Pike, loud as ever, slammed his cup down on the table while smacking his lips in enjoyment, savouring the taste of the mead he’d just drunk.

“Ahhh, that was good” he said, earning a raised brow from Tom.

“I still don’t understand how you can enjoy that” said Tom, who was still perplexed as to why humans liked these sorts of drinks so much. From his own personal experience of tasting alcohol, he was unable to draw any satisfaction from it, considering its only use thus far being to quench his thirst.

“Of course I can enjoy it, it’s honeybrew mead, it’s good stuff” responded Pike, while beside him, Avery tilted his hand side to side, making a hand gesture that indicated scepticism over such a claim. Deciphering the nonverbal meaning of Avery’s gesture, Tom took it to mean, “Eh, it’s ok, but it’s not that great”, something which he still considered a gross overestimation of the product.

“Well, Tom’s never been much of a drinker. Even when it comes to some of the fine wines and brews we have at the clan, he’s never been enthusiastic about them. I think he’s only ever drank socially” said Adam.

“Ahhh, you’re missing out, you really are” said Pike, thinking it was a pity, before raising his fork and taking a bite out of a bit of meat.

Right now, one day after they had returned from their trip into the Tainted Forest and unaware of the full extent of Cardinal clan’s actions that had taken place the night before, during the early hours of the morning and in fact throughout the day as a whole, Tom found himself in one of the many pubs his companions had frequented during their stay in Acorn, drinking, eating and enjoying small talk with them after what for him was a day of quiet cultivation.

However, although Tom was able to relaxingly while away the day with his solo cultivation, continuing to infuse qi into his body and edging himself closer to the 7th level of body strengthening, blissfully unaware of what had been happening with the likes of Lucian and the clan, Adam’s mind had been far more occupied by recent events.

Unlike Tom who had spent the entire day cultivating by himself, seemingly without a care or worry in the world and not taking great concern over what he had seen in Acorn the previous day, Adam, someone who already held certain responsibilities within the clan, responsibilities far greater than Tom, had placed a fair amount of importance on what had happened. Ever since he had returned back from the forest and seen the commotion going on within the town, he had taken great interest in it, especially since someone of the calibre of Jeffrey was the one leading charge.

As a result of all this, since he was too busy organising things after the hunt to follow up on what was happening, the next day, after seeing off his friend Marcus, who had departed for Hill city early in the morning, Adam had spent the majority of his day at the clan’s transportation headquarters in Acorn, trying to get as much information about what had been happening as possible.

Unfortunately for him though, although he was able to get a more in depth understanding of the raid that had been conducted on the bandit residence the previous day, the explanations he was given were still a bit vague and didn’t give him a good idea of the bigger picture. He even slightly felt that the people he talked to were purposefully leaving out a part of the story; though quickly dismissed this notion as nonsense, determining that there was no reason why they would withhold information about the bandit subjugation from the son of a clan elder, especially one who had been involved with the subjugation activities around Hill City.

As he continued to question people however, it soon became apparent that part of the reason the information he was receiving was so vague, was because the people he was questioning genuinely didn’t seem to have a full understanding of the situation either. In fact, something he discovered when he first went to the clan’s transportation headquarters in Acorn and which greatly hampered his line of questioning, was that none of the senior members were present.

Having left Acorn the previous night with Jeffrey, leaving only middling managers that were essential to the continued operation of the business, as well as the many lower levelled guardsman and non-combatants, there were few left at the headquarters that were truly in the know. Even those who had a better idea of what was going on could only give Adam an explanation of events from the previous day as even they were yet to learn the outcome of Lucian and Jeffrey’s activities in the surrounding area.

All of this had caused Adam somewhat of headache throughout the day as he cared greatly about the wellbeing of the clan and had more of a personal stake in the bandit situation than others because he was close to Tom and had also been friends with the two sons of the 7th elder who had subsequently been killed by them after Tom’s ordeal.

Nevertheless, his concern over it wasn’t getting him any answers and even when he went to some of the other businesses the Cardinal clan had in Acorn, finding similar situations of the higher ranked members being absent; he was still unable to learn more about the situation.

In the end, he just had to wait back at the transportation headquarters, where he was able to receive a few sporadic updates on the situation from returning combatants, though even then, the reports he received lacked full details and didn’t give a picture of the whole situation as he’d soon learnt that those who had left Acorn with Jeffrey had separated into different groups to investigate and attack different bandit hideouts.

However, although he still lacked some of the specifics, by the end of the day, there were several pieces of important news that he had been able to learn, such as the fact that the patriarch of the clan, Lucian, had personally come to take part in this operation and that together with Jeffrey, he had successfully attacked a bandit stronghold and made great gains towards uprooting the bandits in the western territory, as well as securing the first foothold in uprooting them throughout the entirety of the North-West.

Having received a clearer picture of what was going on and seeing no point in continuing to stay at the transportation headquarters, since it had gotten dark again and the town gates would soon close, preventing the flow of any more news into the town, Adam finally returned to his hotel to meet up with Tom, before going with him and his guardsmen for a much needed sit down and drink.

Now the guards in question, as opposed to Tom who had spent the day cultivating and Adam who had been running around Acorn and had his mind occupied with greater things, had very much enjoyed the respite they had had after their eventful trip into the Tainted Forest the other day, especially those who had been injured. Plus, since Tom didn’t do anything all day other than stay in his room and cultivate and they weren’t required to follow Adam around, a restful day they had indeed.

Actually, that was one of the reasons they liked their assignment to protect Tom. Not only had several of them already developed a friendship with him due to his training, but on the whole they found him to be pretty laid back and since he spent most of his time assiduously cultivating, their workload was actually quite light, far lighter than they were used to back at Hill City.

The extent of it was so much that it easily outweighed the increased work they had by going into a place like the Tainted Forest, especially since contrary to their expectations of having to frequently enter it whilst Tom was tempering himself, he’d only gone in there twice since they had first come here.

And so, now, after Tom had stopped cultivating and Adam had returned, they went out with the guards, such as Harrison, Avery, Pike, Lance and Bartholomew, who, as human beings, naturally enjoyed having a bit of downtime after a day of hard work, to eat, drink, talk and on the whole, relax and unwind. However, as they were sitting and chatting, sharing a bit of small talk with each other, some of the other conversations that were going on around them, taking place on neighbouring tables, started to attract their attention.

“Hey, Bert, Sully” said Jake, an ordinary looking man in his 30’s who had just entered the pub, seen his friends and sauntered over to them before sitting down at their table.

“Haha, good to have you join us” chuckled Sully, a hairy man sporting a somewhat frizzy beard.

“So, when’d you get here, I thought you were down in Merryton”

“I was but I’ve been making my way back up. New job prospects, you know. Anyway, I got here earlier today but had a few things to sort out first. Was planning to look for you and it wasn’t difficult to guess where you two’d be” said Jake.

“Haha, I guess” chuckled Sully.

“So, any news?” asked Bert, the most sensible of the trio, curious of what stories his friend would bring back from his travels.

“Any news?” said Jake whilst looking quite excited, something which the other two knew meant that he was about to launch into some long and most probably inaccurate story.

“There’s a whole lot of news” he said excitedly.

“In fact, just last night, I witnessed something unbelievable”

“As I was coming up from the South, travelling at night along some of the quieter roads, I passed by Grenple Village”

“Grenple village?” asked Sully quizzically.

“Ah, it’s a village about 20 miles south of here and a bit east. It’s not very big. Anyway, as I was travelling along, I was passing right by where it is and was able to witness a battle of epic proportions take place”

“A battle of epic proportions? At some small village in the middle of nowhere?” said Sully with scepticism, already believing this to be one of Jake’s farfetched, cockamamie stories.

“I’m telling you, it’s true. When I was travelling along, I heard some loud bangs, looked over and saw everything that was going on” said Jake.

“Oh, and what happened then?” asked Sully.

“I’ll tell you what happened. I saw a stone giant rise from the ground and do battle against a crimson dragon that descended from the sky. Meanwhile, a pillar of fire erupted into the sky and from within it, a fire demon emerged. Only then, a wind wraith appeared and created a great storm of blades to fight against it” explained Jake excitedly.

“Ohhh, ok, dragons, giants, demons and more. Go on then, what happened next?” said Sully sarcastically, obviously not buying into it.

“The battle between the wind wraith and the fire demon was intense, with some back and forth between them, only it was obvious that the wraith held the upper hand, pressuring the demon and pushing it back. Seeming to sense that it would lose, the fire demon tried to escape into the distance, leaving a trailing blaze of fire in its wake, but was obstructed by an illusory purple monolith that appeared in the sky. Its escape blocked off, the wind wraith caught up from behind and attacked once more, pinning it in place. Trapped against the monolith, with all its escape routes blocked off, it made its last desperate attempts at defending itself with a great eruption of fire, but this was easily supressed by the attacks of the wind wraith. Ultimately, unable to escape and unable to overpower its opponents, the fire demon was torn to shreds by the wind wraith, letting out an inhuman cry in the process.”

“On the other hand, the battle between the giant and the dragon was over much quicker. In the first attack, where the dragon rushed down from the skies and the stone giant raised its fist to meet it, the giant’s arm shattered upon impact and its whole body crumbled and collapsed to the ground in one big heap. Then, the dragon launched a series of blade like attacks in the shape of crescent moons down at the rubble beneath it and the stone giant didn’t rise again” finished Jake as he looked at Sully with a sparkle in his eye.

“Hah” scoffed Sully, “You really expect me to believe all that?”

“I swear to God, it all happened” said Jake seriously.

“It all happened did it? Dragons, demons and bullshit is what I say. I still remember last month when you got back from the northern hills and kept trying to convince us that the hills and valleys were disappearing”

“That wasn’t a lie either, I was telling the truth. I remember one time I was travelling through the area, I passed by the opening to a small valley that had a village inside it and people moving about, but when I came back, the valley wasn’t there any longer, instead there was just more hill” exclaimed Jake.

“And that wasn’t the only time either. I swear to God there have been other times where hills, valleys and villages have disappeared and other things have appeared in their place”

“Yeah and I called bullshit on that too. Hills don’t suddenly appear out of thin air Jake, nor do valleys disappear after just one day. Face it, there was nothing supernatural going on, you just got lost” chided Sully.

“Well what about the village then and all the people I saw?” questioned Jake.

“What do you mean what about them? You were in the wrong bloody place. And even if you were in the right place, so what? Hunting groups set up temporary lodgings in the hills all the time. They might be there one week and then gone the next. And not just them either, there are plenty of people who form small communities up there because they want to stay away from the prying eyes of others. The point is, that story was bullshit and this one is too” said Sully.

“I really can’t stress enough with you that this really happened Sully. I was there man, I saw it. This stuff really happened” persisted Jake.

“I don’t know Jake” said Bert, speaking up for the first time in all this.

“Even at the best of times you’ve been known to wildly exaggerate. All I can say is that I believe you believe you saw this”

“Hey, is my word really worth so little to the two of you” said Jake, a little hurt.

“Ok then, fine. If you know so much, tell us, why were these dragons and demons fighting at some village in the middle of nowhere and what happened next? If you were there then surely you at least know a bit about that too” questioned Sully.

“Well actually, like I said, I still a bit away from there and was only watching from the distance. Plus, I mean, with everything that was happening, people running about in the darkness, shouts and sounds of fighting, I figured I shouldn’t get too close either, so I just kind of continued on my way”

“Wait, so there were other people fighting there as well, not just these mythological creatures you saw fit to make up? Can it actually be that the fight you were describing wasn’t quite as fantastical as you were making it out to be and instead, was just a fight between some qi expansionists that had broken out late at night?”

“Welllll, I guess I suppose they could have just been cultivators” ceded Jake.

“Bloody hell, finally” said Sully while slamming his hands down on the table, “We finally get something that actually makes some goddamn sense”

“So a fight between cultivators broke out at a place called Grenple village as you were passing by. Yes I suppose that is noteworthy, but still, you really need to cut back the crazy Jake. Now, is there any other news that’s worth mentioning? And woe betide you if any of it involves dragons, demons or giants”

A note from jmj1011995

Hiatus - sorry, I really should've put this note with my last chapter but i'm putting this on hiatus for a while. I still intend to write it and have several ideas that i want to explore but it'll proabably be a couple months until i pick it up seriously again.

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