Chapter 162

Chapter 162

Dining hall was pretty empty outside of a few tables. Arthur was not surprised. Mostly, he was grateful they even had provided him that much. As they ascended, the number of Tower buildings available for him to take control of would decrease. On the second floor, it was a given that he would have something to choose from. The third floor was a maybe. Then, he might be better off just pouring in resources, acquired from the Chin family, to just get a new one built or acquired.

Higher up, it was pretty much either build or have buildings transferred over to him. None of the other floors would have pre-built Tower buildings for him to take over. Which was why her support was so important. Even the Chin family did not have buildings on the last few floors of this Tower, what with the state of those floors and the requirements of passing through.

For now, though, they had a place to stay where energy was concentrated. And that was a big plus, along with the degree of safety that having something like the Tower guard on hand offered them all.

“Thanks for the water,” Rick said, waving the cup. “Poured you one too.”

“Thanks.” Arthur grabbed the cup, eyed it, and then shrugged and finished it in one gulp. He then grabbed at the pitcher that had been put out, pouring himself more. He idly wondered where it had come from before dismissing the thought.

“Not scared he poisoned it?” Casey said, disapprovingly.

“We’re in my clan holding. The Tower guard is right outside. If he did poison it, he’s the dumbest assassin in the world,” Arthur replied, taking a seat. “And if he wanted me dead, he could have pulled those guns and shot me in the head on the way here.”

“Still risky. You should only drink or eat what you know is safe,” Casey said. “I do not want my investment to waste itself so quickly.”

Arthur waved her words away as being all too paranoid, instead fixing a flat gaze on Rick, who had been watching all this with a small smile. “So. Spill. What do you offer, why should I even consider adding you to the clan?”

“Firstly, let me be clear. I understand that clan setups are different from our guilds Stateside. As such, there is no such thing as replacing you as the leader. No matter what some people might think,” Rick smirked at Casey, who sniffed but said nothing. “You will always be the Clan Head till you die. If you do not designate an heir, the entire clan will disappear upon your demise. For this reason, of course, my family considers clans a more risky investment than guilds.

“Nor do we, normally, invest in early-stage startups like this. Especially in North America, where guilds are quite common. Too high risk, unless there’s an appreciable USP.”

“USP?” Arthur said.

“Unique Selling Proposition,” Casey said. “Business speak for cheat.”

“Oh! I get that.”

“That’s not—” Rick started to protest, then shook his head. “Never mind. My point is, we—my family’s trust—don’t normally invest in clans this early. As such, what I offer is more personal. My support, my funds, my aid.”

“Worthless,” Casey sniffed. “What do you have? A couple million maybe?”

Arthur goggled at Casey’s mention of a mere couple million. Sure, things had inflated a bit since the early part of the century, when a million still meant something; but for most people a million was still something they could only hope to dream about.

Well, outside of Tower climbers who had done a couple of Towers. Which was, of course, why it was such a popular profession. All you had to do was risk your life and limb.

“I haven’t checked lately, but last I saw, I had about 1.4 million.” Rick replied. “US dollars.”

Casey grunted, looking unhappy. Arthur understood that with the current exchange rate the way it stood, that was a significant amount in Malaysia, even for Casey herself. He made sure not to let his jaw drop too much.

“I had a few good investments early on,” Rick said with an expansive shrug, as though he dismissed the casual display of wealth. “Of course, not all of it is liquid. She’s right, only a few million dollars are easily accessible.” That brightened Casey up, but Rick continued, “On the other hand, because I’ve done well investing in individuals and guilds, it means my family listens. If you start showing you’re a winner—

having you emerge from the Tower by my side is going to be a damn good indicator—there’s a lot more.”

“Promises, promises, promises,” Casey said bitingly. “And it’s just as easy to break one’s word when one exits. Not as though he could do much to you, if you chose to break your word. Not after you’ve made full use of his resources here.”

Rick opened his mouth to protest then shut it, shrugging after a moment. “I guess that’s a risk he has to take, isn’t it, Arthur?”

“Nice that someone remembered I was here,” Arthur said. “But no, you guys keep arguing. I’m just here to watch.”

“Sarcasm?” Casey snorted. “Really?”

“Sort of?” Arthur replied truthfully. “Seriously, you keep interrupting him and he hasn’t even told me what he’s here to offer. But the interruptions are useful, so . . .” He shrugged. “You guys keep arguing and I’ll keep my mouth shut till there’s a decision to be made.”

“As I was saying,” Rick raised his voice, cutting Casey off before she could reply to Arthur, “I can offer financial support from myself on a guaranteed basis once you’re out of this Tower. I figure, a monthly rental agreement for a room would be about right. Say, five thousand?”

“Hah! Five thousand a month? Why don’t you try to cheat someone else,” Casey spat.

Arthur had to admit, quietly, that she was right. Even if Rick did not know they were going for a speedrun, a monthly rental agreement was not in his best interest. Among other things, keeping track of exact time within the Tower was a struggle, with each floor having varying daylight hours and no central timekeeping. Electronic watches were fine, but the delicate instrumentation in most meant that they were subtly altered and many ran a little fast or slow, such that it was often hard to tell whose clock was right. In most cases, the difference was only by a few minutes a day, but such things built up over time.

“If not time-based, then floor-based?” Rick offered. “This is, of course, on top of the usual clan tax. How much is it, anyway?”

Arthur was about to answer when Casey waved him quiet. She leaned forward, fixing Rick with a look. “That’s clan business.”

“And you’re clan?” Rick smirked. “I’m pretty sure you’re just a hanger-on like me.”

“Ally. A real one, paying real resources. Not make-believe money,” Casey said. “Arthur, you really should just kick him out. He can promise the world out there, but he can’t be trusted to come through with it. His family has shown that.”

“I already said, my parents aren’t me,” Rick said heatedly.

“Wait one second,” Arthur raised a hand. “Explain this, will you?”

“This, look.” Now the young man looked uncomfortable. “My parents, they—”

“They broke their word and their contracts.”

“Let me explain it!” Rick shouted at Casey, pounding the table and glaring at her. Not that he managed to intimidate the woman, whose smile grew even wider. When he saw she wasn’t going to interrupt, nor was Arthur, he continued, “When they bought those manufacturing facilities, they were contracted not to make any major changes in personnel for a number of years. My dad said there were material aspects to the business that were hidden from them, and that they had to fire everyone to keep the business profitable.” Rick paused, then breathed out slowly. “I don’t know if they are telling the truth. I don’t have the details, but it’s not as simple as she thinks it is, nor are we bad people. And I’m certainly not my parents.”

“Right, but that could just be an excuse, couldn’t it?” Arthur said simply.

“And you think they aren’t likely to stab you in the back?” Rick pointed at Casey. “No organization or family gets that big without getting their hands dirty.”

“That’s why all the payments are happening now. You know, so he can verify it,” Casey sniffed. “Whereas all you’ve promised are promises.”

“I don’t have anything else to offer!” Rick snapped.

“Then go away!”

“Enough!” Arthur said. He had to repeat himself again at a louder volume as the pair continued to squabble. “I get it, I get it. He can’t be trusted, you say. You insist you can, and can offer money when we’re out. But that’s about it.”

Rubbing his temples, Arthur pushed himself to his feet. “I’ve heard enough for now.” A finger rose and pointed at Rick. “You. Go home. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Another finger tracked over to Casey. “You, go to sleep or something. He’s right, you know, I still haven’t seen what you promised for this floor. So. Rest now, talk tomorrow. Both of you.”

Rather than deal with them further, he turned and walked off. His head hurt, having to listen to them argue. And the worst part was, Arthur knew, this was just going to be the start of it. Once word got out that there was a clan building on this floor, everyone and their dog was going to want in, if nothing more than to make use of the higher concentration of Tower energy within.

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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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