Everything had been going so well. By the time Arthur had finished healing, poured another half hour into cultivating just to refill his normal cultivation pool and then climbed back down, the heat of the afternoon had begun to fade. He’d arrived in the early morning, so at least that question had been answered.
Of course, Arthur left his backpack up in the tree. No point hunting with it strapped to him, especially considering how heavy that thing was. On the first floor he’d already survived one harrowing battle with it strapped on, and his back was still protesting from falling, rolling, and getting slammed into the ground repeatedly on top of one of his cooking pots.
He wasn’t even sure why he had a cooking pot in there, other than the fact that it helped make tea. And the occasional warm meal was nice, especially if you managed to find enough meat to cook. Not that he needed to eat—no one in the Tower did. They survived off Tower energy, which bled out of them at increasing rates as they increased in strength.
That energy drain was one of the few negatives of a Tower body, but a simple one to fix if you just cultivated. Of course, being a Malaysian, he felt that missing out on actual good food was a crime against humanity. Which was why, even now, one of the courier jobs for new climbers was bringing foodstuff to higher floors.
All that said, he was still in a good mood until about fifteen minutes ago, when he realised that someone might be stalking him. Confirming that fact took him another five minutes of careful movement, including picking some routes that no one in their right mind would go through, not if they had a choice or disliked having thorns in their nethers.
What gave the game away was the fact that his stalker had a camouflage technique that had trouble keeping up with them when they moved fast. Since Arthur was now hunting for trouble, or actively avoiding it, it meant the stalker had to keep up.
And the shifting branches, the flickering of leaves as their shade of colour shifted from dark to lighter, was all too telling. Arthur debated what to do.
Kill them and he might set off a feud.
Leave them alone and he might get backstabbed.
Any fight he’d have to finish fast. Figure out if this stalker was just an opportunistic robber or someone he had to bury, damn the consequences.
He wondered how to bring his opponent in close. Whoever it was, they were careful to stay a good distance away, such that Arthur couldn’t strike them with his spear.
He needed bait.
And lucky for him, he’d found some.
Bending down low, he ran his fingers along the ground where the earth had been torn up and nearby bushes destroyed or eaten. Clear sign of travel, and travel by more than just a single boar for sure. Not a full sounder at a dozen babi or whatever, but at least three or four.
Of course, that was rather worrying. The babi ngepet down on the first floor had been one of the tougher enemies to deal with. And while he’d grown significantly stronger, he still wasn’t exactly looking forward to taking them on when they had received an upgrade in strength too.
However, if there was a way to draw in his stalker, this was it. Especially if he was under pressure. But wasn’t that a pleasure?
Humming the aforementioned rhyme to himself under his breath, Arthur stood up and followed the trail. He moved a little faster than normal, though he kept his head lowered and the spear by his side, ready for use.
Finding the trio of monstrous pigs was not hard. In fact, Arthur found himself literally stumbling upon them, for he came up over a rise at a light jog and noticed the shifting mass of bodies beneath him. His mind spun through a variety of options before he leapt, twisting in mid-air to stab his spear downward and sideways.
Waking the babi ngepet that he targeted in this manner led to quite a bit of confusion. The earth that he had thought was firm gave way beneath his foot as he landed, tough flesh and bone compressing. Without thought, he flipped himself upwards, spinning all the way around so that he was upside down even as he stabbed down at the monster that was raising its head, intent on throwing off the irritating fly that had landed on it.
Spear impacted, its sharp tip skimming off and tearing deep into the jowls before slipping into the eye socket. The spear head jammed in the flesh there, and the monster twisted and threw him sideways, sending him flying away into a nearby thicket.
Hitting a bush and rolling, he cracked one shoulder on a tree trunk, which sent him twirling around. He rolled a few more times before he finally managed to get his sense of balance and momentum bled off, a part of him cursing at the surprise factor that left him unable to use any of his cultivation techniques.
Mostly though, his attention was focused on the monsters that had roused themselves from the mud pit they’d dug into the side of the hill, a resting place they’d carved from a small spring that bubbled down the slope.
These babi were twice as large as the ones he had fought on the first floor. Unlike wild boars from Europe or those that infested the northeast of North America these days, these creatures were about the size of a Perodua Kancil—the Malaysian-made tiny hatchback car they’d re-released recently in electronic engine format as a more luxurious alternative to electronic scooters. Probably weighed twice as much as a Kancil, though, as they had plenty of muscle beneath that fat.
The first monster he’d stuck was bleeding a little from a wound along the side, mostly superficial from what Arthur could tell. The second, the closest to him and the one getting ready to charge, was untouched. And the last one was busy throwing a tantrum, what with being blinded and streaming blood.
And, of course, somewhere along the way, he’d lost track of his stalker who might have scampered off or was still on the other side of the hill.
“Where’s my bubbles, when there’s troubles?” Arthur cried, even as he flicked a glance back to check his rear. By the time he looked back though, the babi ngepet that had been getting ready to charge him had covered half the ground.
Rather than panicking, Arthur continued to watch the monster close on him. He knew better than to jump too early. Panicking that way meant the monster could change direction and strike him. No, instead he readied himself, leaning sideways a little as he surreptitiously drew out his kris. The monster’s narrowed, beady black eyes promised pain.
Quickly, Arthur took a series of quick sidesteps rather than a full leap.
He would never have dared this before, but with a Body attribute of 8, he was significantly faster than he had been. And while the babi were much bigger and stronger, they were no faster than before. Which meant that even as it tried to turn to follow him, it failed, scrambling on muddy ground. All its desperate turning did was drive Arthur’s cursed kris deeper into its side, leaving a trail of poisonous Yin chi in its body.
Three more to go.
And, of course, his stalker.
“Got to say, this is no easy play.”