“Gila. Kamu dua gila!”
“A little crazy, yes,” Arthur croaked out. He was surprised that the Malay man had not moved, either to help his friend or attack him. As he stood there, hands hanging by his side, his chest throbbing every few seconds, he was a little grateful.
“This is not what I signed up for!” the man said, staring at the two. “This… this is insanity! You killed him.”
“Not yet, but he was going to maim me,” Arthur replied. “Good as killing me, really. I just responded in kind.”
“You’ll, you’ll bring them all on you.” The man shook his head again, clenching and unclenching his fists. After a second, he shook his head. “No. I’m not doing this. You, you all, do what you want. I’m out.”
Then turning, he strode away.
For a second Arthur waited, knowing the other would turn around. Trick him into lowering his guard. It was not until the other was out of sight that he relaxed, only to see the Chinese man beneath him stir, try to push himself to his feet, then failing that, crawl away. Cultivator strength gave one a significant level of endurance.
Eyes flat, Arthur stared at the man trying to get away. He weighed the options in his mind, the damage he had done, the possibility—no, the likelihood—of retribution. He sighed.
“I really wish you hadn’t come after me.” A quick bend, his hand plunging his eating blade into back of the man’s neck. A quick, efficient kill. Twisting the knife, Arthur rooted through the body, finding only a pouch filled with some small chits. Tokens for use as credits for trading in town.
Pocketing it, he cleaned the blade on the body and picked up his own weapon. Noise in the underbrush reminded Arthur of the remaining member of the party, only belatedly arriving. That injury to his ribs must have distracted the man more than he had thought. Either that, or he was just really bad at directions.
For a moment, Arthur considered staying and eliminating the threat. Another breath drawn in sent pain flickering through his body and he grimaced. No, he was injured enough. Best get going. Go out, stay out for a while for the others to calm down and relax.
Nodding to himself, Arthur picked a direction and plunged deeper into the forest. He had best get moving before reinforcements arrived. The very last thing he wanted to do was face the rest of the gang.
It would be rather inconvenient.
Two hours later, even cultivator-reinforced stamina had given way. Arthur grimaced, leaning against a tree and touched his side once more. His feet were wet and his pants too, up until his knees. Wading through a cold forest stream for half an hour and clambering up the stony bank so that he could throw off any tracking had been painful and highly uncomfortable.
Nearly as bad as the pain that shot through him with every breath. He’d broken his ribs before, once in a fight, twice more during training. None of the times had been as bad, and in all such cases he had been forced to be extremely careful about moving for weeks on end.
Yet now . . .
Another slow breath, carefully so that he did not displace healing bones and aching muscle. Because they were healing. This was Arthur’s first real experience with the magical, accelerated healing that was part and parcel of life in the Tower. He was as grateful as anything for it.
It wasn’t so much magical as fast, though he heard certain cultivation exercises took accelerated healing to the next level. A broken bone, instead of taking six weeks or longer to heal, became something that was fixed in a few days. Maybe a week at worse.
Cuts, inflammation of the body, fever, and common illnesses were uncommon now or they became incredibly deadly. Not much room in there; anything that could survive the Tower’s accelerated healing regime was not your usual run of the mill ilness.
For all that healing, though, he still had a couple of broken ribs and bruised organs and muscles. Pushing himself to keep moving required strength—strength of mind, strength of will, what have you—and there was only so much one could do.
Arthur now slumped against a tree, head leaning against rough bark. He breathed, waiting for everything to calm down, for his heartbeat to slow, for the twinges to slow. Wrapping his chest would not help, and it was considered bad form these days. Though . . . that was for everyone outside the Tower. Not taking sufficiently large breaths meant potential for pneumonia over the weeks of healing.
Did the medical advice change because he was looking at only a week?
A few moments of deliberation and then Arthur shrugged. Moving his body now, though it hurt and was even dangerous, was less important than potentially getting pneumonia in the future. Taking his shirt off hurt, but the roll of bandages in his backpack—that he thankfully managed to keep a hold on through the entire skirmish—was easily at hand. Getting it wrapped, though . . .
Well, those were a few minutes he could well do with forgetting. Especially since he could do little but breathe hard. No cursing, since you never know what was out there in the forest.
Then, after another deep drink of water, some trail rations and a time to just breathe, Arthur made his way deeper into the forest.
Oh, and one more thing. A glance at the compass he carried, so that he could make his way back. Hopefully. If he had not turned himself around entirely while running away.
It was little surprise to Arthur that he encountered the first of his non-human threats soon after. If anything, the fact that he hadn’t found any till then had been more surprising. It showed how picked-clean the forest edge was. After all, the Towers were here to test them, and that meant populating the forest with an unusual number of predatory creatures.
Even if said predatory creature was a goddamn group of carnivorous golden monkeys.
Three of them, a small grouping that had probably broken off from a larger tribe. They swung down from the trees, using vines to launch themselves at Arthur. The first monkey’s strike caught him by surprise, knocking his head to the side. The second glanced off his chest, sending an arc of pain through him. The third missed him entirely as he fell back.
A tug backwards and his staff swung upwards. He hit the ground, rolled and twisted, spinning his body around. His staff moved ahead of his body, sweeping ahead and impacting one of the monkeys that had not expected the motion.
The blow, however, was not as forceful as it could have been. It struck an arm, breaking it but did not push the monster away. Arthur’s strength had been robbed by the pain of falling on his back, his still-injured ribs protesting.
Pain rushing through him, Arthur pushed on with much laborious force, his weapon sweeping back and forth as it threatened the monkeys. One monkey took to the tree branches, scrambling upwards. The other two threatened him, even as he backed himself to a corner while still making quick jabs and swings with his staff.
High above, the monkey that had climbed the branches jumped from one to the next, having grown silent even as the ones below shrieked louder. It stalked Arthur, waiting for its chance, getting into position. Baring its fangs, it finally plunged, swiping at him.
Only to be met not with the front of the staff that it managed to dodge, but Arthur sliding his hands downwards, shifting his grip such that the staff’s backend where he normally kept grip of the weapon was flipped around. It caught the monkey in the stomach, the full force of its drop driving breath out of its body, bones cracking.
“Damn it,” Arthur cursed, having gotten swiped still by a flailing limb. Blood ran down his lead arm, even as the monkey tumbled senseless to the ground. He aimed a kick, driving another monkey back and then brought a foot down hard onto the fallen monster’s skull.
That, finally, stilled it. A moment later, even as he shifted his footing to something more stable and brought his weapon on-guard, the dead monster dispersed into light shards and a single core dropped to the ground.
Tower creatures were made up of solely of the magic that powered all cultivators. All of them with a core within their body, much like human cultivators.
Grinning grimly, Arthur flicked his gaze down to the core and then waded forwards, going on the offensive finally. Now that the threat from above was gone, he could risk it. Time to finish it.
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.