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Tom's group proceeded to move forward at a slow pace, the reasons being threefold. First, it was night time, so, visibility was low, though Arnet could see further than the other two because of his cultivation capability. Second, both Tom and the cart driver were slowing the party down, and, third, Arnet was wary of the bandits that had attacked the group Tom Cardinal was with.

In fact, after stopping from searching through the memories of the old Tom Cardinal for a bit, Tom began conversing with Arnet again and learned of the traveling duo's circumstances. It turned out that Arnet was a disciple of the Iron Fist Sect that was located in the highland areas not far from Hill City. Arnet had actually been born in the same village as the cart driver, who was a friend of his father's. The cart driver was just an ordinary village man and not a cultivator, but, he still occasionally travelled to neighbouring villages to trade goods. He and Arnet had coincidentally met in a large village not far from here and, so he wouldn't have to stay the night in an inn, Arnet offered to escort him back his home.

It was actually quite peculiar for people to travel at night since many cities, towns and villages were walled and would have their gates closed at night and because there were many inherent dangers to travelling at night. This hadn't affected Arnet and the cart driver because their home village was just a couple miles away from Hill City and so, wasn't walled. Although Hill City itself was walled, because it was a powerful city with many powerful cultivators and a strong city guard, the villages in the near vicinity were considered to be safe from danger and weren't protected by walls of their own. The lateness of the evening also hadn't affected the departure of Tom Cardinal's group, because, since the Cardinal family controlled Hill City the city guard would of course open the gates to let them in when they arrived.

Unfortunately for Tom Cardinal, his group hadn't anticipated being attacked so close to Hill City. This was somewhat understandable as the areas surrounding big cities were usually safe, but, the hilly terrain along some of the paths provided very good hiding spots for bandit groups. Tom Cardinal's group had truly underestimated the threat that these groups posed. As Tom got to thinking about this, he also found it strange. From what he'd seen from his vessel's memories, Hill City was powerful, so, there ought not to be such groups operating in such close proximity to it. Tom realised he still didn't have a very firm grasp of things. It was one thing to know about the situation and personal history of his vessel, but, he still hadn't explored the wider situation of the world he was in.

Tom once again began exploring the memories of his vessel. It was fortunate that his vessel had the education he had and was so well read, because, Tom was able to uncover a great deal of information about the history of the kingdom and the wider world.

Tom learned that he was in the Mantal Kingdom of the Central continent. The Kingdom had been formed 3,000 years ago by the Mantal family, after the central continent went through a period of great turmoil and bloodshed. When it was formed, it was a mid-sized kingdom with a strong military ruled by old and powerful clans that had survived through the chaotic era. The kingdom stayed strong, stable and rich for a great period of time, but, like many times before, the central continent once again entered a period of war and bloodshed.

A series of devastating and large scale wars started 300 hundred years ago and lasted over 200 years, finally coming to a close 80 years ago. During this time, people died by the millions. When all was said and done, over a billion lives were lost.

Unfortunately, the effects of this period could still be felt today. The once proud Mantal kingdom lost over half of its territory to its western and southern neighbours. Now, it was nothing more than a small kingdom surrounded by more powerful neighbours. However, it at least had some respite in that its current borders were easily defensible.

To the North was the Yendel Mountain range, which formed almost the entirety of the northern border, to the West was the tainted forest; which, aside from one long corridor through the middle, formed the entirety of the Western border, to the South there was the misty barrows; a danger zone running East to West, protecting much of the southern border, and to the East was a vast expanse of Ocean.

Besides the loss of much of its territory, the chaotic era had many other negative effects on the Mantal kingdom. The wars devastated the south of the country. The southwest was hit especially badly. The people were slaughtered, cities were destroyed and farmland was burned. Furthermore, what had previously been the upper half of the kingdom became inundated with refugees fleeing the hardest hit areas. This caused many cities to swell in population and also led to widespread famine and starvation.

Of course, the people to suffer the most during this were the powerless people, the non-cultivators. Despite the fact that non-cultivators essentially conducted the entire kingdom's agriculture, they were the hardest hit by famine.

When the people were starving they threw away niceties such as kindness. In order to feed themselves cultivators resorted to stealing from those weaker than themselves. This led to the deaths of millions of powerless people in the country, but, despite the tragedy, it was also the nation's saving grace. Because cultivators weren't the ones dying, the armies of the Mantal kingdom were able to stay strong enough to prevent the kingdom's collapse from external powers. But, despite the kingdom retaining its sovereignty, the litany of problems that followed makes that achievement seem obsolete.

The wars had thoroughly torn apart the order of the kingdom. The people who were once united had turned against each other. The country became plagued by the uprising of bandit groups, gangs, religious cults and more. The authority of the crown and noble families became shaky and in a greatly changed kingdom law and order became harder to enforce.

Sifting through these memories Tom gained a greater understanding of the nature of the world he was in. He also understood how the country's circumstances led to the death of Tom Cardinal. The kingdom had been trying to rebuild itself for the past 80 years and the noble families had re-solidified their power, but, these problems still pervaded.

Although the previous Tom Cardinal and his group were aware of the state of the kingdom, their travelling choices, which some might think of as foolish, were actually forgivable. Hill City was located in the north west of the country, an area largely unaffected by the wars. Unfortunately, although this region was not ravaged by the wars, the social problems that resulted from the wars still reached here, and, immigrants from other parts of the country came here and caused havoc. In fact, many of the bandits now residing in the north west were from other areas of the country.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that this kingdom, this continent, is a dangerous place to live.

A place where one's life is at risk every day.

A lawless place.

A chaotic place.

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jmj1011995

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