Chapter 192

Chapter 192

The first sign that things were going to be messy arrived in the form of larger-than-normal scouting parties. Instead of the small parties of one to three orang minyak that they had come to expect near a village, the groups they encountered here had three to five oily men. In and of itself, the additional scouts were a non-issue for the team.

Dealing with them were fast and efficient. In fact, Arthur started utilizing the skirmishes as an attempt to expand upon his fighting techniques, attempting difficult and often flashy techniques against his opponents while also circulating the Bark Skin technique through his body. The additional pressure over the last few days and the occasional, painful backlashes helped Arthur improve his understanding of Bark Skin significantly.

Nothing like adrenaline and fear for one’s life to improve one’s abilities.

But the increased number of scouts was a concern, never mind how illogical it was that these scouts grew in number when bad weather approached but never entered a village unless it was attacked.

And what greeted them upon arrival at the fourth village was over and above Arthur’s pessimistic considerations.

“A wall.” He sighed, rubbing his face. “Did someone drop the ball? Because I’m sure, this is not a lure, and no one mentioned, a big damn wall.”

“That wasn’t a rhyme at the end,” Mel noted.

“Wall!” Arthur stressed, gesturing through the treeline towards the impediment.

“Looks weak,” Jan said.

“It’s eight feet tall. It’s good enough to stop us from looking in,” Arthur said. “Who knows what else is in there?”

“Dunno,” Jan said plainly. “Must look first, lah.”

“Great.” Arthur made a face, eyeing the big gate they’d made their way over to look at. “Are there more ways in? Multiple gates?” Already, after complaining, his mind was wheeling. Perhaps the wall could be of use. The creatures never seemed to have much in terms of ranged weapons. With the addition of the crossbows they’d “acquired,” the team had some decent ranged firepower now. Could they perhaps block up the exits and wage war from the outside?

“I’ll find out,” Uswah said, rising to her feet. Within moments she was gone, leaving Arthur contemplating how damn useful she was, despite whatever she said about being useless.     

“We could bottleneck them,” Casey said, echoing his unspoken thoughts. “Kill them as they try to exit.”

“Maybe pincer,” Rick said, looking excited. “We send a strike force in, attack them from behind.”

“And get overwhelmed inside and outside?” Casey replied, snorting. “Splitting and getting defeated in detail is a horrible idea.”

“Not if I’m in the strike force,” Rick said, raising his chin.

“Only takes one lucky hit . . .”

Arthur tuned out that argument, letting them discuss matters. Instead, he was eyeing the walls, imagining the orang minyak and their hands, their size and the way they clambered around. Perhaps he was wrong, perhaps they would try to crowd out of the gates. But for creatures that could climb and leap pretty high, and who were used to living in the jungle, would an eight-foot wall prove impossible?

And if not, would gates matter?

He now regretted sending Uswah off. Then as his thoughts turned over the options, he pushed those regrets aside. They still needed information, especially since their initial plan was not going to work.

“I don’t think fighting them directly is a good idea,” Arthur said softly. “I think we should try to at least do this smart.”

“That’s why we should block them from coming out,” Casey said. “Fight them in smaller numbers.”

“No, more than that. We should try luring them out. Defeat in detail, was that what you said?” Arthur said.

“We discussed that before. The answer was no.”

“Before we knew about the wall. And whatever else is in there.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” Casey said.

Arthur opened his mouth to answer and then frowned. It was not as though they hadn’t learned what they could about the villages, though the villages themselves did vary—from composition to layout to the exact number of monsters within. Never major variations, but just enough to keep things interesting. So the wall was within expectations. But why did he keep thinking there was going to be more?

“No reason, right?” Casey said. “So let’s just hit them and finish this.”

“You’re too impatient,” Arthur said eventually. “And maybe I’m too paranoid. But we can slow down, play this safer. It won’t hurt us.” He gestured backwards. “We saw a few places that might work. Make some basic traps, fallback points. It’ll cost us, what? A half-day? A day?”

“Exactly!” She leaned forward. “Time we don’t have.”

“I know we’re behind your schedule,” Arthur said softly. “But that’ll change as we climb. When the buildings give us an edge when the cores aren’t as common, when we don’t have people feeding us resources.”

Casey looked mulish but stopped objecting. Arthur sent some of the team back the way they came to start laying out some traps. Nothing too elaborate, of course. Just trip wires, a few pongee sticks that would snap back and impale enemies, and a few stacks of wood shifted to cut off entry and allow people to fight from a guarded position.

By the time Uswah came back to report on the compound, the group was halfway ready, with their current space rebuilt such that they could fall back if needed.

“Now remember, they marked the way back,” Arthur said, eyeing the group as they congregated. Jan was wiping her blade clean, the trio of Jan, Yao Jing, and Mel having swept the surroundings to finish off any nearby scouts. “Keep to the path. Don’t stray or else . . . traps.”

“We know,” Mel said firmly. “We doing this?”

Arthur looked around, waited for confirmation, then nodded. It looked like they really were.

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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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