Standing in the four feet of space between the wall and bed, Arthur set his feet. He was not a huge fan of unarmed martial arts—only idiots thought it was better to fight using one’s hands than a proper weapon—but he still learned it. There were a lot of times weapons just were not feasible. Or your weapon broke, or you had to throw someone or, well.
Lots of reasons not to have one in hand.
Which was why he knew how to throw a punch. Angle your body, raise hands to your chest and face height. Breathe in, on exhalation snap leg, hip, shoulder, and arm forward. In that order pretty much, as you dug in and pivoted, throwing backhand into a simple strike.
Of course, there was a new factor to this. He had to channel his chi at the same time, mixing it all together and pushing it forward into a single, explosive blow. He’d reached the standing and punching part two days ago, managing to corral his energy and even learning to release it when he was seated. Cross-legged. After a good minute of concentration and release.
Now it was a matter of learning to speed up the attack, such that Focused Strike was actually a strike. Then the next step, of course, was integrating it into his weapon. And then, well, more than a single limb.
Air shimmered, the explosion of power flaring around his fist as he finished the movement. He watched it dissipate and could not help but grin. It worked. Only took him a second or so of concentration too.
“Yes!” Arthur couldn’t help doing a little jig. “Siapa hebat? Me. I’m amazing!”
For a few minutes, he revelled in his success. Five days to learn the technique. He knew it well enough now that he no longer needed the scroll. If only it wasn’t keyed to him, he could have sold it off. Oh well.
No, five days was good. Problem was . . .
“I got to get going,” Arthur said to himself, slumping back down in bed. He peered at the tiny slip of a window high up in the room, one that showcased not a slip of light coming through. If not for the lights running the edge of the wall—spirit lights, powered by the same energy that ran through him—it would have been pitch black in his room. “. . . tomorrow morning.”
Then, his eyes drifted shut. Adrenaline and stubbornness had kept him awake for most of the five days except for quick cat naps and moments dozing off while meditating. Sleep debt finally caught up and he fell asleep.
“Could have been nicer about throwing me out,” Arthur grumbled as he strode out of the beginners’ village, skirting around tents that had been built surrounding it. The damn proprietor had woken him early in the morning and tossed him out without so much as a “good morning”. Then again, Arthur had to admit, he preferred that to losing another day.
Especially since his eyes were still gummy and his mind exhausted from the days of work. On the other hand, physically he was doing pretty well. One advantage of being a cultivator here, he guessed. It also helped that being woken early meant most of the other cultivators were still resting.
Except for those three men who had strips of red on their arms, striding over to him. Striding with intent.
“Oh hell,” Arthur muttered, hefting his staff and glancing around. Seeing no way around it, he took off, headed for the woods.
“Oi!” one of the men shouted. “Mana you pergi?!”
“Ting kuai dan!”
“As if I’ll stop!” Arthur yelled over his shoulder, taking a moment to stare behind him. “Bodoh ke?”
Idiots indeed. Two of the people rushing after him were Chinese, the other Malay. Not that it mattered what race they were, if they were just going to beat him up, but it was strange to see a mixed-race gang. After all, racial lines were still quite prevalent, perhaps even more now when the government was struggling to pay for all the social programs they were giving out.
The forest line wasn’t far, thankfully. It didn’t matter how much the cultivators cut down in this land; the wood had a tendency to regrow nearly as fast as they could chop. If not for the fact that there had been a clearing around the village proper, they’d have had to camp in the wood. As it stood, it was only a short sprint away.
The woods themselves weren’t Malaysian forests, which Arthur had to be grateful for. Tall trees and less underbrush. Not the crowded, sharp-edged, leach-infested undergrowth he was used to, ready to rip flesh apart.
But that might also mean fewer fruits and berries, and more importantly, it was easier for the men to spot him here, while in a proper rainforest he could disappear from sight after a few dozen feet in. No, here, the trio of pursuers could spot him a good 20 feet away.
“I’m going to kill you!”
“Yeah, that’s going to make me stop…” muttered Arthur as he ran. He wasn’t dumb enough to stop, and he certainly had seen the pair of parang two of the men held. The third man hadn’t bothered with anything that lethal, but a hard-edged stick with a band of metal at the end worked well enough to break bone and crush skull.
“Come on . . .” Cursing, Arthur yanked his staff, watching as it got tangled up in the nearby bushes. His breathing was beginning to grow a little heavy, even as he ducked and ran deeper into the forest, desperate to escape the trio.
They kept coming and, worse, seemed to be catching up. In fact, one Chinese man with a parang was outpacing his own friends, the gleaming edge of the long blade catching light. Casting one last glance back, Arthur made a quick decision.
He spun around one tree, took three steps and twisted, spinning the quarterstaff and setting himself. A mental count went off in his head, and as it hit one, he thrust forwards, blindly.
Part luck, part training. The tip of his staff slammed into the ribs of the man turning the corner, glancing off his hand to luckily plunge even more firmly into the man’s chest. Arthur felt something crack, just a small shock and release on top of the bigger impact as his attack struck home. His opponent staggered back, raising a hand.
Only for Arthur to clip the fingers with a spin, which cracked them open and sent the blade flying to the ground. Another quick flick had the weapon knocked further away, and before the man could do anything else, Arthur took off.
Leaving his opponent weaponless, gasping for breath and out of the fight.
But as the shouts from behind increased, he smiled grimly.
Two more to go.
Continue reading Climbing the Ranks
Climbing the Ranks is a serial LitRPG cultivation novel by Tao Wong that will publish exclusively on Starlit Publishing. While the whole novel will be free to read, you'll be able to purchase a membership to receive chapters weeks in advance of the public launch. To get updates on how to subscribe in mid-January, please join our newsletter or follow us on social media.