In another place.
The Zhang Clan members approached the large fortress. The walls were immense making the cultivators feel like tiny ants, the moment they came close to the large gate it started shaking. The people took up their combat stance, ready for battle. The doors opened up from within, the loud creaking noises made some people from the group feel quite uncomfortable as they fought the urge to plug their ears up.
They thought that perhaps some enemies would burst through that door, but after they opened nothing but silence greeted them. Zhang Zhi waved his hand forward taking two squads with him, forming a small scouting party. The insides were quite barren, the cultivators couldn’t feel any life coming from the surrounding.
The rest of the group slowly crept in, there was still a chance of a surprise attack coming like from those centipede monsters. Also, a boss monster might appear in that closed-off room, so they kept vigilant as everyone entered the large empty structure. The outside was quite basic, consisting of four walls connecting to four towers. Each wall had a large gate in the middle, it was made from some strange material and quite resistant. The fortress looked unsuspecting, the only thing out of the ordinary was the place it was in and its size.
The inside of the structure had an inner area, the structure looked like a smaller castle that was protected by more walls. The Zhang Clan members started looking around, they found barracks that had basic living quarters where they could sleep in. There was a kitchen area as well as a large well that was also close by, so they wouldn’t run out of water anytime soon. The kitchen had a large storage area which surprisingly had some food in it, there were formations that kept it cool and from rotting.
Zhang Zhi and the other officers went into the castle-like structure, which had many smaller rooms and one larger hall. The moment the people walked in they heard a strange sound, green light filled their eyes as something appeared out of thin air. It was a miniature version of the fortress, just made from light. The people backed away, looking at the green projection, if Matt was here he would probably be able to figure this thing out as it was something a gamer would find interesting.
These old fashioned cultivators didn’t know what they were looking at, there was a panel with some numbers in the corner. There were some blue dots spread out throughout the hologram, and there were exactly 220 of them. More people came into the room, in hopes of figuring out this strange spiritual treasure. The officers went closer, Zhang Jie was there as well and being quite curious she poked at the panel where the points were, this prompted it to glow and show her a tiny miniature version of a ballista with the number 25 hovering above it.
The people were surprised, the small siege weapon could be picked up by them but when they let it go it vanished and appeared back next to the display panel. After investigating more, one of the people dragged the weapon to one of the towers the hologram that was red started turning green for some reason. When he let it go, the weapon appeared to be stuck to the tower now. Soon enough a commotion could be heard outside.
“What’s wrong? Report!”
A junior member appeared soon enough, it was a familiar-looking chubby fellow by the name of Zhang Hong.
“Reporting sir! Just a moment ago we felt a surge in spiritual energy by one of the towers and a crossbow like weapon appeared out of thin air!”
The foundation establishment elders looked at each other, then to the miniature version of the fortress. They quickly looked outside one of the small windows and could see the weapon now being placed on the tower wall, ready to fire and with some ballista bolts included. They tried repeating the process and managed to place another one of those siege weapons on a different tower. But when they tried doing it once more on the third one, they couldn’t pull the small weapon hologram anymore.
“…Wasn’t this number higher previously…”
Zhang Jie said while looking at the control panel, the number was, of course, the number of points they had for the building. They figured out that this number correlated to the one above the ballista, they had 15 points left and it cost 25 to build.
“But how do we increase this number now… and is there a use for those weapons out there…”
The people examined the siege weapon, it looked a bit strange in the way that it couldn’t be shot manually. It was closed off and they couldn’t insert any of the bolts that were lying next to it. Later on, the clan would find out how these tower defense items worked, but for now, they all headed inside.
Junior members were stationed on the walls and towers, but the whole fortress was just too huge so they had to spread themselves thin. This thing was clearly built for more than two hundred people to run, they needed at least a thousand people for it. The first night went by fast, nothing happened no monster attacks and no enemies in sight. The cultivators started wondering if the voice had something else in mind with the second phase. The elders were in the control room, figuring out the game like controls while the juniors looked at the gate opening and closing on their own.
Just as the next day was coming to a close one of the sentries noticed people walking towards them. Everyone peeked out from the safety of the fortress, they could see a small group moving towards them. The group was filled out by tanned ladies with way too much makeup, they looked disgruntled and tired. From the 220 strong group only about half of them remained.
“Open the gates, help the wounded!”
The gates were opened, the Zhang Clan was quite good at the healing arts and they also had various restorative pills. Their Patriarch ordered them to support the other expedition participants if it was possible. They were told to offer assistance, but react accordingly if the other clans or cultivators were hostile.
The dark-skinned females were on their toes as they saw the large gates opening and cultivators pouring out. They recognized them to be one of the people that came with them to the secret grounds, mostly due to the eye-catching gear that made them look like a bunch black power rangers.
“Don’t worry, we are here to help, come inside of the fortress for treatment.”
Zhang Jie said while moving in with her platoon along with a couple more. The Feng clan members looked at each other and nodded, there were a lot of injured among them. They thought that if the other clan was hostile, they wouldn’t offer them any help in the first place and just slaughter them instead.
“The Feng clan offers their respect.”
One of the older cultivator women bowed with cupped hands while all of them headed inside. Most of the deaths were from the Qi condensation members from the Feng clan. They went through a similar dungeon like the Zhang Clan, but they weren’t prepared as well as them for the things that were inside. Somehow they managed to get to the boss room while using up quite a lot of defensive trinkets and losing some of their members on the way here. Some died to traps, some to the monsters that kept pouring in.
The last boss was a snake-like creature, spitting venom and thrashing its tail at the female cultivators. They managed to slay it with the help of some battle formations and treasures that allowed them to deliver an attack at the core formation level. Without the help of their treasures, they would have been wiped out by the strange-looking creature.
The Zhang Clan offered their help, placing the most injured people in the barracks while offering them their healing arts. They kept their pills to themselves, mostly worried that they would run out too fast if they used them all willy nilly. Luckily most of the cultivator women that survived to this point, weren’t in critical condition. Most of them would recover in a couple of days, with some meditation and aid of the water-based regeneration healing arts that the Zhang Clan implemented.
As time passed more and more of the other cultivators started showing up, most of them being in a sorry state. Life in this world was harsh, most of the cultivators on top didn’t really care about their weaker clan members. You really had to show that you were worth it, for anyone to throw a bone your way. The other way was through family ties, but even then the most promising offspring usually monopolized everything from his or her lesser siblings.
The Qi condensation members of this expedition were the most likely to be tossed aside. The losses were immense among that power bracket. Even though the Zhang Clan started off with the least amount of members of all the participating powers, they didn’t lose anyone while the other people burned through their defensive and offensive treasures to survive their boss battles.
The most people belonged to the Huo clan though, they did have 660 members participating. Though their numbers were cut by more than half, one team only returned with about thirty members. If you did a headcount, there were 220 Zhang Clan members, 326 Huo clan members, 233 Feng clan members. From the remaining four participating parties, only one team from each returned amounting to about 250 members.
The moment that the last person set foot in the fortress, the people heard the strange robotic voice once more.
“Attention, the second stage will commence in exactly twelve hours.”
“Please get ready for the first wave.”
The message repeated itself for a minute before silence fell on the cultivators, everyone looked at each other a commotion ready to break out. What was that strange voice, what was the first wave? From their experience, they knew that it wasn’t anything good.
The Zhang Clan members were the first group to arrive, so they explained a couple of things. The Feng clan members showed to most respect for the help, but the rest was a bit reserved. Everyone from the top cultivators gathered in the big hall with the hologram to discuss the next step. Everyone got clued in about the strange magical treasures, the clan also revealed that they thought that the blue dots were the people that were around the fortress. The other people were a bit suspicious that this clan with the strange-looking combat robes, was just revealing all of their secrets, but they were just following the instructions of their Patriarch.
“That is why I hope we can all work together, the strange voice said that something will start in twelve hours, we need to prepare and station our people on the walls.”
Zhang Zhi chimed in, while some other older-looking cultivators contemplated their next move. There were too many separate forces here, no one knew if they wouldn’t get stabbed in the back by the other people in this room if push came to shove. The Zhang Clan wanted to spread people around the walls to prepare for battle, they were the only force without casualties so they could head out at any moment.
“How about we station out people on the walls… we found a lot of bows and arrows stored in the fortress…”
The leading figure from the Huo clan was a grizzled old man, his beard was white and he had multiple scars on his face. His frame was imposing and he didn’t look like someone that would follow orders.
“Don’t think that just because you were here first, you can order us around. The Huo clan will wait and see what this ‘wave’ is, then we will decide.”
He scoffed at Zhang Zhi, spitting onto the ground before turning his back and walking to the side. The other fire clan members came to their leader’s side, they outnumbered the Zhang clan two to one with their foundation establishment elders so they didn’t really fear them.
The leading person from the Feng Clan was an amazon looking woman, her midsection was covered by armor with her legs and arms exposed letting you see her bulging muscles. The brown skin just made her veins pop out even more.
“Well if it isn’t old man Tao, don’t mind him. He was born constipated like that.”
She laughed out in a loud voice, making a lot of people uncomfortable in the room.
“But I agree, lets put our clan members on the walls and wait for this wave.”
She gave Zhang Zhi a wink while licking her lips, the man felt a shiver run through his body when the almost seven-foot-tall woman did that. Though she seemed friendly enough and ready to cooperate with their members. Soon two camps formed before the first wave, one consisted of the Zhang and Feng clan, while the Huo clan absorbed the remaining members mostly by threatening them with sheer force.
“The first wave will commence in 5…4…3…2…1…”
The robotic voice proclaimed and almost instantly the cultivators could hear rumbling in the distance.