth.
“If the fire didn’t burn away most of the mountain, we would have never stumbled upon this place… Maybe it is true that misfortune and fortune are but two sides of the same coin…” Patriarch Mang mumbled as he stared intently at the massive stone doors standing in front of him.
Who would have thought the burning of the fortress and the death of hundreds of members of the Mang Clan could possibly have led to the discovery of the treasure that they had spent the last century searching for.
Standing in front of the massive temple, Patriarch Mang and the members of the Mang Clan could not figure out whether they should laugh or cry at the current turn of events. One hand a large number of their kin had just perished in a sea of flame that also laid waste to their mountain fortress, on the other hand, they had possibly found the treasure that has eluded them for a thousand years.