The hollow in the slope of the hill, one created by a half-fallen tree, was just about large enough for Arthur to push himself under with minimal strain to his body. The addition of the tarp, a few sticks, and layering of fallen brush and leaves, and the entire place was actually rather comfortable. He needed to add more foliage and debris to the ground if he intended to lie on it for any length of time, what with the way the earth sucked away heat. But for now, this would do.
The new cultivator sat, finishing the cha siu bao he had brought with him. Funny, how even though he did not need to eat, the very act of it was calming. Even if the bao was a little stale. Thankfully, the rumors were true and the effect of the Tower extended to increasing the longevity not just of people but even foodstuff brought in.
Swallowing one last time, the taste of the white flour-bun covering and the sweet pork filling lingering in his mouth, Arthur took a swig of water before putting it all aside. His momentary break was for another reason, one he was rather in a hurry to review.
Fishing out the pouch he had dropped the three cores within, he pulled one out, raising the shard of crystalized, refined energy to his eyes. He stared at the orange-yellow colour of the material, then turned it over and over in his hands, dark brown eyes piercing the center.
Inside, the core flickered, ghostly images of the monkey it had drawn from appearing and disappearing, like wayang kulit puppets he had seen in school. Shadows cast from an internal light, fading away soon after sketching their minor plays.
“Now, if I remember right, these had a bounty on them,” Arthur muttered to himself, calling forth the quest marker. It didn’t take him long to find it and the trade-in value. “Ugh. One credit only? Basically worthless…”
He sighed, leaning against the firm earth wall, feeling a little of his heat leach away. He did so carefully, since his ribs were still aching. Damn injuries . . .
“Better to try cultivating one. I’ve got three, and it’s not as though I need them,” Arthur muttered to himself once more, then eyed the opening in front of him. He quickly moved a few branches and his staff, creating a tiny spiked opening. It wouldn’t actually stop anything that was trying to enter his hideout; but it would give him some warning. Good enough for the middle of nowhere.
Crossing his legs and putting himself in lotus position, Arthur placed the gem in between his legs. He closed his eyes and breathed, calming himself first. Then, feeling the warmth pulsing through the monster core in his hand, he began to gently pull upon the energy within.
It came in fits and starts at first, the lancing pain of refined energy hitting his own nerves like a sharp jab. He fumbled the energy grab the first, second, and third time, unable to keep pulling. Eventually, though, he got the hang of it, drawing just enough that he could handle the additional pain, slowly increasing till the draw was steady.
Pulling the energy through his body into his dantian.
A long hour or so passed before Arthur felt the core shatter, breaking up into motes of energy. Nothing left to draw upon, its exterior casing gone. Opening his eyes, he pulled up his own status sheet again, curious to see what it had to say.
Each basic core was worth a fraction of the refined energy then. At that rate, he would need a full hundred such cores—assuming he did not lose any to fracturing—to get a full point of refined energy. Which could be directed to increase any of his own attributes.
Still significantly faster than trying to refine energy himself. With his own basic refinement and cultivation speed, it would take . . .
“Ten hours for six points of energy, an hour to refine ten points, multiply by two…” Arthur flicked his fingers, working it backwards, and sighed. “Two hundred and fifty hours or so doing it the hard way. Or just a hundred hours the other way.”
They always did say that cultivation was a slow process. Especially without proper cultivation techniques and help. Even a couple of more powerful cores would speed up this entire process. No wonder it was so important for the newcomers to get in good with established groups.
“Well, I ducked that shit up, didn’t I?” Arthur muttered.
Another shake of his head as he discarded the thought. Not much he could do about that, not at all. Instead, the more immediate question was what to do about the other two cores. The first was for him to establish a baseline. The other two were money or . . .
“Who am I kidding?” Arthur pulled out the second core. He was not going back to civilisation anytime soon. Not with so many people looking for him.
Right now, he needed all the strength he could get. And if that strength was slow in coming, that was just the way it had to be. He had a relatively quiet and safe location. He had a couple of cores and an injured body.
The best choice right now was to stop trying to find problems. To simply cultivate and heal. Once his ribs no longer ached, then he would get to hunting once more.
Firm in his decision, Arthur cast a glimpse outside, ensured there was nothing coming, and then closed his eyes, falling into cultivation once more.
Time to work.
Climbing the Ranks is a serial LitRPG cultivation novel by Tao Wong that will publish exclusively on Starlit Publishing. While the whole novel will be free to read, you'll be able to purchase a membership to receive chapters weeks in advance of the public launch. To get updates on how to subscribe in mid-January, please join our newsletter or follow us on social media.