“Morning, sleepy head.”
“About time you got here,” Arthur grumped as he finished washing his face. One of the nice aspects of the four larger bedrooms at the back of his new clan building was the integrated washing room. The negative part was that there wasn’t a lock on his bedroom door—something he intended to get fixed—which was why Mel was leaning against the doorjamb of his washroom, appraising him.
He didn’t even bother trying to cover up. Not that there was much to hide; he was fully dressed anyway, even if the clothing was rather rumpled. Sleeping nude was all well and good in theory, but when one was in a hostile environment, that just meant you’d end up fighting floppy.
Add in swinging, sharp weapons and that was just a recipe for disaster.
Not that his sifu hadn’t had him and his fellow students try that a few times. That happened about once a year or so, when new students arrived and everyone had to be reminded that clothing was not optional. Nor were ballcups for men or padding for women.
“Snuck in late last night with Uswah,” Mel replied, hiding a light yawn. “We got the notification you had the clan building up, so figured it was time to make an appearance.”
“Nice. So we’re just waiting for Yao Jing?” Arthur asked.
“Nah, he’s already here. He’s . . . visiting . . . with Jan.” Mel said delicately. Arthur cocked an eye at her, a little amused to see that the young Malay woman might even be blushing. She didn’t meet his eyes as she continued, “And Uswah and I weren’t exactly hiding. We were speaking with the local branch of the Lotuses.”
“Oh, good. We got a lot of people to come in?” Arthur said brightly as he finished strapping on his weapon belt. He checked the pull on the kris, then went to grab his spear.
“Shit. No one starts a good conversation with that line.”
Mel shrugged when Arthur looked at her. “There’s some hesitation. Amah Si has pull, but each floor . . .” She shrugged. “Let’s just say that things get a little tougher the higher we go. And you know there are fewer of us as we head up.”
“Just like every other group. Yeah,” Arthur said. The Thorned Lotuses, not being an official clan or organization, had that harder too, of course. They were more of a sorority, a self-help group to keep the predators away than anything that was strongly built up, and the Lotuses were concentrated on the first floor because so many of them found it difficult to progress upwards. They were, in many ways, dregs—people that the corporations, big gangs, and powerful families didn’t see worth investing in.
Kind of meant that he was working with the weakest for his recruits, but at least he had recruits. Which, considering he was starting from nothing, was a decent start. And heck, there were a lot of things a clan needed that didn’t require strength.
Like simple conveniences such as washing and mending.
Was that sexist? It wasn’t as though he were choosing the Thorned Lotuses to do it because they were women; they just happened to be a majority-women group. He’d be perfectly fine with a guy washing his clothes. Hell, he washed his own for a long time, but now he did have better things to do, supposedly.
Eyeing the pile of dirty clothes discarded in the corner, he pushed mundane thoughts aside for now. Recruiting first. Housework later.
“So who am I talking to?” Arthur asked, waving her out of his room and closing the door. He strode down the hallway, ignored the noises coming from a closed door he passed and headed for the dining hall cum meeting room.
“Jaswinder Singh.” Mel said smoothly. “She’s been the leader of the Lotuses on the second floor for the last five or so years.”
“Oooh, a Sikh.” Arthur said. He liked the Sikhs. The warrior caste had mostly jumped into the Tower with gusto. Partly it was their upbringing and traditions, but mostly it was their close network of support that had helped them achieve quite a few accolades early on. He was a little surprised that she wasn’t already part of any of their own organizations or temple groups, and he was rather certain there was some story there. Only question was if it was worth digging into.
“Yeah, just don’t mention her arm.”
“Her arm?” Arthur muttered, just as he was turning the corner into the dining room, only to realise why. And why Jaswinder was still on the second floor, even if she might have been a decent fighter. Hard to climb when you only had a single hand.
“It was cut off early on this floor,” Jaswinder said icily. “If you had to ask.”
Mel sighed, while Arthur offered Jaswinder a half-smile as he took a seat across from the woman, propping his spear against the table casually. Even if she was injured and nearing forty, the woman was still battle fit. There was a hardness to her eyes and a rather long polearm with a spike and spear configuration over her shoulder.
“Apologies,” Arthur said. “She was the one who brought it up.” He jerked a finger at Mel, who huffed at him, but he continued blithely, a smile on his lips, “If she hadn’t handed it to me like that, I would never have dared arm myself with such a subject.”
“You—” Her left hand slammed down on the table, and she stood abruptly. Her chair went skittering backwards, and the pair of Thorned Lotuses standing beside her both gripped at their weapons. “You mock me!”
“Yes,” Arthur said, looking unfazed. “Now, let’s see if you can learn to cool your temper and talk like adults. Or we can move on, and I’ll have Mel make the offer to your people anyway, but without you being in charge.”
Jaswinder leaned over, glaring at Arthur. “I’ll never let a bully like you have my people.”
“And I’m never letting someone who can be so easily goaded run my clan on this floor,” Arthur said just as smoothly. He stood up, grabbed his spear and departed from the table, leaving Jaswinder staring at his back as he strode for the door. Mel, stunned by the interaction, was looking back and forth between the two, before she finally tore herself away to hurry after him.
Well, that was a good start. Now, what else was on his list for today?