After Tom got back from his first hunt in the Tainted Forest and saw Rowan off, he returned to arduously cultivating. He had actually enjoyed the change in environment by coming to Acorn town and exploring the forest, however, the experience had also reminded him that he was still at the bottom of the ladder when it came to cultivation.
Not wanting to waste his time, Tom spent the majority of his time cultivating in his room at the hotel. This time, away from Hill City, he didn't have to split his focus between cultivating and martial practice, meaning that the time he spent cultivating had noticeably increased from before.
Adam advised him to continue on with his training, claiming that it was important and that he needed to be able to defend himself, however, Tom felt that he had already achieved a decent attainment in fighting techniques and that for the time being, increasing his cultivation level was more important than increasing his skill. This was especially so, since his primary focus was to reach the peak of cultivation for a qi cultivator.
Tom was also thinking in the long term and although the practice now would help him build up solid foundations, he knew that as he cultivated through the different realms of cultivation, his insights into and ability to manipulate qi would prove more important than the swordplay and close quarters combat techniques he was currently learning. Besides, he was able to pick it up remarkably quickly and reckoned that there would be plenty of time later to improve upon his current ability.
However, just because Tom spent the majority of his time cultivating alone in his room, it didn't mean that he didn't get out at times. He, of course, had to maintain his body properly and this resulted in him frequently dining with Adam and the others at local eating establishments.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Tom learned of many things that been happening by spending time with Adam and the others. For instance, just three days after he had returned from his first qi beast hunt in the Tainted Forest, a shrivelled up body with a blue discolouration to it was found in a back alley. It seemed that the mimic Tom and the others had discovered while they were in the forest had made its way into town and started preying on people.
Tom remembered when he had first heard of this that both Adam and Avery chastised him that this was the reason he ought not to travel down dark alleys at night. In fact, all of the guys had a bit of a laugh about that. Tom however, came to the realisation that unexpected things like these truly do occur and are not always one off occurrences. He made a mental note that from now on he should stay more attentive and vigilant of his surroundings. It wouldn't do if someone or something tried to sneak up on him again.
Another interesting to happen, just two days after this, was that Adam managed to break through from the 3rd level of qi expansion into the 4th level. The 4th level was the first big barrier to cultivators in the realm of qi expansion and the fact that he had broken through had a significant effect on the amount of qi Adam could store in his body.
Besides what it would mean for his combat ability, being able to fight for longer and use more powerful qi techniques, it was an especially big step for Adam considering that he was actually able to work his way through the cultivation stages relatively quickly and only tended to get stuck at the major barriers. Since he was now at the 4th level of qi expansion, there was a high chance he would be able to quickly and smoothly advance to the 6th level.
As the days passed by, Tom continued cultivating, infusing qi into every part of his body. The cultivating resources Rowan had given him, before she left, worked quite well. They weren't nearly as good as the qi stones his father had once given him; however, they were still far better than the low quality cultivation resources that the clan had allocated him. Those were so low quality and poorly made that only the poorest and most desperate of people would purchase them. The materials Rowan had given him however, were the proper things; resources that were frequently purchased by many cultivators.
Using up the resources Rowan had given him and staying in his room most of the time, Tom was making swift progress on the path towards the 6th level of body strengthening.
The further along someone was in a particular realm of cultivation, the harder and longer it was meant to be and take to advance. Tom could feel that this was true and realised that his speed of advancement was slowing down a bit. However, since he wasn't spending time in combat practice and practical training, with more of his time devoted to cultivating, Tom's rate of advancement had actually increased. This compensated for his slowed down pace.
Part of cultivating and advancing in the realm of body strengthening involved knowing how to form and structure the qi infused into the body in order to increase the body's strength. With the knowledge Tom had gained from the instruction manuals of the Cardinal clan and his own experiences working his way through the first 5 levels of body strengthening, Tom already knew how to do this for the 6th level. The only thing that was stopping Tom was that he had to infuse qi into every part of his body. Luckily, with the rate he was going, he felt that he would be able to finish this and achieve the 6th level of body in under a month of cultivation.
As the days passed and Tom continued to cultivate, the happenings in the outside world continued as well. In just a couple of weeks, there were more reports of shrivelled bodies being found. The mimic or mimics had struck again, several times.
In one part of town, a woman woke up one morning to find her husband dead beside her. In another, a family were found dead in their home. What really scared the neighbours and friends of this family was that they had seen the father walking about the streets, but, when the bodies were discovered, they had all clearly been dead for several days. Their friend that they had seen and greeted in the street had actually been the mimic in disguise. That was a scary thought for them; it had actually passed right by them and they didn't even realise. They spoke to it and they didn't realise. It could be anyone at any time and they wouldn't know.
Although the governor's office and city guard didn't get involved in the disputes of cultivators in the town, it was a different story entirely for qi beasts, especially for a beast like the mimic, which was incredibly dangerous and who anyone could fall prey to. In response to its actions, an investigator was assigned to look into the case and track it or them down. Though of course, the problem in finding a mimic is that they are so adept at hiding themselves. No one even knew how many there were. For all anyone knew, there could be one mimic going around or there could be several.
One day, there seemed to be a lucky break in the case of the mimic. At night, there was an unknown man walking around the halls of the auction house. The auction house, being a heavily guarded place with restricted access, obviously wasn't meant to have random people walking around it at night. The guards stationed there reacted quickly and tried to chase the man down; however, he seemed to disappear into thin air. The investigator working the case went there and quickly determined that it was actually the mimic and that it had infiltrated into the building. He then questioned every guard and inspected every room. Unfortunately he wasn't able to turn anything up and the case went cold again.
AC 3000, 8th month, 6th day.
Tom was sitting in his room in meditation. Suddenly, a warm rush seemed to go through his body and he felt invigorated. A smile crept up on his face. He was very pleased with what had just happened.
"Finally. The 6th level of body strengthening" he spoke out while examining his body.
It had taken him just 3 weeks but he had managed to break through from the 5th level of body strengthening to the 6th. This meant an additional 1,000 jin of strength for his body.
"Perhaps it's time for me to stretch my legs again. Test what I'm capable of"
Tom hadn't left Acorn town to venture into the Tainted Forest since his last trip, however, he felt that now would be a good time to do that. He had spent so much time holed up in his room in his attempt to advance, now he wanted to let loose a little.
Although Tom had never gone out before to kill just for fun, fighting often caused his heart to run and blood to boil. Plus, despite the danger, he had enjoyed his last hunt and there wasn't much else to do here that interested him. Besides, he also wanted to test out what he was capable of with his new strength and any qi beasts he hunted would serve to increase what resources he would be allocated from the clan.
Full of vigour, Tom stood up and went to Adam's room, knocking on his door and calling his name.
"Come in" said Adam through his door.
Going inside, Tom saw Adam seated on a chair. It seemed that he had been cultivating too and without Tom even having to say anything, Adam knew the reason why Tom had come here.
"The 6th level of body strengthening. Wow, you really are fast. I'm not sure who the last member of the clan that was able to progress as fast as you through body strengthening was" said Adam in admiration.
Adam was genuinely impressed with Tom. Although Tom was 24, the same age as him, and was only at the 6th level of body strengthening, he had only broken through preliminary cultivation a few months ago and was now rapidly progressing through the realm of body strengthening, with no signs of stopping at that.
Most people who saw Tom would view him as only having low talent because of his current strength, nevertheless, Adam, who knew the particulars of his advancement, knew that Tom actually had astoundingly high talent. Even the top geniuses of the kingdom usually took at least a year to make their way through the realm of body strengthening; however, Tom looked well on track to do it in under that.
"Hmm" Tom mused, though he was still pleased with the compliment.
"I think I can guess what you're here for. You said you wouldn't go out in the forest again until you reached the next level. You've reached that now, so, I'm guessing you're here to let me know you want to go out on a hunt again" said Adam.
"Correct" responded Tom.
"I knew it" smirked Adam.
"Obviously we can't go now, given how late it is, but, I'll be sure to get up early to prepare for tomorrow"
"Good. Tomorrow it is then. No point wasting time" said Tom.
"Haha, I know what you mean. I've been waiting the last couple of weeks for this after all" chuckled Adam.
"Hmm, sorry about that" said Tom.
He felt that Adam was very decent, wanting to spend time with him and waiting as long as he did. He also enjoyed Adam's company and felt a connection with him as a member of the Cardinal clan. To Tom, who would develop a pack mentality whenever he was in a group, considered Adam to be part of the same pack as him and because of this, he'd developed a connection with and become fond of him.
"No, it's no problem. Since I broke through myself, I've been absorbed in my own practice. Entering the mid-levels of qi expansion, I can finally bring my Crimson Fury Fists to the next stage" said Adam, thinking about the primary martial technique that he practiced with and how in the last 2 weeks he was able to increase his mastery over it.
"Well anyway, I just came to let you know that I'm good to go. Like you said, it's late. I'll let the other guys know that they'll have to be ready for tomorrow and then rest up. I have a feeling that tomorrow will be interesting at least" said Tom.
"Yes, I'm sure it will be. I'm looking forward to it. Maybe we can hunt something even stronger than a blue devil beetle" said Adam excitedly before seeing Tom out of his room.
[Tomorrow eh. It'll be fun. It's good that you've finally joined us in cultivation Tom. You'll finally get to see first-hand just how much it has to offer]
Thinking this, Adam returned to his meditation with a smile on his face, anticipating what the new day would bring.