"Again Tom. Hah..." Adam sighed.
"You just can't avoid trouble, can you? I'm not even sure if you're lucky or unlucky"
"Well I'm hardly to blame for this" Tom said in reply.
"And I would posit that I'm unlucky"
After the incident the previous night, Tom had returned home and after speaking a few words to a clan member, he went to bed and allowed Avery to explain the situation.
When the new day came, he found that things in the estate had once again livened up. This was to a much smaller degree than before, but seeing as someone just tried to kill Tom within Hill city it certainly caught the attention of the higher ups in the clan. Perhaps it wouldn't have gotten as much attention had the bandit incident not occurred 3 months ago and they were on high alert, but since Gerald would've made a clamour about it anyway, it still would have made it to the upper echelons of the clan.
Of course, when he woke up, he was visited by his parents who inquired about what had happened last night and he explained it as best he could. After they left, presumably to go investigate and deal with the situation, Adam came in, leading to the short exchange they just had.
"I heard the details of what happened last night. I heard you killed the man. Are you alright?" Adam said with concern.
"Yeah I'm fine" Tom replied casually.
"Really?" Adam questioned.
"I know when I killed someone for the first time my hand wouldn't stop shaking for the rest of the day"
"Yeah. No problem at all"
Hearing this, Adam was surprised. He knew his cousin well and didn't think Tom would be able to take this so well. Especially since Tom had no prior experience with such a thing, though thinking about it for a bit, he reasoned that the bandit incident 3 months ago must have hardened his heart and toughened him up.
Little did he know, the reason was because Tom had already had plenty experience with killing. He'd done it for countless years as a magic beast. From Tom's point of view, the act of killing wasn't a problem at all. It was not that he was some mindless psychopath, he had never gone out of his way to purposelessly kill before, but, killing was just a way of life for him. More than that, it wasn't in his nature to be fazed by it. He'd killed in anger before and he'd relished kills before, but, he had never been upset at killing. It just wasn't something that would affect him like that.
Disregarding his life experiences and his nature, there were two other reasons that Tom's mental state wasn't affected by the act of killing the bearded man. Firstly, it was because he wasn't really a human. Just like the humans in this world and countless other worlds wouldn't bat an eye at killing magic beasts or qi beasts, in fact they would even go out of their way to do it, why would Tom bat his eye at killing a human.
This wasn't to say he didn't respect humans; he greatly respected Jacob and Methis who were both ascended humans and had even begun to appreciate the existence of Adam, Avery and the others around him, but, that didn't mean he would care about humans who he didn't know, much less ones that had tried to kill him.
The second reason that that killing the bearded man couldn't affect Tom's state of mind was because of his position of power as a god. He was so far removed from mortals that unless he formed a personal connection with them, like the members of the Cardinal clan, Avery, Pike and Lance, it would be nigh impossible for him to care about them. Perhaps he would care about the myriad of mortal lives on his own world, when he finished creating it, but right now he didn't have such attachments.
"Well... anyway. You'll need to be more careful from now on, even inside the city" said Adam seriously.
"Oh, and why's that?" Tom questioned.
"I don't think you quite get the seriousness of the situation" Adam sighed.
"And how serious is it? It's true that being assaulted inside the city was unexpected but the chances of it happening again must be very low. I'll even stop taking the backstreets. Won't that solve the problem?"
Tom certainly wasn't happy at being targeted by someone and attacked, but neither did he place much concern on it. He had decided to pin it down to a freak occurrence and put it out of his mind. He knew that logically there would be others targeting him, but, there wasn't much he could do about it anyway, so, what was the point in dwelling on it. Like Adam said, he just had to be more careful from now on, which he fully intended to be. He would just take things as they came.
"See, this is what I mean. You don't understand the seriousness of the situation. There's more going on here than what is on the surface. Let me explain it to you"
"Very well then" Tom said, intrigued at what Adam had to say.
Although he'd decided not to dwell on these things, he wasn't so stupid as to ignore Adam should he have information relevant to his safety.
"Well then, first off, we have to consider the reason you were attacked. Because the man had been staring at you and then followed you out from the bar to kill you, it was clearly a premeditated attack. What's more, since he targeted you specifically, it can be determined that he knew who you were. Now, you said you didn't know the man, nor any reason someone would want to kill you, so, that only really leaves one option"
"And what's that?" asked Tom.
"Well, do you remember what you told us the bandits who let you go said?"
"Yes, vaguely" answered Tom.
"That you were a nobody that they could kill whenever they wanted" Adam said, recounting what Tom had said on that night 3 months ago.
"We believe that they just tried to make good on that promise"
Hearing this, Tom didn't quite know how to respond. After all, that was just the lie he told as to why he was still alive and the others weren't.
He was feeling disappointed right now because he thought that the clan had figured out a greater threat to him and would be able to deal with it, but instead, a false conclusion was drawn because of his own words.
"As to why this is so serious, the bandits said those words as a direct challenge to the clan. The meaning behind them was that they didn't put the clan in their sights. That they believed they could do anything to us and still get away with it. It was why they attacked you and Paul that night and also why they left you with those words. They're making a statement, that they're the power in these parts, that the Cardinal clan isn't as strong as everyone believes"
"Think about it logically. You and Paul, as well as the guards accompanying you, were wearing the insignia of the clan. Any regular bandit group would never dare to attack people from the clan so close to Hill city. The initial attack could be explained away as a mistake because it was dark, but, after they'd finished everyone off, they let you go and made no attempt to hide the bodies. They just left them there In the middle of the road"
"Even if they were a particularly brazen group, the Cardinal clan name still resounds strongly in the North West. Their actions would be the equivalent of courting death. But, they're not a regular group of bandits. They are directly challenging our authority and trying to undermine us. Killing you would have cemented the statement they were trying to make"
"That's why you have to be more careful from now on. It's likely they didn't realise that you had become a cultivator; I mean it was a surprise to us too, but, they know that now. They'll likely come after you again, maybe to prove themselves, maybe just to wipe away the disgrace of their failure. Nevertheless, you'll probably have a bullseye on your head until we finally find and uproot them."
"That's... good to know" Tom said after hearing Adam's long explanation.
Internally, Tom was shaking his head. He acknowledged that Adam had good reasoning but because it was half predicated on the lie he told he couldn't completely buy into it either. Adam made a good case but Tom remained uncertain as to who the true culprits were.
Little did Tom realise, Adam had hit startlingly close to the truth. Aside from in regards to Tom specifically and the lie Tom told, Adam had pretty much gotten the intent of the bandits from 3 months ago spot on. It was just that, the real reason the bandits wanted Tom dead was because they believed he would be able to identify them, not because of some remark they'd left him with or because killing him would prove the point they were trying to make.
The bandits from that night were actually right in their concern. Although Tom had told Gerald that he couldn't see what the attackers looked like, that wasn't entirely true. The original Tom Cardinal, with his lack of cultivation, hadn't been able to make out the people in the dark with just the moonlight to go by, but he had seen the man who had killed him, who just so happened to be the leader of that group of attackers. It still wasn't a completely clear picture, but it would be enough to recognise the man if he was up close again.
At that point in time, when first meeting Gerald, Tom was exhausted and just wanted to sleep. He told Gerald he couldn't identify any of them so he could spare himself the hassle of being asked more questions. He also did it because he didn't think it was that important. From his perspective, unless he personally saw the person up close and pinned him as the attacker, he didn't think the clan would possibly be able to find someone from some vague descriptions of their appearance. There wasn't even anything particularly unique or special about the man.
However, even if Tom did have a perfect picture of the man, he still wouldn't give it to Gerald. Methis was working from a specific criteria when selecting a body for Tom, part of which was a freshly dead body with zero cultivation. If the bandits hadn't killed Tom Cardinal, Tom never would have gotten this body, and a good body it was. As a show of gratitude, Tom didn't want to reveal this information so easily.
Thinking about Adam's words and the possibility of it being those bandits, Tom re-evaluated his position a bit.
[If it really is those bandits then I won't pull any punches. I may have gotten this body because of them but I'm certainly not going to let them take it away]