Chapter 24

Chapter 24

“Seriously, boss, I’m not with them.” Arthur gulped, even as the other man finished tying his hands up in front of him. Not that Budo was listening to him. His one major protest had seen him struck across the head, leaving him with a nagging headache and blood trickling from an open scalp wound.

Budo ignored him further, shoving him backwards so that he was propped against a tree as he went through Arthur’s backpack. He tossed the stolen clothing, tent, and other camping gear aside with casual disregard. He’d already pocketed the small bag of crystals that Arthur had kept separate. 

Luckily, so far, he hadn’t searched Arthur’s body too thoroughly and had missed the small pouch he’d slipped on the inside of his pants. It held the pill he had found. He didn’t know what the pill was, but outside of the disposable crystals, it was his biggest gain. Well, besides his sword—and he couldn’t shove that down his pants to hide it. He wouldn’t want it nicking the other, more important rod he had down there.

Finished with her perusal, Budo put the tip of his sword against Arthur’s neck, making him raise his head. “Where are they going?” 

“I don’t know!” Arthur said. A second later, he hissed as Budo pushed the blade against the side of his throat till it bled. “Be careful!”

“Mmm . . . you’re right. I should just chop off your fingers instead. Less chance of you bleeding out too quickly,” Budo said, moving the sword away from Arthur’s neck.

Arthur stuck his tied hands between his legs so that the man couldn’t get at them easily. Not that other parts of his body weren’t vulnerable. He’d been placed against the tree and forced to sit down, so all he could do was wait.

“I really don’t know anything. I never met any of you people before. I was just getting some clothes!” Arthur said, hating how his voice grew higher in pitch as the sword waved in front of him. Even so, he flicked his gaze around, searching for a way out of this. A way to escape. His feet hadn’t been tied up, thankfully. And his sword had been discarded to the ground nearby. As he shifted and squirmed, the leaves beneath his body crackled and broke.

“Then you’re no use to me.” Budo drew back his hand to thrust the blade. 

In that small gap, Arthur acted. His feet had dug into the dirt a little and with Focused Strike pushed through his feet, he kicked upwards. Not directly at Budo, but so that he could fling the dirt and leaves at his opponent. For a brief fraction of a second, Budo was surprised before he lashed outwards, thrusting his sword at where Arthur had sat before.

Too late.

Arthur had rolled aside immediately after kicking away, pushing himself into a backwards roll around the the tree, knocking his own shoulder on the trunk. He came up on his feet even as Budo tore his sword out of the trunk, sap and bark spraying in an arc as he did so. Then, choosing prudence over valour, Arthur turned around and ran for it, hands still tied.

“I’ll kill you!” Budo roared behind him. Yet he didn’t chase after Arthur immediately. Arthur assumed the man was busy grabbing his belongings, rather than leaving them behind like Arthur had himself. Or maybe his kick had actually put some dirt into his opponent’s eyes. 

Either way, it gave him a small head-start and Arthur intended to make full use of it. He skimmed around in a long circle, intent on not running in a straight line. His gaze darted across the surroundings, searching for ways to throw his opponent off.

Kuching hitam over there. Don’t get too close. But he wanted to get close enough that it was alerted and started stalking him. He made sure to run by, pounding away as fast as he could. If he did this right, the two pursuers would run into one another and fight.

Not that he expected the kuching to do much to Budo. He was not that lucky, not by far. But it might buy him another minute or so.

He pushed himself, jumping over logs, ducking under the branches. Kept pushing. Spun around the giant spiderweb that he barely noticed till he ran through it, wiping at his face with still tied hands. Arthur kept moving, trying desperately to find ways to slow down his pursuer, chart his escape and undo the knots around his hand.

Thank Quan Yin the idiot had not bothered to tie his hands properly. Probably never thought Arthur would try—and manage—a real escape. Even so, for all his success, Arthur knew he was on a ticking clock. On that note . . .

“HELP! ORANG GILA NAK BUNUH SAYA! TOLONG!” Arthur kept screaming and running. Maybe . . . maybe . . .

“I’m going to chop you up!” Budo snarled, all too close by.

A quick glance back had Arthur spot the man pounding away behind him. He was fast gaining on him. Arthur held his view for a second more before he turned back around, just in time to dodge a tree, nearly knocked off his feet as he bounced off it and scraped his bound arms raw. 

Then, he kept running, counting off in his head. At the last second, he threw himself to the left, a little too slow for the cut that ripped blood out along his back. Still, it gave him a few seconds as Budo got his balance back. 

Arthur crashed through thick brush, only to realise there was a steep hill beneath. He had a fraction of a second to take all that into account, before he was running down the steep cliff face, desperately trying to keep his balance as feet kept kicking out. 

“Wait till I—Aaaargh!”

Arthur wanted to look back but he could not afford to do so. He was barely managing to pick out places to put his feet, his enhanced senses spotting dips and twists in the ground. He would have spotted this damn cliff too, if he had actually been paying attention instead of worrying about the man about to stab him in the back.

Large crashing sounds behind him and to the side had Arthur wondering what was going on. A second later he found out as Budo sailed past him in giant leaping bounds to help manage the sudden rush downwards. He was so focused on leaping like a gazelle down the cliff he had forgotten to even swing his weapon at Arthur as he passed.

Not that it mattered since both of them were rushing to the bottom of the cliff face and Arthur had no way to stop his own headlong rush. Not without possibly breaking his feet. 

One last jump and Budo was in the air, arcing through the dangerous sleet right at the bottom of the hill, almost recovering some of the altitude he had lost while rushing downwards. 

Without thinking, Arthur changed direction a little. He jumped too, hands held out by his side as he hit Budo with his shoulder. It was only at the last second that he found himself screaming, unable to believe he was doing something that dumb: “BANZAIII!”
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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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