Chapter 213

Chapter 213

“You guys again,” Arthur said, shaking his head as the quartet came to the bridge. They’d ran into Cassie and Lam as they were coming back towards the late afternoon, and rather than split up again had chosen to stick together. From the heavy packs the pair were carrying and their own packs, they’d all been quite successful. Now, though, they were standing before the bridge quartet who’d clustered together upon seeing Arthur and his group.

“Mr. Chua… How are you doing? Good hunting, ah?” the leader said, grinning widely. Shorter than Arthur though he might be, he did have a good smile as he stepped forward. Not too far from his friends though.

Arthur eyed the man’s hands, remembering how fast he’d moved. Crossing the short distance to Rick, drawing that curved knife he used – what was it called again? The one held underhand that the filipino’s liked and wannabe gangsters in the West? – and putting it to boy’s throat. He remembered, and kept a careful eye on the distance.

“Pleasant enough,” Arthur said. He glanced to the side, noted how there was a clear footpath for him and his friends. How the gymbro even gave a respectful nod. “You boys have a good day too, eh?”

“Thank you, Mr. Chua.” A hesitation, that Arthur took to be a pause and had started moving, skirting a decent distance from the other. “Clan Head Chua?”

Foot half-raised, Arthur let it drop and turned. He was a lot closer than he would have liked. Couldn’t actually move far enough away without looking weak after all. And something in the way the other man stood, the way they clustered, the use of his surname told him that this was a much less antagonistic start. “Yes?”

“No hard feelings, right?” Then, looking over, the guy nodded to Cassie too who had looked on bemused. “No offence meant. And not to the young mistress either.”

“What’s your name?” Cassie spoke up, piercing brown eyes fixing the boy. Arthur, stepping aside – and coincidentally giving himself more space just in case – idly noted that the pair were almost of the same height. It made Cassie decently tall for a woman. Well, Malaysian woman.

“Joe, Ms Chin.” Joe ducked his head low.

“Your idea to hold people up for shards?” Cassie said.

He hesitated, then nodded. “We just need a few more ah, then we cultivate and go. Could go now, but…”

“You don’t want to go into the grinder that easy?” Arthur said. “What makes you think they do?” He jerked his head to the others.

“They don’t have to go.”

“Nor do you,” Arthur replied.

“I…” Now Joe hesitated, looking back to his group. When he spoke, his voice was a little less firm. “We got to be faster lah.”

“Really. How interesting.” He kept his voice cool, but noted how Cassie was looking the four over. He could see her turning it over in her mind. Could see her putting things together and making decisions. He was tempted to butt in. They had talked to him. But on the other hand, he was in a more precarious political position than her.

“Lam. Talk to them,” she said. “Test them.”

“Yes Miss.”

She didn’t even bother to look back to check how he thought about having his rest interrupted, instead striding on. Arthur sighed and started walking too, so that they matched pace soon after, with Mel trailing along bemused. He waited until she was nearly gone before he added, idly.

“You know, I think they were angling to join us.”

“You were slow,” she said without any remorse.

“Didn’t say I was going to take them.”

“No? Why? They’re top-end Climbers to want to leave,” Cassie said. “And your isn’t that strong, not yet.”

“It’s not just about strength,” Arthur replied.

“It’s always about strength.”

He shook his head, but then considered her words. Maybe she wasn’t exactly wrong, but she was looking at it too narrowly in his view. Then again, she never had to – or didn’t need to just yet – worry about the overall strength of the Chin’s. Adding a couple of strong fighters made them stronger overall. And the ding to their morale was minor, same with the politics.

On the other hand, the Durians were just starting. Adding people who resorted to bullying now, it sent a message. It might piss off those on this floor further too. Trading some new recruits here, for a quartet who were, at best, mildly stronger only.

The Chin’s adding them were just adding a bunch of low-level henchmen.

For him, for the Durians were adding powerful fighters, the cornerstones of who they were.

“There’s different types of strength,” he said, eventually as they traversed the swaying rope bridges. Neither felt like visiting the administration hall right away. While Arthur himself had a few items asked for in the quest board – various herbs and gills and other wanted items – a few hours would make little difference to the quests themselves.

It would, however, make a world of difference in the way he smelled.

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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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