Chapter 108

Chapter 108

The beggars who filed in and stood before him were just over a dozen in number. They were all, uniformly, thin with a put-upon expression on their faces and haunted looks in their eyes. Movement, from Arthur, from Jan, from each other, caused them to shrink back a little or flinch, as though they were expecting to be struck or they were gearing up to run. Probably a little of both really.

How did you keep cultivators down? You took everything they earned or had, you harassed them until they were unable to sleep or otherwise rest peacefully. And you always kept them moving, so that they had no chance to cultivate at all.

It took a level of callous cruelty that sickened Arthur to think about, considering they were in a system that was designed to progress people if they even put in a little work. Yet, seeing the results of that cruelty before him, he realized that he too would have to be cruel as well, to some extent.

“You have been informed, I believe, about what I am offering?” Arthur said, sweeping his gaze over the group and alighting on Joe and Suriani who stood side by side. 

No surprise that he was the one who answered, even going so far as to move forward a little and lean on the table to speak to Arthur, who had stayed seated throughout the entire process. “We heard. What makes you think we want it?”

“A guess,” Arthur said with a shrug. “You don’t have to take it. The Suey Ying aren’t holding you down anymore. You might be able to cultivate and grow stronger, even break through and climb the floors. But . . . just because the Suey Ying are gone, it doesn’t mean everyone who saw what they did are gone too. Some might be even worse.”

“How could they be worse?” Joe snarled, the shaggy, messy black hair that might once have been a fashionable cut but not just looked like it had been hacked apart shaking.

Arthur just raised a single eyebrow, waiting.

“Murder . . . isn’t acceptable,” Joe said.

“It’s not against the rules either,” Arthur said. “As we found out. Maybe they won’t do it to people when they first arrive, but later? Nothing to stop them, beyond the fact that no group here wants a bunch of murderers running around. Hard to keep a society running—and we do have a society here in the Tower—not if everyone kills everyone just for the heck of it.”

He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “There are others too who might object to a lawless society. The real powers, the ones who climb the Tower. They might not care as much about the first few floors, but eventually if fewer people ascend—”

“They’d have fewer to exploit,” Joe filled in.

“Yes,” Arthur said. “It might take a while, what with communication between floors only really going one way, but eventually they would act. And the last thing any of us want is them trying to take over the first few floors.”

“Won’t last long, lah,” Jan said. “Some groups tried before, but not worth the money. Or their people.”

Arthur had to admit she was not wrong. There was a reason the Suey Ying tong and other proxies were used. It was not worth controlling the first few floors oneself, especially when it meant delaying one’s own ascension.

“You explaining why we shouldn’t worry, no?” Joe said.

“Except it’s a chaotic time now. And in the chaos, idiots always arise,” Arthur said. “Or do you want to chance that everything is fine?” He shrugged. “In the end, what I’m offering is an opportunity to grow, relatively peacefully. Heck, maybe get a few points into your body in relative safety before you have to make it out.”

“And what do you want for that?” Suriani spoke up. She had a little of the lilting but muted accent common to Malaysian Indians.

“Loyalty,” Arthur replied immediately. “You’ll have duties to the clan of course, things you should do to help build it up. But end of the day: loyalty. We aid you now, you aid us when you eventually grow strong.”

“Forever and ever? Seems like a bad deal,” Suriani said.

“All loyalty and respect eventually fades if it is not renewed. It’s not like we’d provide nothing back in return all the time. But neither do I expect us to have to battle for your loyalty all the time.”

Suriani smirked, while Joe was shaking his head. He pushed off the table, growling. “I won’t be your hunting dog. Or anyone’s dog. I didn’t do it for the Suey Ying, and I won’t do it for you.”

“Is this why you got into so much trouble with them in the first place?” Arthur said, making Joe growl again. “No one said anything about being a dog. Or bowing. Or anything like that. Just that I expect loyalty.”

“Like a mangy animal, cowering at your—agh!” He fell over coughing as Suriani extracted her elbow from his stomach. She smiled brightly at Arthur before turning to her people. 

“Okay. You heard him. Swear or not, I don’t care. We are not a formal organization, no matter what this idiot thinks.” So saying, she smacked the back of Joe’s head. 

“One moment,” Arthur interjected.

“What?” Suriani said, frowning.

“I have questions. Most importantly: what level are you all? How many points have you all invested?” Arthur said.

“Why does it matter?” she demanded.

“Everything,” Arthur leaned forward. “If you’re as weak as I think, it’s going to be quite a bit before you can power up. And that’s going to cost us.” He drew a deep breath and let it out. “We’ll still do it, but I need to know.”

“That’s . . .”

“Acceptable,” Joe interrupted Suriani, straightening up as he rubbed his stomach. When both of them stared at Joe, he could not help but shrug and ask, “What?”

“I thought you would object to that question too,” Arthur said.

“Why?” Joe said, still rubbing his stomach. “I had to see how far I could push you. But asking how strong your recruits are makes sense.”

Arthur could not help but eye Joe more keenly now. He remembered his words, the way he spoke and moved. “Were you part of the army at some point? Did you go barmy there?” Arthur asked with a frown.

“Yeah,” Joe said with a sigh. “Eleven years, before I got discharged. Dishonorably.”

The man had jutted his chin out at that last word, which deepened Arthur’s frown. Obviously, he was daring Arthur to make a thing about it. And curiosity demanded Arthur do the same. At the least, he wanted to know. “Why?”

“A superior officer was stealing all our supplies to sell off. So I gave him a good punch,” Joe said, a wicked grin on his face.

“Well, I’ll make sure not to get caught then,” Arthur said.

Suriani laughed and then when she caught the put-upon face displayed by Joe, she laughed even more. Jan was smirking a little too, though she would not deign to actually laugh at one of his jokes, Arthur knew. That’d be giving him too much credit.

“Most have one to three points.” Joe tapped his chest. “I have six points invested. Suriani’s got five.”

That was better than Arthur in terms of point investment though not in total points used for most of those. It was also, once again, a rather dire reflection of how underpowered Arthur was as a Clan leader. He really needed to spend some time training.

“This is going to be a pain,” Arthur said with a sigh. “Jan . . .”

“I’m not a babysitter,” she said before he could finish.

“Get them organized, at least. This is not a request.” He then gestured to the door. “Now, I’m sure you’ve heard my rules, but here they are again. If you have a problem with them, leave.” So saying, he reiterated his two rules, knowing that eventually he’d have to add more.


“Tyranny, not democracy. Heh.” Joe crossed his arms, then nodded. “I can live with that. So long as the tyrant is benevolent.”

“So says the name which is the same,” Arthur said.

Laughing, the man gestured for Arthur to carry on. It did not take him long to add them to the clan, and for the beggars to receive their invitations via Tower system. Watching the group file out afterwards, to be organized and sorted out by Jan and Mel, Arthur could not help but smirk a little.

It was good having minions. Especially when so much of the work coming up was rather banal.

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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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