The inside of the second-floor Tower office that dealt with quests was very similar to the first-floor one. Wide open hallway, counters all along one wall with one waist-high swinging doorway. The majority of staff were human, though a few humanoid alien-like creatures stood taking orders.
Other than a few benches for people to take a seat upon while waiting and tables lining the opposite wall, the room was fairly empty. There were only four Tower climbers, all being attended to, and Su Mei was one of them.
Her backpack sat on the floor beside her while Jan stood a short distance away, watching as packet after packet was drawn from the backpack’s mouth. Each packet was wrapped in green cloth and tied off with brown twine. Only a few hints of their contents could be picked up. Smell was one of them, the aroma of dried herbs unmistakable now that the bag was open. The way some of those packets shifted, their density and distribution spoke of cloth or heavier but malleable objects within. Others were irregularly shaped as bumps from tight packaging showed up. Sadly, it was hard for Arthur to guess their weight, since Su Mei handled them all with the same ease as before.
Arthur took all this in within seconds as he stepped within the administrative room. He crossed over to Jan and Su Mei, the young girl giving him a quick grin before turning back to her work. There was a giant cork board on the wall by them with pinned notices of quests.
“Any trouble?” Arthur asked Jan.
“Nope. She walked in, gave her token, unpacked.” While one attendant remained with them, other attendants were taking the packets and bringing them behind the counter and into some other room, leaving their group none the wiser.
“So, pretty boring, eh?”
“Ya lah,” Jan sighed.
Su Mei looked at the pair, ducked her head a little and whispered. “You don’t have to watch over me anymore, sis. I should be fine.”
“Oh, you think you so big already, ah?” Jan put her hands on her hips, glaring at the younger girl. “What’s your plan now?”
“I . . . find a place to rest? Cultivate?” Su Mei said sheepishly. “I’ll have a few credits with the store after this.”
“We do not speak about our quest rewards with those who are not part of the process.” The attendant’s voice was cool, cutting Su Mei off before she could speak further. She blushed and ducked her head. The attendant glared at the rest of them. She looked mostly human, all but for the slight shine of scales along her temples and the top of her hands. Emerald green scales, pale and almost not there. You’d have to pay close attention to notice.
“We aren’t enemies. In fact . . . we might be able to offer the girl a more attractive option than wasting her credits on a hotel,” Arthur said, holding his hands up placatingly.
“It is not a waste,” the attendant said immediately.
“But it is expensive,” Arthur looked around, spotted a free attendant and walked over. He cut ahead of another cultivator, who had just entered the room. He flashed the man a grin and got a glare in return, but since another Tower climber had finished up just then, the man chose not to make a thing of it.
“Yes, sir?” the attendant asked, leaning forward as Arthur approached.
Jan had drifted over to Arthur, having guessed what was happening.
“I’m here to register my arrival on this floor,” Arthur said.
The human attendant, whose most recognizable quality was a rather big and punchable nose, could not help but let out a long sigh. “We do not do that on the second floor, sir.”
“Normally you don’t.” Arthur nodded as he spoke, then held out his own token. “But if you check that, I think you’ll find I’m not your normal case.”
Stifling another sigh, the attendant took the token rather than argue with Arthur, not even bothering to look at it. He was speaking even before he had even swiped it down his tablet, “As you see sir, this is not . . .” The attendant trailed off as light bloomed on the tablet. His hand stilled as he still clutched the seal, eyes reading over the information now before him. “Oh. Oh my.”
“Yes, that’s about right. Thanks,” Arthur said, leaning back against the counter now as he felt the Tower pushing notifications to him. He was not going to shunt these aside.
The moment he let the Tower’s energies flow through, he saw a wireframe diagram appear: a map of the second-floor town. Unlike the first-floor village, the number of buildings on offer here was a lot smaller. In fact, there were literally only two options, both on opposite corners of the map.
Not much to choose from. Poking at both buildings had their display increase in size, but he could not help but sigh because they were both almost exactly the same—long, rectangular buildings. Single-storey only, but thankfully long enough that he assumed there would be space for multiple rooms.
Figuring he might as well choose the one closer to where they were, he tapped on the southward-facing one and watched as it highlighted itself. Another quick tap confirmed his choice, and then he watched as more notifications spiralled out.
Arthur grinned, leaning back, but a moment later more notifications streamed in. Because of course they would.
“Yes!” Arthur hissed.
“What?” Jan asked.
“We went up by two on the organizational rankings,” Arthur said.
“That good, ah?” she could not help but ask, though she sounded half-distracted. Arthur assumed she was looking up her own clan details too.
“Can’t be bad, right?” Arthur considered and eyed the data once more, before he added, “Seems like Amah Si is recruiting.”
“Shouldn’t she?” Jan asked.
“Well, yes.” He hesitated, then remembered that Jan was once part of the Thorned Lotuses, the now-defunct group of women who had banded together to safeguard themselves. Rather than continue to discuss his own hesitation at being, basically, surrounded by people he did not personally recruit, Arthur went on. “We should check out the clan building.”
“Clan?” Su Mei looked Arthur up and down and then Jan. She was carrying the large bag which had been folded down a lot, straps tugged tight to make it a lot more manageable.
“The Benevolent Durians,” Arthur said.
“Ooooh! That one. The funny-named one.”
Jan glared at Arthur, who just grinned at Su Mei. “That’s us!” Then, growing serious, he added, “Want to join?”
“What? Me?” Su Mei frowned. “Why me?”
“Why not?” Arthur said. “I could use the luck.”
“You just want to use me like a lucky charm?” The girl frowned at Arthur.
“Also, because you’re trustworthy.” He gestured at the pack she had and then the area around them. “You never thought to look into the packets, or skip out on the quest. You just did your job, because that’s what you promised.”
“Maybe I was too stupid to think about that. Maybe that’s why you want me,” Su Mei said.
Arthur just stared back at the girl. She flushed a little under his regard, but she refused to take her words back and chewed on her bottom lip as she met his gaze. He found himself snorting and looking away first. Jan was watching the entire interaction with her arms crossed.
“You found her. You convince her,” Arthur said, exasperated. A quick glance around and he sighed, realizing there was more than just one problem to deal with.
Of course there was.