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Hah, it seems there’s a lot going on at the moment” said Jake as he let out a gasp of air.

“Yeah, it seems there is quite a bit going on. The mimic situation is already one thing but what that woman said was true. The Cardinal clan really have been rather active lately, all starting from that bandit incident a couple of months back, even being active out here at the border. And it’s not just them. A couple dozen Fireblaze Sect disciples just arrived here as well and have already started stirring up trouble” said Sully.

“Oh you don’t know the half of it” said Jake excitedly while perking up again, a glint in his eyes once more, appearing as though he was about to launch into some great story again.

[Man, I can’t believe I got so caught up in the conversation that I forgot to tell them this. This news is basically gold standard and only just arrived when I did. There’s no way they would have heard it yet]

“I told you I was staying down in Merryton right” started Jake.

“Well, those Fireblaze Sect disciples you just mentioned showing up aren’t the only ones in the North West at the moment. In fact, there are about a hundred of them, maybe more and they were accompanied by two of their sect elders”

“Oh? Really? A hundred of them and two sect elders as well? We’ve only seen a couple dozen of them and certainly no elders of any sort, otherwise people would be talking about it” said Sully.

“Yeah, I’m sure. I saw them enter Merryton while I was still there and they actually left slightly before me, splitting into groups and heading towards the different border towns, no doubt aiming to temper themselves by entering the Tainted Forest. Only the thing is, these disciples, they’re not that impressive. They’re basically all just body strengthening cultivators and most of them aren’t that young either. I’m guessing that they’re actually the rejects of their sect and that’s why they’ve come this far for martial training instead of just doing it in the South. After all, it’s a long way from here to their sect and considering they can enter the Forest in the south as well, I see no other reason why they would have come here”

“So you reckon they’re the rejects of their sect?” chuckled Sully.

“That’s a good theory and I’ll admit the sect disciples I saw earlier today really were only at the body strengthening level, but, there’s a bit of a flaw in logic. If they were rejects, why would they be followed by two of their sect elders?”

“Well, ok, I’m a little shaky on that point but like I said, none of the disciples that were part of that group were exceptional and I think that might be the reason for what those sect elders did next, because, you see, after leaving with their disciples, they stopped again and decided to just stay in a town inside the Merry Clan’s territory and let their disciples carry on by themselves. I’m guessing that after travelling for so long with a bunch of their weak disciples, having to babysit them, they got bored and decided to just send them off on their own while they rested”

“Ok, I think I see how this story is developing. If I’m not mistaken, why those sect elders were traveling with some of their weak disciples isn’t important, rather it’s the elders themselves that are important” said Bert.

“Oh, you’re good Bert. You catch on quick, because the disciples aren’t the main part of this story. The elders are” said Jake, praising Bert for catching on so quick, “and what they did next” he continued, his tone and body language becoming a lot more sombre and serious and the smile on his face disappearing.

“You see, those sect elders, they didn’t just rest where they were. No. They also raped a town’s girl” said Jake with disgust in his voice.

“The Southerner Scum!” shouted Sully in outrage after hearing what Jake had to say, slamming his drink on the table and causing a great commotion. He was not however, the only one who expressed such sentiments. There were still several people from surrounding tables listening to the conversation going on between the trio of Jake, Bert and Sully and when they too heard this, a string a similar curses could be heard.

“The Bastards!”

“Savages!”

“Absolute scum” came several voices from around the room.

“Jake, continue with the story” said a serious Bert after gesturing for Sully to calm down.

“Well, those elders of the Fireblaze Sect, after resting for a few days, while walking the streets, they saw a pretty girl. Now the girl in question, she was from a wealthy merchant family in the town and was just returning home when they saw her. It should have been an ordinary day for her, only, those sect elders, they followed her into her home, they killed her family, then they raped her and afterwards, they just left town and started following after their disciples” said Jake, relaying the events of the tragic story.

“The cruel bastards” said Sully.

“And they just left? What about the Merry clan’s forces? What about the town guard?”

“Well that’s the thing, they only found out about it after the fact. By the time they found out what had happened and who was responsible, the sect elders were already out the gates. Plus, the strongest person in the town was the mayor and he was only a late level qi expansionist, whereas the two sect elders were both qi condensation warriors. That being the case, the only thing he could do was send word to Merryton and hope they sent some people over quickly. But even then, that would still require the highest level experts of the Merry clan and they might not have even acted. After all, the Fireblaze Sect is incredibly powerful and also incredibly unreasonable. The Merry clan might have gotten away with killing their elders retaliation free within their own territory, especially after what they did, but if they pursued them outside of their territory to kill them, the Sect would be sure to respond”

“Damn, so the fuckers just got away with. Unbelievable” said an angry Sully.

“No. They didn’t” said Jake, a smile reappearing on his face and his mood lightening up once more.

“Earlier, when you were talking about the Cardinal Clan and the Fireblaze sect disciples being active lately and I said ‘you don’t know the half of it’, I wasn’t referring to just the sect disciples”

“Ohh?” said Bert curiously, “What do you mean?”

“Well, when I said that the strongest person in the town where this took place was only a late level qi expansionist cultivator, that wasn’t strictly true. You know the 12th elder of the Cardinal Clan” said Jake.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of her” said Sully a bit enthusiastically.

“Alessa Cardinal. The crimson babe.” He said.

“The scarlet seductress” replied Jake as they started to discuss how attractive they found her and Sully began making some vulgar hand motions.

Meanwhile, Bert, who was once more taking a backseat to all of the conversation, was taking a drink from his tankard and caught site of a young man from the next table over staring at him and his friends. Frowning, he looked more closely at the young and soon caught site of the insignia of the Cardinal Clan that they were discussing, causing him to open his eyes wide in shock and to spray out his drink all over the faces of Jake and Sully as thoughts spun rapidly in his mind.

[Oh crap, we’ve been sitting next to a direct member of the Cardinal Clan all this time and he’s clearly listening to what we’re saying. This isn’t good. Oh God, Jake and Sully are actually talking about one of their elders like that. They’re going to get punched in the face, they’re definitely going to get punched in the face. I might get punched in the face too. Wait, no, we’ve been talking for a while now and none of us have been punched yet. He might not do anything at all but I should definitely get Jake and Sully to stop talking like that]

“Oh God, my eyes”

“Argh, what hell”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Bert what the Fuck was th-” were the shouts coming from Jake and Sully before the both of them felt their heads get smacked.

[Ow. What the fuck is he doing? First he spits his drink out all over my face and then he slaps me over the head as though he’s the one that was wronged. This is unjust] thought both Jake and Sully incredulously, not understanding why Bert had done what he just did and feeling especially wronged that when they had tried to ask him about it he even went and slapped them over the head.

“What am I doing, what are you doing?” said Bert in an accusatory tone of voice.

“Talking about her like that, calling her names, making vulgar hand gestures, she’s an elder of the Cardinal Clan, the daughter of their patriarch and a martial genius who once saved a village from a roaming qi beast attack, you should treat her with more respect”

[What! When on earth did you ever have such strong feelings about her? That’s why you hit us and sprayed your drink over us. That’s unbelievable] shouted Jake and Sully in their minds, still feeling extremely wronged by what Bert had just done, however, just as they were both about to speak up in complaint, Bert said something that caused them to reconsider their position and simmer down.

“Honestly, I can’t believe you can talk about her that way given the nature of what is being discussed” said Bert.

“Ah, ok, yeah, fine. I’ll eh, just continue with the story” said Jake, much to Bert’s relief as he saw the expression of the young man on the other table seem to ease up.

“As I was saying. Alessa Cardinal”

“Now this is something that gets talked about a lot in Merryton, because as it would seem, she’s rather close with the Merry Clan or rather, she’s rather close with a certain member of the Merry Clan. In fact, there’s a lot of gossip that the two of them are actually involved with each other, only no one knows for sure, but, whatever the case, we do know that she spends a lot of time with him. Now, this is where it gets important. Guess where he lives?” said Jake.

“In the town” guessed Bert.

“Bingo” said Jake, “and as it just so happens, she was visiting him at the time”

“Now, do you know how strong she is?” he asked.

“Yeah, she’s meant to be at the peak of qi expansion right? But still, you said the sect elders were qi condensation warriors. Even if she was there, what could she do?” answered Sully, following up with a question of his own.

“I’m glad you asked that Sully and I’ll explain it in just a bit. Going back to the story, just after the two sect elders had left the town, a servant of the girl’s family arrived at their home and discovered the family and the rest of the servants dead. Except, those two sect elders, they left the girl alive. Badly injured, but alive. She was able to tell the servant what happened and the servant then went and screamed for help”

“Now being in the wealthy part of town, there were already members of the town guard not that far away and they rushed over when they heard the screaming. Only, like I say, at that point, there wasn’t really anything they could do; only being able to forward the news to the mayor, who would then have to forward it to Merryton”

“But, and here’s the thing, the servant girl didn’t just stop at screaming for the town guard. No, she knew they wouldn’t be able to do anything, not against sect elders. She didn’t know how powerful they were exactly, but she knew if she wanted justice then she’d need to find the strongest person in town she could and beg them for help. So, after the town guard rushed over and went inside to help the girl, the maid ran to the Silva Restaurant, the most prestigious restaurant in town, where all the richest and strongest people ate. Where she’d passed by earlier on her way to work and saw the 12th elder of the Cardinal Clan, Alessa Cardinal, enter with her friend from the Merry Clan” said Jake.

“So the maid was able to find someone strong straight away. But that still doesn’t answer all the questions. Alessa Cardinal still shouldn’t have been capable of dealing with either of those sect elders, much less the two of them together” reasoned Sully.

“Well here’s where I answer your question from earlier” said Jake while smiling.

“Because you see, Alessa Cardinal wasn’t just going to that restaurant for no reason. This wasn’t just like any other ordinary day where she’d go there. No, that day, she was going there to celebrate. And do you know what she was celebrating? Only her breakthrough from the peak of qi expansion into the realm of qi condensation”

“Blimey” said Sully in awe.

“Isn’t she only, what, 28 this year. That’s frickin unbelievable”

“Yeah, that is impressive. A true martial genius. The Cardinal Clan are lucky to have her” added Bert, thinking deeply about her impressive achievement and about just how much of a powerhouse the Cardinal Clan were when it came to martial cultivation.

“Haha, so as it turns out, there was someone strong enough to deal with those bastards from the Fireblaze Sect. Tell me, what happened next?” asked Sully.

“Well, as I was saying, the servant girl ran into the restaurant, then she ran straight up to Alessa Cardinal, got on her knees and begged for her help, telling her what had happened and begging for justice. Now of course, when good ole Alessa Cardinal heard this, she was furious and she wasn’t the only one. And here is where another piece of interesting news comes in. Because, not only is this town the home of Alessa Cardinal’s Merry Clan friend, but, it’s also the hometown of an elder from the Iron Fist Sect and guess what, not only was he visiting home at the time, but, he was also eating in the very same restaurant as Alessa Cardinal. So now, there wasn’t just one qi condensation expert who was furious over what had happened, no, there were two” said Jake, pausing to take a breath while Sully, Bert and everyone else on the surrounding tables listened intently.

“Straight away, Alessa Cardinal and the Iron Fist Sect elder left the restaurant looking for the Fireblaze elders, only to find out that they had already left town. But the two of them weren’t just going to leave it at that. Not after what happened to that poor girl and her family, not to mention all the servants that were killed too. No, they were out for blood. So what if the Sect elders had already left town? They’d just chase after them. In fact, it was better that way. If they’d fought in town, countless people would have been at risk, especially considering the martial techniques of the Fireblaze Sect, but, out in the open, away from the town and away from other people, that’s when they could really go all out”

“Now of course, they still had to catch up to the elders from the Fireblaze Sect, but what kind of people were they, they were elders of the Cardinal Clan and the Iron Fist sect. The two of them naturally both had Swift horses and those two southern bastards had only been gone for about 10 minutes or so. Catching up, that was easy enough” said Jake, looking as though he was the one who did all this.

“And what then?” inquired someone from another table.

“Well” began Jake, leaning back on his chair.

“No one actually saw the fight as it happened, but we all saw the aftermath. Great amounts of land were split apart and cracked. Large areas of grass had been burnt to ash, the ground beneath it smouldering and scorched. But most importantly, two dead elders of the Fireblaze Sect and two very alive pursuers that had met injustice with justice. That and a good ole can of whoop ass” finished Jake, a large grin spread across his face as “Whoop’s”, “Yeah’s” and “Hell Yeah’s” resounded across the room, along with the clattering and banging of cups and fists as everyone celebrated the outcome of the story.

…………………………………………………………………………

Everyone returning to their own conversations, the cacophony of noise died down and the room was instead filled with the usual background chatter. Meanwhile, the people on Tom’s table turned to look at each other to discuss the events they’d just heard. Events which were arguably even more important than those regarding Lucian and the bandit subjugation.

“The 12th elder killed an elder from the Fireblaze Sect. Is that bad? I mean, good riddance to those elders, they were despicable people who should’ve been killed 100 times over but isn’t the Fireblaze Sect meant to be super powerful? And from what I’ve heard from you guys and that guy just now, they’re also meant to be really unreasonable. Will they retaliate?” asked Lance.

“Hahaha” laughed Pike as he slapped Lance on the shoulder.

“And here I was finally starting to think you were more than just a pretty boy from the country. Don’t worry, the clan is stronger than you think, something you’ll learn after you’ve worked here longer” said Pike.

“Hmm… well, things might get a bit difficult for any of our clan members that travel to the South but on the whole, Pike’s right. The clan is strong and if the FireBlaze Sect wanted to cause any trouble for us in the North, they’d have to bring an army with them” said Adam.

“Yeah, and even if they did, our good neighbours the Iron Fist Sect wouldn’t just sit back either” added Avery.

“Actually, they’d have to be concerned about the Flowing Water Sect too. Many people don’t know this but back in the day, the 2nd elder used to be a disciple of their sect, back before she married into the clan that is” said Adam.

“Really? I didn’t know that” said Pike in astonishment. Given that he’d essentially been born in the clan, both his parents working for the clan as servants, he was surprised that he’d never heard about this.

“Oh yeah” confirmed Adam.

“Most people don’t know because of how long ago it was and because she only ever uses her martial skills while hunting in danger spots that most other cultivators don’t go, but she was legitimate disciple of their sect. In fact, I heard from my grandfather that when her husband died they even invited her back to be a Grand Elder, but she said no because she wanted to remain at the clan” said Adam.

“Blimey. I didn’t realise the clan was that well connected” said Pike.

[Nor did I] thought Tom.

[It seems that despite being from the current strongest family line of the Cardinal Clan, my body’s former owner wasn’t much in the know. In fact, aside from grandfather, I’m not even clear on the cultivation levels of the top elders, only that in the North-West, the only people who can best the Clan are the Iron Fist Sect]

“Well it’s not that we’re particularly well connected with them or anything but given the 2nd elder’s strength and position as one of their former disciples, it might be enough for them to get involved should the Clan ever face such an attack. Plus, it’s hardly like the two sects are on good terms with each other anyway. Even if there was no connection at all or if it was some other northern clan they might still get involved” said Adam.

“Well whatever the case, the Clan is strong enough to withstand anything they could throw our way. But enough about the clan’s strength, what about the 12th elder’s? A qi condensation warrior at 28, that’s damn impressive. The 12th elder is a genius” praised Pike.

“Not to mention she was also able to best an elder of the Fireblaze Sect” added Avery.

“A true martial genius” concluded Harrison.

“Yes. Yes she is” said Adam while losing himself in thought.

[Qi condensation already. Good on you cuz]

“Oh” said Avery, raising his eyebrows.

“You seem a little lost. Could it be that you’re depressed she beat you to the punch?” joked Avery.

“Oh I never thought I’d make it to qi condensation before her. She does have a 4 year head start after all. I’m just wondering if I’ll be able to beat her record. Unfortunately, I only have until I’m 28 to do that, so it’s not looking that good for me” said Adam.

“I guess it doesn’t help that even without a 4 year head start she’s still a martial genius eh?”

“Yes, she certainly doesn’t set the bar low” sighed Adam.

“You know, it’s not just her you’re contending with” spoke up Tom.

“I also plan to break through to qi condensation before I’m 28”

“Oh” said Adam in surprise, eyebrows raised.

“I didn’t realise you had such an ambition”

“I have reasons that compel me” said Tom.

“In fact, I plan to break through faster than anyone ever has before. And I don’t just plan to stop there either”

“Wow Tom, you’ve really gotten more into cultivating than I realised” said Adam.

“Cultivating all day is already something not everyone has the patience to do, but to think you also had this kind of ambition, you’ve surprised me”

“Yes, well, I don’t plan to dawdle at the lower cultivation realms” said Tom.

[I’ve only got 20 years to beat this game after all]

“Good on you cuz, but if you’re truly planning on competing with us, you have quite the deficit to make up. Mind you, considering you only started cultivated recently, even if it takes you until after you’re 28, your accomplishments would still be higher than ours. As for if you’re actually able to do that, well, then you’d just be a monster” said Adam.

“Perhaps” replied Tom.

Hmm, where are you going? Are you leaving already?” he said, noticing that Adam had begun to get up.

“No, not leaving. I’m just going to go and say hello to our friends, Jake and Sully, on the next table. I’ll be back in a bit”

“Oh, ok” said Tom as he turned to face the likes of Avery and Pike to continue the conversation.

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