“Monsters, monsters, where are you? I’m here to stab you dead and dance on your corpse . . .” Arthur sung as he walked through the woods. Of course, he was not completely insane. He kept his voice low as he went along, eyes darting in search of more monsters. In the end, though, he was really looking forward to the monsters and drawing them to him was easier than simply stalking around.
Occasionally, he’d look down and scan the ground, searching for tracks. Not that he had much experience tracking, but you did not need to be a genius to pick out the rather large deposits he was following. The fact that they were somewhat fresh meant . . . well. That they were somewhat fresh. It was not as though he had studied how quickly excrement solidified in a magical realm.
“Is there a difference?” Arthur mused, breaking off his impromptu song. “Is there a guide? And also, if they’re magical monsters made of tower energy, why do they eat?”
He slowed down, turning that thought over and searching the surroundings. After a second, he frowned as he looked at a branch slightly more yellow than normal. Something nagged at him as he moved closer to it, the way the colouration was just a little too yellow for the brown branch it hung over, the way it swayed a little as one side drooped. A broken limb about to fall?
No. It was a little too sinuous.
“Ah, hell!” Arthur cursed, reflexively thrusting his staff. The staff tip hammered into the top of the swaying creature’s body, knocking it upwards.
Its attempt at an ambush thwarted, the constrictor hissed, pulling itself further up the branch. Arthur was not stopping though, shifting his stance to brace the staff higher before pushing the weapon forward into a thrusting strike. The staff missed the curled body as the snake shifted away, dropping its body lower to swing towards him.
Staff revibrating through his hands after the failed impact, Arthur retreated. A small notch where his attacks had landed showed, even as the swinging constrictor dropped in the air towards him.
“Not so easy,” Arthur cried as he stepped backward, swirling his staff around. It struck at the falling constrictor that seemed to swim through the sky as it repositioned itself in mid-air, only to be batted aside by the staff.
Landing on the floor, the monster hissed. Another twist of his hands sent the wooden implement flying at the snake, narrowly missing as the creature dodged. Then it hissed, its body glowing before it blurred, crossing the distance of six feet to Arthur in a flash.
Jerking backwards, Arthur threw himself away from the striking snake. He almost managed to do so, his body moving faster than ever, but the damn thing’s ability had caught him by surprise. His reach advantage gone, the snake had managed to wrap its head and the first coils around his lower leg and begun the process of pulling itself towards him, aiming to crush muscle and bone.
The ground seemed to rear up, striking his back as Arthur lost his balance from the new weight. Staff was abandoned as he grabbed the parang he had acquired earlier, using the sharp edge of the machete to swing at the still unwrapped body of the snake.
Once, then again, the blade sliced the glittering snakeskin. Panting widely and kicking a little with his free foot to reposition the snake as it twisted and turned, he struck again and again, blade gouging deep into its body with each attack.
Even as he did so, the bleeding monster kept crawling up his body, gripping as it snaked upwards. His body creaked, his muscles shrieked in agony as they were crushed. But eventually the snake’s movements grew sluggish, his attacks taking their toll.
Until, finally, the monster stopped moving, leaving itself wrapped around his lower body, its head around Arthur’s hips.
Panting, Arthur flopped onto the ground even as the body began to disperse.
“Bad monster. No cookie for you.”
Snakes were evil. Arthur didn’t want a snake dropping in on him again, so he kept a closer eye on the sky after that. And so he noticed a stalking, cat-like creature, its presence only given away by chance reflection of its eyes as the clouds parted above.
Clouds in a tower. How strange, but each Tower level was like that. A world in itself. No one had any good explanation for it, though the prevailing theory was that each level was actually a different dimension.
He spotted the cat before it could jump at him, and this time, his staff had been of use. Smacking it away each time it launched itself at him, Arthur managed to control the distance admirably, never allowing it near him.
The kuching hitam had no ability to speed itself like the previous monster, only claws that dug into his staff and left carved scars like divots. Annoying, but a few hard strikes were enough to concuss and then kill the monster. Afterwards, he had collected the crystal core as usual and moved onwards.
Searching for more trouble.
Birds soared high above: parrots, popinjays, even a hawk or two. Most of them stayed high above the canopy. They were no danger to him; though Arthur still eyed them with some concern.
“Perhaps I should get a bow?” Arthur mused. Taking those birds down would be an easy cheat, though the problem was finding the bodies afterwards. Once they broke up, he would be looking for a hand-sized crystal. “Probably not worth it.”
Shaking his head, Arthur dismissed the thought. He was hunting bigger prey anyway. His body felt good, even the bruises from the damned snake had started to disappear. The single point increase to his attributes was telling, but not to the extent that he would have liked.
Faster, stronger, healthier for certain. But it was not like his strength had doubled or even increased by a third. Maybe a tenth more? It felt like that. Just a marginal increase that a few hard, dedicated months of exercise would see. Maybe a year.
The difference, of course, was that it had happened all at once. So some of his reactions were a little too fast, his movements jerky.
Good thing, then, that the bigger monsters he was hunting had yet to appear, the spoor and their broken trails still showing up once in a while to even his own untrained eyes. In the meantime, he could practise on these other monsters that kept appearing, everything from monkeys to cats to—
Giant squirrel with big insane eyes and even bigger sharp front teeth.
“Aaaargh!” Giving up on his staff which the nimble squirrel kept dodging as it snuck in closer, Arthur dropped it and kept his arms close to his body. When the squirrel finally threw itself at him, he punched outwards. The squirrel bounced off his hand, tiny body crunching under his fist before it flopped backwards, rolling in a ball.
Shaking his hand out, glaring at the cuts the big teeth had left, Arthur remained crouched. The giant squirrel chittered at him as it got back on its feet. Then, to Arthur’s surprise, it ran off, disappearing into the nearby undergrowth.
“What?” Arthur muttered, eyeing his back and sides.
Long, tense minutes passed before he finally chose to believe that it was gone. Intelligent monsters. Now that was worrying. Nursing his bleeding hand, now wrapped in emergency bandage, Arthur shook his head.
Hopefully not many of the other monsters out there were that smart. Otherwise, this was going to be a problem.
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.