Arthur finished binding his wounds, his backpack splayed out beside him. Movement hurt, everything from the damaged disc in his lower back to the numerous and significant cuts all across his body making him wince. That he was doing a mostly slipshod job of wrapping his wounds did not escape the Tower climber, mostly because his healing technique would eventually clot up the wounds and bring him to full health.
If the Tower gave him enough time. As it was, it did not seem to mind his delay in the liminal space between Tower floors. About the only thing it seemed particularly upset with Arthur about was how he continued to ignore the pressure on his mind coming from the notifications it wanted to push to him.
Of course, he had a good reason for that.
“Can’t be reading, if I’m bleeding . . .” Arthur said, automatically attempting to rhyme. It was a silly little thing that he did, a mental tic that kept his mind from worrying about things he could not control, like how the rest of his team had done. For that matter, he kind of liked the challenge. On long days outside the Tower, running errands and working odd jobs, filling his head with silly patter kept him sane when going over forms or when information from Tower wikis no longer kept his interest.
Now he was in the Tower, after years of preparation. He had even reached the second floor, though it had taken him longer than he’d have liked. Still, there was no timetable that he had to hit for the outside world. There might be a few people he might wish to visit—the batch of fellow students under his master that had gone ahead of him—but that was it.
Another breath, and Arthur pushed himself to pack his backpack again. Movements were slow, the weird omni-directional light of the liminal space throwing his spatial judgment off a little. If not for the fact that the walls and ceiling were just a tad differently coloured, he might have been truly disoriented.
End of the day though, all that hesitating and stalling had to end.
“Time to look at the kind of book? Rook? Mook?” Arthur trailed off, shaking his head. He was not doing well with the rhyming right now. He knew the loss of blood was part of it. Energy was being drained constantly from his core as his body tried to heal him.
Best get this over with now, then start cultivating and healing.
Just then, golden lines of text appeared in his mind’s eye.
Arthur blinked, then grinned. Yes, he definitely would want to see his results.
“B! B!” Arthur leapt to his feet, then collapsed back, clutching his chest with a wince. “I’m never living that down.”
Never mind what his sifu would think if the man ever learned about the horrible grade. If someone like Jan or Mel—or worse, the Chin family—heard he’d done so badly, he would have no mien at all. How could he dare show his face, with a grade like this.
Of course, a small portion of him—the one that had grown up watching Western television—knew that such expectations were a little warped. Not everyone could get an A, especially if they were grading on a curve. Someone, somewhere, had to get a B. Or a C or D. Probably not a fail. In the Tower, after all, a fail likely meant death and there was no point in grading that.
In fact, that thought actually cheered Arthur up. If this entire grading system was just grading survivors, then the grade was actually better than it looked. After all, he was being graded against survivors and not the entire Tower population that had tried the first floor.
Grim and a little morbid, but he would take it.
Would you like to review your rewards?
“Reward? Oh, right. There was something like that,” Arthur muttered to himself. He’d forgotten that passing each floor often saw a boon given. Of course, the boons were often minor and varied so greatly that he’d mostly just forgotten about it. After all, he did not need a fire-starter or an enchanted tent. Well, an enchanted tent might be nice . . .
- Attribute Increase (+1)
- Core Rewards (17 enemies defeated)
- Cultivation Technique
“Celaka! Bloody cheaters. Isn’t that just paying me for what I killed?” Arthur groused when he read the second option. He found himself crossing his arms as he stared at the words. It also told him a little about the other option for completing the trial.
It’d have been insane for someone to actually wipe out all those monsters in the test, but if they had taken out a good portion of the monsters, they might actually come out of the trial laughing at the riches they’d accumulated. After all, the sheer volume of cores for doing so and passing the test would make them rich beyond easy belief.
Pretty nice, but not particularly useful for him.
The +1 attribute increase was actually better, though it seemed to be a touch stingy. Two points would have made a much bigger difference for him. Then again, this was the first floor of the Tower. Couldn’t expect too much from the rewards.
If so, that suggested what kind of cultivation technique they had to offer. It would certainly be a technique, not a cultivation method which might have been vaguely better. Cultivation techniques covered all manner of skills both offensive and defensive, while cultivation methods were approaches to drawing Tower energy into one’s body.
The problem with getting a technique as a reward was that he already have it. Or, worse, he might receive something new but utterly useless. After all if it was, for example, a fire creation technique, with his Yin Body he’d struggle to deal with all that.
Arthur sighed. “Never easy, when you’re as good as me, eh?”
He didn’t even bother to rhyme that one. Instead, he flicked his hand sideways, pulling up his status sheet. About time to see how that was doing.
Not much change since the last time he had reviewed it, which was no surprise. It wasn’t as though he’d had a lot of time to practise before they had to attempt the ascent to the second floor.
He needed to pull—or cultivate, as they called it—more energy from his surroundings in the Tower and process it into the refined energy that half his techniques used. Refined energy was also the only way he could increase his attributes, which would in turn increase everything else like the capacities of his cultivated energy pool and refined energy pool.
Supposedly, there were more energies and elements he’d yet to encounter—beyond refined energy—but that was so far away he’d barely paid attention to those things. Never had been his plan to push that far ahead, after all. Survival and doing well for himself only required him to clear this Tower. Everything after that was just a bonus.
At least, that was the plan. Now he had a clan seal and headed a clan. That meant he had to climb much further unless he wanted to be a pawn.
The entire point of climbing this Tower was to get out of being a pawn of forces he could not control. In the real world, of course, that had been the circumstances of his birth, the technological changes that had swept across the planet, and a government that just didn’t care.
Now he was drawn into another game, of forces much more powerful than he: other clans and guilds, other Tower climbers, who'd want to make use of his clan. On that thought, he could not help but pull up information on his clan, reviewing it again.
A quick query pulled up the Aspects and Sigil details.
- Minor increase in effectiveness of protective, healing, and shielding cultivation techniques.
- Trivial increase in effectiveness of precision, speed, and bonding cultivation techniques.
- Variable increase in cultivation and refinement speed, dependent upon the number of Clan members within close proximity.
- Tower quest types have been expanded.
- Sigil Bonuses (Clan Head): Accelerated Healing – Refined Energy (Grade I) improved to Accelerated Healing – Refined Energy (Grade II)
- Sigil Bonuses (Clan): Cultivation Exercise – Accelerated Healing – Refined Energy (Grade I) has been imparted to all Clan members.
Nope. No real change there either.
Arthur sighed. Well, he’d been avoiding it for a while now, but it was fast becoming clear that he needed to make a decision. What would he take as his reward?
As though there really were a choice.