Chapter 260

Chapter 260

The group drew more than a few looks as they traversed the cramped Tower Climbers village. If not for the unforgiving geography of the fifth floor, everyone would have expanded the village, but with the floor being made of distinct geographic platforms expanding outwards in raised octagonal rings around the starting area in the floor, it was impossible. They were just lucky that there were only three such rings, though traversing the ground from one location to the next was an expedition in itself.

If not for the teleportation pads that linked to the central portals, traversing the fifth floor would have been much more difficult. s it stood, it was just a pain, because one could mark and return to previous teleportation points. The Tower even made it possible to enact that pull to new locations from various locations, rather than just the single return point.

All of which meant very little for Arthur's current purpose, other than distracting him from his current goal. Which was important enough, overall, what with the news that his seniors had dropped on him. Or the questions that Mel kept peppering him with about his relationship to the two.

"Look, they're my seniors. I trust them." Arthur said, exasperated. "That's 'cause I'm their junior. And there's no way they'd spit phlegm."

"Still, to get so indebted to the Suey Tong..." Mel said, arms crossed. "You have to admit, it's one hell of a coincidence."

"According to them-"

"Exactly," Mel muttered.

"- they were already indebted before any news of what we were doing had arisen." Arthur shot her a glare, stepping past a pair who were holding hands and squeezing at the edges to get through. He wasn't going to try to throw his weight around or get angry, what with him still only being newly raised to this floor. One never knew how strong the other was after all. "And I don't like you throwing shade at them."

"Whatever. Just be careful about the kind of debts you take on."

"That's why I'm hoping they don't know who I am," Arthur said.

"Mmmhmmm...," Mel glanced back, taking in the small procession following them. Eric was ahead, leading them through the streets to their destination. At the back, Rick and Leia were having long conversations while Uswah flitted around, keeping a distant watch over the entire group and Jan and Yao Jing brought up the rear, trying - and failing - to appear like a pair of lovebirds.

Arthur shrugged. If not for the fact that they'd insisted on all coming, he would have chosen a smaller group for this discussion. He did have to agree that a show of force was necessary, but the sheer volume of people was rather foolish it seemed to him. Then again, at least they'd mostly agreed to stay outside when they arrived.

Which they finally did.

The Suey Tong's current residence was a rather intimidating looking place, not because it was large or ornate; but rather the opposite. If you looked up the definition of seedy underground bar, you might even find a picture of this place there. A sloping roof that looked like it might fall apart, dark shadows and minimal lighting and thrash strewn all around with a pair of lounging thugs on the outside, glaring at everyone who came close and interrogating them.

"Boss in?" Eric was saying, smiling at the one on the left. He was a big fella with ragged stitching crossing his forearms and a wicked looked serrated knife being used to clean his names. 

"Ya. Siapa ini?"

"Kawan-kawan. Friends," Eric said. "We need to chat with the boss."

Scarry boy glanced over at Rick and Mel, looking them up and down firmly with Rick hanging off Leia's arm like he was just there for her. He was not carrying his guns openly, only a single one tucked into the back of his pants and covered by his shirt. After all, bringing in his guns while visible was a rather antagonising posture. A jerk of scarry boy's head sent the other thug inside, while Eric tried - and failed - to engage the bouncer in a discussion about recent going ons.

"Thought they were in good..." Mel muttered, legs spread as she took in the group. Like Arthur, she was carrying her spear, since not being at least mildly armed would have been foolish.

The other thug came in, whispered to scarry boy and the man glared at Mel and Arthur. "Leave the weapons."

"Sure, sure..." Eric was saying while Arthur was already shaking his head.

"I'll leave my spears, but I'm not leaving my kris," Arthur said, firmly. "I'm not that dumb."

"Then tak boleh masueh." Scarry boy stood up from his stool, joining his other friend on the other side.

"Fine with me, but you tell your boss we aren't coming back either," Arthur said, switching tactics. Looks like this wasn't going to be a negotiation after all. "And when these two stop working for you without recompense, that's your problem."

"Apa? You leaving?" Scarry boy stared at Eric and Leia. "You still owe us."

"And we're here to pay it off," Arthur tapped the pouch by his side. "If you'll let us."

Scarry boy pressed his lips together, while the other thug leaned over and whispered. After a moment the thug sighed and nodded. He then gestured. "Spears then. Boss will deal with this."

"Smart man," Arthur said, offering his spear. "Don't play with it. It's sharp."

It was the quieter of the two thugs who took both their weapons, seeming content to return to watching as Scarry boy headed in first. Eric and Mel were shooting Arthur a look, a mixture of exasperation and resigned amusement. After all, his own ability to annoy people was well know and his stubbornness.

Inside, the bar was everything that you'd expect. Deep shadows covered the half-dozen round tables alongside a makeshift bar that seemed to serve cheap alcohol by the barrel-load. The smell of old vomit and piss mixed with spilled alcohol and fermented fruit causing Arthur's nose to wrinkle. It didn't slow him down as he walked in, picking out the half-dozen gang members within including the one lounging near what Arthur assumed was the toilets in the back.

Down right at the back was their boss. Even having been informed, Arthur still found the sight a little incongruous. The young lady who sat there was maybe five feet tall in a pair of shoes, slim and delicate and not at all the image of a toughened tong boss. Her hair was cut short like most women, all the better for upkeep though she had taken the time to style it. 

On the other hand, the cut that ran up one side of her face and bisected her lip and reached her ears was a clear sign that she'd seen some shit. As was the empty eye on the other side and the repeatedly broken nose. Or the very large mug of fermented fruit right in front of her, the entire thing making Arthur's eyes tear up as he came to the seat before her.

"So, you Eric's guests?" she said. By this point, Scarry boy had managed to lean over and begin whispering and a deadly presence filled the air. The tension that ratcheted up her body caused all the others to stare too, some reaching for their weapons. "They want to do what?"

"Buy out the debts for Eric and Leia," Arthur said. "We just need to figure out the price, Boss Kim."

"And who you, eh? Demand we sell them?" Kim snapped.

"I'm their junior." Arthur smiled a little depreciatingly. "Just doing what a man can, for his seniors, you know?"

"Well, they're not for sale. Told them when they started. Deal is a deal. You work for us and earn it out lah."

"I'm sure exceptions can be made," Arthur said, offering a smile as he did so. "For the right price."

"No," Kim said. "No go. Especially not for my best enforcers."

Arthur blinked, then looked over at the pair who suddenly looked really uncomfortable. He thought they had been just making runs, collecting stones for the Suey Tong. Not playing enforcers and bringing back money for the Suey Ying. 

"We had to..." Leia muttered. "We - I - needed the stones and a place to care for him. You don't know how badly hurt he was, when he arrived."

Arthur flicked a glance at Eric, noting he looked mostly fine. Then again, that could mean a lot of things. If he hadn't lost a limb or anything else, recovery via the Tower could hide a lot of sins.

"Whatever. That's between them and tsifu," Arthur said, firmly as he returned his gaze to Kim. "What's between you and me is how we're getting this sorted." 

"You not listen, ah?" Kim said. "Best leave, now. Or you no leave."

"Look..." Arthur offered her another smile, placing a hand on the back of his chair as he leaned in. "I've got stones, you've got my people, there's no need for this..."

He saw Stabby boy move, coming in for him. The other two at her table were getting up, but as Stabby boy reached for him, Mel acted. A flurry of motion that happened out of the corner of his eyes, as Eric and Mel deal with the three, even as Arthur channeled energy into his hand, pulling a Refined Exploding Energy Dart there, ready for use. 

The violence was over in a blink of an eye, Eric holding a knife to one throat, his other opponent on the ground whimpering and clutching his balls while Mel had Stabby boy pinned to the table, arm levered up behind his back. Behind, Arthur could sense Leia and Rick turning and staring at the others who had stood up, ready to take action.

And all the while, neither Arthur nor Kim had made a move, trusting in their subordinates. In one case, falsely.

"You people good ah. But there's more of us," Kim said, conversationally and relaxed. She picked up her cup, a finger sticking out. A moment later, one of those not held down grabbed a whistle out and started blowing into it, the sound resounding and echoing in the bar and exiting it. 

Noise, a lot of it, as passerby's fled and even more people started streaming in towards the bar. And even then, Arthur chose not to make a move, a small smile on his face. He could feel the tension ratcheting up even as adjusted the flow of energy within him, layering a second technique.

"You done?" Arthur said, when the shrieking whistle had stopped. "Because we are good. And I guarantee you, if you start this, you'll end up with more corpses and no enforcers."  He paused, then considered. "Or, well, someone will. Because you won't be around."

Cold eyes met his threat, the woman's cut lip and face freezing half of it so that there was no way to tell if she was smiling or not. But the dark, gleeful amusement in her eyes told Arthur she was.

"So, you ready to talk? Or are we going to have to kill my seniors free."


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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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