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"Goddamn Tom" said Rowan.

She was annoyed at having been startled by Tom and also felt that his words were a tad bit inappropriate. It was true that they didn't know the person they had just seen die, but, even still, the casualness and ease with which Tom spoke his words seemed wrong to her or at least mistimed.

"What? Its dying light Rowan" said Tom, pointing out that they had better things to do.

They didn't know the man, so, why should he care about him. He was just trying to help everyone refocus on the task at hand, the real reason they had come here. As much as Tom could sympathise with the man, which wasn't very much, barely at all in fact, there was no point in them becoming distracted by his fate. After all, he was unrelated to them.

From Tom's point of view, there was no reason to care about the life or death of some stranger mortal that wasn't even the same species as him. The only reason he had more respect for humanity than any of the other countless creatures on this planet was because of his interactions with humans. As a god Tom had seen the potential and power of humanity. Methis alone was enough to give Tom a healthy dose of respect for humanity. However, it was his relationships with humans that really made Tom see them as something more. His friendship with Jacob as well as the newly developed friendships with those around him as Tom Cardinal all helped in shaping a more favourable opinion of humanity for Tom. Had it not been for these reasons, Tom likely wouldn't have seen much difference between humanity and the wolves or the bears that had been killed earlier.

With his own personal lack of strong emotions or attachment to humanity, there were few things that Tom would be bothered to involve himself in if it wasn't related to him or the Cardinal clan. Perhaps the only things he would actively involve himself in would be the affairs of the clan or his newly made friends, because, he had started to develop a sense of belonging and pack mentality with them.

"Tom's right. People come to the Tainted Forest knowing full well of the danger it holds. Some make gains and others experience misfortune. We shouldn't dwell on it" said Harrison.

Although the scene they had just seen was quite jarring, Harrison knew that countless others who came to the Tainted Forest would experience similar fates. To make something of their lives, warriors entered the forest, risking life and death. It was their own choice to do so and they had to live, or not, with the outcome. That being the case, they shouldn't get worked up at every death they came across.

"Yeah and for all we know they might have been right bastards. Besides, I don't particularly want to be caught in the forest while it's dark" said Pike.

"Yes, we really ought to get a move on. Mind you, I don't particularly feel like going down there at the moment. All the qi beasts have been disturbed and are crawling all over the place. We should either wait until some of them re-enter their tunnels, or, walk along and find another place" said Avery, while assessing the situation.

"OK" agreed Rowan.

"I can't see a blue devil beetle down there so there's no point in going down anyway. We might as well walk along until we see one and then figure it out from there"

After Rowan spoke these words, Tom and the group started making their way along the top of the gorge. Even if they could survive by going down where they were, they would be bringing unnecessary risk to themselves. There were also easier places to enter and exit the gorge that would be less dangerous, so, while still looking for a blue devil beetle, they might as well move to one of these spots.

Tom and the group proceeded to walk their horses along the top of the gorge. As they were walking along, they saw two qi expansionist realm Iron Fist sect disciples practicing martial skills below. There were grey and copper coloured lights of qi glowing as the two of them were killing the numerous insect qi beasts around them and shouts and booms resounded up to the top of the gorge in the process.

"Impressive" Lance noted.

"Hmm. Not that great. As far as I can tell they're still in the early stages of qi expansion" said Rowan, unimpressed.

"Still, many people aren't able to reach that level. I myself am already in my 40's but stuck at the peak of body strengthening. I'll probably never break through" sighed Harrison.

"Ah, sorry. That was a bit insensitive" said Rowan regretfully.

She realised she hadn't taken into account the situation of those around her and that her words must have been especially poignant for Harrison, who was the oldest of the group and had been stuck at the peak of body strengthening for over a decade now. She also thought about the opportunities afforded to her by being born as a member of the Cardinal clan and how if it hadn't been for this, her own cultivation speed wouldn't have been as fast.

In truth, although she hadn't been very impressed by the strength being displayed by the Iron Fist sect disciples below, she didn't mean to diminish the lives of anyone who wasn't strong. It was just that from her perspective, having grown up in the Cardinal clan around some of the most powerful people in the kingdom, the level of strength displayed by people in the lower levels of qi expansion couldn't impress her much.

She could still remember an awesome display her grandfather had put on when he had had a sparring match with his brother outside of the city. In contrast to two qi condensation realm experts going at it, how could a couple of people from the lower levels of qi expansion possibly compare?

"Don't mind" said Harrison, waving his hand to show that he considered it inconsequential.

"In the grand scheme of things the lower levels of qi expansion really aren't that impressive. Heck, I've beaten couple of people at that level in fights before myself, albeit they were only at the first level of qi expansion"

"Mmm, besides, I still might break through. Tom is a good example of someone suddenly breaking through and then rapidly advancing. Maybe I'll have a breakthrough myself and then become a peak expert"

"Amen to that!" shouted out Pike in agreement. Ever since Avery had broken through to the 9th level of body strengthening he'd been quite annoyed. Avery had already overtaken him and that damn youngster Lance was catching up too. The prospect of sudden rapid breakthroughs was something that he himself had his fingers crossed for.

After this, the group continued walking for about 600m, idly chatting, until they found one of the more suitable spots to go down into the gorge from. The spot they found was where a mass of earth and rock had fallen away from the side of the gorge wall, creating a large platform that was 20m lower than the surrounding wall but which also had an easily traversable slope. Plus, the rock and earth that had fallen down also meant that the ground at the bottom of this part of the gorge wall was higher than the surrounding areas. This combined made it one of the easier places to descend into the gorge.

"Alright, this should be good enough. Tom and Lance, you two should watch the horses" said rowan as she dismounted.

"It'll be difficult to bring anything up. Would it not be better if I go down with you as well?" asked Lance.

"No. Tom can't really go down and also be safe so he'll have to stay up here anyway but as we just saw, there are still qi beasts that roam around at the top of gorge, both ones that come from the forest and also those that exit the gorge. Even if he can fend them off by himself, he might not be able to protect the horses at the same time" explained Rowan.

"You make a good point, but I don't think Lance should be the one to stay" said Harrison.

"That troll was more powerful than either Tom or Lance. If something like that comes along, they won't have much of a chance. I'll stay instead"

"Yeah, you're right, I didn't think that far. Ok then, Harrison you stay here and Lance you come with me" said Rowan.

Everyone dismounted. Harrison and Tom stayed at the top of the slope leading down the platform while Rowan and the others walked down it. They still didn't know if there would be any blue devil beetles down in this part of the gorge, since they couldn't see down from where they were standing, but, even if there weren't it would still be worth it to go down and have a little look. After all, there may be some hiding in the underground tunnels.

"Ha ha, yes! I see one" shouted Rowan joyfully, before turning around to face the others.

"There's one down there all right. It's not very big either so it'll be easier to bring up"

When Rowan had gotten to the edge of the platform and looked down, she had been able to make out a meter long blue devil beetle on an outcropping of rock near to the bottom of the gorge. Since it was only a meter long, it meant that it was only a young blue devil beetle and its strength wouldn't exceed 4,000 jin. This meant it would be easier to capture, kill and drag back up to the top of the gorge.

Unfortunately though, because it wasn't a mature blue devil beetle, its shell wouldn't be as thick or hard for the armour Rowan wanted to have made. There were still skilled armourers that worked for the clan that could fashion a good armour out of it for her and it could still be infused with qi in order to further strengthen it, but, it was a bit of a pity that they couldn't see a bigger one.

Those that were going to accompany her into the gorge made their way over to the edge of the platform. Just as they were preparing to descend and Avery and the battle-axe guard, whose name was Bartholomew, grabbed some vines to start making their way down, movement off to the side caught Avery and Rowan's attention.

"Look out!" shouted Rowan, as Avery grabbed Bart and pulled him back.

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jmj1011995

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