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Tom sat there, on top of the bearded man, deep in contemplation. The fact that he'd just killed someone didn't matter to him at all. He was completely unfazed by it. After all, he used to be a carnivore. If he didn't kill; he didn't eat. Though, that was a sentiment that mellowed out substantially after he ascended and no longer required food for sustenance.

The reason that Tom was lost in thought was purely because of how unexpected and bizarre the situation was for him. He'd just been walking along and some strange man suddenly attacked him out of nowhere. He didn't know what to make out of the situation. After bashing the man's face in and calming his anger, Tom was left with a sense of surrealism.

However, Tom couldn't remain in his stupor for very long. Once again, he heard running footsteps coming from behind him. His first thought was that another attacker had appeared. Logically, it wouldn't make sense for another attacker to run out with this timing, but then again, Tom hadn't expected the first one either. He quickly got up, grabbing the knife lying on the ground and looked with a serious gaze at the corner of the alley, unsure of who or what to expect.

As the sound of footsteps grew louder, Tom began to hear new sounds, far off voices and shouting.

Tom thought about the possibility of running but even if he had calmed down somewhat, that didn't mean his blood wasn't still boiling. He'd just won one encounter and he was fully prepared to fight again. He wanted to see just who exactly was challenging him.

Rationally, running away could be both the right choice and the wrong choice. Tom was working on the belief that the footsteps he was hearing might belong to another attacker. In this situation, there was logic in both, waiting to see who else was trying to kill him and assessing the threat level, and, running away before more danger arrived.

Tom made the choice to stay in the alley because he wanted to see who else was involved in this strange plot to kill him and if possible, kill them too. Part of this was motivated by his anger at having been attacked out of nowhere and nearly killed, part of it was because when challenged it just wasn't in his nature to back down, and part of it was that with his sense of pride as a god, how could possibly stand to be targeted by these weaklings.

In the back of his mind he knew that he was weak at the moment and that retreating and avoiding danger would be more sensible at this moment in time. He knew that if he died, it would ruin his plans and likely lead to him losing his bet with Methis, but, his sense of pride just wouldn't allow run off like some coward.

However, ultimately, Tom had made the rational choice by staying, though not for the reasons he did stay.

Tom's body tensed in anticipation, preparing himself, as he saw a person run round the corner and enter the alley. This person then stopped shortly after entering the alley, facing Tom with concern in his eyes.

"Avery?" Tom asked.

After making out the figure in front of him, a look of confusion spread across Tom's face. The question he asked wasn't so much to confirm who was in front of him, Tom could see him well enough, it was out of confusion as to why he was there.

Avery looked at Tom, seeing a bruise forming on his face and blood running from his nose and a cut on his lip. Then Avery looked to the body of the bearded man on the floor. He looked back and forth between the two before pointed at the dead body, tilting his head and asking "Him... you did that?"

"Yes" Tom said emotionlessly.

"Why are you here?" he asked again, a hint of suspicion on his face.

Collecting himself from the scene he saw before him, Avery answered Tom's question.

"When we were in Benny's, that guy kept looking at you. I didn't think much of it at first but then he followed you out after you left. Because of the alcohol, I was a bit slow to react, but, I realised something was wrong and sobered up. I tried to follow after you and catch up but I didn't realise you'd walked this way. I ran all the way to main street and when I didn't see you I backtracked and came this way. It was only after I heard sounds of a scuffle that I found you in this alley"

"I see" said Tom, absorbed in thought at Avery's explanation.

"You didn't get here in time"

Hearing this, Avery swallowed deeply. He wasn't sure what Tom meant by that. Tom hadn't expressed these words in a strong manner and Avery didn't know what the hidden emotions and thoughts behind them were.

These words had caused a myriad of emotions and thoughts to run through Avery's head.

Firstly, they were something to feel guilty about. Avery was a guard under the employ of the Cardinal clan. It was his duty to defend members of the clan. He was even a guard working under the direct employ of Gerald, Tom's father.

Even though he had come looking for Tom, his slow actions were clearly insufficient. The fight had already concluded by the time he had arrived there. Whether he went looking for Tom or not had no impact on the outcome. If Tom hadn't gotten the upper hand, it would be he who was lying dead on the ground.

This left Avery with a sense of failure. He had gotten to know Tom over the past 3 months and he also deeply respected Gerald, who had hired him. For a person of ordinary birth, working for the Cardinal clan held some prestige and brought about many other benefits. Furthermore, Avery had his own sense of pride in his job. The mistake he had made in not, realising the threat soon enough, or, acting fast enough to prevent the attack, weighed on his mind.

On the hand, Avery was concerned that Tom's seemingly casually said words were actually hiding his anger. In the time that Avery had known Tom, Tom had never showed any particularly strong signs of anger. Frustration, yes, but not anger. Nevertheless, since Avery worked for Tom's father, if Tom was angry at him for not arriving in time, Tom could potentially get Avery fired.

Though Avery was thinking all this, he was just overthinking things. Tom had no complex thoughts on the matter when he spoke his words. He had been absorbed in thought when considering the contents of Avery's explanation and only spoke out absentmindedly. It was nothing more than a statement of fact and held no emotion in it. By this time, all of Tom's anger had already dissipated.

As they were standing there, they both heard more people approaching them. Another man came running around the corner and was breathing heavily, clearly out of breath. He also worked for the Cardinal clan and had been at table, drinking with them. Upon seeing Avery, he launched into speech.

"Avery, what the hell!? Why did you suddenly bolt out the door and then start running around like a mad ma- WHAT THE FUCK!!!?"

The man, who was originally berating Avery, suddenly saw Tom and the dead man on the ground and shouted out in shock.

At this moment, Lance and two others came around the corner and upon seeing the scene before them made similar exclamations.

"HOLY SHIT!"

"What the hell!?"

No-one could blame them for their shock. This situation was completely unexpected.

"What on earth happened?" asked Lance, being the first to recover from his shock.

"Well he" Avery said, while pointing at the dead bearded man.

"Followed Tom out of the pub and then tried to kill him"

Hearing this explanation, Lance and the others that had followed after Avery finally understood why he was acting so bizarrely. Originally they had thought the drink might have gotten to him and that he had turned mad. Though knowing the actual situation, they didn't know whether they should feel relieved or not. That someone had tried to murder Tom, a member of the Cardinal family, inside Hill city, was quite unnerving.

"Wait, I don't understand. Why did you come down this alley" Lance asked Tom. Puzzled as to why they were in such an out of the way place.

"Did you realise he was following you and tried to draw him out?"

This was actually a question Avery wanted answered as well. He hadn't been able to catch up to Tom because he thought he would have been walking to the main street. He wasn't sure why Tom would walk this way but hearing Lance's words he came to an understanding, an understanding that was dropped on its head by the next words out of Tom's mouth.

"No. It's just faster this way" said Tom in reply.

[Oh, it's faster] thought everyone else in a daze.

[Wait, so that's the reason you took this ridiculous route] everyone shouted in their heads in disbelief.

"Never mind that, there's a more important question that needs to be asked" said Avery.

"Tom, do you know who this man is? Do the two of you have some sort of past grudge?"

"Never met him before in my life" replied Tom.

"You can't think of anything that you might have done that someone would want to kill you over?"

"No, nothing" Tom said matter of factly after a short pause. Aside from the first day of his arrival and today, Tom had spent the entirety of his time at the Cardinal clan estate. Furthermore, there was nothing in the old Tom Cardinal's memories that gave him a clue as to who the bearded man was or why he would want him dead.

Hearing Tom's reply, everyone present became puzzled about what had transpired. It could easily be passed off as a chance occurrence had it been a random encounter in the backstreets. Tom could hardly blame anyone else if that was case. After all, he had chosen to walk down a series of dark and out of the way back alleys. But, the fact that the bearded man had been watching Tom from the bar and followed him out made this premeditated.

Confused over who this mysterious bearded man was and his reasons for attacking Tom, the group decided to go over and have a better look at him. Because it was particularly dark, with only a small amount of moonlight poking through the clouds, they couldn't see what the bearded man looked like from where they were.

Only Tom and Avery had gotten a good look at him so far and they wanted to see what he looked like too. All of them had drunk at Benny's before and they figured that if they saw his face, one of them might be able to recognise him.

However, when they went closer and peered at his remains, what used to be his face was now a mushy and mangled mess. The sight was quite horrifying and one of the men even threw up upon seeing it. Perhaps if he hadn't been drinking he would have had better control over his body.

There was no way they could recognise the man from his face. There wasn't even a face left, just a bloody caved in pit with bits of bone and brain seeping through.

Of course, he still had his facial hair, but many man had long hair and beards. His clothes also had no identifying marks. The group of men were left stumped.

Afterwards, they continued to talk for a while, trying to figure out the situation and trying to find if he had anything on him that would give them a clue about his identity. In the end they didn't find anything and people had started to gather. Neither Tom's scuffle, nor Avery and the other guards had been quiet and they had started to attract quite a bit of attention. Numerous people from surrounding buildings had come to see what the commotion was and people from further off came to see the reason a crowd was gathering.

Eventually, some men from the city guard came and Tom explained the situation to them. Since the city guard was under the command of the Cardinal family, they quickly heeded the words of Tom and didn't cause any trouble for him. Whether he was telling the truth or not wasn't their concern, they would leave that for their superiors to worry about. After explaining everything to the city guard, Tom and the others were ready to leave, though this time they were all going to walk back to the Cardinal estate together and those that didn't live there permanently were planning to stay in the temporary lodging for the clan's employees.

Unbeknownst to Tom and the others, there were a couple of people standing in the crowd that were staring hard at Tom, a mix of emotions shown on their faces, ranging from surprise, disbelief and concern. However, one young man's face looked warped and twisted. Usually this man was arrogant and proud, but whenever something didn't go his way his bad temper would flare up.

He didn't care for the dead man on the ground, but seeing Tom made him feel angry and uncomfortable. This was the gaudy man who was showing off his skills 3 months ago during the bandit incident and then killed Tom Cardinal.

"See boss, I told you, he's still alive" said the man who had been drinking with the bearded man, with a slightly pained and meek voice.

The young man who was called the boss responded by clenching and unclenching his fists.

"Let's go" he ordered through clenched teeth and then starting walking off. His underlings followed after him.

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A note from jmj1011995

I actually had 2 ideas for what would happen over the last 2 chapters. One was the one you read and the other would have had Avery finding the bearded man and killing him before he even attacked Tom. I asked several people, all of which said they liked the second idea better, but, i personally really wanted Tom to have his first fight.


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jmj1011995

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