Chapter 208

Chapter 208

“Oh, you’re here,” Arthur said, coming back in still toweling his hair with one hand, the washed and wrung dry pieces of clothing he’d worn earlier in the other. His kris was already belted on one side, his everyday carry on his hips though the spear stayed by his bed. Not exactly the kind of thing one brought with them to the bath.

“Ya lah,” Jan said from where she’d leaned against the propped open door, letting the little wind that had arisen run over her body. It also, coincidentally, brought the stink that surrounded her within, which had Rick holding his nose and Mel sighing. Loudly.

“Out of the door and get washed up, will you?” Rolling his eyes at having to play parent, he spotted the top of the doorsill. Remembering a few movies, he made a note to potentially add some hooks to hang a weapon or two there.

Be kind of cool and useful, or so he’d assume from a million movies. Give or take.

“Just waiting for your boss.” Grinning, Jan wandered right pass Arthur, forcing him to skip away rather than get dirty. How she managed to reek so bad and still not look like she had rolled around in sewage, he had no idea.

Dismissing the thought for now, Arthur returned to his bed, hanging up his clothing on the way before beginning the process of cultivating. After all, he had nothing better to do for the moment.




“It’s a millipede lah,” Jan answered their questions later, when she had returned. Smelling rather better, thankfully, though her hair seemed to have undergone some degree of savagery beneath the uncaring swipes of a knife wielded by a blind man. Or a woman with no mirror on-hand.

“Millipedes caused your hair to smell?” Mel said, surprised.

“Dropped on me from the branches. Splat, splat, splat.” Jan made the motion to mimic the actions. “I used my hand… and then ah the living ones, they started smelling bad. Made my hair bad too.” A haunted look reached her eyes as she added. “It smelled worst before.”

“Why stand in the door?” Mel asked, curiously.

“Then I don’t smell it.”

“And not outside?” Rick grumbled.

Jan just grinned at him. “Watching for Yao Jing too.”

“He’s doing something for me. As is Uswah,” Arthur explained. When promopted, he went into a little more detail, though before he had to explain it further, commotion outside drew him to the door. Yao Jing led, to his surprise, a trio of familiar faces.

“So. You really are the Clan head.” The woman he’d last seen abusing a poor man said.

“I am,” Arthur said, inclining his head. “Surprised to see you back so fast.”

“He gave up, soon after you left.” The leader grinned at Arthur. “So thanks for that. I wasn’t looking forward to torturing him, really.”

“You’re welcome?” Arthur replied, dubiously. “So. What are your names?”

“I’m Michelle Teo. This is Aisha and Kavita,” Michelle said, gesturing to herself and then to her friends. Aisha was the silent one who glowered at them, mouth pressed tight while Kavita offered them a smile. Of course, her friendliness was a little off-set by his memories of her helping drown a man.

“So, where’s the rest of the Thorned Lotuses?” Arthur said, peering behind the group. Yao Jing grinned, looked between the groups and took position behind and off to the side but within easy reach of Arthur as he watched. Not that anyone was likely going to start anything with the floating Tower guard near them but… you never knew. They’d gathered an audience again after all.

“Just because the others joined you doesn’t mean we are,” Michelle said, crossing her arms. The movement drew Arthur’s gaze down but he yanked it up after a moment. Not that she had much to showcase, and she was definitely not doing it to seduce him. This was more the arms crossed in grumpiness arm, not the push up the ladies kind.

Anime really did have a lot to explain about the sheer volume of incidents of the second kind in one’s life. Why, he’d only ever experienced someone trying to seduce him twice. Once for free food and another, to distract him while someone was trying to run off with his bike. Which was why he was even more wary now and defensive.

“And why not?” Arthur waved behind him. “You can sense the energy going to the building and it’s not even finished yet. Safety, faster cultivation speed. Resources even, eventually.”

“Oh? Seems like we might have more to offer you than you us.”

“You found your techniques?” Arthur said, curiously. “How’d you some written anyway? Amah Si never mentioned you having any.”

“She doesn’t know anything.”

That was a non-answer if he’d ever heard one. “Fine. Well, the offer is open. That’s the deal I made with her. Everyone currently part of the Thorned Lotuses can join. If you don’t want in, that’s fine too.” Giving an elaborate shrug, Arthur turned away.

He managed to make it nearly to the entrance when a new voice cut him off. “RUDE! We not finish talking even ah.” Turning around, Arthur noted that the speaker was Kavita, the woman having a rather more typical Indian accent. She did a little head bobble, as she continued. “You think we’re your slaves, ah?”

“Not slaves. Partners. Willing partners, hopefully,” Arthur said. “Or, more to the point, Clan members. But I’m not here to force you all.” Eyes narrowing, he looked at Michelle and added. “I’m also not here to negotiate. You come, you bring what you can. If what you bring is good, you get promoted and what not. If not…” He shrugged.

“Why you think we should believe you?” Michelle asked.

“Now that’s a good question,” Arthur said. “Didn’t you get word of us?”

Ada. Heard about you from others too,” Michelle said. “Some tak ada good words, lah.”

“Those part of the Ghee Hin or the Suey Ying tong?” Tough fighters they might be, but they were horrendous poker players. Then again, poker was not as common a game as mah jong or big 2 around here, especially in the lower classes. It was more a game for the pretentious, especially when most people just didn’t have the money to waste gambling. “We had a few run-ins with them.” He paused, then added. “Mostly on the first floor.”

Then, curiously, he turned to look at Yao Jing. “Are they around here?”

Yao Jing shook his head. “Didn’t see any ah. Maybe, but…” he shrugged. “Didn’t hear of any.”

“Most moved on,” Kavitha said. “Not much money to be made here.”

“Fair enough.” Another breath, then he sighed. “So. You can wait, watch, talk to your own people.” He waved inside the hut where Mel was within. “I have some of your own members from the first floor here. They can talk to you.”

“Why not now?” Michellle challenged.

Arhtur opened his mouth, then shut it. He turned around again, calling inside. A short while later, Mel wandered out, looking a little annoyed at having her nap interrupted. A quick explanation later and his erstwhile second in command turned right around, walked back into the hut.

“Uhh….” Arthur looked confused, glancing back to Michelle. Kavitha looked highly amused, while Michelle was frowning. The third just continued to look surly.

Moments later, all of that was wiped away as Mel walked back out, her knife strapped to her side and spear in hand. She nodded to Arthur as she passed him, heading for the bridge and the trio. Who, Arthur had to admit with a small smile, were a little on guard at the suddenly armed woman approaching them.

Thankfully, no one was exactly reaching for a weapon either. Going armed – even in the village – was not uncommon after all, even if a little paranoid. Soft words were passed between the group before they wandered away, leaving Arthur and Yao Jing alone once more.

It was just as he was stepping in, that another voice called out to him and interrupted his return.

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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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