526 All Along The Watchtower

    It only took a moment for Daniel to realize that these two connected towers were different from any other standing rock he had seen in the stone forest. The biggest indication of that was the fact that their wider base, instead of being planted into the sandstone like a sword pierced into the ground, was covered from it and likely stretched underground. If seen separately from the rest of the stone forest, one would describe these two towers as extremely thin twin mountains.

    "That bridge has seen better days.." Dawn muttered to the others as Daniel walked past her and around the closest tower, at the bottom of which he spotted a ground-level entrance hidden in between two large boulders.. A few inches above ground, he also noticed the presence of a tripwire trigger, made almost invisible by its clever positioning.

    In the past few days, Daniel had been forced to rediscover his mortality. Specifically, the notions that had allowed him to survive before his life as a cultivator-Notions that he was used to rely on, like awareness to danger, which had been numbed by his nigh-invincibility and high speed recovery, his observation skills, which he had given up for his system's ability to indicate a path to success, and most importantly, the value of time.. Something he previously had in abundance, and that now had taken back control over his life.

    All these notions had become obsolete the moment he had reached a certain level of cultivation, But now that he had been stripped of virtually all of his power, and many of his system's functions, Daniel was left with no choice but to once again rely on his dulled instincts, which at this moment, were telling him to explore these towers-The first real sign of civilization that they had encountered ever since they had come to this planet.

    "Stay there.. And keep an eye out, this place was visited recently." Said Daniel to the others before stepping over the tripwire, and into the tower's dark entrance.

    Once inside the tower, Daniel found himself in a relatively empty room, which only contained a few boxes made out of rotten wood and nothing else. These boxes were all identical, and left on the far edge of the room in a rough semi-ordered fashion, indicating that the main use of this room was likely to be that of a storage. The only other point of interest within this room was a rectangular door frame made of stone, behind which was the bottom of a flight of stairs that had been directly carved into the stones that formed the inner parts of the tower.

    Instead of going up the stairs right away, Daniel decided to inspect the broken boxes in the hope to find some clues, but with little success. It was only after several minutes that he was able to find, hidden in between two relatively intact crates, a small rocket in the shape of a paper-covered cylinder, and impaled on a thin wooden stick. Nothing of its fuse remained, which explained why it had been left unused.

    With nothing left to see on the bottom floor, Daniel began the climb of the five-hundred feet tower, which became narrower the higher he would get.

    From the very moment Daniel had spotted these two connected towers, his first thought had been that, if there was ever a natural construction that was made to be used as a watchtower, that would have been the two columns of stone that stood in front of him. A thought that had formed as he realized how well the two towers were camouflaged within the stone forest, as well as how, due to being significantly taller than any other peak, these towers would allow a full view of the horizon to whomever owned them.

    Daniel's guess was proven right the moment he had found a defective signal rocket at the bottom of the tower, which also gave him a hint regarding this place's story.

    A watchtower was usually inhabited by scouts, some of whom would keep watch for incoming forces, while the rest spread in the surrounding area to make sure no one would try to sneak from the tower's blind spots. What Daniel found odd as he climbed the tower, however, was the fact that despite there being more than enough room for half a dozen people to live in, he had yet to see any sign that this tower was once inhabited.

    Paired with the presence of a single defective signal rocket, the lack of furniture could only mean that whomever had inhabited this tower last, was expecting to be attacked, and had prepared to abandon the watchtower right as they would spot the enemy, and signal their arrival to the forces to which they belonged.

    Unfortunately, knowing this did nothing but deepen Daniel's confusion.. As based on the state of the traps that Daniel had carefully avoided, as well as the state of the few empty boxes left in the storage, this battle could not have happened more than twenty years ago. In his mind he could not help but wonder what sort of army that could be spotted from miles away, would cross such a dangerous and inhospitable desert.

    Unable to find an explanation, Daniel kept climbing the flight of stairs until finally, he reached the top of the tower, where the claustrophobic ascending path expanded into a small room illuminated by the sunlight that came from the opening that led to the bridge which united the two towers.

    Daniel gave a quick look at his surrounding, and immediately realized that the place he was currently in was not only an abandoned watchtower, but a currently used hideout, as shown by the poor camp bed placed by the deeper and darker side of the room, the still warm campfire built in the middle of the room, and the many animal remains scattered around the floor.. Some of which were dry and clean, while some others had bits and pieces of meat still attached to them.

    The most curious thing in the room, however, were the uncountable marks left on the walls. Grouped in four parallel diagonal lines, cut in the middle by a horizontal one. These marks covered the entire wall, and were clearly used to keep count of either time, or of something different.

    Left with nothing to discover Daniel decided to head towards the second tower, so he left the small room from the opening opposite to the stairs, and stepped into the wooden bridge, which, to his surprise, was in better condition that he would have guessed.

    While making sure not to step onto any rotten plank, Daniel walked the few dozen meters that separated the two towers, and a couple of minutes later, he reached the room on the opposite side.

    Due to the current position of the sun, whose rays were shining directly into the door to the first room, the second one was completely dark. Thankfully, Daniel was still in possession of Saha's mirror, which he used to reflect some of the light straight into the room.. A decision which he regretted immediately after.

    The second room was roughly the same size as the first one, but instead of being decorated with the bare minimum necessary for a camp, it was filled with humanoid skulls and severed heads, which, when examined attentively, had close to nothing in common to a human's appearance. With rows of pointy long teeth and a mandible that could open widely enough to allow these beings to rip both of a human's hands off with a single bite, Daniel could barely imagine how monstrous these beings would have been when they were still alive.

    Seeing how some of these skulls still had some dark grey-colored flesh covering them, Daniel could not help but wonder if avoiding these monsters had only been a matter of luck, or because the owner of this hideout had simply killed every member of their species in the region. Regardless, he had no intention to remain long enough to find out, so he left the second room, and once back on the bridge, he looked down in search of his companions.

    "DAWN! CASSIE!" He shouted in hope for his voice to reach his companions, whom he believed to be waiting for him in somewhere where he couldn't see them.

    After a few seconds spent without any response, he decided to head down right away.. However, as he turned to look at the other end of the bridge, Daniel noticed a person standing by the entrance of the first room.

    This figure belonged to an extremely muscular two-meters-tall man with ebony-colored skin, half of which was covered by a layer of white paint in a maze pattern. Only dressed in a pair tattered pants, rudely made sandals, a rope belt from which hanged two curved knives, and a beige cloth that was wrapped around his head and face, leaving only his dark brown eyes uncovered, this person stared at Daniel without moving a muscle.

    To startle Daniel more than the appearance of this individual, was the lack of a response from his group, as in order to follow Daniel all the way to the top of the tower, this man would have had no choice but to run into them.

    The two looked at one another for a few moments, but as Daniel's hand inched towards his knife, the dark-skinned figure stepped back, and disappeared into the dark part of the room.

    "I just had to check this damn tower, didn't I?" Daniel muttered before letting out a sigh of irritation. He then unsheathed both of his bone knives, and after taking a run-up, he dashed past the length of the bridge, and shot into the room, hoping to avoid any form of trap that the talk dark-skinned man could have prepared for him.

    Just as he had expected, the moment Daniel's body shot into the room, he felt the sound of a blade cutting through the air behind him, missing him by only a few inches. In order to avoid a potential second attack, Daniel shifted his weight and rolled into the room with a somersault, but by the time he was able to regain his balance, and turn towards the man that had attacked him, he was forced to snap his head to the side in order to avoid the knife that the dark skinned man at thrown at him, before charging in his direction and attempt to slash right across his thigh, which Daniel struggled to avoid.

    For a few seconds the dark-skinned man maintained his relentless flurry of blows, forcing Daniel into a defensive position from which he could observe his opponent in amazement. It only took a couple dozen exchanges with this man for him to realize that his opponent's fighting style was not suited to fight a single person, but to single-handedly fight a larger group, as shown by his consecutive dirty attacks, and his seemingly endless stamina.

    If not for the perfectly healthy body that his cultivation had maintained for him, Daniel would not have been able to keep up with the endurance of this giant, and would have likely succumbed to his attacks.. But luckily, that was not the case. With his mastery of many martial arts Daniel was able to defend himself from most blows, only allowing the least threatening attacks to go past his guard, and graze his skin and clothes.

    Unable to find a chance to strike back, Daniel kept avoiding and deviating attacks until, finally, the dark-skinned man stopped attacking, and took a step back.

    Daniel's first thought was that the man had gotten tired of attacking without stopping for a single moment, and that he wanted to rest for a few moments before resuming the onslaught, but the grunting noises that came from the staircase, paired with the noises of armor scraping against the rock, proved him wrong. Something was coming, and it wasn't Daniel's companions.

    As these noises came closer, the dark skinned man grunted in anger before dashing towards the exit that led to the bridge that connected the two towers. Then, instead of crossing it, he turned towards the external part of the first tower, and with the use of the metallic hooks that were mounted on the leather bracer that covered his left arm, he started climbing the exterior of the first tower, leaving Daniel alone in the room.

    Too late to find somewhere to hide, Daniel could only look at the entrance of the hideout as five monstrous creatures clad in black plate armor barged in, and stared at him as if they had found their next target. From their uncovered rows of pointy teeth, grey-colored rough skin, and oddly wide mouths, Daniel was able to associate these monsters to the hundreds of skulls and partially rotten heads that were stored in the room at the top of the second tower.

    At no point in time Daniel had hoped that these monsters weren't waiting for the first chance to jump on him and rip him apart.. And yet, they never did. Instead, they kept staring at him for a couple of long minutes until finally, the group split into two, and opened a path for a sixth even taller and scarier-looking humanoid monster to walk into the room.

    The initial five monsters unsheathed their black blades in excitement, waiting for the order to attack, but were stopped by the taller one, who, after looking at Daniel up and down, grunted a few words in an obscure and guttural language before turning to leave. The five monsters responded by sheathing their sword, and advancing towards Daniel, clearly intending to capture him.

    Daniel had no guarantee that he would come out unscathed in a fight against these six monsters, so he chose to let himself be captured. At least until he would find out whether Dawn and the others had hidden after noticing the arrival of this party of monsters, or if they had been captured as well.

    Before they could apprehend him, however, a small rock flew through the room, and hit the back of the head of the leaders of these monsters. The damage was minimal, and yet, it was able to trigger something in the mind of these barely sentient beings, who let go of any form of rational behavior, and unsheathed their weapons in a blind range.

    "Fuck.." muttered Daniel as he prepared to fight.
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