Two days after Rowan had gone back to Hill City and while Tom was cultivating in peace in his room, in the hotel he was staying at, a particular man by the name of Dug had ridden into the town of Acorn and entered into a particular building.
Dug was walking forward with a feeling of trepidation. He was only a news bearer and the information he had come to deliver was nothing to feel anxious about. In fact, it was something everyone was expecting. It was the confirmation they had asked for in order to take a certain action. An action they had been informed a month ago that they may have to take. However, despite it being such a simple piece of news, the man was still feeling uneasy or rather unwilling.
This was because of the person he was going to deliver this news to, a woman called Rosaline who ran their little operation here and who Dug found to be rather unpleasant. The two of them had a bad relationship. He didn't like her because she never treated him well; often scorning him, ignoring his words and generally viewing him with contempt.
On the other hand, she didn't like him because although he was much weaker than her, he had a direct line to the higher ups of their organisation. He even knew who the big boss of it all was, when she didn't. Compartmentalisation they called. She scoffed at the word. What right did Dug have to know who her boss was when even she didn't know. But there was nothing she could do about it. Dug was her primary line to her superiors and she had to live with that.
She had to listen to the words of this man that she held in contempt just because out here, he spoke for her superiors. However, just because she had to live with this situation didn't mean that didn't mean she had to treat him well, a fact that caused many a conflict between them as there were always some matters that neither of them wished to back down on.
His heart palpitating a bit from his restlessness and the veins on his head showing, Dug approached the door to a fairly large meeting room. He knew that inside, he would find Rosaline and several others.
Dug opened the door. The view of the meeting room appeared before him, as did Rosaline, an attractive 32 year old woman with auburn hair and a cold and aloof air about her, who was sitting at the head of the room's large table.
"Oh, it's you" she said with contempt as she looked over at who had entered the room.
"Yes, it's me" he answered back.
"I presume you've brought news"
"Why else would I be back?"
"Well, have out with it then. What did they say?" she said harshly.
"We've been given the confirmation. We kill Tom Cardinal" he answered, causing several others who were in the room to start talking amongst themselves.
"Be quiet!" Rosaline ordered.
"What do we know about this Tom Cardinal?" she asked.
Although she had been informed the previous month to be on the lookout for him, she didn't actually know anything about him. Even when she was informed that he'd come to this town and Dug had gone off to confirm the kill order, she still hadn't bothered to learn anything about him.
"Well, as you already know, his name is Tom Cardinal and he's a member of the Cardinal clan. More specifically, he's the son of the 10th elder of their clan, as well as the grandson of the 4th elder and great grandson of the 1st elder" answered Dug.
"I don't care about who his parents are. How strong is he? That's all we need to know" said Rosaline derisively.
[You snide and contemptible bitch] thought Dug with a sour look on his face before he continued on.
"I'm given to understand that he's in the mid-levels of body strengthening and his guards are all in the late levels"
"Humph, just some body strengthening cultivators" she said snidely, not bothering to hide the contempt in her voice.
"That's not quite right" piped up someone else who was in the room.
"I've had reports that he was recently joined by someone at the 3rd level of qi expansion. It looks like it's another member of the Cardinal clan"
"Another member or not, it makes no matter. We'll just kill them too" Rosaline said coldly.
"So how are we going to do this?" asked another man who was present in the room.
"Do we just send some people to people to kill them on the street or in a bar? I mean, the town guard here don't involve themselves in the fights of cultivators" he said.
Unlike places like Hill City, Acorn town had a rather weak governing body. Well, it wasn't that they were actually weak; it was just that they didn't involve themselves too much with what happened in the town.
As the biggest thoroughfare and stopping point for cultivators in the North West entering the Tainted Forest, Acorn town had a great many cultivators passing through, coming from a variety of different places. Because the town thrived on the trade these people brought and getting confrontational with them could hurt business, the local government just let them do as they pleased and didn't get involved.
Actually, it wasn't that uncommon for there to be bar brawls and the occasional street fights that resulted in deaths, but, so long as it didn't threaten the safety of the town or the interests of the local government, the city guard and people from the local governor's office would never step in to interfere. Ultimately, the only places the city guard genuinely defended were the town walls, the governor's office, the auction house and a few other select areas of interest.
"Tell me, did your mother drop you on your head as a child or were you just born stupid?" said Rosaline, the derision in her voice heavy.
"Killing them is a simple matter but we can't just do it inside the town. Disregarding the fact that the Cardinal clan has other people here, people that can rival us, just because the town guard won't make a move doesn't mean other people won't. There are plenty of people here who would step in to save them in order to curry favour with the Cardinal clan. Even if they didn't, attacking within the town would expose us and people could sell that information to the Cardinal clan. Before the day ended we'd already be found" she explained.
"I see, so we attack them inside of the forest"
"Makes sense. That way, they'll assume it was done by qi beasts and it won't be tied back to us" discussed two other people who were in the room.
"Ok, then we send out a kill squad to follow them into the forest and end them when no one else is around" said the man who had previously been shot down by Rosaline.
"Exactly" said Rosaline rather boredly. She didn't know why it was taking everyone so long to come to this understanding.
[What idiots, is it really taking you that long to understand such a simple matter]
"Gather up a few warriors in the mid-levels of qi expansion, have them watch this Tom Cardinal person and follow him into the Tainted Forest when he inevitably goes in" ordered Rosaline to one of her subordinates.
Hearing Rosaline's words, Dug cleared his throat to grab her attention.
"What?" she said sharply as she glared at him.
"Well it's just... the boss considers this to be a very important matter. He doesn't want any mistakes on this" said Dug.
"Hah, mistakes?" scoffed Rosaline.
"It'll already be overkill sending out more than one mid-level qi expansionist realm warrior, what more do you want?"
"I think perhaps we should get Duncan to do this job" said Dug, thinking about a powerful warrior their organisation who was based in the town of Acorn.
"Duncan? Don't be ridiculous. Why would we possibly need Duncan to do this job?"
"The Cardinals are strong and have access to powerful martial techniques. Even if the person accompanying Tom Cardinal is only at the 3rd level of qi expansion, there's still a chance he would be able to escape and get help. Even if he couldn't make it back to town, there are many powerful warriors that enter the Tainted Forest. What if he was able to escape and then run into one that was willing to help him? That's why we should get Duncan to do it. He's not one to make mistakes" explained Dug.
"Ha, it seems the heavens themselves disagree with you. Duncan is at the lost city and there's no telling when he'll be back" laughed Rosaline.
"But very well. If this is that important, I'll go myself" she said.
"You?" Dug questioned, causing Rosaline to flare with anger.
"Have you been so blinded by Duncan that you've forgotten that I'm at the 7th level of qi expansion too" said Rosaline angrily as she aggressively stood up out of her seat and released some of her aura threateningly towards Dug.
[Humph. The damn upstart] thought Rosaline about Duncan.
"Of course not. If you go personally then this matter will be solved easily" replied Dug.
[Please, you're nothing but a pencil pusher. You might be a lot stronger than me but that's only because of the difference in our cultivation levels. Duncan could kill you with his eyes closed and one arm tied behind his back]
Despite what Dug felt personally about Rosaline, he at least knew that if she went out personally, there wouldn't be any problems with dealing with Tom cardinal and getting this job done. Even if he didn't consider her particularly powerful for her cultivation level and nowhere near the strength of Duncan, who could easily defeat opponents several cultivation levels higher than himself, the gap between the early levels of qi expansion and the late levels, weren't something that could be easily overcome. Whoever the qi expansionist level warrior that had joined Tom Cardinal was; wouldn't be able to escape from Rosaline.
"Good, it seems you know your place" said Rosaline, seeing Dug take a step back and answer her in a subdued and flattering manner.
"Now that that's sorted" she said, tuning her attention back to the larger room.
"Who here knows where this Tom Cardinal is? I might as well get a look the person I'm meant to kill"
Rosaline's words caused many of the people in the room to turn their heads away. Very few of them had actually bothered to keep up with the particulars of this case or get a look at the man themselves. Only a couple of the people knew where he was staying and only the person who was responsible for having Tom's movements monitored had actually seen him.
"I know where he is" spoke up the person responsible for having Tom's movements monitored.
"I can show you to him and point him out"
"Good, show me later"
"And you" she said looking at one of her subordinates.
"Prepare those mid-level qi expansionist warriors like I said"
"Yes, of course" the man hastily replied.
Finally, as the conversation was coming to an end and the people in the room started to go about their business again, Rosaline turned her head to look at Dug again.
"What are you still doing here?" she said aggressively.
Dug met her gaze for a few moments before he let out a quick exhalation and turned to leave the room.
He had done his job and delivered the news he was meant to deliver. Now he was just glad to be away from Rosaline and attend to his own affairs. Thinking this, he left to go about his own business and the operations within the meeting room returned to normalcy.