Strange how time passed, when one moment could stretch for what seemed like an interminable hour. Waiting to get your exam results after school; sitting in a crowded, unairconditioned police station whilst trying to explain the loss of your IC. The time between asking a girl out liked out and the answer she would give. Moments that felt like eternity.
Then, the next, time would pass in a blur. How fast had he grown up? Under the watchful eye of his tsifu and his sick mother, finding time to care for her whilst she slowly died, hunting down the medicines that were in short supply or – worse – often contaminated. You’d think, with 3D printing of chemicals like that, contaminants would be less an issue, but it had actually grown worst.
Most of all, the last few days. Negotiations that had gone long into the night between Willis and Amah Si, such that the pair had come out of their rooms disheveled with bloodshot eyes, to bark out additional orders for documentation and newly rewritten contracts. Only for the pair to plunge back in, hours later after a few hours sleep to argue over another point.
But eventually, a deal had been hammered out. One of mutual co-operation, a contracted series of aid between Clan and family. More rooms were rented away, their occupants kicked out. New buildings purchased, near the village border to house those forced to leave. Beast cores and cultivation techniques arriving on the last day, where a rush order for multiple copies of the single star cultivation technique had been made.
“And why am I not getting my technique now?” Arthur said. He had a pack on his back, the repatched trusty backpack that had seen him through so much wear and tear. Of course, part of the reason he hadn’t gotten something new was because of their current state of finances.
Mel, walking beside him as they headed for the exit of the village and nearby teleportation pads shrugged a little. “They’re only giving us one. And since we don’t need to verify it’s a proper technique, they insisted that we only were to receive it after you ascended.”
“Why, exactly, are we not verifying it ourselves?” Arthur said.
“Because it’s a Tower-purchased copy too. They’re just making a copy of the ones they have, so it’ll be properly sealed and everything,” Mel said. “Anyway, them trying to mess with you would likely backfire, considering it’s you they need.”
“And not the rest of you.” He turned his head, taking in his team. There had been some arguments of who was coming, but not a lot. More people had wanted to join them, everything from some of their new recruits to even some older members of the now defunct Suey Tong clan. In the end though, the only people coming was his team and Yao Jing.
After all, the demands for fighters for the Clan had not disappeared. Even with the aid being offered by the Chin’s and Mohammad Oman – and the sudden deluge of offers from other groups, when everyone else realized that the Chin’s were going to stomp them into kingdom come – the Clan would need to stand on its own eventually inside the first floor.
That meant building up an internal base of fighters. Some of whom would stay inside the first floor forever, others who would continue the climb. In fact, if anything, the creation of the Clan, the boosts his various Sigils and Aspects had offered, had sparked ambition that had long lain dormant in some of the older members.
In a few months, maybe a year or two, they’d start seeing people ascending and breaking through. Especially now that the Clan had their own copy of a cultivation technique, one that could be used to draw other, unaffiliated individuals in.
They just needed to figure out how to keep the riff-raff out.
Arthur could not help but echo his thoughts out loud. That particular discussion had been on-going for a while but had dropped off along the way.
“We’re trying to figure it out, but penalties and peer pressure seem to be the way to go. I don’t think we want to take it to the extreme though…” Mel said, drifting off.
“Extreme?” Yao Jing said.
“Going after those non-affiliated,” Mel said. “Families, friends. That kind of thing.”
“Yeah, no,” Arthur said firmly. “Or maybe, hell no.”
“I thought so. So we’re working on it. It’d be nice to have a Rod of Binding or something but…” Mel shrugged.
Arthur understood. The Rod was one of the Burning Pixies main advantages, one of their famed enchanted items. As the fifth most powerful guild, the Burning Pixies were a female-oriented guild, with membership that were only for female identifying individuals. Or those who were formerly female identifying. They’d had to make that last change due to the way the Rod of Binding worked, since once you were in, you were in.
Well, we’ll figure it out,” Arthur said. Or they wouldn’t, someone would come in, lay a long-term decades old plan, become part of their management infrastructure and then, one day in an orgey of revenge steal, destroy and betray them all. All because Arthur had killed their brother / lover / father / mother.
Maybe he had been watching a few too many Korean dramas.
“Arthur? Are you ready for this?” Mel said, just before they exited the ring. She put a hand on his arm when he tried to move forwards, dark brown eyes searching his for an answer as she held him still. “If you aren’t ready to face the trial…”
“We can break our word, make the Chin’s angry, deal with the fallout and then the various other groups who have been sniffing around now, who all want to take a bite out of us?” Arthur said. “Did you see that letter I got?”
“What letter?” Jan said, cocking her head to the side.
Yao Jing just grunted while Uswah made a face.
“He received a threatening letter, to not join with the Chin’s. Promised to kill him, his family and his friends if he went ahead,” Mel explained. “It was, of course, unsigned.”
“Cowards,” Yao Jing said. “Faceless shorn turtles. I bet they used to hide in their lonely basements before they got kicked into the Tower.”
Arthur made a face. “So. Yeah. I need to get out. Fast. The faster I get up, the higher the chance I can keep my family safe.” He nodded outside, to the crowd around Casey Chin. “She promised to get the word out with her people too. Which will be even faster than what we can do, probably.
“So. No choice, really. We go ahead.”
There was a long silence then, before Jan broke in. “Sorry-lah.”
“For what?” Arthur said.
“This.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I know you no want, but you kena do good job lah. So, sorry, they hurt you or your family.”
“It’s not your fault. And you, you don’t get soft on me.” He laughed, rotating his shoulders to settle bag more comfortably on his shoulders. That movement had the others copy it, checking over their own weapons, their own gear. “I think I’d miss having someone calling me stupid every once in a while.”
Laughing, Arthur waved the group forward. Time to meet Casey Chin, the lady with the alliterative name and more money than their entire Clan put together and the next floor. Because why not?