Chapter 22

Chapter 22

Days later, Arthur finally chose to break away from cultivation. He had completely used up the majority of his cores and progressed his cultivation a little, enough that he now felt comfortable leaving his hidden residence. Twice, he had to step out to kill a monster that had come a little too close to locating him, once late at night and another time whilst he was in the middle of cultivation. No longer did he consider his hastily-made abode safe.

Not that it really was that safe to begin with, but the mind is willing to trick itself when it has four walls and a roof. Even if that roof was thin fabric and a bunch of cut leaves. Then again, Arthur knew, his safety lay in both the size of the forest surrounding him and his concealment, not the strength of his walls.

It was time to leave, and that it meant packing up, stretching, and washing. His clothing was looking much the worse for wear. The extra change of clothes he had brought—more tops than bottoms as befitted any good camping trip, and more underclothes and socks than anything else—were both dirty and worn. Living constantly in the outdoors and fighting monsters was hard on clothing.

Staring at the stained and torn shirt he had put on, Arthur wrinkled his nose. Perhaps his plan of staying outside of the beginner village for years on end was too flawed. Unless he chose to be naked, he was going to have to return to resupply.

Pondering his options, Arthur made his way downriver, back towards portions of the forest that were a little less dangerous. He still remembered the fallen cultivator, the pill that he still had stored away. He had considered taking it, but not knowing what the pill was actually for, he had hesitated. Taking the wrong medicine at the wrong time could kill him, or at least damage his body and set him back.

In the end, he had chosen to wait till he could get it analyzed. There were risks and then there were risks—and this one just seemed foolhardy in the extreme. As it stood, the rusty sword that he wore on his hip was a good find in itself. With some care, it would last him a little while longer before it broke. And if it did break, he might still make use of the broken sword head by strapping it to his staff as an impromptu spear.

He actually would prefer that in a way. Spears were nice: they had the reach to keep monsters away and the flexibility of a staff. And, they were useful as a walking stick when you had kilometers upon kilometers of land to cross. 

Making his way back through the woods, Arthur detoured when he spotted the occasional monster, taking them out with ease. He might not have grown stronger since his journey upstream, but he had grown more confident and that added a surety to his strikes that had been missing.

Nearly dying and getting a healing technique had both done wonders for his confidence.

It always seemed that the path back was faster than the one into the unknown. Even if he was not retracing his way entirely, Arthur soon found himself in familiar environs. To his surprise, though, he heard voices in the distance, shouts and screams.

He frowned, cocking his head to one side and debated what to do briefly. He was no upstanding hero of justice, but then again, he was not a fan of just walking past like a blind passerby. 

Slipping forward, marvelling a little at how much more comfortable he had grown moving in the forest over the past few weeks—months?—since he had been in here, Arthur sought out the shouts and clash of blades. He kept hold of his staff but put away his backpack since carrying that into battle was a bad idea.

Damn, he wanted a portable storage device.

His first sight of the fighting group made him frown. One side was a trio of women, all of them wielding polearms. On the other side were four men, though only two were still standing their ground. These two, wielding parang and sabres were blocking the spear attacks of the three women, while their compatriots kept trying to run away. Interestingly enough, the entire group was a mix of races. The men were Malay and Chinese, while the women were from all three major races in Malaysia.

Jangan lari!” one of the men kept shouting, waving his sabre around. “Stop running. Kita mesti lawan sama-sama! If we don’t fight together, we’ll lose!”

“Bodoh! You can die first.” Clutching his stomach, one of the other men turned tail. 

As though incensed by his compatriot’s words, the shouting man shifted aside, opening a gap. Sensing it, one of the women thrust her spear forward, plunging the weapon directly into the back of the running man, skewering him.

“Rani! Keep to the line!” another woman ordered, swinging her own halberd to beat the male leader’s swinging sabre aside, barely saving the flinching Rani’s arm. 

“Sorry, sis!” Rani pulled her spear back and retreated, but the two groups were still locked in battle.

Arthur crouched in the bushes, biting his lip. He wasn’t sure who was in the right, who was the aggressor. It was clear the fight was for keeps; both groups were bloodied and willing to kill. In fact, as he hesitated, he saw a hand skewered, a leg chopped, and then the owner impaled in short order, leaving only two men alive—one was their leader, who continued fighting.

“No way. I give up. Mercy!” pleaded the other man. Throwing his parang aside, he clasped his hands together and collapse to one injured knee. “Please, sis!”

“Fool!” his leader snarled, suddenly reaching to his side and weapon. That motion left him open for Rani to thrust her spear, over-extending again. Because of that, she was caught when he threw powder in the air, purple dust and smoke exploding across the clearing and obscuring vision.

The Indian woman stumbled back, clutching at her eyes, waving her spear carelessly in defense. The halberd-wielder pulled her group back till they were in a tight line, whereupon she hissed.

“Violet poison mist. Low-grade poison. Just take the antidote pill and wash your eyes out. And stop breaking the line, Rani!” 

Spluttering out the water she poured onto her own face, her spear dropped to the ground, Rani grumbled. “I hit him! I felt it go in.”

“But now he’s gone,” the leader muttered as the poison mist disappeared, revealing the corpses of those they had been fighting and the thrashing body of the man who had attempted to give up. Their leader was missing.

“Yeah, well. We have other problems.” One of the other girls said, turning and pointing her weapon at where Arthur was hiding. “Get out here, you coward. Don’t think I can’t smell you!”

Cursing, Arthur stared at the aggressive looks the group shot him, debating what to do. 

Damn his curiosity and greed.

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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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