Downstairs at their canteen – and it said something about Malaysians that even when no one needed to eat, there was still a canteen in a building that desperately needed every inch of space – Arthur grabbed a plate of rice and curry. He eyed the suspiciously watery looking curry with only a few chunks of meat floating in it, before he shrugged. Curry was curry, and bad curry was still better than no curry.
“Tell me what I missed,” Arthur commanded Mel, the woman having appeared soon after he had gotten washed and dressed and exited his room. The fact that it was in the early hours of the morning and she looked a little haggard spoke to how much she had been working – and how important what she had to say.
“Before that. Any success?” Mel said, gesturing at him to indicate what she meant.
“Decent. Another point in Body,” Arthur said. “Thank you all, again. For the cores.”
“It’s necessary.” Mel made a face. “Possibly more than you know.” Then before he could ask, she continued. “Anything else?”
Arthur hesitated, mentally calling up his sheet again. There were some changes, but he was uncertain if it helped to tell her. Or if he even should.
“A few things. I’m not sure it’s useful, certainly not worth discussing here. Or until I figure out the exact details,” Arthur said eventually. The minor increase in his cultivation and refinement speed he knew was from his improvement in his cultivation technique itself. He still didn’t have a Tower registered one, but it was getting better.
The more interesting aspect for him was how a full point had not disappeared. It seemed that being partially primed for change in his Body had allowed him to discount the amount of energy he used to gain an attribute. The negative of that, of course, was that he now had exactly none of that priming anymore. And he’d probably spent a lot more cores than he needed to.
A technique for the rich – and weirdly enough, he was one of those in a small way – to use. Not something he’d recommend to anyone else in their struggling Clan. Not a technique he’d recommend to himself, if they had any other choice.
“Why sooner?” He asked, before finally burying a spoon in the rice and curry and taking a bite. He made a face, the curry neither thick, tasty or even spicy. Lousy curry. But at least, it was curry.
“Because we heard back from the Chin. She’ll talk. But only to you.” Another beat, before she added. “Outside the village.”
“And are we going to walk into it?” Arthur asked, taking another bite.
Mel looked down at his food, then at Arthur before she shrugged. “Depends on you, doesn’t it?”
Arthur sighed. Right. He was the boss.
Yay him, say him.
His meal was halfway done, the curry swallowed and the rice chewed before he gave his answer. “I’d rather walk into an ambush now, than have the rest of you people get caught up in it. And if they intend to bring enough people to kill me right away, I’d like to know.”
Mel nodded, looking him up and down again. After a moment, she nodded. “Alright then. We’ll push it for tomorrow or the day after though.”
“Because you need to familiarize yourself with your new body.”
“Oh, right.” Arthur smacked himself on the top of his head with his spoon, chuckling a little ruefully. “Forgot about that.”
“Try not to?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Waving his spoon dismissively, he dug into his meal again and finished the rest of it in short order. He then stood up, picking the plate up and dumping it aside, bidding goodbye to the sleepy looking attendant.
“We going then?” He said, turning around to look at Mel.
“Right now?” she said, a little startled. She had been cradling a cup of kopi in hand, staring into space whilst he had been doing all that.
“No better time.”
She snorted, drained the cup and stood up to join him near where the dirty dishes were placed, dumping her own cup. “You know, a woman needs her beauty sleep too.”
“You don’t. Pretty enough as it is.”
That brought a flush to Mel’s cheek, though she chose not to answer directly. Instead, she pointed to the exit doors, making Arthur laugh silently as he exited with her.
Time to train.
The best part of training with Mel was that he got to fight another spear user. That was probably the thing that he enjoyed the most. Even more than getting beaten by her. And no, he wasn’t some sadomasochist. Arthur just knew that he learnt a lot more by getting beaten in a sparring situation than he did dominating an opponent.
Sure, there were ways that you could train against juniors. Limiting the kind of movements you made, the techniques you used. Slowing down your reaction speed and movements. Even learning to train specific responses and openings, to guide your opponent into actions that you had pre-set responses towards Pre-set responses that you took such that you could hit them with blinding speed, since you were moving into those responses almost as soon as the began their actions.
There were negatives to such training, though his tsifu had drilled them in those techniques repeatedly. When the expectation that you were going to fight stronger cultivators was a given, then not being able to reach in time was also to be expected.
To offset such a disadvantage, the easiest and best method was to build these responses beforehand. Moving before your opponent, so that you stole tie from your opponent. The negative of course was the same kind of negative that children playing slaps learnt – if you reacted before your opponent, you just gave them a free shot when you stopped moving.
Against Mel though, Arthur had nothing like that to worry about. Instead, he was pushing himself and his new body to the maximum. He needed to be faster, and so he was. Human bodies were often stronger, faster and more flexible than they actually thought, mostly because the mind set mental liimters. It stopped people from tearing themselves apart, injuring themselves when they pushed too far.
Adrenaline, of course, removed those limitations to some extents. Made the body react faster, but also made the mind relax to allow the body to go faster. However, even then, in most cases, such mental breaks were still in play, just a little more lenient.
Good, of course, for normal mortals.
Not so great for cultivators who had just increased their Body attribute. Sure, the Tower helped reduce some of those mental blocks, loosening them up within the mind. But it was not complete, nor were the hours and hours of practice, learning to dodge my milimeters rather than inches gone.
Now, Arthur flinched and twisted, dodged and pushed, faster and harder than he was ever used to. He overjudged his dodges and underjudged his strength, such that he often dodged too far and then blocked too hard, sending weapons that were meant to be only just pushed aside spinning away.
The first few hours were frustrating to the extreme, but Mel was a great partner. She often repeated attack sequences, so that Arthur could respond once more to her in the same way, recalibrating his attacks to the proper sequene. Yet, she was faster than him, at the peak of the Body threshold and thus she forced him back, again and again.
Leaving him sprawling, on the ground, panting.
Only for Arthur to get up again and do it all over, because that’s what you had to do. It was long into the morning, as the noon sun was overhead that Amah Si finally found them, tiny thunderclouds on her brow.
“Oh shit,” Arthur muttered as he saw her, breaking away from Mel as he faced the tiny leader of the defunct Thorned Lotuses.
Seems like playtime was over.