“I’m going to cut you till you bleed, boy-boy!” Smirkee snarled.
Even at this juncture, blade aimed at him and Samseng One moving to flank him as he carefully moved backwards, Arthur could not help but groan. Because, really, when you heard someone that cheesy, you either groaned or smirked. And Smirkee was currently pissed off enough that Arthur attempting to take his prize spot on the Smirkee World of Records was just wrong.
“If you’re trying to kill me with your language, you’re getting close,” Arthur said. He spun his staff, closing in on Smirkee, warding him off before he let the wood smack into his hand and rebound, using the extra energy for another spin and thrust as Samseng One darted close.
“Yeah, yeah…” Arthur said. “We don’t have to do this, you know.”
“I’ll rip your heart out and eat it.”
“With a spoon?”
“What?” Samseng One said, puzzled.
“Old movie. Good one too, but old.” Arthur shook his head. “My streaming account threw it up on random and, well, it was good.”
“What the hell are you idiots doing?” Smirkee darted in even as he shouted, his blade coming within inches of Arthur’s hand. A hasty pull back and a sweep of the staff took a hip in the side, even as the teenager stumbled.
“Always a good time to talk…” Arthur panted. After catching a breath, he suddenly relaxed and stopped moving. “Also, I was delaying.”
“What?” Samseng One said again.
“You need a wider vocabulary.” Arthur paused. “More words. Learn them. It’ll help people not think you’re just a thug.”
Face flushed, Samseng One took a step forward, knowing he had just been insulted. But he halted when a green light wrapped around him, freezing him and the other thugs in place.
“See what I mean?” Arthur gritted out. The energy was not directly painful, but it set his teeth on edge and felt like a roll of sharp needles was running across his body. The kind of metal pinprick roller used by doctors to check for loss of sensitivity and by others for . . . other reasons.
“This guard has noted threats to life of a cultivator along with physical attempts. As per Tower rules, parties will be suitably punished.” A flicker and then Arthur was deposited to the ground, the green energy dissipating even as his opponents and the guard flew straight up in the air before disappearing. Arthur caught sight of Smirkee’s frozen mask of fear just before they were yanked away to jail.
“Bye-bye!” Arthur waved, before turning away and sauntering off. The entire act was overblown, since he could feel the eyes of the other residents on him. It was better to look overconfident and a smartass than to cower.
Now that the way to the village was clear, Arthur strolled in, brushing himself down idly as he kept walking. There was little he could do about the mud or dirt, or the slight smell lingering on him, but trying gave him something to do while he studiously ignored the gazes on him.
In the meantime, he also had quite a lot to see. The village buildings created by the Tower were a haphazard mixture of architectural styles, unlike the manmade four-sided leaning slabs of engineering mayhem outside the circle of Tower-made buildings. Once again, the Tower had drawn from local culture and then dumped the buildings out like it was asking for an answer from fortune-telling sticks at the temple.
Two-storey terrace shops lined one side of the village, though unlike their Malaysian inspirations they were arranged in a curve instead of a straight row. Next to it, a trio of houses. These were raised on wooden stilts like the ones on the East Coast which saw regular monsoon floods. Then, a short distance later, a modern building made of glass and concrete, that was lopped off four floors up.
Of course, the main novice building was British, a colonial style mansion reminiscent of the British High Commission. A rather interesting development, considering Malaysia’s history of colonialism. Then again, the Towers were alien; they probably had no idea of the long discussions about colonialism and the massive, ongoing damage they had done to cultures.
Or at least, Arthur hoped not. Or else the aliens were dicks.
Inside the building, crossing stone floor, Arthur worked his way over to four attendants behind their wooden desk. The first three had that glassy-eyed look of Tower-made residents. The fourth was human and, not surprisingly, had the largest number of individuals waiting. Arthur thought for a second and then went to join that line-up.
He might be in the Tower, he might be ready, but right now human interaction was still better. At least for a little while longer.
The line snaked forward slowly but consistently till Arthur finally found himself before the attendant. He offered the man a smile along with his greeting, only for the attendant to sniff.
“What do you want?”
“Newcomer chit please, and I want to register a credit transfer,” Arthur said easily.
The attendant nodded, holding a hand out for the credit chit. Arthur was just about to hand it over when a shout arose from the entrance. As one, the entire hall of people turned to look at a very angry thug who was pointing a finger in Arthur’s direction.
“You! We’ll get you. You think you won this time, but you’ve won NOTHING!” Before the faceless guards who ran the newcomer hall could deal with him, he dashed off, leaving the entire building to stare at Arthur. At least, the humans did.
Grinning weakly, Arthur waved to the lookers before turning around to the attendant, who proceeded to snatch the token from his hand. He slotted it into a small section on his desk, the jade token slipping in with ease before it beeped.
The attendant’s eyes widened as he read the information. Then, looking at Arthur, he hissed. “Eleven credits? You pissed the Suey Ying tong for eleven credits?!”
“Bodoh ke? Are you some kind of idiot?”
A pause from Arthur then he grinned. “Yeah.”
Stunned silence greeted Arthur’s honest confession. Eventually, the attendant burst out into snorting laughter. “Fine, fine. Eleven credits, registered to Arthur Chua.”
“Thank you.” Arthur relaxed a little, grateful that it went well enough.
“Newcomer chit and your spare credit token.” The attendant handed both over to Arthur before he continued. “You won’t be able to spend the newcomer credit anywhere but at the newcomer stores. If not spent within 24 hours, it’ll disappear. You are also provided residence in the newcomer building for seven days, total. Not consecutive.” A pause, as he looked Arthur over before the attendant continued, “Smart people leave an extra day or two unused, so that they have a place to heal up safely.”
Arthur nodded in thanks for the tip, while shifting a little impatiently. Rolling his eyes, the attendant waved his hand.
“Quest board is behind you. Take the gathering quests and low-level kill quests. There’s no penalty for failing them on this floor, and you never know what you’ll find. Any questions?” The attendant finished what seemed to be a regular spiel, already tapping on the table impatiently.
“Yeah. What’s your name?” Arthur said, still smiling.
A snort. “You can call me Lai Tai Kor.”
There were a few chuckles from behind at the pretentiousness of being asked to be called big brother upon first meeting. Instead of chuckling along, Arthur stored the chits away and clasped his hands together to offer him a slight bow.
“Then, thank you, Lai Tai Kor.”
“Smart ass. Get out of here!” Still, Lai was grinning as Arthur sauntered out, before he turned narrow eyes at the man taking Arthur’s place. “And don’t think I didn’t hear you laugh!”
Arthur chuckled, detouring to the quest board to grab the quests—a simple matter of placing his hand on each glowing runic pentagram, getting zapped with a light bolt of electricity. As he repeated the procedure, his interface kept piling up with notifications. At last, Arthur made his way to a side exit.
Best not to go out the main way. You never know who might be waiting. Or what.
Anyway, he had no time to tangle with the tong and their members. He had shopping to do!
Continue reading Climbing the Ranks
Climbing the Ranks is a serial LitRPG cultivation novel by Tao Wong that will publish exclusively on Starlit Publishing. While the whole novel will be free to read, you'll be able to purchase a membership to receive chapters weeks in advance of the public launch. To get updates on how to subscribe in mid-January, please join our newsletter or follow us on social media.