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After finishing with his practice for the day, Tom went back to his room to clean himself up. He had worked up quite a sweat from his vigorous training, plus his clothes had gotten rather dirty from being knocked on the ground over and over again.

In truth, Tom's current state wasn't entirely his own fault. In order for Tom to get the most out of the training and improve as quickly as possible, Avery made the training quite intensive. Furthermore, Avery didn't pull his punches nearly as much as Pike or Lance because he was trying to push Tom to his limit, helping him stimulate his own potential and accrue as much battle experience in as short a time as possible. This resulted in the sorry appearance that Tom currently had.

As Tom was travelling through the Cardinal estate, he noted that the hustle and bustle had already completely died down since he first came here. This all had to do with how the Cardinal clan was dealing with the aftermath of the bandit incident.

After Tom had arrived at the city gates on that first night and relayed his tale of the bandit attack, the Cardinal clan went into somewhat of a frenzy as a response. Not only was the clan angry at having one of their members murdered, but, they also saw the actions of the bandits as a direct challenge to their authority.

Starting from the next day, the Cardinal clan launched a massive operation to hunt down the bandits and wipe them out for good. The clan mobilised the city guard as well as many of their own members in order to search out and hunt down the bandits. Rewards were even posted at the governor's building and at the nearby Iron fist sect for anyone who was able to find and kill bandits that were operating in the North West and around Hill city.

However, after 3 months, the Cardinal clan's efforts had only been met with mixed results.

Tom had heard about how the situation was developing through conversations with Adam, who was participating in the searches and would periodically return to the Cardinal estate.

Over the course of the last 3 months, a few Iron fist sect disciples and ordinary warriors had had some success in finding and killing bandits. But, these were all in areas far away from Hill city and involved small bandit groups consisting of low levelled cultivators unaffiliated with the larger group that had begun operating around Hill city.

Closer to home, the bandit group responsible for the attack on Tom's group was proving incredibly hard to track down. Adam had informed Tom that there were only two instances in which the clan's forces had come into contact with this bandit group.

The first was when some lower levelled city guards who were patrolling and searching the hills were killed. This was considered unfortunate but not wholly unexpected.

Although the Cardinal clan could mobilise a large force, and they had done for this particular operation, there was a lot of ground to cover and search through. Along with patrol teams with higher level cultivators in them, who would be responsible for the actual killing of the bandits, there were also search teams with lower level cultivators, whose job was to act as scouts, seeking out the enemy, uncovering their hideouts and reporting their movements. This led to a situation where groups without higher level cultivators in them that were searching through rural areas became vulnerable to attack.

It could be said that it was lucky that only one group was killed in this way, the death toll was expected to be higher; however, the behaviour of the bandits actually posed a problem for the Cardinal clan. The reason only one group were killed in this manner lay in the fact that the bandit group had retreated into its shell and was hiding away. This made it very difficult to locate them.

Over recent years this particular bandit group had been gaining strength and increasing in scope. Furthermore, their roots in the North West were deep.

The reason for this was that they weren't just a ragtag group of opportunists that preyed on those weaker than them. This group was smart and organised.

After they had assaulted Tom's group on the first night of his arrival and the Cardinal clan began their operation to hunt them down, they purposefully decided to hide themselves and lay low so as avoid being caught. This was proving to be an effective strategy and was giving the Cardinal clan a headache in trying to locate them.

However, as deep as their roots were, as knowledgeable as they were about the land and as well-hidden as they were, they couldn't completely prevent themselves from being discovered. This led to the second encounter that the forces of the Cardinal clan had with them, just a few short weeks after the searches had begun.

The second encounter with the bandits occurred when a group being led by two brothers of the Cardinal clan stumbled upon one of the bandits hideouts.

The two brothers were fairly powerful and were both in the mid-levels of qi expansion. Furthermore, the group they were leading was assigned to a fighting role in this operation and had many warriors in the realm of qi expansion, as well as several in the later levels of qi expansion. This group was by no means weak.

Sadly, no one in this group survived. After they had been missing for half a day, it was actually Adam's group that had found their trail and located them. Only, when he found them they were all already dead.

From how Adam told it, the hideout that the two brothers had found was rather large and it was suspected as being one of the major bases from which the bandit group was conducting their operation.

Outside of the hideout; Adam had found numerous bodies strewn about the place, people belonging to the Cardinal clan's forces as well as the bandit's forces. The number of dead was high and the fighting was obviously intense.

The two brothers of the clan had led a team of just over 20 people consisting of elite fighters. They easily swept through the cultivators that were in the body strengthening realm of cultivation, but, as they pushed into the hideout their initial success was interrupted by stronger resistance.

The hideout was a large cave structure artificially carved into a hill and could house about 200 people. Many of the people there were only cultivators in the realm of body strengthening and their sleeping quarters and the largest communal area were both located near the entrance of the cave. This meant that when the two brothers of the Cardinal clan attacked and entered the hideout they began swiftly massacring these people. Unfortunately for them however, they underestimated the strength of the bandit forces and the elites from the bandits that had been located further in soon showed up to meet them in battle.

Judging from the scene that Adam found, it seems the two brothers were pushed back outside the hideout, where the fighting finally concluded. Also, rather disconcertingly, a serious of large fissures and sunken patches of earth made it apparent that an expert in the third realm of cultivation, qi condensation, was present in the bandit's forces and was responsible for the deaths of the two brothers.

By the time Adam's group had found the hideout and the two dead brothers, the surviving bandits were already long gone. They had made a hasty retreat and only collected the most valuable things, leaving their hideout in a mostly intact state.

After these events transpired, the efforts of the clan increased threefold. The initial operation being led by the clan could be said to mainly have been conducted on principle, but what followed was because they were truly enraged.

The family had expected some losses, they were prepared for that inevitability, but they didn't expect to so suddenly lose a number of their elites. Furthermore, the two brothers in question were the children of the 7th elder and were well known faces in the Cardinal estate. When the 7th elder learned of his two son's deaths, he was livid and went into a mad rage. It took the patriarch and several other elders to calm him down.

The clan had also finally begun to realise just how much of a problem this bandit group really was. Unfortunately, the bandit group that was already hiding themselves became even harder to find.

After this second incident there wasn't a single encounter with the bandit forces again. Even their activity against regular people had completely died down, not giving the Cardinal clan any clues as to how to find them. The only clues that the Cardinal clan found were a couple of small caves suspected of being used by the bandits, but, since they were empty and no trails were found surrounding them, all the clan could do was collapse them and continue their search.

As time went by and months passed, the clan still hadn't uncovered any new leads. As a result, they had no choice but to suspend their search efforts.

The Cardinal estate had returned to a state of normalcy.

Thinking about this, Tom returned to his room and cleaned himself up. Once he was done, it was time to leave and meet up with Avery and the others. Tom proceeded to leave the Cardinal estate for the first time since he had arrived there and started to make his way towards Benny's.

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jmj1011995

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