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A.C 3000, 7th month, 12th day.

On this day, Tom was preparing to leave Hill city and make his way over to the Tainted Forest.

He had cultivated, studied and trained arduously over the past couple weeks and he had finally achieved the 5th level of body strengthening. Because of this, Gerald's concern over his son had lessened and he felt that now would be a good time for Tom to go out and experience his first hunt.

In the Cardinal clan, going out and hunting your first qi beast was a sort of rite of passage that all members tried to undergo. Of course, there were a fair share of clan members that were only at the lower levels of body strengthening and so couldn't do this, but, by the time someone had reached the 4th level of body strengthening it was generally considered safe enough to challenge some of the weakest qi beasts.

Given that Tom was making fairly remarkable progress in his cultivation and was near the 5th level of body strengthening anyway, Gerald decided it would be best if he had his son delay his departure until he further raised his cultivation level.

Upon reaching the 5th level of body strengthening, Tom had immediately informed his father so the preparations for the outing could be sorted out. Tom wasn't going alone and nor was the purpose of this trip purely to hunt qi beasts in the forest.

Since Tom was still at a relatively low level and the Tainted Forest was one of the kingdom's most dangerous places, he would be accompanied by several guards. Of course, even if he wasn't travelling to this danger zone, he would still be accompanied by guards. After all, since the situation in the kingdom was rather unstable at the moment and law and order was shaky at best, it was dangerous to travel alone. Still, this meant that Gerald had to first select which personnel to accompany his son, prepare their wages in advance and also prepare a number of horses too. However, besides the selection of personal, there were other preparations that had to be made.

This trip was not only a rite of passage for Tom, but, it was also meant as a way for Tom to contribute back to the clan. The Cardinal clan didn't have much in the way of qi stones or cultivating pills, however, they did do big business with qi beasts.

Like with humans, qi beasts infused and stored qi in their bodies and it could be absorbed to aid in cultivation. The problem was, like with all infused and assimilated qi, it could be difficult to extract and absorb, but, the Cardinal clan had methods to do this.

In fact, all the noble families and local government buildings had ways to this. It required a device called a qi furnace. It just so happened that Hill city had the largest qi furnace facilities in the entire North West and these facilities were under the control of the local government, which in the case of Hill city, was the Cardinal clan. Actually, there were only a few other places in the entire kingdom that had larger facilities of this sort than Hill city had.

Of course, people could buy private qi furnaces, but these were very expensive and generally of a smaller scale. It was only the rich and powerful families that had private qi furnaces, while ordinary warriors would just pay the fee to use the public ones.

Aside from this, the actual physical materials from qi beasts, such as their skin, bones, flesh, etc., had other practical uses.

Because of all this, a lot of trade passed through Hill city and wagons laden with dead qi beasts or select parts of qi beasts would make their way over to the city from the Tainted forest and other places, bypassing the smaller towns. This helped to strengthen both the Cardinal clan and Hill city on the whole, as well as provide a large amount income to both of them.

Anyway, Gerald wanted to prepare a cart or wagon for Tom so any qi beasts he killed could be delivered back to Hill city. This didn't actually have to be prepared here, as the Cardinal clan had delivery services located at all the surrounding towns and even without them Tom would be able to buy a cart himself, but Gerald decided to prepare one in ahead of time regardless.

This was why Tom didn't leave the city as soon as he reached the 5th level of body strengthening but instead waited a few days first.

Still within the bounds of the Cardinal estate, Tom was collecting all the necessary equipment he needed.

He grabbed the sword he'd been using during all of his training sessions and sheathed it on the left side of his waist. It was a standard, double edged, one handed, iron arming sword. Actually, the fact that it was iron wasn't standard; most weapons were made from steel. Steel was, of course, a better material for weapons, but there were still many iron weapons used by cultivators in the realm of body strengthening and it just so happened that when Tom first went to select a weapon to start training with, this was the one he picked up. It wasn't even a particularly good sword. It had a sharp edge on it yes, but its quality was still low. Objects could be infused with qi to make them stronger and more resistant to damage but this sword hadn't been infused to its limits, making it subpar. Nevertheless, this was the sword that Tom was familiar with and it was still in good condition. He saw no reason to exchange it for something else.

Aside from the sword, Tom also picked up two different knives. The first one and also the longest, was a dagger, which he strapped on his belt on the right hand side of his waist. It was always good to have a spare weapon. The second one was hunting knife which he had at the back of his waist. Since he was going to be hunting qi beasts, he needed a tool knife to help him extract any valuable materials from them.

Finally, Tom also picked up a thick, heater shaped shield, made from ironoak, a type of sturdy wood. He had chosen to forgo armour on this trip, along with the rest of the guards that were accompanying him.

Armour could be very useful in certain situations, but this was not one of them. Disregarding the hassle in lugging it around with them and taking it on and off, armour only had limited effectiveness in the face of qi beasts. Most qi beasts had especially strong jaws and hard teeth, so, the types of armour available to the guards and Tom wouldn't have been very useful.

Instead, warriors preferred greater mobility and speed in combat. This was especially true for cultivators from martial institutions and powerful families. They tended to be skilled enough anyway that even when they encountered an opponent of the same cultivation level, who was wearing armour, they could aim at the gaps in the armour and secure victory. Of course that was only in a one on one and they would still be at a disadvantage against numerous armoured opponents if they themselves weren't armoured but since the Mantal kingdom hadn't seen large scale warfare for over 80 years, this type of unarmoured combat had become popularised. It was mainly only the stationary guards in towns and cities that consistently wore armour.

Having picked up what he needed to, Tom started walking towards the front of the Cardinal estate, where a group a people and horses were already gathered.

"Ha ha ha, here he is" chuckled Pike after he saw Tom approaching from the corner of his eye.

Tom nodded at Pike and the rest of the guards as a greeting. Then, not wasting any time, he immediately went and mounted one of the horses. The guards, seeing this, also did the same.

"Tom" Sarah called out from the side.

Tom turned his head and saw his family, his mother, his father, Adam, Emery and even Evelyn.

"Be safe" she said concernedly.

Tom nodded at this. He didn't intend get harmed or killed during this outing.

"Father, mother, so long" he said.

After the rest of his close family said goodbyes and words of encouragement, Tom trotted forward on his horse and left out of the front of the Cardinal estate. The guards that Gerald had arranged followed after him.

Unbeknownst to anyone from the clan, a man sitting in a shop, looking at the front of the clan's estate, perked up.

"Finally" he said, before getting up and running to go make his report.

Meanwhile, inside the estate, Gerald was making his way over to where the clan patriarch and the 8th elder were standing and discussing something. They had been near the entrance and had watched Tom leave.

"Patriarch" Gerald greeted respectfully as he approached.

"Ahh, Gerald. Morning" Lucian replied with a bright voice.

"Lucian, I'll cut to the chase. I didn't send any of my elite guards because you said you'd send someone yourself, but I don't see anyone. Who's going and where are they?"

"Worry not" said the 8th elder.

"Jeffrey is the one going"

"Really?" Gerald asked, visibly surprised.

Jeffrey was the gay lover of the 8th elder and not a subordinate of the clan. He was actually more an honorary member. Nevertheless, Gerald was satisfied at hearing this. Jeffrey was at the peak of qi expansion and was rather skilled too.

[Like this, there ought not to be any problems] he thought to himself.

"Yes, he's already waiting at the western gate. He'll follow them out after they leave and will patrol along the roads they take. If your son does get targeted again, he'll easily deal with any threats. Besides that, he'll stay out of sight and leave Tom to his own devices in the forest. After all, Tom needs to experience the forest for himself otherwise he'll never grow as a warrior" replied the 8th elder.

"You see" said Lucian, "Nothing to be concerned about"

"Well if that's the case then I guess everything is fine" said Gerald.

"Exactly. I'm sure nothing particularly eventful, at all, will happen on this trip" said a smiling Lucian.

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jmj1011995

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