The silence from Mohammad Osman’s simple truth bomb lingered in the boardroom for a long time, until Arthur pulled his thoughts together.
“You are not wrong. And perhaps we might have need of more allies than I considered.” Arthur made sure to take a deep breath, banishing the growing tension in his chest as he continued. “However, I still think you need to speak with your big boss, yeah, before making a commitment like that. I will, however, take your alliance on this floor wholeheartedly. And if you prove yourselves true, further discussion on acceptance into my clan can continue.”
He still did not want to accept them directly. His mind whirled as he realized why, partly, he had chosen not to accept the offer immediately. First there was the possibility of Mohammad Osman overreaching his own position, and the fact that the Double Sixes were a real gang, much like the triads, and thus dabbled in the worst kind of criminal activity.
But mainly, Arthur wanted—no, he needed—more people like Yao Jing. Individuals he had recruited himself, people who were loyal to him. If he brought in both the Sixes and the Lotuses, nearly his entire clan would be made up of people whose first loyalty wasn’t to him.
That was a recipe for disaster. It was a recipe for him to become nothing more than a figurehead. Other individuals, those with significant personal strength, might ignore his concerns. He had neither significant personal power nor a third party to help balance his strength out.
No, what Arthur needed was time. Time to hire people who were loyal to him. Time to gain his own strength, such that he might not be abused or otherwise forced to bow to others. If he continued ascending the Tower, he could not only keep the clan functioning but also grow it. Only ascension could give him an advantage over others.
But there were ascensions and then there were ascensions. Being carefully guarded, brought from Tower level to Tower level and never facing danger head-on would just make him a hothouse orchid. And those wilted all too easily when faced with a real-world problem.
No. Arthur would not become one of those.
“Very well,” Mohammad Osman cut through his thoughts. “But this building is comfortable. And I am tired of living in a tent.”
Not for a second did Arthur believe the man stayed out in a tent. At the worst, he probably lived in one of the fabricated buildings. More likely, he stayed in a beginner hotel, using payments from his people to fund his residence.
Still, if the man wanted to act humble, Arthur would not gainsay him.
“For your aid, today, I can offer a room on the top floor and. . . four rooms on the second floor,” Arthur said, calculating quickly.
“A single room on the top floor . . . No. Two. And eight rooms on the second floor,” Osman rebutted immediately.
Even if neither man spoke of it, they both could tell that the energy in this building was more concentrated than anywhere but a beginner hotel. And it was continuing to grow, though Arthur assumed that there had to be a limit. It was not ever going to maximise like the outer portions of the floor, not unless he managed to level up the building or the clan further. A factor that he would need to look into.
But it was still better than hanging outside, drawing on the energy so many others tried to soak in at the same time. Which meant these residences were going to be important. Not just because of the added safety of the floor Guard.
“Two rooms, top floor. Four on the second floor,” Arthur said. When Mohammad Osman moved to speak, he added, “For a month. However, if you agree to an ongoing alliance, we can do two rooms and six.”
“Not much difference,” Mohammad Osman said.
“Might be the difference between a war fought today, or a longer and more considered talk,” Arthur pointed out easily. Already, his mind was spinning through options, considering what he could do with the minor army.
The last thing he wanted was to start an all-out war. However, if they had to fight, having a base of operations that could not be assaulted would leave them in a much, much stronger position. And they could likely cram a lot of people in their building, leaving the Suey Ying tong one step behind in their defenses.
A castle and sortieing knights would always be a problem, especially when one did not have the army to besiege it properly. Add in the fact that those within the castle could grow stronger while remaining indoors, even without food supplies.
Which was what Arthur hoped could drive Boss Choi to the negotiating table.
And if not, then perhaps a change of leadership. But if that was the case . . .
“Agreed. Two and six,” Mohammad Osman said into the silence while Arthur kept pondering strategy.
Smiling at the easy agreement, Arthur could not help but lean forward. “Right. So here’s what I’m thinking we need to do. If we want to win . . .” Lowering his voice, he continued talking.
Sometimes, what you hoped for could only occur if you planned for it.
Amah Si arrived twenty minutes later, after a couple more of Mohammad Osman’s men had disappeared out the doorway to carry out his orders and Arthur’s. The old woman was accompanied by both Jan and Uswah, and she looked equal portions amazed and upset. When she arrived, she surveyed the room, frowned at the sight of Osman’s presence, then stomped over to stand before Arthur, raising her cane to prod him in the chest.
“What did you do?” she snapped.
“Nothing, Amah,” Arthur said. “It was all the Tower.” Then, pushing the cane aside firmly, he continued. “I understand you’re angry. This isn’t what you wanted. Heck, it isn’t what I wanted. But it is what we have now, and we got to make do.”
Then, since she was standing before him, he prodded the Tower connection. The older woman startled as the notification flickered in front of her eyes.
“No negotiating? No arguing?” Amah said, suspiciously.
“I understand gratitude,” Arthur said, simply. “I won’t just add everyone from your group without at least talking to them first, but I’m willing to work with you all.” He shrugged. “At the least, you should be bringing your people into this building. Keep them safe. The most vulnerable ones, especially.”
“The Suey Ying are out for blood, no thanks to you.”
“Yes. Now, you going to accept or . . .” He trailed off as he felt another connection snap into place, physical proof that she was now one of his own. The older woman sucked in her breath in surprise as she received the notifications and had the Tower’s changes rip through her, but beyond that single sign she gave no other indication of pain.
Tough old bird.
“Jan, Uswah. . . your people. Dependents on second floor only,” he said to the pair while Amah recovered and read through the new notifications. “Fighters on this floor.”
Jan snorted at being given an order, going so far as to take station opposite Yao Jing. Uswah, however, was ever practical and headed out immediately, barking orders at women crowding in the hallway, sending them upstairs to put themselves out of the way.
With the reinforcements dealt with, Arthur then ordered Yao Jing to explain the keys to Jan. He had just about finished organizing that when Amah Si prodded his foot, rather more gently, with her cane.
“You didn’t do too bad then. But what is the plan for the tong?”
“Funny you should ask that,” Arthur said. “Now, this is dependent upon more information, but here’s what I’m thinking. . .”