Chapter 97

Chapter 97

It took the group just under twenty minutes to get out of the clan building. The time passed in a flash, with orders, questions, and minor details of management dealt with by Arthur as he stood in the entrance hallway impatiently. However, organization was important: everything from informing new recruits of his two rules to ensuring everyone was properly armed and armoured. 

He even spent all of five minutes washing away the dirt off his skin and redressing in new clothing to ensure he looked presentable. He had even taken the edge of a razor to his scraggly beard.

Under the pounding water, streaked with blood and dirt and other unmentionable grime, Arthur had had a brief moment of peace from the insistent questions. In that moment of silence, he felt the burgeoning panic rise up, threatening to send him spiralling away. Only by focusing on the needs of Mel, captured and likely being vigorously interrogated, could he stem the emotions.

He knew there would be a cost to pushing all this aside. At some point, he would need to stop and think, to deal with the mounting concerns and panic rising within him. That moment was not now, however, and he managed to exit the bathroom both clearer of mind and cleaner of body.

The spear that Jan managed to acquire for him was slightly shorter than his own preference, its standing height just under his own eye level. However, to his surprise, the gleaming metal head had a watersteel pattern. Down to its tip, the spearhead was overlaid with wavy segments of various metal types. It suited the spear’s black haft.

The moment he took the spear and inspected it, he received a notification which brought a raised eyebrow. After all, he had no skill to analyze such information.

“I bought it from the Tower,” Jan said. Noting his surprise, she added, “It’s for you. I transferred the ownership already.”

“Huh.” Arthur paused, then realizing what he had done, added, “Thank you.”

“No need. Just get Mel back, okay?” Jan said. “And then pay me back.”

Arthur could not help but laugh a little. He had begun to worry a little about her being so nice to him, but this was more like Jan. He nodded in acknowledgement of her words. He did intend to pay her back too. Speaking of payments, the ‘Clan tax’ was just another thing on the long list of things he needed to deal with when they got back.

“Everyone ready?” Arthur asked, looking around. There were a few objections, people wanting to ask some final questions, but he ignored them studiously. Worrying about how and where people would stay, what food to serve, or the kind of defenses they should acquire was for another time.

The moment he led the group out, into the waiting crowd—much grown, it seemed—Arthur knew that his urgent march to the boundaries of the beginner village to reacquire Mel was going to have to wait. He needed to sort these people out first. 

“Silence!” He raised his voice, but it was drowned out by the hubbub. Even if the majority of the crowd wanted to hear him speak, those behind could not see him and thus had no reason to quieten.

Yao Jing, seeing the problem, grabbed his sword and struck the blade against the metal buckle of his shield repeatedly. He did so with such vigor and speed that it rang shrilly, forcing the crowd to pay attention. Even when they were mostly quiet, Yao Jing added a shout: “SHUT UP, you idiots!”

Into the silence, Arthur raised his voice. “I know you all have questions. I have only a few answers. More will arrive in time, but here is what you need to know.” He paused, drawing a deeper breath so he could continue without stopping. “I have established a Clan on the first floor of this Tower.” He felt the ripple of those words carry through, for a new clan hadn’t been established for some time. “We are currently allied with the Thorned Lotuses and the Double Sixes. We are accepting applications from the Lotuses. We will be accepting applications from others in the near future, looking for fighters and others who are willing to be loyal to the Clan.

“Our goal as the Benevolent Durians is to offer sustenance to all who join us. All those who attempt to take what is not theirs will be pricked and cast aside by our thorns.” He paused then, not because he needed a breath but because he wanted this to be clear. “Like the Suey Ying tong. They have taken one of my clan members and they will return her. If they refuse to do so, we will destroy them.”

There. That was enough. The declaration of potential war would cause many in the crowd to step aside. No need to join a sinking ship, after all. Though perhaps a scant few might join Arthur because of a grudge against the tong, or because they were simply mercenary enough like Yao Jing.

As for spies from Suey Ying and other groups, they would scurry off soon to inform their people and watch what was about to happen. 

Now, it was up to Amah and her people to convince some of them to join Arthur’s cause.

And if not, well, he had enough people. He hoped. 

Casting doubts aside, Arthur strode forward. Yao Jing and Jan anticipated his movements long before and pushed ahead to split the crowd. Other members of his newly formed clan joined them, pushing people away so that Arthur could travel unmolested.

He still watched for potential assassins, though, people looking to end him before he met with Boss Choi. The large crowd meant that, even with his bodyguards pushing people aside, he only had a few feet of space between him and the crowd.

It was no surprise to him, or his bodyguards, when a man lunged out of the crowd, intending to sink a knife into Arthur’s torso. A last-minute, desperate twist had the blade cut along his side, injuring but not killing Arthur.

Not that a single knife stab was likely to kill. The human body had enough resilience that it would not fall immediately to one stab, and a cultivator’s body more so. 

In the meantime, Arthur’s body had acted on instinct. He caught the arm as it passed his body, gripping the assassin’s wrist while pulling the elbow in tight to his body, leveraging the body and forcing him down. Then, his other hand swept out to catch his opponent across the jaw. Arthur stretched the man’s neck and arm in opposite directions with the elbow as a fulcrum point.

His opponent fell. The sharp pain against the elbow forced the hand to open and the weapon to drop. Before Arthur could transition to another attack, the nearest bodyguard had stepped forward and struck the assassin’s head twice with the hilt of her parang. Bonelessly, his opponent slumped, stunned. 

Releasing his opponent, Arthur watched as she frog-marched the stunned man towards the clan building. Only then did the shouts of surprise and excitement make themselves known to Arthur once more, as did the blood trickling down his side.

“You’re hurt.” One of the guards hissed. He waved her away, bending to pick up the assassin’s dagger as he breathed slowly.

“It doesn’t matter. I want answers as to who he works for,” Arthur said, wiping the blood off the knee of his pants before sliding the knife away in his belt. “We still have to go.”

No one objected, though they were all more aggressive at pushing the crowd away. 

One foolish assassination attempt down. Who knew how many more to come?

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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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