Chapter 100

Chapter 100

Drawing another breath, Arthur stepped forward toward Boss Choi. Beside him, Yao Jing stirred, surprised. He did not bother to explain himself to Yao Jing as he put himself in ready stance. His legs were wide apart so he could move quickly, one foot before the other so he could bounce backward if necessary. He was still within the boundary of the beginner village, but caution was important.

“Okay,” Arthur said, opening his hands slightly. “You want to fight? We can fight. But you release her first, you let her stand to the side of your people. You do good, because I don’t trust you to be good. Because you just might change your mind.”

“You want me to give you something, but what you give me?” Boss Choi said. “You think I give you everything for nothing?”

“No,” Arthur said. “We’ll do this, farther back. In your area.” He could hear his friends hiss in protest. “If you win, you get everything you want. The kris, your revenge. But if I win, your people break up. Got it?”

He could see young Ah Yam, Choi’s second-in-command, glare now. Unhappy at Arthur’s insistence on these terms. 

Boss Choi snorted. “Fine, whatever. If I lose, I’m dead already so why should I care?” Then he grinned viciously. “But I won’t lose, boy.”

Arthur nodded. Just as he was about to speak, a disturbance in the crowd had him turn. To his surprise, Amah Si stood there with a crowd of armed men, all looking ready for a fight. They stood in the no man’s land. Amah’s wise gaze flicked between the two leaders.

“What foolishness is this?” Amah said furiously.

“We’re talking about a way to get Mel back,” Arthur said. “He’s challenged me to a fight.”

Bodoh!” Amah hissed. “You were going to accept?”

Arthur nodded, turning to focus on Boss Choi again. The man had been studying Amah and the others behind her and now raised his voice. “This not your business, amah. He kill my brother, I must kill him.”

“Like you killed some of theirs?” Amah Si said, gesturing at the beggars. “Like you trampled on others, because you were strong? You stole and kept stealing from them, so that they had no place to go, no time or cores or peace to strengthen themselves. What of their revenge? Of their justice?”

The beggars roared in approval, cheering the old woman on. Boss Choi’s lips curled up in derision. “Revenge, anyone can have. If you’re strong enough, then do so. Just like I’m going to.”

He stepped forward again, slamming his foot into the plain earth. Arthur eyed the distance between them, noting it would only take a few seconds to cross the distance. Still, he was safe enough, he thought.

“Seems like things have changed, again.” Arthur gestured to the group around. “You might be willing to kill my friend. But if you do, we’ll fall on you and your men. And I don’t think your men are as willing to die, are they?”

Boss Choi hesitated then and glanced back. There were a few who nodded back firmly, shouting their willingness. Yet, at least half seemed to avoid his eyes. To Arthur’s surprise, the tables had indeed turned in a way. The Suey Ying themselves were concerned about traitors in their midst. They, too, had been infected by the fear of potentially losing. More importantly, Yam Kok See, the second-in-command of the Suey Ying, was edging to the side. 

Choi released a litany of curses on his men. “I brought you all up! Feed you, train you, give you women. Still you dare to backstab me?” Some of his people backed away as he raged on. “You think you can get away? My tai kor will get you, ah. All of you who dare touch me!” He pounded his chest. “My tai kor very big in Ghee Hin. You touch me, they chop you all up!”

Arthur shook his head, ignoring Boss Choi now and looking at Ah Yam. He met the other man’s eyes, then flicked his gaze to where Mel was still being held. One of her two captors was looking very doubtful, but the other had gone so far as to draw his dagger and push it against Mel’s side, forcing her to stand still.

“But truth is you have no guts, all of you,” Choi said, when he noticed that no one was contradicting him. “I got your girl. You won’t let her die.”

Amah looked at Arthur, who stood silent. Waiting. Then she looked at Boss Choi and the way the crowd shifted, restlessly. They had come for a show, and while there had been a lot of shouting and chest-pounding, it was not the kind of bloody show they had been looking for. Judging their mood quickly, the old woman spoke.

“He might not. But I would,” Amah said, stepping forward. As she did, the group of armed men she had at her back moved with her. “I would hate to see her die, but I gave up on her already. Long ago.”

Now, Choi hesitated. He could read the resolve in her eyes, the way her people moved with her. And the eagerness of the beggars who had broken free of Jan’s tenuous control; they edged forward toward the boundary, ready for his blood.

Arthur could see it now. The future. The blood that would be spilled within moments. Amah was not going to stop. She would not let the Suey Ying get away. She would crush them, because she wanted revenge for those she had lost. Because she would destroy the danger to her people, immediately.

Boss Choi would not back down either. He would call for death, and his men would do it. Because they did not know how to do anything but follow the man who had indeed fed them. Some would run, but not the one holding a dagger to Mel, the blade pricking her side—Arthur saw the way his eyes sparkled with glee at the thought of hurting another. He would not hesitate.

And once that happened, it was over. Violence. Death. Murder.

He could see that future stretch out before them all. And he could not stop it, except . . .

“WAIT!” he shouted. “We don’t have to do this. Look!” He pulled the kris from its sheath. At the same time, he reached into his aura, manipulating it. He flipped the kris over, offering it hilt first towards Boss Choi. It lay on his open palm such that he would be unable to throw it.

His words, his actions, had the desired results. Boss Choi froze, as Arthur moved forward with this offering, crossing the ground between them. Choi tracked his nearing steps, a wide grin appearing on his lips. At the same time, Amah froze, her eyes tracking Arthur too. Her slowed movements meant that those with her refrained from engaging in battle without her orders. 

Each step for Arthur took him closer, such that he passed the middle point of the distance between the two. Even as he did so, he continued talking. 

“There’s no need to fight. You want the kris back, right? So, just take it. You want to fight me? We can talk about that. But all this death, all this fighting, what’s the point?” Arthur shook his head. “Please. Let’s find some other way around this.”

Amah Si was shouting now, telling him to stop being an idiot. She was moving forward again, waving her people to close in. The man holding Mel was looking to Choi, searching for a signal. But the leader of the Suey Ying tong was focused on Arthur, the kris he held, and the distance between them.

Another step, then another. Arthur was barely a hand’s breadth from the other, when Boss Choi seemed to make up his mind. He lunged forward, grabbing for the upraised kris.

That was when Arthur released the Refined Energy Dart that he had been holding in his other hand even as he pulled the kris away. Too slow on the latter, for the kris handle was grabbed by Choi, the light swipe by the weapon on his retreating hand leaving a trail of blood.

Too late on the latter, but the former arrived in time. Striking his target.

All as planned.

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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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