Chapter 201

Chapter 201

A couple dozen meters away from the altercation, Arthur slowed and stopped. He waited, long minutes before Uswah appeared beside him.


“You okay with keeping an eye on them?” Arthur said.

“Watch, can.” Uswah smiled grimly. “Hard but possible. I can’t stop them though.”

“Yeah…” Arthur drew that word out before he exhaled, heavily. “Yeah. I didn’t think you could. Just watch. Let me know, will you.” He paused, then added. “If they really do just get his information, keep an eye on him. Figure out where he goes.”

A raised eyebrow and Arthur added. “Might be, he does lie. And if so…”

“He’ll go right to the techniques.”

“Or the person he sold it to.” He shrugged. “Or so we hope.”


That was all the answer he got before she faded back into the shadows, headed back to watch. Alone once again, Arthur set off for the town. He needed to establish the guild here, fast. If nothing else, he had no legitimacy among the powers that were here, not until he had some leverage of his own.

Nevermind the fact that his friends and allies were likely in the town too. Or would be soon enough.

Head down – metaphorically, since doing it literally was a good way to get our head torn off by a sneaky, evil harimau hitam – Arthur made his way through the marshland. Twice more, he had major encounters. More leeches in both cases, which sucked – literally – but this time around, he didn’t have an ultra-predator after him.

It probably had something to do with the volume of climbers. Even if he didn’t see most of them, Arthur could sense or note their presence. Broken branches here, scuff marks on roots there. Bark torn or pulled off or a fire started. Even the droppings from food wrappers, leaves that were used to wrap packages or bandages and ripped cloth were markings all about.

Nevermind the more ephemereal senses, of Tower energy expanded and the destructive attacks that some of the more advanced might unleash. They were all still in the beginning stages, so few had attacks that could destroy entire groves. But the occasional pockmarked tree, the burnt area where a flame technique was unleashed or floating blobs of ice, fast melting in the oppressive heat were all signs of climbers having been by.

And then, of course, were the actual run-ins. Third floor climbers were a different lot. For one thing, armour was much more uncommon. Not that they didn’t have any, but full sets were just too cumbersome and hot in the swamp. Not as many spears, most opting for something easier to carry and wield – and less troublesome to maneuver amongst the trees. But also, that same air of hardness that second floor residents carried with them were more pronounced.

They’d had to kill and kill a lot to get so far. Even if it was Tower creatures, the act of killing itself – the determination to strike, to push ahead even when a creature screamed, shouted, cried and groaned – grew calluses on the soul that few would ever understand. Some let those calluses numb them from simple concerns. Others tore open the scabs continually, wanting to suffer, wanting the action to ache and hurt; believing somehow that in their suffering they were more noble.

Most found a balance like his own tsifu had tried to teach them to find. Tried to force them to come to terms with, by bringing them to slaughter houses, by having them slaughter their own chickens and fish – and once, a pig – for their meals. To accept their actions and separate it with their empathy, to see the humanity in others but also, their own right to defend themselves and to progress.

Grieve, but move on. Life was too precious for anything less.

Here, among those who were now only beginning to learn that lesson – or trying to grapple their way to their own answer – Arthur realized how deep his tsifu’s wisdom had been. Perhaps it would not – did not – work for everyone. Certainly, not all the disciples had followed his master all the way. Some left, upset at the focus on things outside of violence, outside of practical skills. Others were never accepted, unable to pass his tsifu’s own vigorous selection methods.

Those that survived though… most had accepted his teachings. To one degree or another. But these people, so many of the survivors, they had come in out of desperation or need, without training, without mentally girding themselves.

Now, the scars were everywhere.

The way one man flinched at every movement, glaring at Arthur as he strode past him. Even though there was a good ten plus meters of space between the two.

There, three climbers screaming at another trio; their voices rising as neither party knew how to back down their egos. Faces flushed, weapons clutched, discerning insult where none might have been offered on purpose. Somehow believing that strength meant hardness.

A man, stabbing at a leech, watching it squirm aside, bleeding to death slowly from dozens of cuts. Easily dodging attacks, chuckling to himself as he tortured the Tower monster. Uncaring about Arthur’s presence.

And there, a mixed group, laughing and joking as they moved on. Relaxed and easy, except for the last one who carried their burdens. Their porter, their slave, their beast of burden.

Arthur, briefly, considered stepping in to talk to them. But he pushed that thought aside. What was he going to do? Offer a place of safety? Pay for their survival?

Perhaps one day, but his guild was still building. For now, he could only focus forward. Focus on building his clan so that it could provide aid and shelter for others. Maybe even training, like his master had once given him.

He could do those things, if he was strong, if he was powerful. If the clan he built became something powerful, rather than a footnote. Till then, he could only slog onwards. Pushing on to the tower village.

Village it was, because the numbers of survivors kept dropping. Add in the lack of desire to stay on this floor longer than necessary and the tower village on the third floor was barebones. Barely larger than the Tower engraved buildings, the simple hut for the assignment hall, the tower shop and auction house and the tower enabled inn.

No guards, of course. Beyond the circle of those buildings, another two dozen or so ramshackle constructions on stilts, swaying bridges of rope and wood connecting everything together and from there, poled barges and a few more permanent wooden bridges led into the swamp proper.

The entire settlement was situated on the edges of a clear-ish lake, lily pads clogging the ground beneath the swaying bridges along with the mangrove and coconut trees, monsters lurking in the waters waiting for those foolish enough to try to swim their way through.

Arthur shuddered, his mind’s eye recalling the list.

Giant catfish, poisoned frogs, overgrown blood leeches and nippy eels.

No surprise few chose to swim, and most took the bridges.

And no surprise, again, that a group had posted up on the bridge, taking a cut from those coming in. Arthur’s footsteps slowed as he took in the sight, counting off the four doing the shakedown and the quiet half-dozen coming in. He stopped near the edges of the swamp, keeping to the shadows to watch.

Wondering what his next step would be. And how much of a ruckus he wanted to create.

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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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