While Tom was speaking with Adam, there was another discussion occurring within the Cardinal estate.

In a large meeting room in the estate, several elders of the clan were gathered. The reason for their gathering was precisely because of the incident the previous night where Tom was attacked.

"What are we going to do about this? Twice now, my son has almost been killed by these people. I want action" Gerald said agitatedly to the patriarch of the clan; Lucian Cardinal, A man in his late 50's with short grey hair and a lean figure.

"And what exactly do you want me to do? We already started a search 3 months ago, after the first time, but we haven't turned anything up. Plus your son bashed his attacker's face in so badly that he's completely unrecognisable, we don't exactly have much to go on"

"At the moment, we can only continue on how we've been going. We'll conduct a search of the city, rattle a few doors, question some petty criminals, but apart from that, there's not a lot we can do" replied Lucian in a calm manner.

"I understand that" Gerald said in frustration.

"But we've even stopped the searches for the bandits. I don't want to sit here doing nothing while the people trying to kill my son are left to operate unhindered"

"You know the situation's not like that, Gerald" said Emery, trying to calm down his brother.

"We haven't stopped all the searches Gerald, but, we were turning up nothing and there's a limit to how long we can keep sending so many people out of the city every day. It was causing far too much disruption and it wasn't getting us anywhere, so we had to scale it back. You know that" Lucian explained calmly.

"But as soon as we did that, these bandits! Crept out of where ever they were hiding and started raiding along the roads again" said Gerald animatedly, voicing his unhappiness at how the situation was being handled.

Those present, sympathised with Gerald. The whole bandit situation had left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. They too, weren't happy that as soon as they pulled their forces back the bandits had become active again, attacking people travelling on the roads. They wanted to resolve it as quickly as possible but that was hard to do when they couldn't even locate the people responsible.

The elders present also couldn't blame the usually calm and serious Gerald for lashing out like this. After all, whatever else they could say about the man, Gerald was a person who deeply cared about his son. Many of those present had lost a loved one over the years; be it their parents, their partner, and for some, even their children, so they could sympathise with Gerald, whose son essentially had a target over his head.

"That's not necessarily a bad thing. While we were out searching, they had hidden themselves away very deeply. It's unlikely we would have found them. We only found one of their hideouts by chance and paid a high price for underestimating them, a mistake we won't make again" Lucian said, receiving nods of acknowledgment from around the room.

Although the clan knew that bandits operated in the North West and they periodically made efforts to deal with them, they had severely underestimated the strength and scope of this particular bandit group. Previously, the clan had assumed the group was just slightly larger and more well organised than regular groups, but, the discovery that they had qi condensation level warriors in their midst had come as a complete shock to the clan. At most, they assumed that the bandits would have peak level qi expansionists; a qi condensation realm warrior was outside of expectations. After all, when it was so easy to earn a living and live comfortably as a qi condensation level warrior, why would they stoop to this level of banditry.

"These bandits are smart and we won't be able to find them while aimlessly searching. It's regretful, but, when they're more active that also gives us more leads to follow."

"The incident with your son last night was actually helpful for us Gerald. They made a mistake and it confirmed once and for all that they have people in the city. It gave us a lead to follow, starting with the pub Benny's. We'll start our search there and hopefully we'll uncover some more of them. We just need to get our hands on one of them and make them talk. After that, we'll be able to unravel their operation bit by bit" Lucian finished explaining.

Gerald finally calmed down a bit after listening to Lucian's explanation.

"There's still the chance that the bandits will be targeting my son, what's the plan to deal with that? Should I just have some of my high level guards attached to him?" asked Gerald.

"Oh, I don't think that's necessary. In fact, I don't think he'll be a target from now on at all. They clearly have a larger end game; they're not going to care enough about pursuing your son to waste manpower on it. Besides, whatever point they were trying to make by killing him has already failed"

"They aren't strong enough to contend with us openly. The purpose of both attacks, yesterday and 3 months ago, was to deal us a psychological blow. If they go after him again they'd just be weakening their own position and revealing themselves needlessly"

"Perhaps" said Gerald quietly, with uncertainty in his voice, thinking about Lucian's assessment of the situation.

The other elders present were considering these words and felt that they made sense, though not everyone agreed with them.

"Perhaps its best if you send him out of the city" said the 8th elder.

"Out of sight, out of mind. Besides, I heard that he's already reached the 4th level of body strengthening. This might be a good opportunity to send him to the tainted forest or the haunted forest so he can gain experience and temper himself"

"You mean you want to take him out of the frying pan and into the fire" Gerald scoffed.

"Well now, that isn't such a bad idea. Which one of us didn't do such a thing as a coming of age ceremony? I remember a couple of years ago Adam was only at that level when he went out and killed his first qi beast. Tom is a cultivator now. He can defend himself. You have to stop coddling him brother and let him leave the nest" said Emery.

"Emery makes a good point cousin. You've been asking about getting resources for him anyway and anyone in the clan who gets them is expected to contribute back. The clan didn't get to where it is today without hard work. Each and every one of us has worked hard to get to where we are. Besides, as long as he stays at the outskirts, there won't be much danger" said Lucian.

Listening to Emery and Lucian, Gerald calmed down. He had to admit, he'd gotten quite worked up over this matter. Thinking about their words, he felt that they were reasonable.

"Ok then. Perhaps it would be best to send him out of the city, get him away from all this" Gerald said, mulling it over.

"You know what, I'll even have one of my men at the peak of qi expansion shadow him. If anything serious happens, he'll step in to help out" said Lucian, offering his support.

With that; Gerald finally accepted his proposal, agreeing to send Tom to gain experience as a cultivator. The meeting came to a close and the elders that had gathered started to file out of the room.

The patriarch, 8th elder and 5th elder however, stayed behind. The 5th elder didn't quite agree with Lucian's assessment and had some questions to ask him.

"Do you really think they won't target Gerald's son again?" the 5th elder asked in a deep voice.

"You could very well be sending him to his death by making him leave the city. These bandits are spread far and wide, there's plenty of opportunity for them to find him in the outside world"

"You don't get it. That wasn't the point. We were just trying to convince Gerald" said the 8th elder.

"And what good does calming Gerald down now do if his son ends up dying soon after? Our 7th elder already had had a breakdown; we don't need it happening to another one"

"We needed to convince Gerald because otherwise, he never would have allowed us to use his son as bait" Lucian explained coolly.

"Whereas not everything I said was a lie, I do believe there is a slight chance they might go after Tom again. Even if that chance is low, I'm still going to dangle the bait and try and get something on my hook"

"Gerald is not going to be happy about that" said the 5th elder.

"Precisely why I didn't tell him" said Lucian.

"I don't know if I feel comfortable with you using one of our own like this" said the 5th elder, with inner turmoil in his heart.

"I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures. This is bigger than just any one of us. We can't afford to weakened with everything that's going on at the moment and nothing else we've tried has been working"

"I understand that, but is this really necessary?"

Lucian took a deep breath in and then exhaled.

"We'll just have to see"


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