There were many things Arthur learned over the next few hours. Firstly, altering a cultivation technique was, thankfully, not impossible. Secondly, altering a technique so that it was actually usable was very difficult. Thirdly, every alteration and failure enacted a debt of pain and agony that made pulling Yang chi into his body a walk in the park—a Malaysian park, in the middle of the day, when the sun beat down on you and there was no cloud cover.
Spitting up blood again, Arthur ran water in the sink and staggered back to his bed to flop onto it. He might be a training maniac or Tower maniac or whatever they wanted to call him, but there was only so much even he could take.
There really was not much joy in hurting yourself over and over again for little gain.
He slept for a few hours, waiting for his mental energy to return. On waking, he cultivated to draw in both Yin and Yang energy before he went back to practicing. It hurt to keep pushing at his cultivation techniques, to alter how they moved and drew from the world, to refine the technique to find something that would work with only Yin energy, keeping Yang energy out.
Hours, then days, passed. He only stopped long enough to fill his energy core and practice the Heavenly Sage’s Mischief. Hours working on that technique until he ran low on energy and had to start all over again, cultivating Yang and Yin energy and then altering his own cultivation form.
At times, it seemed like he would almost reach an understanding of the changes he needed to alter the technique, only to realise that there was no true path in his cultivation form. It could improve, reducing his Yang intake to only 0.2 or 0.3 of a point, the rest being Yin chi or, sometimes, nothing at all. It made the pain less intense, but it did not get rid of it all.
Still, the Tower never acknowledged the change, a verifiable way to indicate that the technique was broken and incomplete. Whatever improvements he made was insufficient.
He would take the next step and the next, retreating backward or pushing forward with alterations in how the energy flowed, all the while failing. Somehow, something was missing. A way that he touched the chi perhaps, the way it flowed or was cleansed when moving through his meridians.
No matter how much he tried, it was never enough.
That didn’t stop him from trying, though. Again and again, his minor successes with learning things like the Heavenly Sage’s Mischief was insufficient to remove the growing frustration at his failures, all of it driving him to push harder.
It was after one particularly difficult session, where he found himself throwing up blood again into his chamber pot, that a knock on the door arrived. Arthur ignored it, curled up as he was, but it was insistent, refusing to let him stay on the floor.
“Your time is up! You either pay or get out!” More hammering, and Arthur blinked blearily.
“What?” he whispered. It could not have come, not yet. He had paid for extra days, he should have enough time. There was no reason why—
“Fine, if you won’t come out . . .” A key was jangling in the lock, before the door was opened. The man who came in stared around the room before his gaze fell on the prone Arthur before he spat. “Really? Another one?”
He let out a sigh, looking at the various pieces of clothing and gear owned by Arthur before he strode over, hastily throwing all of it together into Arthur’s backpack. Pushing them together, he then grabbed hold of Arthur by the back of his robes and dragged him out, letting his feet bounce off the stairs as he descended.
Arthur, weakly protesting, was unable to stop him even as he clawed at his arm. “Please, I can pay.”
“No. I think we’re done for today. Wash yourself and clean up, then figure out how to fix yourself,” the innkeeper snapped before heaving Arthur through the door. He nearly struck a pedestrian, and the passing Tower climber had to duck as Arthur’s backpack landed a few minutes later.
The backpack bounced off his prone body. Arthur weakly pushed himself up, only to collapse again, his eyes half-closing from the accumulated pain.
“Gods, another layabout. And he isn’t even fully healed.” Snorting, the man walked around Arthur, leaving him to lie there. Nearly all the other passersby did the same, none daring to touch his bag or body.
A good thirty minutes of silence and exhaustion, as Arthur slowly came to himself. Only for a guard to come by, prodding him with his foot.
“No layabouts here. Get up, or we’ll throw you out.”
“Just five more minutes, Mama!” Arthur said, only to get another boot in the side. His eyes flew open, and he saw the guard looming over him.
“Last warning. Get up yourself. Or we’ll throw you out.”
“Sure, sure . . .” Arthur pushed himself up, wincing in pain. He grabbed his bag before the guard could do more than begin growling at him, clutching at his chest as he began coughing again. Flecks of blood were on his lips and the hand he held up.
The guard drew back, glaring at Arthur. “You’re not plagued, are you boy?”
“I’m just . . . injured. Not sick. A cultivation deviation . . .” Arthur replied, coughing again as he wiped at his lips. “I just need a few minutes of rest. Please.”
“Not my problem.” The guard grabbed Arthur by the scruff of his neck and yanked him up, lifting the 190-pound man easily. When Arthur managed to get his feet under him, he was frog-marched to the edge of the beginner village. A lot of the newbies watched the process with trepidation, knowing that this could easily be them. Still, no one moved to help.
It was a dog-eat-dog world out here, and even if someone wanted to help, you couldn’t exactly beat a guard. So the only other option was paying for Arthur’s stay in a village, something no newbie would offer to a man who looked to be on his last legs.
More than a few vultures took off running when they saw what was happening. Arthur would make easy pickings once he was out of the village. His goods, his weapon, and yes, himself: a rambutan fresh and juicy for the tongs and gangs that ran the tent village outside.
Knowing that, Arthur forced himself to awaken, grateful he was being allowed to walk. At least this way, he could circulate some of the energy in his body, burning excess energy and pain by the sheer basis of movement.
All too soon, though, they hit the edge of the village where he was unceremoniously pushed out of the boundary. Wincing, Arthur noticed some familiar faces waiting for him already, staring at his pale face hungrily and licking their lips.
“Well, well. Look who we found. And here I thought you’d gotten yourself killed.”
“Oh, hey, Samseng One. Nice to see you.” Arthur waved weakly, lowering his bag to the ground. No place to run, not with the entire tent village before him and his feet still a little shaky. Which meant standing here, fighting till he was beaten black and blue and maybe killed.
“You really don’t know when to shut up, do you?” Samseng said, grabbing at the parang by his side and pulling it out. “I’m going to enjoy this.”
“And that’s something none of your partners have ever managed to say truthfully.”
Seeing Samseng’s eyes pop out made the coming beating almost worth it.