Arthur’s eyes grew wide as he poked his head around the tree. The sight before him was enough to chill any foolhardy thoughts about taking on the monster he had been tracking. A single babi ngepet was something he could deal with, but an entire herd? That was guaranteed to end him.
“I need a damn spear,” Arthur grumbled to himself as he pulled away, intent on putting some distance between him and the grazing herd. Herd? Was that even the right term? Then again, did he care?
Nope. Herd of babi it was. Time to run away, as fast as he could.
Yet, halfway on his careful backtrack, the wind shifted. Earlier he had been downwind of the group, but now it was blowing his scent toward the demon pigs.
Terror ran through Arthur’s body. He turned and ran for it. No need to concern himself with noise or attracting attention anymore. He did not bother to wonder if they might smell and attack him. At least one would charge and the rest would definitely follow.
He ran, crashing through the brush, pushing himself as fast as he could. Leaves and low-hanging branches slapped at his face, unseen spiderwebs caught in his mouth, making him spit and cough. Unseen ivy gripped at his feet, and roots seemed to reach out of the ground to trip him.
Every step, a struggle.
“I’m getting a damn Agility trait when I can!” Arthur swore, pushing on.
Crashing sounds from behind began to reach his ears. It sounded more like a herd of elephants instead of pony-sized pigs, all of whom were hellbent on running him down, goring him apart and eating him. Alive, preferably.
That thought made Arthur look back and his eyes widened, for the sight of the monsters barrelling right through tiny trees, exploding their very substance, was terror-inducing. He stumbled over a root he did not see and sprawled forward.
Years of training had him turn the fall into a roll, and he yanked his head in time to adjust the roll to the side a little, allowing him to bounce off the big tree directly in his path rather than crash into it. Luck, pure luck saved him as that fall and shift in direction caused a suddenly accelerating babi to smash into the tree. Shards of wood exploded, one catching him on his cheek as he kept running, but the monster was momentarily caught in a shattered trunk.
“Up, got to go up,” Arthur panted, looking around. The next biggest tree had no low-hanging branches. But he had a staff.
Five steps as he accelerated as hard as he could and then slammed his staff into an upraised root, vaulting himself upwards. He hit the second lowest hanging branch in the stomach and arm, losing grip of his staff and crumpling around the branch as breath was driven out of him.
Hanging curled around the branch, he felt it tremble again and again as the monsters caught up, slamming into the tree. Screams of rage as impact shook both the branch and his body, forcing him to slowly pull himself upwards. He was shivering in fear as tiny, hungry, and angry eyes stared up at him.
Quivering and alone, Arthur crawled towards the trunk. All the while, the monsters waited for either or the tree to fall. The biggest of the babi ngepet was goring the trunk with its ivory tusks.
“Immortals preserve me, what have I done?” Arthur whispered as he stared below.
“Monster, monster, monster below. One wants to kill me and another to eat me…” Sing-songing the words, Arthur whittled the wet green branch he had broken off. The babi ngepet had chosen to stop attacking the tree since the hardened trunk was mostly impervious to their attempts. “But all I got, is a little spear-o-me!”
Then silence on his part. The monsters were still snorting, tearing up the ground, and occasionally slamming into trees in an attempt to dislodge fruits and flowers to gorge themselves upon.
“Yeah, that didn’t work, did it?” Arthur said. “Now, they say you need to fire harden this. But I got no fire, got no reach. Nothing but what my teach . . . told me? I suck at this rhyming thing.”
Below, there was a drizzling sound, a pitter patter of water falling. The smell rose up, and his nose wrinkled as the acrid stench of wild urine made him wince. Now they were trying to fumigate him out.
“Hey! Stop that!”
Of course, the creatures did not seem to care. More importantly, they might even have understood him for they began to do what animals did, pissing and shitting all around the area.
“Seriously, you’re magical creatures. Why do you need to do that?”
Again, no answer. But with the branch sort of sharp, Arthur slipped his parang back into its sheath, made sure it was strapped in, and stared at the monsters below. He had an idea. A dumb one. But it was only slightly less dumb than trying to run across the tree branches and jump away. So he figured that was a win.
Looping his legs around the branch, he steadied himself and went over the motions he needed in his mind. Finally ready, he swung himself sideways, using his legs that were wrapped around the branch to force him into a circular spin.
At the same time, he pushed energy into his spear as he channelled a Focused Strike such that he swung around, then extended his arms and weapons. The attack hit the babi directly beneath him, the sharpened branch bending a little before exploding through the hardened monster’s skin. It plunged deep within, almost halting Arthur’s swing entirely.
Using the crude spear as leverage, now embedded in the monster, Arthur swung himself back upward even as he grabbed with his other free hand the branch he was still hanging from as he bent from his waist. He pulled himself back up, the spear making a deep slurping sound as it exited the wound of the monster, moments before the entire tree shook as the herd charged it.
Holding on for dear life, Arthur waited till they stopped attacking his tree before he repositioned himself and looked at his results.
One monster injured, retreated. Another one had taken its place directly beneath him, along with a few others that were goring the tree and attempting to shake it apart. Incensed, they did not seem to care anymore that the hardwood was resisting their efforts.
It looked like it was going to be a race between Arthur and the babi ngepit to see who would win.
“Time to swing . . .” Humming to himself, he watched the one below him till it was in position and swung back down, repeating his attack. “Got to get your groove on . . .”
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.