“I really didn’t mean to do this,” Arthur said quickly. “I was just trying to make sure all the fighting and death and battle hadn’t been for nothing.” He looked around, hoping to gesture at the bodies. But since they had disappeared—their cores taken, he assumed—he had nothing to show. “It’s not as though anyone was awake for me to ask.”
“So you just accepted the seal when it was ready. For our good,” Mel said, irritation in her voice.
Waving his branded hand in front of him, and then yanking it back when Jan’s parang moved towards it, he growled. “It didn’t ask if I wanted it! It just triggered the moment I had it in hand. It burned the seal into my hand, and I didn’t even know it could do that.” He snorted. “I didn’t even know it was a brand. Not as though anyone told me that.”
There was a silence at his words before Uswah nodded a little. “That tracks with how I found him. He was screaming and twitching and trying to get it off.”
“Weak. This guy can’t take pain,” Jan said.
“Now that’s a little much,” Rani finally spoke up. “I don’t care if you kill him—though I think we should hold off until we know if the seal can be transferred—but he’s not weak. Not from what we’ve seen.”
Jan shrugged, unwilling to take back her words.
“Can you transfer it?” Mel said, ignoring the byplay as she focused on Arthur. “What does the Tower say?”
“I haven’t checked.” Arthur pointed at the parang. “I’m not exactly looking at taking my attention away from that, you know.” Then, as a thought struck him, added: “Anyway, what makes you think I’d tell you the truth if it was transferable.”
Silence expanded between them all, the women looking at Arthur with looks of contempt, pity, and incredulity in turn. Once his brain caught up with his words, Arthur cursed himself out too. Him and his big mouth.
Sowing doubt further was not a great idea.
“I’ll look, I’ll look. Just promise not to chop me up while I do so, eh?” Arthur said.
“Yay a, Cepat-lah.” Uswah waved a hand for him to do it faster. When he got agreement from Mel too, then and only then did Arthur look at the notification. He could, he believed, trust them not to go too far out of their way and kill him right now.
- Be able to establish a Tower-Approved Building in the Safe Zone
- Appoint 1 Officer per Tower level to administer the Clan Building
“Shit,” Arthur said softly.
“What? What happened?” He felt a hand drop on his shoulder, and his body forcibly turned with a worried Mel hovering over him. She glared into his face, demanding an answer.
“It’s not a Guild seal, it’s a Clan seal.”
“Oh jeez.” Mel relaxed a little at his words.
“Puta!” Jan swore, then threw both parang and her other hand up at the sky. “I cannot lah. I just can-not.” Then she stalked away.
“What did I do now?” Arthur said.
“Nothing. There’s nothing wrong. Clans and guilds are the same thing,” Shar said. “Mostly.”
“Really?” he asked, relaxing a little.
Mel nodded. “‘Guild’ is the term used most often by Towers. It’s what the Westerners get, so it’s why we all use it colloquially. But ‘Clan’ is what we actually get, over in Asia.”
“Mostly,” Uswah said idly. “Some of the Japanese and Koreans get guilds too. Those Towers are more gamey, though, and follow more Western tropes.”
“Mostly,” Mel corrected, glaring at Uswah who just offered a tight smile. She played her fingers along the missing portion of her arm, along the edges of the bite and the bandages around them, making Mel look away to focus on Arthur. “It’s mostly the same. Clans are harder to grow, but harder to leave. We get more control over our members than guilds, but it’s the same in the Tower enabled building aspects.”
“Oh. Duh.” Arthur did not need to ask why they’d switched over to using the Western term, even if it was inaccurate. It likely had as much to do with laziness and the dominance of Western media than anything conscious. People were lazy, and unless you needed to know the difference—and so few people did with clans and guilds that it might as well not matter—that it was no surprise the terms had just become synonymous.
“Well, what else did it do?” Mel said.
Arthur hesitated but then eventually shrugged and read out what he had displayed before him. There was nothing in there that he thought was dangerous to reveal, sparse as it was. He was curious though . . .
“What are Aspects and Sigils? Are those the guild—sorry, clan—bonuses that people talk about?” Arthur said.
“Exactly. In a guild, they’re called Perks and Titles,” Shar said. “I think that helps?”
Arthur shrugged a little. “A bit. Guilds weren’t something I paid that much attention to. Perks are overall bonuses that affect guild members. They’re pretty common and, I guess, get added as a guild grows in strength.” Mel nodded and Arthur had to push down the flush of happiness that acknowledgement had created in him. Not the time. “Titles are rarer. Requiring you to do something unique. They’re also limited, aren’t they?”
“Exactly,” Mel said. “As I understand it, clans and guilds have slightly different Aspects and Perks to choose between. The guild Perks are much more straightforward and specific in description, like the Merchant which gives a 10% trade bonus. Whereas a clan Aspect might be something like Wealth, which will influence not just trade but also rewards.”
“Specialists versus generalists,” Arthur said. “Because humanity like their lists and -ists.”
“Clans actually have more leeway with Sigils. We get to combine them, unlike the limited number of Titles that guilds get. But clans are limited to a certain extent by the kind of Sigils we choose in the end,” Mel continued. “It makes for a more flexible use, but sigils are consequently harder to acquire. Some can only be acquired by killing the previous holders.”
That made Arthur frown, before she waved a hand. “It’s not important. Not right now.”
“Good to hear.” Arthur ran a finger along the palm of his hand, frowning as he felt the irregular bumps. He shook his head after a moment. “So, is there a way to hand this over to someone else?”
Mel shrugged. “If it didn’t say so, I’m assuming not.”
“Stupid way of creating a reward,” he could not help but say.
“Tetapi kau yang sentuh,,” Uswah remarked.
“I really didn’t know it would do it. I was just trying to do right by us all,” Arthur groused. “I already apologized, damn it.”
“Actually, you haven’t,” Shar said.
“Huh?” he said, dumbly.
“You haven’t apologized,” Shar repeated, arms crossed under her bosom. Or maybe just clutching her injured ribs.
“I . . .” Arthur fell silent, reviewing the earlier conversation. Realising he had never actually said sorry and just tried to find excuses, justifications, he grimaced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to happen.”
Shar nodded shortly. “I know.”
He eyed the group, barely bothering to look at Jan who sniffed. Rani looked out of it, focused inwards on her own injuries more than anything he had said. Uswah, the one who possibly should have been the most concerned with their injuries, just shrugged fatalistically. It was Mel whose gaze he found regarding him, crouched as she was next to his still-seated form and all too close to his head.
He returned her regard silently, curious. She had been vacillating between being reasonable and making the occasional biting remark. She was obviously trying to stay focused on the objective. But he could see the frustration boiling within her eyes. In truth, he understood.
Of them all, Mel had likely given up the most. And to come so close yet fail at the end. Knowing that the prize had been hers . . .
He wondered, if the option was available, would she have killed him to take the seal? He wondered, if the option was even viable, if he would ever have awakened.
In the end, Mel rocked backward and stood up. “Whatever. We’re stuck with you. But . . . you’re stuck with us too. Got it?” she said with an edge in her voice. Shar, too, stared down at him menacingly.
A growl erupted from Jan, and Arthur said quickly, “That’s fine. But: I kind of might want to make a few changes . . .”
“Changes?” Mel’s voice dropped a pitch, growing colder.
“Like membership. I mean, a few guys might be good. I don’t exactly want to be accused of running a harem, you know?” Arthur said.
Uswah let out a little laugh, and Jan growled louder. She muttered something about hurting him a little, but Arthur tuned her out. It was more the snort from Mel that had his attention, as the group leader sighed.
“We can talk about it.”
Smiling, Arthur relaxed. It seemed, at least, that things would work out with the Thorned Lotuses.
Which, of course, was when things went wrong.