Chapter 179

Chapter 179

“I’d prefer not to die, thanks. Or for anyone to die at all,” Arthur said smoothly to the Suey Ying thug. Tattooed, muscular, and with a torn T-shirt, the man could have stepped out of the set of an Indonesian gangster movie. “Violence is really the last choice here.”

“Then why so many, ah?” Parang rose, pointing to Arthur and then swept sideways to take in Arthur’s entourage.

“Last choice. Didn’t say it wasn’t an option.” Arthur took a step closer, holding a hand up to stop the others from following. He used the spear he carried as a walking staff, grounding it as the parang shifted back to point at him. “I just want to talk.”

“We talking already.”

“Yes. And that’s good. Better than fighting, eh?” Arthur said, smiling. “But I’d actually like to talk to, uh . . .” He paused, looking back to his group. No answer, until Jan hissed from behind, “What’s his name again?” to Jaswinder and her group.

“Nicholas Lim,” Jaswinder hissed back.

“Right. What she said,” Arthur said. “Nicholas Lim. Just want to have a word with him, and the girl he brought back. Then after that, she’ll come home with us, and we’ll all be gone from here.” When the other man began to speak, Arthur raised his free hand and beckoned Mel.

The woman came forward with a package wrapped in cloth in her hands. “Oh, and we brought gifts too,” he said. “A ‘we’re here and friendly’ gift.”

“What?” The man stared at the gift, frowning suspiciously. “How I know it’s not a bomb?”

Arthur shook his head. “Nothing that crude. You can look it over, while you call for Nicholas, right?”

Thrown for a loop, the thug just stared at Arthur and the wrapped box, obviously uncertain of what to do. He kept hesitating, and Arthur almost spoke up when a voice called from inside the building.

“Invite him in. With his gift.”

“Boss?” The thug hesitated again before he shook his head, not daring to contradict the other in public. He gestured for Arthur to come, and Mel followed them. The doorkeeper looked like he wanted to object to Mel coming, but when the voice didn’t, he chose to keep quiet too.

As they neared the entrance, Mel lowered her voice so she could whisper at Arthur, “This is a bad idea.”

“Yeah. But better this than fighting, right?” Arthur said. “We can’t be throwing fists to solve all our problems.”

Mel had no answer, at least none that she found worth offering. Inside, the building—what looked like a converted warehouse—was a single large open space with a wall partitioning a small area in the back. Within the open space, numerous cots and tables were spread out. Sadly, while the building had a few windows, the entire area smelled like the third day of a geek convention, unwashed humanity all too prevalent as the odour du jour.

Guided by the doorkeeper, the pair were brought over to a table that sat near the center of the warehouse. A little too far from the doors, but Arthur made sure to not think about that. At least they hadn’t taken their weapons away, allowing Arthur to prop his spear against the table as Mel offered the box to one of the men. During all this, a glowering older man with a scar running down one side of his face that bisected a milky eye watched them all.

“You’re Arthur Chua, eh? Leader of the Benevolent Durians. You’re older than I expected.” The man’s voice came out rough and raspy. One of his hands brushed at stringy, unwashed hair a little so that that blind eye could be more easily seen.

Arthur smiled, meeting the other’s gaze easily. He even went as far as to offer his hand while he spoke. “I don’t hear that often. But I must admit I don’t know your name.”

“You come without learning my name?” He shook his head at Arthur’s foolhardiness. A long look at Arthur’s hand before he grabbed it, giving it a tight squeeze and shake. “Kong Hua.”

Arthur kept his face serene even as the other crushed his hand. Pain was something he was used to after all. Eventually, the Suey Ying floor leader released Arthur’s hand and sat down, turning to stare at the box that was being unwrapped.

“What did you bring me?”

“A gift.” Arthur sat at the offered chair, slipping his hand under the table and flexing it surreptitiously to get blood back into his fingers.

“What kind?”

“The best.” A slight pause as he waited for the box to be brought over. Uncovered, it revealed glistening slabs of barbecued sweet pork jerky with a hint of honey. “Bakkwa.”

Now Kong Hua looked surprised. He sat up, stared at the meat hungrily, licking his lips.

“Wasn’t easy, getting this. You know how it is, getting food in here. But one of our clan members, they couldn’t meet their core quota and offered this instead,” Arthur said lightly.

“And this is a gift?” Kong Hua said carefully. Of course, it was not just a gift. You didn’t just take gifts, without the expectation that you would, at the least, begin a relationship with the giftee. Accepting a gift came with unspoken obligations of courtesy and manners. Gifts could be as dangerous, if not more, than straight transactions. “To us?”


“Even after what happened on the first floor?”

“I never had a problem with your organization,” Arthur said, firmly. “It was just Boss Choi.”

“I’ve heard of him,” Kong Hua said, again, carefully. “He was after my time, though.”

Arthur nodded. He could understand why Kong Hua was here. Better to be boss on the second floor than try for more, especially missing an eye as he was. He was likely a significant force in himself, while Arthur and his people lacked in such personnel.

One day, perhaps.

Kong Hua fell silent, then turned to meet his doorkeeper’s gaze. “They asked to speak with Nicholas?”

“And his girl.”

Kong Hua let out a long sigh and pushed the box back to Arthur. “I cannot. If you start a fight—”

“We’re just gonna talk. That’s what I hope anyway. I need to make sure she’s good, you know? You understand how it is. Got to make sure my people are good.” Arthur nodded at their surroundings, to the few women he spotted in the vicinity, to the couple of injured in the far corner.

“I do. But they are our sponsors.”

“Then let me just talk to him. And we’ll see what happens.” Arthur offered as winning a smile as he could. “What’s the worst that could happen, eh?”

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Climbing the Ranks is a LitRPG cultivation novel by Tao Wong that publishes serially on Starlit Publishing. While the whole novel will be free to read, you can purchase a membership to receive chapters weeks in advance of the public release.

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