Getting a room—literally a room since there was just a sink, a single bed, and a shared toilet and bathroom on the same floor—was a simple matter. He showed them his chit, handed it over, and got his key. Once he was in the room, he took a seat on the bed before he extracted the Focused Strike chi technique scroll.
Biting his lip, Arthur realised his hands were shaking a little. All this time, all this effort to get here. Late nights, hours after everyone else had slept, stolen time from Hypnos himself as he practised forms and katas and exercised, only to get up early the next day to join the gym and get his ass handed to him, again and again. Until he was one of those doing the beating.
Scrabbling for money, for hard manual work that was all too dangerous or finnicky for machines. Pulling jammed metal pieces out, crawling under moving electronics to swap out parts, sorting through waste matter just to find some nugget of old electronics with parts that were of value.
Then, the fight nights, the illegal scraps in underground rings where the best and most desperate fought for the hoi polloi to watch. It mattered not how good you were, just how well you showed off during the fight. Oh, and winning too, though that mattered less with some groups than others, with rigged fights being a common occurrence.
Not that Arthur had bothered with much of that. After his third fight, limping home—a winner but too bruised to train for a week—he realised the kind of training he was receiving just was not worth the pain and the even greater risk of serious injury. A broken leg, broken ribs, even a twisted ankle could set him back for weeks.
No matter how much he could win, it just wasn’t worth it. Not to him.
Slow and easy.
Which led him here. Exhale, pull the string, and open the scroll. Why a scroll and not a book or pamphlet, Arthur had no idea. It wasn’t as though there was that much information on the scroll, and it wasn’t as though it was magically transmitted into him. That kind of spiritual impartation was much, much more expensive and not something that even showed up till the end of the tower.
Unfortunately, plain paper scroll or not, the information within was significantly more complicated than just drawings and words. Staring at the lines of information, the drawings that shifted and twisted before his very eyes, Arthur sighed.
“I knew they said it wasn’t that easy, but really?” he muttered out loud. Direction of flow through one meridian to another, concentration of energy, breath and muscle control, even mental imaging was all part of the technique.
A single technique and one of the easiest, but it still was going to take him hours to work it out.
“Well, best get to it,” Arthur muttered. Eyes narrowing, he stared at the central diagram, knowing he had to start from, well, the beginning.
Learn how to pull the energy out, how to direct and move it, priming the energy to reinforce muscles, tendon, and bone. Keep focused on where the energy went, how it transformed, what form it became while pushing into meridians and across the body.
Slip up, even once and—
“Aaaargghhh,” Arthur cried out, falling over and clutching his chest. The pain lanced through him, his chest muscles clenching tight in the worst cramps he’d ever felt. At the same time, it felt like a million ants were trying to eat the insides of his arm apart.
Whimpering, Arthur forced himself to breathe, to pull the energy that had gone down the wrong way into his body once more. He churned it through his meridians, transforming the energy back into its base state, struggling through the pain until it and the energy subsided.
Pulling himself upright in bed, he wiped at the sweat on his forehead. Panting a little, Arthur closed his eyes as he waited for the energy to calm and for his mind to stabilize. A glance at the clock that hung in the room made his lip twist in humour.
Fifteen minutes in and he’d made his first mistake. If everything he had learnt about learning chi techniques was true, he could expect to make a hundred more before he could even begin to understand the basics of the exercise.
A few hundred more to get it right.
A thousand before he could hope to use it in combat.
But that wasn’t, unfortunately, the only thing that he had to worry about.
A mental command had his interface call up his status screen. There was a single line he had to see, though he could sense the difference within him too.
Energy Pool: 6/12
Yup. Each mistake was going to cost him energy. Which meant he’d have to spend time cultivating, drawing in the Tower’s energy to refill his pool. All of which would take time.
And he had a time limit. Seven days.
No. Five. He should do as Lai Tai Kor said. Save a few extra days.
“Five days.” A firm nod, then he banished those considerations for another day. Right now, all he could do was practise.
Force energy through the sixth meridian. No, too fast—
Pain. Energy running rampant. Calm it, pull it in.
Reinforce skin first. Gently, let the energy seep in. Too fast and it’d . . .
Blisters. Growing as fast as he could look at them. The energy he pushed into his body was too heaty for it to control. He drew the energy back, wincing as his hand and arms burnt. By the time he was done, half of his hand was filled with clear, watery blisters mingled with a mixture of dark blood.
“Ugh . . .” Wrinkling his nose, Arthur wiped the skin clear, hissing a little at the pain.
Breathe, chill out.
“Oooh, I’m hungry. So this why they say you don’t bottom out your energy pool.” Arthur glanced at his status.
Energy Pool: 2/12
Cultivators and Tower climbers didn’t need to eat, not while they were in the Tower itself. The energy of the Tower itself fed them, made them immortal. When they left the Tower, that was when they started starving. Even consuming spiritual food—food originating from the Tower, infused with its energy—outside the Tower only worked for so long.
Eventually, climbers had to return to the Tower. And since you could never clear the same Tower again, eventually all climbers died, lost to the never-ending grind.
But that was for another time.
Right now, Arthur needed to cultivate and replenish his energy.
Closing his eyes, he meditated, pulling the abundant energy of the Tower into his body, gathering it to himself.
An hour later and six energy points returned, Arthur nodded to himself. Good enough for now. He’d start alternating meditation sessions with torture—ahem, practice sessions—from now on. That way, he would never run out of energy and could give himself a mental break.
He still had most of the day left to train. And four more days after that.
Gritting his teeth, Arthur dove back into the scroll.