“Have you settled in well?” Arthur asked Mohammad Osman, minutes after the pair had finished their introductions and small talk. Nothing of importance had been said, and Arthur hoped that nothing major would arise.
“We have. The rooms are slightly small and cramped, but otherwise, we are well.”
“All too true. Though yours is a decent size, no?” Arthur said, his smile not reaching his eyes. After all, he knew what the man was angling for, and he was certainly not going to offer any additional rooms.
“It is fine,” Mohammad Osman said.
Silence, slightly uncomfortable, stretched out between the pair. Now that there were no looming crises, Arthur was not sure what they had to say to one another. He found himself reviewing his earlier thoughts, his goals for this meeting.
Firstly, find out how bad things were for the Double Sixes and what, if any, kind of help they expected from the Benevolent Durians. But Arthur wanted to ensure his clan was not drawn into the fight, if possible.
Secondly, outline any additional help that the Sixes would offer the Durians for their ongoing alliance and provision of rooms. Or, to put it another way, to flesh out what the rental agreement looked like.
Thirdly, see if Osman’s group had any resources or manuals he could trade for.
“Your . . .” Arthur began to say.
“We . . .” Osman said at the same time.
The pair stopped, trailing off. Arthur flushed, a little embarrassed, while the older man smirked and gestured at him to continue.
“Your group. All goes well?” Arthur said, choosing to be blunt. Or blunt-ish.
“As well as can be. Some minor issues, but they are being handled. We will show them the error of their ways,” Mohammad Osman said. “A small matter.”
Arthur nodded, letting the topic drop like the man so obviously wanted. His goal was not to have the Durians dragged into a fight after all. Everything else did not matter too greatly.
“Good. Then about the ongoing payment for your presence,” Arthur said, leaning forward. “After this month, of course, which you have earned.”
“What do you wish?”
“People.” Arthur ticked his fingers off. “A promise of help, if some other group starts causing problems again.” The older man merely nodded, dark eyes glittering with suppressed amusement. “Perhaps a trade of your cultivation exercises that you might have written.” He paused, then added. “Beast cores.”
“You are asking for a lot.”
“I’m offering the only truly safe location in town—apart from Tower-controlled buildings. I think there’s a lot that I’m giving here.”
“And that makes you the tallest lalang. The one which irritates the most.”
“Maybe. But there’s only so much they can do to us, inside the zone.” He waved his hand around himself. “Worst case, we sit inside and grow strong and then come out.”
The older man nodded, rubbing his chin. “If that is the case, why do you need us then?”
“Because I’d rather we be proactive, no?” Arthur shrugged. “If we can keep our people safe and hunting monsters for their cores, we can grow faster. And we’ll need that strength when we move upwards.”
“To the next floor.”
“Exactly.” Arthur smiled grimly. “Not ideal to stay holed up in my own building. Simply cultivating, without cores . . . climbing each floor would take forever. Though it is possible.”
“Not ideal, as you said.”
“And I don’t want to go stir-crazy. So here we are. Trying to figure out a way to ensure none of that is required.”
“I cannot speak for those above me.”
“I don’t expect you to. An alliance on this floor, for now, is sufficient.”
Now it was Mohammad Osman’s turn to grow silent, as he considered matters. “We have a few cultivation techniques here, meant for our people. We can allow you to have a copy, but that will be a separate deal—outside of our regular rent.”
“Even if we reduced your rent for months?”
“Yes.” The man smiled grimly. “I will risk my neck, simply by offering our techniques. As you know, written techniques are rare. So the only way forward is to trade techniques: ours for yours.”
“Ah . . .” Arthur let out a long breath as he began to realize the man’s goal. Still, better to ask than guess and get it wrong. “And the techniques you want are?”
“Your healing method.”
Of course Osman would want that. Healing techniques were hard to get and, of course, in demand. No one wanted to stay injured. The ability to fix oneself fast meant getting back to cultivating and hunting for cores . . .
Well. In the long term that could make quite the difference. Already, Arthur knew that it was likely helping people like Mel and the others injured in the big fight get on their feet faster. Hunting groups could stay out longer, return to the hunt faster.
“Two problems with that.” Arthur held out his fingers. “My healing technique is not written down, yet. And it’s pretty rare, isn’t it? So you’re going to have to pay up if we start on this.”
Mohammad Osman frowned. “I have heard reports that . . .” He trailed off, staring at Arthur who refused to elaborate further. Eventually, the man nodded to himself as though a suspicion had been confirmed. “I do not think you have anything else to offer us, then.”
“Well, before we end this, why don’t you tell me about what you have,” Arthur said, turning his hands sideways. “Writing down the cultivation exercise might not be a bad idea, and giving you a copy might be viable.” He scratched his chin. “Or we could train one of your people. And they could pass it on eventually.”
Mohammad Osman’s eyes narrowed in thought at that second suggestion. Obviously, the first person to be trained would be him, at first blush. But if Osman wanted to keep climbing, staying around long enough to impart the exercise to the next person might take too long. Though, Arthur could not guess if he was like Amah, content to stay on this floor.
Then again, Osman was middle-aged. The old and worn usually did not have the burning ambition of youth.
“And you would wait? To take that long to train another?” the man challenged Arthur.
“I . . . well, others could do it too.” Arthur shrugged. “I won’t be staying any longer than I have to.”
“As I thought.” Arms crossed, the older man shook his head. “No deal.”
Arthur let out a huff. Perhaps they could revisit this conversation later. That is, after Osman had given up on the idea of gaining Arthur’s healing ability. Even if the Double Sixes had nothing that was particularly powerful or unique, Arthur still felt it would be good for the Durians to expand their options.
“Let’s talk about the rent then. Without library access or cultivation techniques in play,” he said, moving on. And boy, did they have to figure out how to keep those things under better watch and distribution. Making a mental note to have a conversation with Uswah and Amah Si about that, Arthur focused on the next discussion with Osman.
If they were not going to get cultivation techniques out of the Sixes, then Arthur would have to squeeze all he could get out of those rentals.
After all, he really did need to keep growing.