Chapter 231

Chapter 231

They took a seat on the roof, Yao Jing returning to practice above. He sat on the opposite side of where Cassie and Lam were practicing, away from sight of the remaining Thorned Lotuses too. Liv looked bemused to be forced to come up here, though she stayed silent all through the trek up.

“So, why’d you break ranks?” Arthur asked, curiously.

She looked at him askance, sudden doubt flitting across her face. He had to suppress a smile at how easy it was to read her face. Some people might think Asians were hard to read – well, okay, mostly Mat Saleh’s – but it was simple if you grew up watching for it.

“Relax. I’m not kicking you out. I just need to know why.” Not least because if it wasn’t a good reason, he’d have to start rethinking trusting her with the Clan property. Damn Tower didn’t make it easy to keep things safe. At least he could carry the main scroll with him, since anything in his possession allowed the Tower to consider owned by the Clan. Later on, when they had more Clan officers, a Treasurer could do the same job. For now, though, that meant that Floor Boss’s could purchase one-off scrolls easier.

In addition, of course, to the physical copy they’d leave behind.

“I didn’t want to do it in the first place,” Liv said, looking down and refusing to meet his eyes. Her voice had grown softer, younger as she spoke. “It wasn’t nice. I didn’t… they said you needed them. That they could get more from you. Maybe become an officer or something.”

Arthur snorted, and when she looked at him, he explained. “I don’t have any officer slots. Just floor boss slots. Which, you know, I was already offering.”


When the silence between them stretched too long, Arthur prodded. “Was that it?”

“No.” Not looking up, a hand had drifted down to the reeds that made up the roof. She played with loose reeds, tugging on them idly and wrapping them around her finger as she refused to meet his eyes. “I’m scared.”

“Of the next floor?” he guessed.

“Yes.” Softer, almost so he couldn’t hear. “I don’t want to die.”

Arthur exhaled in understanding. The next floor was brutal, and if she wasn’t confident… “Then stay.” He gestured around them to take in the floor. “It won’t ever be the nicest, but there’s nothing stopping you from staying here a little longer. Train, strengthen yourself till you are confident.”

The look she gave him said he was stupid and of course that’s what she was doing. He chuckled and reached over to ruffle her hair, forcing her to squirm away and glare at him.

“I’m not your kid sister.”

“No, you’re not.” Arthur said, sadly.

She wasn’t, but she reminded him of others at the training hall, youngsters who he had felt that same kind of kindship and sense of protectiveness. None of them were coming up, luckily. Or shouldn’t. If he got out fast enough, maybe he’d be able to get them to join his Clan when they went in, giving them an easier way up.

It also reminded him that he hadn’t seen any of his seniors either. That was a little worrying, though he’d sweat it on the next floor – or fifth, really – when they didn’t show up. After all, they were his seniors. They surely weren’t going to die.

And if he told himself that loudly and firmly and often enough, he might believe it.

“Did they die?” Liv asked.

“What? Who?”

“Your little sister.”

“No!” Arthur said, shocked. Then, realizing what she probably guessed, he shook his head even more vigorously. “Nothing like that.”

“Oh! You’re a lolicon!”

“I am not.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it. I have a friend who is.” She narrowed her eyes, looking Arthur up and down. “You might be a little old though, but I guess that’s okay. Older men are part of the scene.”

“I’m not old! How old do you think I am?”


Touching his face, Arthur said. “I’m not thirty!”

“Really?” She pursed her lips, doubtfully. “Okay.”

“I’m not!”

“I said okay.”

“I’m not.”

“Uh huh.”

Letting out a huff, Arthur waved his hands to the side dismissing the topic. There were not getting anywhere and they definitely had more important things to discuss than his age. Like her responsibilities, what she had to do when someone came, how long she figured she’d be here and, rather importantly, handling her disgruntled friends.

Which was… a thing.




Watching the group depart, Liv in the lead to have a conversation with the other Thorned Lotuses and Mel accompanying to help placate the others, Arthur found himself chewing on his lip. None of this was perfect, none of this was ideal. There were too many cracks, too many risks being taken to build this organization, and it was happening all too fast.

He could almost sense the cracks he was creating in the foundation of his Clan by moving this fast, by taking on individuals without proper vetting, by flashing benefits and making promises but building it upon visions of the future only and not benefits in the present.

Unable to help it, he found himself going over his options, thinking once more about what he could do, what he should do. Worrying about the decisions he had made, and forecasting future issues. So deep into his thoughts did he dive that he startled when the hand touched his shoulder, forcing him to jump.

“What?” Arthur said, one hand falling to his kris only to still when he realized it was Cassie.

“You should be cultivating, not worrying.”

“I wasn’t worrying.”

“So you chew on your lower lip for fun?” she snorted.

“Whatever. I just…” He sighed. “It’s moving fast.”

“And you’re worried it’ll come crashing down.” Cassie said.


Cassie smiled. “You don’t think we thought about that? That we discussed the possibility? I’m tying my family, my own future to you. Of course I thought about it.”

Arthur grunted. “You can always run back to your family, if it fails.”

“I could.” She acknowledged. “But just because I have a safety net doesn’t mean I’m not taking a risk either.”

Arthur nodded. “Maaf.”

She waved aside his apology. “But if you’re worried about moving too fast, consider that you might be moving too slow too.”

“I know, we have a speedrun.” He hesitated, then added. “You have a speedrun.”

“Not that,” Cassie said. “Though, it’s good you remember. I’m talking about you.”

“Why could I be too slow?” Arthur said.

“How many Clans and Guilds do you think have formed recently?” she asked.

“I… don’t know.”

“Very few. Thirteen in the last three years, worldwide,” she said. “That number is dropping, every year too.”

“Why would the Tower give out fewer seals?” He frowned, considering. “We’re hitting the cap? Or…”

“Or someone’s killing those who are trying to make new Clans and Guilds,” she said flatly.

“What? Why?” Arthur said. “No way. I’d have heard about that.”

“Are you sure?” she said archly. “Anyway, it’s just a guess. That some of the others don’t want the competition. A conspiracy of clans and guilds, of the powerful.”

“And you think they might come after me.”

She shrugged. “Or others might come after you anyway, to make you serve their purpose. The longer you stay in here, the more time they have to prepare out there.” She grunted. “Our influence can only go so far.”

Arthur lips pursed. There was no instantaneous transmissions of information. Knowledge was passed on by climbers as they ascended ranks. Each time, new messages going up. Bigger organisations with the money, the network could push more people to pass knowledge on, to pass on messages. He knew Cassie had done the same.

It was possible his Clan’s establishment had not even reached the outside world. Possible, if unlikely.

“So get cultivating. Because there’s nothing you can do about that out there,” Cassie said, forcefully before she stood up to return to her own seat.

Arthur watched her go for a second, then sighed. She was right. New technique or not, he still needed to strengthen himself. They all did.

And now, he he had more worries than ever before. Because strength was great, but he would have only climbed a single Tower. In the greater world, that meant little enough.

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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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