Chapter 195

Chapter 195

“You shot it,” Arthur said a half hour later, hands bloody and plunged midway through an orang minyak’s body.

“Well, yes. Did you expect me to fight it hand-to-hand?” Rick said, puzzled.

“No, but you shot it.”

“He wanted to fight it himself,” Mel said, working a short distance away on the same task—extracting cores.

“No, but he shot it!”

“You said that already,” Casey said. “Though, I actually wouldn’t have minded trying my blade against it.”

Arthur saw Lam wince at that.

“You’re nuts,” Arthur said firmly to Casey. “We’re only slightly better than one-on-one right now, and taking that thing on would definitely have been a loss.”

“Then, what’s the point?” Casey said.

“Oh!” Uswah said. She had been silently on watch rather than digging into corpses. Looking at Arthur, she said, “It’s that vidmeme!”

“What?” everyone else said.

“The vidmeme. The one with the Middle Eastern swordsman waving his blade around and then he gets shot. Arthur’s trying to be, umm . . .” Uswah frowned. “Dated?”

“It’s not that dated!” Arthur protested. “And it’s a golden oldies classic!”

“Ooooh, that was popular for a bit, wasn’t it? Sometime in the 20th century?” Mel shook her head. “And there was a push by the Hollywood studios to make it a thing again, what, ten years ago?”

“Twelve,” Yao Jing said. “It was when they had King Kong playing.”

“Oh, with Godzilla!” Casey said brightly.

“Oooh, where Kong and Godzilla fight?” Rick said.

“Freddy and Jason versus Godzilla better, lah,” Jan said.

“There was such a show?” Rick’s eyes grew wide.

Excitedly, Uswah added, “Monster Mash 4!”

“. . . 4?” Rick said, his voice filled with dawning horror.

Arthur groaned, burying his face in his hands and then immediately regretting the action since he hadn’t washed his hands yet. Making a face, he pulled gore-filled hands away and walked off to the next monster. With nearly everyone involved in harvesting, the process went by relatively fast.

Once they were done, the group quietly gathered the cores together and checked the count. Including the extra large one from the final boss—Hah! Not much of a boss when one could simply shoot it repeatedly in the head from a distance—the battle had gained them over sixty cores.

“A lot more than the quest said. And I read what it ‘cause I was afraid,” Arthur muttered. “Even with the scouts thrown in, it shouldn’t have been that many.”

“We did have to deal with the adds after Rick dropped the boss,” Casey said.

“Still . . .” Arthur frowned. “The quest said forty.”

“Approximately,” Casey replied. “You know these things change.”

“Yeah.” He fell silent for a moment. “Could it be an evolution? A revolution?”

The words sent a shiver through the group. Everyone knew what he meant, though no one liked it. One of the greatest concerns about Tower climbing were floor evolutions. To a smaller extent, there was also concern over a whole Tower evolution, though those were even rarer.

The terms were self-explanatory: a process of change in the Tower. As more and more individuals passed a floor, the Tower seemed to adapt. Sometimes, that adaptation was as simple as introducing new monsters or changing the kind of monsters that showed up at any one time. Other times, those evolutions could be more wide-ranging. In most cases, the evolutions were always to make the floors harder and nearly always because a higher percentage of individuals were passing through floors than before.

And no surprise, each evolution always preceded a spike in climber deaths. It was one thing climbing a Tower knowing what to expect. Another to do it in the dark. It took a special kind of individual to be willing to do that.

“The last floor, that trial, it was different too, wasn’t it?” Arthur said, softly.

“It was,” Mel confirmed.

More confirmations, from those who recalled reading up Tower information. Even those who had little interest in climbing would at least read up on the first few floors. If nothing else, it became part of the popular lexicon.

“Once is chance, twice is coincidence,” Arthur said.

“How about three?” Yao Jing said, confused.

“Oh you himbo,” Jan said sweetly and smiled at Yao Jing when he looked over, clueless as to her meaning.

“Three means we’re likely seeing an evolution. Whether it’s just the first set of floors or the whole Tower itself. We won’t know till we push ahead,” Mel said. “But it’s something to keep in mind. Especially if we’re going to try cutting it close . . .”

“Are you looking at me?” Casey said angrily. “I feel like you’re looking at me when you say that.”

“It’s your speedrun.”

“You agreed to it!”

“Before we knew there was an evolution.”

“We don’t know if there’s an evolution yet!”

“Enough,” Arthur cut the two women off before the argument could spiral. He clapped his still-sticky hands together. “We don’t know. We won’t know. And we’ll worry about it later. We’re safe for this floor, and we have better things to do than sit around arguing.” He waved a hand about. “Especially in a hostile environment. Let’s get clean, packed and moving. We can argue, if you have to argue, when we’re back.”

Arthur watched as everyone acknowledged his words and got moving. He smiled a little grimly before he relaxed, grateful to have cut that disturbing conversation off. Now, all he had to do was convince himself that there was nothing to worry about.

Easier thought than done.

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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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