Chapter 199

Chapter 199


Swearing under his breath, but only on the exhale, Arthur limped away. He was doing his best to get away before the creatures found him, but one of the biggest issues with the spear was that it just didn’t have a good way to be stored. Not when you were in a jungle or a mangrove swamp with branches hanging everywhere, ready to catch the edge if you slipped it into a back holster. If you held it in hand, though, you couldn’t use that hand to help wrap the bandage around your body to help stem the constant bleed.

After a dozen meters, Arthur gave up and propped the spear against a nearby tree, making sure it was resting properly before gripping the bandage properly with both hands. He spun the bandage around his body in swift but practiced motions, keeping a constant tension on the bandage as it went around his torso so that it wound tight without being too tight.

Even as he wrapped himself, the cream bandage soaked through with bright-red blood, dripping down his side. He grimaced as his flesh shifted with each breath, the sting of the open wound and sweat reminding him of the damage. Contrary to common belief, leeches did not inject an anesthetic into wounds, a fact that he was rather wishing was wrong.

Tying off the bandage and securing it with a bobby pin, Arthur stretched a little and shifted, looking around for trouble. Not spotting anything, he exhaled and grabbed his spear before moving on. Just because he saw nothing right now didn’t mean anything.

Nearly forty minutes later, a creeping sense of wrongness had Arthur putting his back against a tree, feet planted on relatively solid footing. He lifted his gaze, searching the branches above, the shimmering green leaves before looking around, the shadows all around him shifting as the wind blew, hiding movement.

Movement there was, he was certain. Not just the never-ending leeches and mosquitos and other buzzing insects, but also of things more dangerous. For while the kuching hitam had stalked the previous first floor and even the second, a newer breed lived here. Upgraded by the tower, the harimau hitam was more dangerous than its Earth-cousin.

It didn’t need to be bigger, though Arthur had heard that some of the harimau hitam were twelve feet long. No, the common beast were ‘only’ between seven and nine feet long and weighed just over a ton. Only. Also, in the gloom, they changed colour, fading the normal black and yellow striped figure into almost pure black and void-dark black; to allow the creatures to lurk in the dark.

Add on an ability to alter their weight, so that they could stalk across the mangrove swamp and roots without leaving a disturbance or, just as often, take to the branches of the interlocking trees above; and they became the apex predators of this location.

Unlike real tigers in Malaysia though, who’d rather eat a good durian than a human; the harimau hitam were all for snacking on climbers. Though, if they ate him, they were returning to their roots a little and snacking on a Benevolent Durian.

Something shifted in the dark and instinct had Arthur pulling his feet up to his but, dropping faster than any muscle-driven explosion could pull him down. It still wasn’t fast enough as the explosive leap from the harimau a short distance away from the hiding branches nearly decapitated him, leaving a long line of burning pain along his throat where a claw had passed through.

Behind the creature, the branch shattered, thrown backwards and away as leaves rained down upon marshy lands. He fell sideways, his spear entangled and twisted even as the spearhead, raised in defense, tore into the creature’s back legs as they tried to claw him open.

Arthur did not get away without being cut, but with his back to the wall, the massive tiger had aimed itself at an angle when it launched its attack. That meant when it landed, oh so gracefully, on the tree roots further pass the tree, the monster was ready for it and leapt away immediately, long before Arthur had managed to turn and form his Refined Energy Dart.

Up into the branches, the harimau bounced, one and then again. Eyes narrowing, a hand clutching at his throat, the other holding the formed energy dart; he watched for it; hoping for a proper attack. However, rather than lurking in the branch to come back to attack him, the monster kept fleeing, heading deeper into the woods, it’s journey visible by the unnatural swaying of branches and the falling leaves.

Long moments, Arthur held himself on guard. His healing technique worked overtime, clotting his wound, beginning the process of stitching him together. Hand holding the loose hanging flaps of his skin together, he exhaled and breathed in quickly; wincing at the sudden pain. Surprised that he had stopped breathing entirely, long hours of training driven out by pain and surprise and adrenaline.

Sucking in breaths, forcing himself to calm down, even as he felt the muscles in his throat, in his neck shift with each moment. Pain radiating from his side, from his neck, from a foot that had caught wrong as he fell and twisted an ankle.

And worry, because the damn tiger likely was waiting for him to bleed out. Lurking, somewhere in the darkness, prowling and searching for him.

Damn ambush predators.




The harimau hitam never came back, which was for the best. For a short while, he had not been in any position to defend himself. Having reabsorbed the chi for the Refined Energy Dart, he’d propped his spear up at an angle so that it would be harder for the creature to jump at him before he squatted back down and got to work stitching his wound close.

That had required extracting a mirror, propping it up against a branch and then extracting needle and thread. He did not need to do a proper job, but he needed to close enough of the muscles and flesh that his healing technique could do the job. As it was, it was already focused on closing up and restitching blood vessels and deeper damage, but any help he could offer would speed things up.

Of course, what they don’t talk about speeded up healing was the very real problem of having to yank out thread that had been healed around, fixing splints and bandages that had become embedded in the body, even watching as the body eventually pushed out splinters and other pieces.

Rumors were, some of the older climbers had found themselves in a lot of pain when metal pins, donated organs, pacemakers and other artificial aids were pulled out. Of course, those rumors were always for someone who knew someone.

All those thoughts and more drifted through his head as Arthur stitched himself together. He’d practiced. On leather, on cloth. He hadn’t had much chance to do it on flesh – there was always a line back in the dojo when someone got hurt bad enough that a stitching was required – and definitely never on his own before ascending the Tower.

There was something morbid, something different about cutting into – or piercing – your own flesh. It required a degree of willpower, an overcoming of inherent instincts to do so. It felt different from throwing a punch into a wooden block, even knowing that one action would cause pain.

Pushing through the flesh, feeling it tug, that initial piercing motion causing him to hiss through his breath, the tugging sensation as it tried to bypass defenses and then metal sliding through flesh as he pulled the curved needle through and then skin before it had to twist and pop out of the flesh the next spot…

He might have cried a little.

He might have cried a lot.

But that was what they tried to tell you when you climbed. It was what they tried to warn you about. But there was no way to describe that feeling, no way to train without doing.

No surprise that some climbers stopped. No surprise that some climbers died.

To do it once? Most could find it within them.

To knowingly go out, understanding one might have to do it again? And again? And more? Pushing through pain, through discomfort, through that instinctual flinch within.


Sometimes, you failed.

Luck held, long enough that he was able to finish the stitching. Resting against the tree, eyes half-closed, mind drifting in and out of self-induced shock; Arthur could feel as his body continued to heal him. Drawing in Tower energy, pulling muscles and skin back into place. Tired and exhausted, he thought at least he had enough awareness to notice if someone snuck up on him.

Which is why, when Uswah stepped up next to him and blocked his instinctive chop; he was surprised.

“Can’t even leave you alone, boss.” She shook her head, releasing his hand as he let it fall back. Eyes drifted over the blood soaked leather armour, the ragged stitching and the flickering mirror above and the slight tremble in his hands. “I see you met the harimau hitam, eh?”


“Don’t worry. I scared it away a little further,” she said, grinning. “It wasn’t happy being snuck up, while it was sneaking up on its own prey.” Then, tilting her head, she added. “Terima kasih.”

Sama-sama.” Arthur muttered, before he let himself relax fully as she leaned over, taking hold of the needle and thread to finish the job properly.

The third floor really did suck.

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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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