“Eh, boss. I don’t wanna sound ungrateful, but we kena boleh hunt, anytime soon ah?” Yao Jing said, two days later. The group had taken a much needed break, chilling out with a cup of hibiscus water as a drink, picking away at the plate of nasi lemak that was part of that evening’s meal. Not much meat, but rice itself and the coconuts that were needed to make the dish were simple enough to locate.
“It’s only two days, lah,” Jan said, scornfully. “You cannot concentrate for two days, ah?”
Yao Jing shrugged, not looking at all perturbed. “So, boss?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Arthur said. “If I spend the majority of the hours between now and when we need to ascend cultivating, I should – with the aid of the cores we have coming in – have a chance to break through another point.”
“If you keep skipping meetings,” Uswah said, teasingly.
“Well, I could come to them but then what would you and Amah Si do?” he said, with a little laugh. Uswah made a face, while the rest of the team laughed at her expense. Since Uswah found her best cultivating time at mogjt, she’d been delegated the early morning meetings, while Mel was dealing with the afternoon ones, allowing the pair time to cultivate during the breaks.
Of course, the real heavy lifting was being done by Amah Si and beggar Joe. The fact that the entire Clan had taken to calling him that – and he had not thrown too much of a fit after the first day – meant that was likely going to be his designation from now on.
Surprisingly, after he calmed down, beggar Joe had turned out to be a very competent administrator. Something about him actually having run a small factory in the real world, before everything had grown automated and the need for him and his people had disappeared. It also explained why the older man had chosen to enter the Tower, with no real prospects of finding a normal job out there.
“How are things going?” Arthur said. “I know we have a library started, and more information being recorded. Nothing amazing, of course.” Uswah nodded in acknowledgement, having given up her role of that to another. “And the treasury is, as always, empty.”
Mel snorted. “It’s not empty. It’s in circulation.”
“We do have multiple copies of the books right?” Arthur made sure to clarify.
“We do. And I’ll be taking one with us when we ascend. Updates will come when the next expected ascendee goes up too,” Mel said.
The fact that it had been decided to put the cores in circulation, with only a very small number held for emergency had been Mel’s idea. She called it something like fractional reserves, with microloans to individuals to allow those near breaking through being the focus at the moment. Those individuals would then pay back the Clan, allowing them to grow their total – theoretical – value.
It made sense, of course, to empower his people. Still, Arthur kind of wished there was a room filled with the cores. He had seen an old cartoon gif, of a duck swimming through piles of gold coins. It would have been kinda cool to do that with the cores.
Probably highly impractical, of course. But kinda cool to think about.
“And the reporting system?” Arthur said.
“Amah Si is still figuring it out,” Mel said with a shrug. “Same with recruiting. You need to designate her as the Clan head for this floor, by the way.”
“I know, I know.” Arthur sighed. “It’s not showing up yet though. I’m guessing it’s something that will be offered to me when I actually try to ascend. Or succeed at it.”
“Talking about that…” Yao Jing cut in. “Do we know if they’re doing a trial again or…?”
“Or a floor boss?” Jan said. “Do you not listen?”
“Not when it’s not necessary.” Yao Jing said with a grin, before digging into his food.
“Can I kill him ah?” Jan said.
“The first floor of the Tower rotates through three different tests,” Arthur intoned, as though he was reading from a scroll. Which, in a way, he was. He’d reread the wiki on the first floor so often, he knew a lot of it by heart. “The easiest, and most common ascent route, is when the Tower judges attributes. A minimum of seven points in each attribute is required. The second most popular method is the individual trial method, since the monsters you’re expected to fight aren’t much more powerful than what we fought. The worse case is the jenglot, and we’ve dealt with a bunch of them now.”
A lot of nods at that one, all but Yao Jing having been on that ill-fated expedition.
“Lastly, we’ve got the boss fight. The least preferred method, since there’s a greater variety of boss monsters. In addition, as a boss monster, the creature is significantly stronger than any individual trial, though multiple individuals can be brought to fight them.
“The only negative is that the total numbers allowed to ascend varies depending on the monster.”
“Ya-lah. Ngo zi!” Yao Jing said. “What’s it now?”
“You’ve been with us long enough to know our luck,” Arthur said, repressingly. “What do you think?”
Silence from the bodyguard. Then, the man looked down at his food, up at the group, made a face and started spooning the food into his mouth with haste. Mouth stuffed like a chipmunk, he stumbled off with a wave of his hand as he headed back to his room to cultivate.
The group held their laughter until he was gone. Jan even went so far as to pound the table, wiping at her eyes after she had gotten her laughter out of her system.
“You going to tell him it’s the trials now?” Mel said, eyes dancing with humor still.
“Nah,” Arthur said. “He needs motivation to cultivate. And I didn’t lie, he just left without a goodbye.”
The group laughed again and Arthur smiled a little, grateful that things had settled down. For now at least. But, he had to admit to himself, he was a little trepidatious about the trial himself. Getting through sounded easy, in theory.
Except nothing in the documents he had read ever discussed what happened when you were a Clan leader. The fact that some Clan leaders disappeared between floors was well known. The assumption that trials might be a little harder for them was rampant.
It was why he intended to push, as hard and as fast as he could. If he had a choice, he’d wait but…
It’d be enough. It had to be. Better to join with the Chin’s now, than wait for someone else with less patience, fewer good intentions to come along and attack them.
Finishing his food, he met Mel’s gaze. The older woman – not that much older really – returned his look, understanding in her gaze as he stood. She gave him a firm nod, of support, of acknowledgement? He was not sure. But it did lift his spirits a little.
Even as he returned to cultivating in his room.