Chapter 181

Chapter 181

“You’re not going,” Nicholas insisted as he stood before Harley, arms crossed. But he was quite a few steps away. Mostly because Mel had, rather pointedly, lowered her spear in his direction when he looked like he was going to move closer.

“I want to go back with them,” Harley said.

Arthur and Kong Hua were watching the entire interaction a short distance away with studied patience. Personally, Arthur would have gotten up to deal with it, but Kong Hua had given him a look. Figuring the older man had a reason for his reticence, Arthur had chosen to keep seated. That gave him more than enough time to watch the two.

He had to admit: Harley was pretty. In a Korean pop princess kind of way, with almost-too-perfect, long, lustrous hair and a manufactured sort of pretty that some people liked. She even dressed in a shirt that showed off her midriff and shorts that were short but not scandalously so. Just tight. Overall, he understood why Nicholas might be into her.

“I told you, we have to talk first,” Nicholas insisted.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Harley said.

“I didn’t do anything!”         

“Except kiss her!”

She kissed me!”

“And your tongue just slipped out into her mouth, ah?”

Ikan bilis?” Kong Hua’s question startled Arthur, and he turned to see the older man offering a bowl of, well, ikan bilis. The dried anchovies that he thrust at Arthur was a popular Malaysian ingredient, side dish, and snack. The bowl had a small scattering of peanuts as well.

“No popcorn?” Arthur said with a smile.

“Don’t have,” Kong Hua said.

“I didn’t kiss her back! She lied,” Nicholas was insisting again.

“And why’d she lie for?”

“Because your friend hates me!”

“I wonder why!”

Mel was looking over at Arthur beseechingly, even as the pair continued their lovers’ tiff. Stuck refereeing the two, her weapon about the only thing stopping the guy from coming closer, she looked entirely uncomfortable. On the other hand, to give Nicholas his due, he didn’t try to push the spear away, though Arthur wondered if that was because he was focused on the argument and had forgotten about the weapon.

“Children.” Kong Hua shook his head. “Their love is always so . . . heated.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.” Arthur rolled his eyes. “I don’t want to start a gang war over a lovers’ quarrel.”

“Same here,” Kong Hua agreed.

The two leaders shared a knowing look, before they broke off eye contact self-consciously.

“So. You want me to bring up goods for you guys?” Arthur said, changing subject a little awkwardly. “Not take any rooms in my building?”

“66 already there, right?”

Arthur nodded in reply.

“Then, rooms don’t work,” Kong Hua said. “But I bet they haven’t asked you for goods yet. Right?”

“No, not really.” Arthur leaned back, considering Kong Hua. “I can’t guarantee anything till I’m out. Don’t even know the quantities I can get. And we’re not moving anything dangerous to begin with.”

“Ya lah. Understood. But you can bring luxuries, right? Kaya. Bakkwa. Kuih. Maybe rice and soya sauce. Kopi.” He raised his cup.

“Sure,” Arthur said.

“Why won’t you give me another chance!” Nicholas wailed, his voice rising. Kong Hua and Arthur looked over to see Harley retreating further from him, tears falling from her face. Mel stepped in the way, though she was using her body rather than the spear and a change in demeanour that told Arthur a lot.

“Talk later?” Arthur said, then downed the last of his coffee. The older man sighed and nodded. It didn’t take Arthur long to arrive on scene. All the while, Nicholas was almost begging his girlfriend to change her mind. He dropped a hand on the boy’s shoulder, gently, and watched him spin around in anger. “Easy there . . .”

“What?!” He shrugged the placating hand off, then stepped up into Arthur’s personal space, looming over him.   

Gods, the kid was predictable. Keeping a smile off his face, Arthur stepped back, the kid immediately eating up the space he had surrendered.

“Look, I was just going to say . . .”

“Stay out of it.” The kid was now trying to intimidate Arthur by looming over him. It was all in the old playbook, one that Arthur had himself enacted all too often. Tall people always thought their height made them scarier.

And if you stepped back, they always followed. Because the hind part of their brain was telling them their intimidation tactics were working. For most people, that’d be true.

Hand low, Arthur waved Mel and Harley out, even as Kong Hua judiciously did not pay attention as the two hustled out of the building. “Alright, I will.”

“Good.” Nicholas relaxed a little, pulling back from Arthur as he felt he had won.

Another half-step back, so that the boy could not see what was happening. “Just one thing . . .”

“What now?!” Nicholas went back to his attempt at looming over Arthur.

“I figured you might want some advice,” Arthur offered his most harmless smile.

“Don’t need it!” Nicholas growled. “Who do you think you are?”

“Arthur Chua. Clan leader of the Benevolent Durians. I told you already, you know.”

A hand shoved him back. “I don’t care.”

Arthur let him, stepping back with the shove and retreating out of range. His eyes flicked behind the boy to track movement before Arthur continued, “Sure, sure.”

Again, Nicholas started to turn.

“So about that thing—”

“I said, enough!”

This time, Arthur didn’t stop talking. “They’re like deer,” he said.

“What?” Since Arthur wasn’t within easy punching range anymore, Nicholas hesitated, adrenaline and pride warring with confusion.

“Women. Deer. Skittish, both of them. You make a lot of loud noise, you scare them off. You can chase, but they’ll keep running.” Holding his fingers up, Arthur mimed a deer running and bouncing along the flat of his palm. “You got to wait, give them space till they calm down.”

“Are you stupid?” Nicholas asked.

“A little.” Arthur smiled, then stepped back again. “One last thing.”

“I’m going to kill you . . .”

“Yeah, sure. But also, she’s gone.”

Nicholas whipped around, fast as a snake, and Arthur took the opportunity to start running. He felt a little bad leaving the clean-up to Kong Hua, but he figured the older man knew how to handle the kid now that Arthur and the girl weren’t in his building anymore.

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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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