Chapter 234

Chapter 234

He swam for a few strokes, pulled himself along some roots and dragged himself out of line of sight. It wouldn’t do much to truly hide him, but it helped that the group was shouting at one another. Arthur cursed himself a little for coming out by himself without backup. But he had been certain he could handle anything out here, forgetting, once again; that the monsters were the least of his concerns.

Leaning against the tree trunk, trying to breathe and pushing himself out of the water quietly, he listened, trying to gauge where everyone was. A lot of splashing in the direction of the archer, and for a moment, he worried that the other might have taken his spear. Or at least, trying to find it in the water.

The others were tramping forwards, one wading through the water and the girl… unknown. He couldn’t pick out where she was, not over his harsh breathing and the thunder of his heart. If he went for the obvious option, he was going to expose himself to attacks from the archer and the girl. And obvious tank likely had some technique to make himself invulnerable for a bit.

Talking about that…

Arthur pushed a hand to his wounds, touching the scored line across one end and his stomach the other. Somewhere along the way, he’d worked the arrow out, and now the wound pulsed a little, dripping blood out. Thankfully not too painful, except when he moved or breathed. Then, it was like getting a coal shoved into his stomach again and again.

One reason he was breathing so shallowly, now that he was focused on that. No good. He forced himself to slow down, to breathe as his mind spun across options, head tilting back to get rid of water threatening to drip down his eyes.


A smile crossed his face, as he realized how he was going to turn this around.




Arthur breathed slowly, carefully. Crouched above, he waited to see if they took the bait, moving through the darkened marshlands for him. A short distance away, the glitter of spilled monster cores and his shirt – stuffed full of leech bodies and propped against the tree – lay. A flick of one of his sling stones to knock against the wood had brought attention to the location, and now he waited.

Wading through the waters, coming in slowly and carefully around the edges, their muscular bait edged over. He was careful in his movements, barely creating ripples or splashes as he arrived, even as early morning light began to lighten the sky.

Forced to breathe slowly and deeply, Arthur mentally urged the man to speed up. He needed them to speed up, or else his minor advantage in the darkness would end. As it was, he had smeared his shirtless body with mud and gone high in hopes of hiding from their view.

He could tell when his opponent caught sight of the bait, the way he tensed and then slowed even more. Stop, and then move, ever so gently. A hand came up, waving a little to the side, making some form of gestures with the fingers.

Arthur looked to the side, figuring out line of sight for the others and caught sight of her. The woman was angling sideways, coming to flank by hopping along. She was, smartly, scanning the tree above where ‘he’ was supposed to be, but finding nothing.

That was why he hadn’t crouched under there. In fact, he wasn’t in any of the trees surrounding that group, trusting his eyes and other senses to give him enough perception. There was, also, some minor hope that the damn archer would have come by this way, but he was nearly on the opposite side, sweeping out wide of the bait.

Mentally charting the likely course the girl would take as she jumped along, intent on approaching and following her friend, Arthur made a decision.

That tree.

Exhale. Wait. He wiped his hands on his pants, carefully balancing the kris for a moment as he did so before snatching it back. Cloud Step to Focused Strike, that was what he’d need to do. He wanted, needed, to release his Energy Dart at that damn archer; but he was too far away.

Just have to deal with him later.

Or let him run.

She jumped, leaping lightly from side-to-side. Her ability to move swiftly, to land and push off with barely a ripple of sound was impressive. In any other scenario, Arthur might have asked her about it. As it was, he waited, timing.

He leapt when she leapt, knowing it would take time for him to arrive. Kris extended, he adjusted course and pushed off even harder midway, knowing he had to cross the twelve or so feet between them quickly. The noise he made was sufficient that an arrow came winging its way towards him on reflex, but it buzzed by without striking him.

She turned too, a heavy stick barbed with nails leading the way defensively. Rather than deal with it, Arthur sacrificed his arm, pushing it aside and feeling nails dig into his flesh a little even as he crashed down on her, kris sliding through collarbone and downwards as he struck, Focused Strike bypassing whatever technique she was using for defense.

The pair of them crashed backwards, tumbling over roots as she lost her grip. Using the weapon as his handhold, yanking her along with it and his other arm grabbing at her, he winced as they landed and his breath exploded out of him.

She wasn’t better, as they scrambled across uneven roots and into the water, his kris ripping out of her body. Blood poured from the wound, even as he struck again and again, ice pick entering shoulder, neck, arm and hand.

Frenzied motion, as they thrashed in the water till she stilled.

Then he was up, pushing backwards and away, searching for trouble to nearly get skewered by an arrow that came winging in now that they were free.

One down.

One there.

The third… there!

Hands dropped low, grabbing hold of him and pulling him out of the water. It yanked him upwards by his skin, digging into mud-covered body and muscles. Arthur struggled, kicking outwards. He caught his opponent in the stomach, levered himself sideways.

His hand jerked forwards, cutting into the body. The first attack slid along the skin, not even puncturing it. Arthur snarled, thrusting then. Again, he barely pierced the other. But even as his opponent brought his face to smash into him directly, Arthur did not stop striking like a sewing needle that failed to pierce hardened leather.

Or not far. Just a half-inch at most, enough to draw blood, to dig deeper if he struck properly

Then another headbutt. Arthur angled his head a little, trying to make his opponent smash into the crown of his head rather than his nose. He failed, feeling the nose break, eyes tearing up immediately as pain overwhelmed him.

Focused Strike.

He plunged it deep into the man’s body, punching through the outer layers of skin, into the muscle and flesh beneath. Something twisted beneath his blade as he did so, almost feeling like it was squirming. Over bloody nose and teary eyes, Arthur grinned.

In disgust, his opponent tossed him to the side, sending him flying through the air to impact against a tree. Even as he slid down, an arrow came, slamming into his left shoulder and pinning him in place. Even as he pulled, he felt the arrow connecting itself to the tree behind, holding him in place

“You… I’ll kill you,” the thug snarled, clutching his side.

“Big man don’t like a little needle in you?” Arthur taunted, letting the kris he held fall to the ground. He gripped the arrow, pulling at it even as he focused within himself and pulled Bark Skin to the fore. Not a moment too soon before another arrow slammed into his reaching arm, punching halfway through it and causing him to gasp.

Even so, his hands reflexively tightened on the arrow he gripped and broke the tip off. The arrow end broken, he threw himself forward and off the damn thing. He screamed as he did so, tumbling forward into the ground, kris falling beside him.

By the time he got back to his feet, the tank was looming over him, one hand raised and filled with energy. Ready to end it.

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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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