Chapter 96

Chapter 96

Of course there were other questions. Arthur fielded them as best he could, though he often found himself using three particular answers. “I don’t know. We’ll talk about it later,” “You’re an adult, figure it out and refer to rule two,” and lastly, “Maybe.”

In truth, he had no answers for them. He did not even have much of an idea of what he intended to do, having little experience running an organization. Being at the bottom and looking up might give you a different perspective from the CEO looking down. But if one was not even bothering to look up, but setting eyes on a different vision, one certainly might make a few good observations.

Arthur had been focused on the Tower the entirety of his life, the imposing structure a means of his own escape. He had not thought about running a corporation or clan, or even a small business. He had vaguely expected to eventually grow to a point that he might be hired by another person, perhaps join someone else’s organization. 

Not build one.

Eventually, he took their oaths as the first seven Lotuses to his clan. They were merely promises, no Tower enforced contracts involved. But immediately, the Tower sent a notification that the Benevolent Durians had achieved its first milestone.

Beyond the single congratulatory message, no further improvements were offered. Annoyed, Arthur sent the seven to watch over the house and other duties, promising to go into more detail later. Just as he was readying himself to repeat the same damn thing, and regretting that he had not designated one of the newcomers as an official “answerer of dumb questions,” the first of Mohammad Osman’s scouts arrived.

Yao Jing led the man in himself, having first cleared the annoyed Tower Guard. Waving the scrawny fellow over to a seat, Yao Jing returned to his position at the back of the room, arms crossed.

“Well? You going to make me wait a bell?” Arthur said, impatiently.

He noticed Amah Si shoot him an annoyed look, as though he should have waited for the other to speak first. Arthur made a mental note to ask her about that, though he assumed it had something to do with showing off his impatience and giving away information. But he needed an answer, damn it.

“They gathered their members: nearly twenty fighters. And they have your girlfriend, boss,” the wiry man said after glancing over at Mohammad Osman to confirm he should speak.

Arthur knew that calling him “boss” in this case was no more significant than calling a restaurant owner “boss” while ordering a meal from him. A bad translation and colloquial use of the Chinese laoban had turned into common parlance and an indicator of respect.

“Is she hurt? Did they hurt her?” Arthur said, urgently.


The growl he produced surprised even himself, his fist coming down on the table. The reinforced Tower wood creaked under the attack, and the scout shrunk back. When Mohammad Osman waved at him urgently to expand on the report, he reluctantly added:

“It’s not anything bad. Some cuts, bruises. Her arms are bandaged, and I think they might have broken a few fingers.” Each word was a knife dug into Arthur’s chest, but the scout continued, oblivious to Arthur’s own thoughts. “I think she must have fought like hell, because there were a couple who were as bad as her. And there was talk of others wounded.”

“Any other hostages?” Amah asked calmly but firmly.

Taking the moment to calm himself while listening to the other question, Arthur had to choose to accept that the wounds she incurred might not be a matter of torture. Broken fingers happened when you wanted to disarm an opponent without killing them. Fingers could be caught in the twisting when a weapon was violently yanked out of one’s hand or broken with a well-placed strike by a club or flat of a blade.

It could also be torture of course . . . 

Clenching his fists, Arthur forced himself to listen.

“. . . maybe a few more, they guarded the tent closely. Too dangerous for me to look any closer.”

Amah nodded in thanks, accepting the scout’s assessment. Mohammad Osman continued to question him, asking for details of the force, weapons, and where they were located—which was in their own circle of tents on the outer edge of the village, as their proper residence was still being built.

Arthur paid minor attention to all that, knowing he would need the information. But more importantly, he needed to know, “Are they sending other people out? Are they going to come fight?”

The scout shrugged. “Don’t know what they doing, but Boss Choi, he’s talking lots with his own people.”

“They might be willing to talk, instead of starting a fight immediately,” Mohammad Osman said, smiling. “Did you see others going out?”

The man nodded. “Runners, like me.”

“He’s looking for allies,” Amah said. “And we’re sitting here.” She looked at Arthur pointedly. “When we should be acting.”

Arthur hesitated, before he nodded. “You’re right.” He rubbed his chin, considering. “Let’s do both, then.”

“Wait and act?” Jan said, amused.

“No. Act and look for allies.” He glared at her, and she grinned unrepentantly. “Amah Si. You know people here. Think you can send them around, see who else can help?” He glanced at Mohammad Osman. “And get me another half dozen of your fighters? I’ll add them to the clan while we walk. The rest of us will head to the edge of the village.”

“You want to surprise them, ah?” Yao Jing asked. “’Cause I bet they got a few guys watching outside this building. Maybe I can find them, and . . .” Yao Jing grinned. “Delay them.”

“No fighting in the village, lah,” Jan said, scornfully.

“I don’t have to stab them. I got other ways of dealing with people. Unlike you,” Yao Jing replied.

“Stab them? I’ll stab you!” Jan growled.

Cutting in before it could devolve, Arthur spoke firmly. “We’re not going to hide. We need to speak with him first, not kill him.” He paused, considering. “We’ll try to get Amah enough time to get any allies together too, so we’ll go slow too.”

“Wah, like a 90s gangster movie, ah?” Jan said. “Big showdown?”

“Maybe no fighting, though,” Arthur exhaled. “Hopefully no fighting. But I won’t abandon our people.”

There was a nod from those around, before Uswah spoke up. “And the tent?”

“The one with other potential hostages?” Arthur said.

She nodded.

Arthur could only hesitate before making up his mind. “Think you can get in with some help and check if there really are more hostages? Or maybe get them out, while we distract Choi’s men?”

Uswah smiled at his question before nodding. Immediately, she slipped out of the room, not bothering to ask for further directions or recommendations.

 Not that Arthur had any intention on offering her any.

With her gone, he glanced around the room. When no further comments or suggestions were forthcoming, he walked around the boardroom table, straightening his back a little as he did so. He turned to Jan and spoke, his voice filled with command.

“Find me a spear. If we’re doing this, I want to be properly armed.”

And for once, she didn’t argue.

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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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