Stepping further away from Mel, just in case, Arthur leaned against his spear and forced himself to breathe slowly and regularly. A part of him wanted to hunchover, but he fought against that physical demand, knowing that it would just take longer for him to recover.
Or should it? Hard to say. After all, he was not exactly human after all, but the cultivator body still needed oxygen. So probably? Yeah, probably.
He knew he was distracting himself, concerned about what Amah Si might have to say. When she finally reached him, the triple tap of feet and cane n the ground coming to an end, she spoke curtly. “Why did you set up a meeting without asking me beforehand?”
“Because, as it’s been so eloquently pointed out to me, I’m the Clan head,” Arthur said. “My choice, my decision. Anyway, I’d think you’d prefer me putting my neck out on the line rather than your people.”
“Your neck is my people’s necks, if you hadn’t realized it.”
“Still the same neck, at the end of the day. And no use to pray.” Arthur shrugged. “Guarantee you they’ll end up choosing to attack our people if I didn’t agree.”
“Not immediately. We could have stalled, taken longer to talk,” Amah Si snapped.
“We could.” Then he opened his hand sideways. “But they already tried killing me once. I don’t think they’re exactly the patient kind. Or she is.”
Amah Si growled, but did not disagree with him. After all, that was true enough. After a moment, she tapped her cane on the ground again. “You should still have asked.”
“No. I shouldn’t,” Arthur said. “I should have informed, but not asked. I know what I’m doing. At least in this case.” He pointed to Mel. “And we’d let you know and we’d figure out what was to happen, but I don’t have to ask. That’s not my place.”
Again the older woman glared, before she let out a long breath. “Fine. I don’t like it, but fine.” She made a face. “I guess you should learn to walk by yourself. Since I won’t be coming to the next floor with you.”
“You won’t?” Mel cried out.
Arthur on the other hand was not surprised.
“Of course not. I haven’t gone up in two decades, why would I do so now?” Amah Si said. “I’m too old, too slow to go up again and be the smallest fish in a big pond. I’ve looked above the well, I know what’s out there. I like being down here.”
Mel continued to look hurt, while Arthur had a half-smile on his lips. “Mixing metaphors.”
“What?” Amah Si said, confused.
“You’re mixing metaphors. The fish and pond, frog and the well. They’re different metaphors.”
In answer, Amah Si raised her cane and prodded him in the stomach. “You. You think you’re so smart all the time. Playing your rhyming games to annoy people, see our reactions. You should be careful. Smart doesn’t stop a knife in the dark. Or a blade in the gut.”
“Well, actually…” Laughing, Arthur backed off before she could prod him again. Then, sobering up a little, he bowed low to her. “I know. And I’m grateful for the advice. But I don’t have much going for me. A Yin body and my natural smarts, really. The ability to annoy people.”
And weren’t they glad that for the most part that even the ‘Mind’ attribute did not exactly make people smarter. It allowed them to do things like process information faster, or control the Tower energy or even gain increasingly elaborate methods of memory recall. But the spark that made up creativity or intelligence, that did not seem to be something the Tower could fix. Like swapping out different portions of a desktop to make it work better, but not touching the actual software that was being used.
Of course, it was an imperfect metaphor like most metaphors. But it helped him at least to understand the changes a Mind attribute made. On the other hand, the Spirit attribute was just a complete morass of contradictory terms, which he wasn’t even going to touch. Not when Amah Si was looking at him, expectantly.
“Apa-lah?” he asked.
“Promise you’ll keep building upwards. The same way you have here.” She tapped the cane end on the ground. “Or better. Do it better.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “Can’t do it worse, now can I?”
Silence, before Mel started cackling. Arthur frowned, while even Amah Si cracked a small smile. Eventually, Mel choked out a soft, “And whose fault is that?”
“Yours! The stupid Suey Tong. Fate! I never chose to do this,” Arthur grumped, fingers tightening on the spear reflexively.
“It is fine. You’ve done fine,” Amah said, a little smile on her lips. “You are not fool, or as much as one I thought. Stubborn, but that can be good.” She nods. “Now, promise.”
“Fine, fine!” Arthur said. “I promise to keep the Beneficent Durians the same and build it as well or better.” He sniffed. “Why bring it up now anyway? It’s going to be months before I have to head up.”
Amah Si shrugged. “Call it intuition. Also, we were just talking about it.”
There was something in her eyes, the way she said that that made Arthur narrow his eyes. He could not place it, the suspicion but he assumed she knew more than she was saying. Before he could prod her further, she raised her cane and pointed it at him.
“What?” Arthur said, warily. He had backed off already to avoid being poked, but now he stepped away, for the old woman had suddenly grown a lot more dangerous with a single motion and a minor shift in stance.
“You’re training right?”
“Then better to train with people who are better, ya?”
Arthur nodded again.
“Bagus.” Springing forward faster than Arthur could have anticipated, she struck his arm that was holding his spear, causing him to lose his grip. Even as the spear fell, she swung the cane again from the same side and struck his thigh and again as his weight collapsed, to his ankle on the same side. Luckily, she chose not to actually break it but hook his foot with the cane end and pull, somehow having transitioned to using the other end in the mid of swinging it.
Landing on his back, arm and thigh aching, Arthur stared up at Amah Si blurrily. Only to find her swinging the cane down, straight for his head. He scrambled to roll out of the way, even as she roared behind him, swinging her cane at him as she did so.
“Fight! Fight like a man, not scurry like a rat!”
“Rats live longer!” Arthur cried as he dodged, the older woman cackling as she kept swinging. He managed a fakeout that worked – mostly – and on his forward roll, picked up his spear and swung it around. He managed to force her to block, buying him time to take a firmer stance.
Damn evil woman. What was it, with his fate and crazed women? He could swear he was cursed or something.