Exiting the forest and coming into the full, unobstructed, light of the sun, which had yet to descend below the horizon, Tom stared out at the vast plain of grass in front of him.
“Hah, finally out. Now we can really pick up the pace” said Adam, stopping on the grassy plain.
“Yeah, we made good time for what we did. Should make it back for tea” said Marcus.
“Ok then. Harrison, we’re going to speed up now. It’s all plains from here on out so just go as fast as you can” said Adam to Harrison, who was driving the wagon.
“No problem” he replied and with two clicks from his mouth and an ‘aye up’, he encouraged the horses to move forward again, wagon in tow. They did so slowly at first, however, they soon started picking up speed and what started as a walk, developed into a trot and then again into a gallop, the wagon thundering along behind. Thankfully, not only was the land before them flat, but, it was also a dry day so there was little difficulty in traversing it at high speed.
Tom and the others quickly spurred on their own horses and followed behind with a speed far eclipsing anything they had done while in the forest, their horses breaking into gallops too. However, even though the horses were running at a gallop, it was still a slow gallop. After all, the horses pulling the wagon could only go so fast with the weight they were lugging behind them and the others had to match the wagon’s speed in order to protect the spoils of their hunt. Plus, abandoning Harrison to lead the wagon back while they rode ahead would be unkind to say the least.
Moving forward at high speed, his horse galloping beneath him, Tom felt the wind blowing on his face and through his hair, the warm evening sun giving him a sense of comfort.
In this moment of quiet and calm, he couldn’t help but reflect on the events of the day.
[Hmm, there was a fair amount that happened today. I guess it all really started with those Red Skinned Boars.
Yes. They were nothing if not a good indicator of my current level of strength. There are lessons to be learned from that encounter.
I’ve clearly been ignoring my martial practice too much. What I need more than anything is to advance my cultivation and advance my understanding of qi, however, to advance quickly, I’ll also need the support of resources.
What’s more, the further along on the path of cultivation I go, the harder it’ll be and the longer it’ll take. I’ll need more and more resources and resources of higher quality to help speed up my progress.
Undoubtedly, in order to meet my needs, I’ll have to procure a fair amount of these resources myself. In order to do that though, a certain amount of requisite strength will be required. I’ll need to be strong, strong enough to continually challenge more powerful opponents and the basic increase in strength I’ll have from increasing my cultivation won’t be enough for this.
Yes. I should make sure that I become adept in some martial techniques to ensure this and no longer ignore the art of fighting so much.
Hmm, and another thing, that strange Amoeba beast. Beneath me though it may be, it truly was odd. I know I by no means know of all the different types of life in the cosmos and even less know the specifics of the different races that I do, but, it was surprising to see something so soon that I had no knowledge of.
I wonder what other oddities there are on this world? Perhaps there will be many more surprises? Or maybe none at all.
There might even be some incredibly dangerous beings I’ve never heard of before. That’ll be interesting to say the least. I wonder if any will dare to challenge me?
Perhaps I’ll challenge a few myself. Show them who’s boss. It’ll certainly be a glorious fight in my current form and no doubt the more dangerous such beasts are, the more useful they’ll be as cultivating resources. But, there’ll also be untold danger involved, even more so if I don’t know anything about these creatures.
Fortune favours the bold. A good expression. Trampling all with one’s own personal strength. That’s the proper way. But even I know that the blind will walk to their death.
My knowledge of this place is a bit too lacking at the moment and merely having good situational awareness may not be enough. Perhaps it’s worth looking through the Cardinal clan’s records and my own memories again.
Hah, there really was a lot that happened today. The boars and the Amoeba aside, I also got to see some of the qi techniques of this world. Although it’s certainly different from the use of mana where I come from, it has its similarities. Nevertheless, seeing Adam and Marcus using their qi techniques was a good indicator for the strength of people in this world in the realm of qi expansion.
Of course, they are both meant to be above average cultivators, Marcus falling much closer to the average line than Adam, but it was still a good indicator nonetheless. It’s just a pity I didn’t get to see a greater variety of techniques. They talked about form change, something that was actually relevant to increasing ones understanding of this energy, yet I only got to see a small example of this.
If there is anything I can take away from what I saw of them though, it’s that be it power or the quantity of their qi, they were both far superior to those two iron fist sect disciples I saw when I was travelling with Rowan.
I suppose that’s the gap created from the difference between early level qi expansion and mid-level. I do keep hearing that that is one of the major gaps for cultivators and the first true and significant jump a person experiences is combat potential.
Supposedly, a peak level body strengthening expert can challenge cultivators up to the 3rd level of qi expansion and still have a chance of winning in single combat, but against a 4th, mid-level qi expansionist, barring some ridiculously extreme and improbable circumstances, they have no chance.
I guess that means that qi techniques only really start to show their full metal in the mid-levels of qi expansion.
… … …
Hah, I could really do with something to eat right now]
Reflecting on all that had happened during the day, Tom lost himself in thought, time passing by unawares until he was finally brought to by the voices of his comrades.
“Whew, there it is” said Lance, looking at the town of Acorn that had come into view.
“Almost back now”
“Yeah, I can’t wait for a good drink and a good rest. Riding this horse has been killing my backside” said Pike beside him, his voice easily heard by everyone despite the sound of the wagon roaring along behind them and the horses hoof beats stampeding along the ground beneath them.
“We’ll have to sort all this stuff out first though” said Adam, flicking his head towards the items on the wagon.
“Yeah, but after that, I’m going to the pub” replied Pike.
“Hahaha, perhaps I’ll join you” laughed Adam.
“Coming up on the forest road now, it’s time to slow down and turn” called out Harrison on the wagon.
Moving along the grassy plains at the edge of the forest, Tom and the others had been making their way back to Acorn at high speed and now, they were finally approaching the forest road that led from the town into the forest. Because of this, and because of the many cultivators that traversed this path, it became necessary for the wagon to turn onto it and towards Acorn’s west gate, as well as slowdown from the gallop they were currently barrelling along at.
“Yeah” shouted Adam in agreement, before everyone gave cues to their horses to slow down and begin turning.
Tom, taking his horse onto the road and trotting forward towards Acorn’s west gate in view at the end of it, took notice of the many cultivators moving back and forth along the road.
Like usual, there were many people present, all cultivators, constantly trudging back and forth as part of the monotony of Acorn’s town life. People, weak and strong, rich and poor, in groups and by themselves, all moving back and forth between the forest and the town, making their living, tempering themselves, strengthening themselves or just seeking the thrill of the hunt.
There were those that were armoured and those that were not. There were a few who had horses but many who did not. There were people with wagons, people with carts, people with bags and people with nothing but their own two hands and the clothes on their back.
Some, coming back from their hunts in the forest, were bloodied and injured, others, weary and exhausted, and yet still more who were happy and content with their day’s worth of hard work.
In stark contrast to them though, there were those who had yet to enter the forest. The eager opportunists seeking to make their fortune, the confidant veterans who approached it as just another day and the inexperienced young, impatient and curious novices who had yet to have their first taste of the forest, nor know of its dangers.
Looking along the length of the road, Tom saw the familiar scenes he had seen when travelling it before. Ordinary warriors and sect disciples alike, both carrying back the hauls of their hunts, hard earned after much trail and tribulation. A fantastical array of beasts slain and brought back to be dissected without mercy, their lives ending so new goods could be bought and sold from the stalls and shops of Acorn town.
It wasn’t just Tom looking at others though. Tom and Adam’s own group attracted a fair amount of attention and not just because of their full wagon or the fact that they were all riding horses. The powerful smell that was still being emitted by the fragrant sweet orchids had spread throughout the nearby area and turned many heads, though after a momentary interest people started turning away again and those who had lingering thoughts, being so close the Acorn and with so many others around, could do nothing but watch on with greed in their eyes.
Looking around, Tom could see that amongst the people travelling to and fro, the ordinary warriors, wearing a vast array of different clothing, made up the majority, yet the familiar grey uniforms of the Iron Fist Sect were a common sight and the blues of the north east’s Flowing Water Sect could also be picked out.
Amidst all of this, the only truly strange or rather unexpected thing was the new addition of those wearing the orange uniforms of the south’s Fireblaze Sect, a sight that came as a great surprise to all present since those of the southern sects rarely ever came to the north.
“Hmm, that’s a surprise” said Adam, who saw them first.
“Are they Fireblaze Sect disciples?” said Harrison questioningly upon seeing them. This question however, was to know one in particular. It was merely shocked utterance he let out after being surprised at what he saw.
“It looks like it” replied Avery with a serious look on his face, his mood ruined.
“God I hate those guys” scoffed Marcus.
“They are rather arrogant” said Adam.
“Arrogant, hah, they’re more then arrogant Adam, they’re insufferable pricks. I’m just happy they usually stay in the south, with the rest of their kind”
“Well, it’s not like we need to bother with them. They’re of no consequence to us, just ignore them” advised Adam.
“Hey, what’s the big deal?” asked Lance to Pike. Having grown up in a village and still being relatively young, he didn’t have much knowledge of this subject area, nor why everyone was reacting the way they were.
“Basically, all Fireblaze Sect disciples, are giant dicks” responded Pike, his loud voice easily catching the attention of nearby cultivators, including some of the Fireblaze Sect disciples who shot him and the entire group furious looks, their rage at the attack on their prestige and pride unconcealed, their faces going red in anger. Unfortunately for them though, with their cultivation levels, they could do nothing but seethe in anger from afar.
Continuing on and ignoring the Fireblaze disciples as they passed them by, Tom and the others finally made their way through the West gate of the town and onto the busy main street, a hubbub of activity clearly present as people ran to and fro chaotically, shouting out prices and trying to attract customers. Thankfully though, travelling further into the town and away from the gate, where a great deal of trade took place, things quieted down a bit and the streets became less crowded.
The group was finally nearing the end of their day of hard work and started relaxing a bit, but, it was not over yet. As Adam had said earlier, they had to sort out the stuff on the back of the wagon and that meant going to the headquarters of the Cardinal clan’s transportation business in Acorn.
However, as they were travelling along, a commotion that was going on down a street they were passing caught Adam’s eye.
At first he was just curious as to why a crowd seemed to be forming, with many people pointing and discussing amongst themselves, however, when he saw what they were pointing at, he frowned, confused, and stopped his horse.
Seeing Adam suddenly stop, the others, in turn, also stopped, curious to know why he had done that and what exactly he was staring so intently at. When turning to look in the same direction as him, what they saw was exactly the commotion that was going on down the street.
Staring hard at the groups of people going into and out of a particular building, carrying bloodied blades, Adam finally spoke up.
“Th-they’re men from the Cardinal clan” he said confused.
“A-and, is that, is that Jeffrey?” he said incredulously.
“What do you mean? What’s going on?” asked Lance, who was shocked by Adam’s words and the events playing out before them.
Lance however, was not the only one who was shocked. Even Tom was frowning at this development.
“H-hang on a moment, I’ll go see what’s happening” said Adam, before riding off at speed towards the forces of the Cardinal clan in the distance and going up to Jeffrey, who appeared to be conducting the operation that was currently going on.
Tom and the others only had to wait a short while, watching Adam talk with Jeffrey in the distance, before he rode back up to them.
“What happened?” asked Tom, taking the initiative to speak out for once. The Cardinal clan was his clan now and due to the natural pack mentality he formed with them, this was something that he was genuinely curious about.
“Apparently Jeffrey uncovered a bandit cell operating out of Acorn and went to deal with them. They’re searching through the place now and trying to find any leads that will help to uncover more of their operation. He said with this, we should be able take out a large part of their network in the north”
“Blimey. Good riddance” said Marcus. He was well aware through his own travels and through his father, who worked at Hill city’s governor’s office, just how big of a problem these bandits were. Hearing this news from Adam, he was pleased that the Cardinal clan had finally made some progress in rooting them out.
“Wait, so, did Acorn’s forces just let the clan raid a residence in the town, no problem at all?” asked Lance.
“You don’t get it” said Avery.
“The local government here really doesn’t care. They don’t like wasting resources and they think that if they get involved in stuff like this, it’ll only hurt the town’s business. They’ll only get involved if whatever’s happening involves their interests or if they think it’ll hurt the town’s business. In this case, it’s absolutely in their interests to sit back and let the Cardinal clan do whatever they want. After all, the clan’s much more powerful than them and they also share a beneficial trade relationship. Even if they had some sort of attachment to the people getting attacked, they’d definitely weigh the costs of going up against the clan in order to protect them” explained Avery.
“Oh” was Lance’s reply, surprised at how things worked here. He’d already heard about this somewhat before but didn’t think that things were to this extreme.
“Jeffrey said that he informed them before hand and that when they first went in, Acorn’s town guard blocked off the street for them. It’s just that they’ve been here a while now and the town guard already left” Said Adam, explaining what had transpired.
“Makes sense. Bandit attacks in the area will stop people from going into the forest as much and also hurt the flow of trade going out of town. This way, someone else took care of their problem and it didn’t cost them a thing” reasoned Harrison.
“Ah, I see now” said Lance in understanding.
“Ok, well, enough of this. We’ve still got to get all this stuff packed up and sent off to Hill city yet. After that we can all relax and get a better handle on the situation” said Adam.
“Yes boss” came the replies of the guards as they once again started moving forward, heading towards the Cardinal clan’s transportation headquarters so they could finally unload the wagon and call it a day.