Contrary to her expectations, her pronouncement did not engender clapping or looks of amazement or startlement. Instead, the group just stared at her till she flushed, looking down in embarrassment.
“And you want me to help you,” Arthur said. “How? I mean, sure, you can join our Clan maybe but I doubt your family is going to like that.” There were definite mulish looks on their face at that suggestion. “Otherwise, what?”
“I want to use your Clan buildings.”
He shook his head. “I don’t get why it matters. Surely your people have buildings for you to rest, cores enough to push ahead.”
“We do.” Willis confirmed, his face mostly impassive. But Arthur was beginning to get a sense of the man, and with his keen eyesight, he’d noticed the minor twitches, the micro expressions on his face as Casey had spoken that showed his unhappiness.
“Then?” Arthur said.
“You know how Clan buildings provide higher concentrations of energy. Even with enough cores, it’s still more efficient to cultivate in a Clan building,” Casey said. “My second cousin tried a speedrun just using the resources we had, and he still failed.”
“He was also not very efficient at the mandatory quests,” Willis said. “I’m sure, with your abilities, you would be able to finish those faster than him.”
“And still only get into the top thirty at best,” Casey replied. “I ran the numbers. It’s not enough.”
Willis frowned but Arthur ignored the man, understanding it was Casey who mattered.
“You do realise I don’t have a Clan building at all, or the resources to build one immediately when I arrive, right?” Arthur said. “I can’t exactly magic one together in higher floors.” Or so he had been led to understand. After all, there were only a few Tower buildings in upper floors, unlike this one here.
“I know.” Casey grinned. “Which is why it’s a good deal for you. We’ll loan you the money to buy a building, or we’ll gift you one from our stock. You make it a Clan building, let me – and my people – stay in it, and cultivate. You’ll also help me progress through the mandatory quests, finishing them too at the same time.” She laughed. “Who knows. You might even get on the list too.”
“Unlikely,” Willis muttered.
Arthur ignored the grumpy older man, looking at Mel for her input. She pursed her lips a little in thought. The entire deal seemed too good to be true, really. Even if the Thorned Lotuses had branches further up, they were still a smaller group, meaning that if they had permanent buildings, they weren’t likely to be big. Taking the time to build out the Clan buildings on each floor would take time.
And while Arthur wasn’t exactly against such time spent, there were obvious advantages to actually getting to the top.
“That’s a good deal. I’ll admit it,” Arthur said, making Casey grin. Jan on the other hand winced, knowing he had given up part of his bargaining position by being so upfront. “Only one problem.”
“Well, more than one. But the biggest?” Arthur tapped his chest. “Me.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Casey said.
“Beyond the obvious?” Jan muttered under her breath.
“Ya lah.” Yao Jing muttered.
“Cultivation speed. I can’t, I won’t, head up without at least being the recommended minimums, you know.” Arthur shrugged. “I’m not insane, you know. Those mandatory quests are guaranteed to kill you, if you don’t get it right.”
Casey paused, then nodded. “We can get you cultivation methods that’ll suit you.”
“And my people.”
“What!?” she snapped.
“And my people,” Arthur repeated.
“You’re asking too much, don’t you know?”
“They’re my people. I’m not going up, exposing myself to new dangers without my team.” He snorted. “That’d be reckless and insane.” He paused, then added. “And I’m only one of those.”
“You don’t trust me?”
“You tried to kill me.”
“It was a mistake!” Casey said.
“And there’s no guarantee another mistake wouldn’t happen in the future.”
She glared at him now, lips pursed. Before she resolved what she intended to say, he added. “I’ll probably want more things, to make sure I’m not completely betrayed. Among other things, promises of protection. At least for a little while, while the Clan sets up.”
“You, you, do you know what you are talking to!” she spat.
“Someone who needs me more than I need her, it seems,” Arthur said.
“You…! We could crush you and your clan. Make sure you have nothing to ascend to!” Casey snapped.
“And now the rich girl comes out.” He inclined his head. “You’re right. You can crush my fledgling Clan with little effort. However, that won’t help you, now will it. And cultivation methods for me and my team, that’s not a big ask. Not for you guys.”
“You’d have to promise not to reveal it to others, at the very least,” Willis snapped, interrupting. “And don’t expect a five star or even a three star cultivation system.”
“I’ll take whatever is needed to keep up with her,” Arthur pointed, while Casey continued to fume. “And if we get one for the rest of my Clan, I’ll accept that.”
Willis moved to object, when Casey raised a hand. He shut his mouth with a clack, knowing better than to object even as Casey spoke. “You say you’ll need to speak with others, about your full demands. Yes?”
“I do need to know when you intend to go up, though.” Arthur raised a finger, ticking his finger off. “But among other things, I’ll also need you provide my people and I resources too to keep up with you.” He raised a hand to Willis as the man’s eyes bugged out. “I’m not trying to be unreasonable. But if you want me to follow along, to ascend with you, we need both of those things.”
“You are not wrong.” Casey paused, then added. “But you’re also being unreasonable. Financing you is entirely reasonable. But your people as well?” She shook her head. “Doing so could create a dagger in our back, ready to be wielded at the last moment. My father would not thank me, to raise a new competitor.”
“Then maybe not a competitor,” Mel said. “It’s not like we’re intending to enter the corporate arena.” She laughed a little ruefully. “The requirements of that, the understanding of the various enchanted items, the mining and harvesting operations for the stones, those are outside our ability. It would take years for us to even come close to achieving a degree of competence. Nevermind our own desperate need for such stones to strengthen our people.”
“All true. But you’d still be a dagger that could be wielded against us,” Casey said.
“Unless we are allies.”
Now the younger girl fell silent, regarding the pair before her. She hesitated then, looking to the side and meeting Willis’s gaze, the man visibly wanting to speak but unwilling to do so at the moment. Still, some unspoken message was passed between the pair, before she turned to Arthur and Mel.
“Something to consider. Something for you to consider. I am willing to finance some of you, perhaps a little more than what it would take for the Clan Head to rise. But we will not pay for it all.” She paused, then added. “Go back. Make a list of what you want. We will ascertain the full extent of what we will give and we will come to an agreement.”
“Still haven’t said when you want to go up,” Arthur said. “That’s going to be important.”
“Oh!” Casey laughed, ruefully. “Did I not say? In a week. I’ll be ready to ascend in a week.”