Chapter 200

Chapter 200

Healed and sorted, Arthur found himself standing up and testing his range of motion. In a few hours, they would have to remove the stitches again, but for now, it would do. In the meantime, it was best for them to get moving, especially since they had already had to deal with a swarm of leeches once before.

“Which way?” Arthur asked.

“Came that way.” Uswah gestured, then waved towards the mountain. “We headed there, right?”

Arthur nodded. No point in spending time outside, they were better off trying to get through the third floor as quickly as possible. No one liked hanging out here, what with the mosquitos, leeches and other predators.

Stepping forward, Arthur was not surprised to see Uswah fade away. Her own techniques were well suited to this floor, being able to hide and travel through shadows. Using them as stepping stones. He really wanted a qinggong technique, a movement technique, of his own.

Of course, part of the reason he’d held off was time. But another was because this was the floor most people acquired theirs. Not only did the Tower Administrators have a larger number and variety of movement techniques, but it was unnecessary till now.

Trudging through the mangrove swamp the rest of the day was a pain. More than once, the pair caught sight of movement in the distance. Birds taking to the air, the ripple of water and the sudden churning of mud before the sudden dearth of silence coming from a distance.

Each time, they angled a little to the disturbance. Hoping to find others, hoping to locate their friends. They were unsuccessful at doing so, never coming across another member before the night fell and the pair had to decide upon a method to sleep the night away.

Climbing the trees was the obvious solution, though it came with its own dangers. Ascended monkey’s of one kind or another lived in these trees, though most were uninterested in disturbing the climbers. No pack of monkeys were nearby, but more pressing concerns lay in the presence of snakes and the harimau hitami that prowled the branches.

After clearing their chosen residence of a lurking snake and watching its body disperse in the night after its stone was extracted, the pair took turns resting. Strapped to the tree trunk as they were, it was an uncomfortable night, made more so by the constant stinging and buzzing of insects.

“Sleeping at night, while the insects bite, a pair of strangers abide,” Arthur spoke, then smiled. Not bad, if he said so himself.

Yet, watchfulness kept the pair safe till the dawn the next morning at which point they continued their journey to the mountain. Kilometers away, the entire process of reaching it would have been a quick few hours jaunt even in the tropical forest of the floors below.

In the mangrove swamp, trudging through mud when they were unable to find dryer ground, it would be the work of days. Yet, as they grew closer; the presence of more climbers were easy to discern. Occasionally, the pair glimpsed other cultivator groups in the distance; but by unspoken agreement both parties kept to the distance.

It was the raised voices after noon that had the pair pausing and then staring at one another. Uswah raised a single suggestive eyebrow, then gestured sideways from her position crouched under a tree. Arthur hesitated, but there was a tone to those voices that set the hair at the back of his neck on edge.

He knew those voices. He’d heard them often enough, running deliveries in KL to some of the seedier parts of the city. Taunting voices, almost jackal-like. Scavengers finding prey and running it down, knowing they had something, someone, weaker than them to pick upon.

Without conscious thought, he found himself moving in that direction. He caught a slight smile on Uswah’s lips before she faded away, leaving him to wade and then jog forwards, pushing himself to hurry as best he could. When he found a patch of clear-ish ground, he pulled himself up and threw himself into that loping, jumping run, risking slipping and falling on hidden moss and wet roots for additional speed.

“You come here first, then. I’ll cut you, real good.” There was a trace of fear mixed in the rather fierce declaration from the male voice.

Boleh ah?” mockingly, the other voice answered. Female, this one, though high and shrill.

“Try ah!”

A loud smack, then a cry and splash soon after. More laughter, even as the spluttering sound of someone trying to get muddy water out of their mouths arose. More threats, more imprecations and curses filtered out.

Arthur kept focused, moving as quickly as he could across the marsh. The voices were close now, close enough that they were dampened by the heavy foliage.

Rather than tromp into the middle of the circle like a charging bull, Arthur slowed. He crept forward, waving one hand to the right before he headed left, figuring Uswah was keeping an eye on him for her orders. Trusted that she knew what to do, if things went to hell. Certainly, without her other arm, she was going to avoid a direct confrontation.

He should probably try avoiding a direct confrontation too. Or a confrontation at all.

Of course, just jumping someone from behind and leaving them as corpses was probably a bad idea. That was how you started feuds, especially since there was going to be at least one witness he had no direct control over. Because that man’s voice, the one being threatened was definitely not one he recognized.

Peeking around the corner of a spiky tree, one he was sure not to get too close to – and gods, did the tropical rainforest have a ton of spiky plants, as though at least a good third of the plants had decided that the only good defense was a good offense - , Arthur took in the scene before him.

Minor surprise. Four figures, not the three from the muted conversations he had heard before. Three assailants and a fourth member, stuck in the center of the triangle. Even more of a surprise, Arthur realized, the three bullies were women, the final one in the center; a guy.

“Wah!?” Surprised, he spoke out loud. Maybe he shouldn’t have been, after all, he ran a guild that was mostly filled with women. But he’d also caught sight of an armband, one made of white around the arms of all three women which had broken the words out.

Immediately, the closest two looked at Arthur. The third kept an eye on the man faithfully though, so when he tried to run, she swept his feet out from under him with the backend of her spear. Sent sprawling again into the water, coughing water, the man struggled upwards.

“Who are you, ah?” Belligerent and loud, the first woman turned to Arthur as she gestured for her friend to watch over the other man. Not that the third needed it, what with the foot she had put the back of the man’s middleback, pushing him into the water to splutter and thrash around.

“Arthur Chua. What the hell are you people doing?” Arthur said, stepping out of the trees to wade forwards a little. He lowered the tip of his spear towards the women as he continued. “You’re going to kill him.”

“Nah, we know what we’re doing, right?” The second woman said, laughing a little as she kicked a hand that had managed to prop itself on a root out from under the victim. He crashed back into the ground, spluttering. “Just teaching a lesson.”

“Ya-lah. Asshole thought he could put one over us,” the erstwhile leader said, eyes narrowing. Idly, Arthur noted that the older woman – easily in her 40s – had curlier hair than you’d expect for your average Chinese. Maybe mixed ancestry somewhere in the bloodline? Certainly, she tanned rather well for a Chinese. “You don’t interfere.”

“And who is this us?” Arthur said, mildly.

She twitched her arm upwards where the band was tied off. A band of white with, well, a Thorned Lotus on it stitched in. Or at least, Arthur assumed it was a lotus. It wasn’t exactly the best piece of art. “You blind?”

“Thorned Lotus.”

She smirked. Behind, to Arthur’s relief – and the man’s obviously – they let him up again, where he tried to breathe out. He panted and spat, doing that half-vomit, half-cough thing that those who’d gotten water into their lungs had a tendency to do. Still, they weren’t pushing him down anymore, though he noted that the dagger the man had been holding was now in the second girl’s hand.

“What did he do?” Arthur said, eyes narrowing as he readjusted his evaluation again. He’d never heard of them bullying others, but each level, each group was different. Maybe the Thorned Lotuses here were the bad guys. Or maybe, they were just enacting some street justice.

Eyes narrowed, the leader looked him over before she answered. “You new, ah?”


“This is Ah Lok. He’s a real work, but he got together with one of our girls – Emilia. She loved him, so we kept him in line, made sure he didn’t hit on the girls… but then, he got her to help him. Help him steal from us,” now the woman looked disgusted.

“What did he steal?” Arthur asked.

“Our training manuals. For movement techniques, all three that we put together.”

“You had three!” Arthur said, surprised.


“Shit.” Now Arthur wanted to kick the shit out of them.

Before he could speak, he was interrupted. “Lies! Boss, they all lying ah. You know Perempuan. They all like this.”

“Like what?” The second woman asked. Meanwhile, the leg, taken off him shoved him down back into the water with a savage twist that ground the heel into his back.

“What he’d do with them?” Arthur asked, moving forwards only to find the woman had raised her hand, telling him to stop moving closer. “Right, sorry. I’m Arthur Chua.”

“Said that already.”

“Yeah, I’ve started a Guild, the…”

“Benevolent Durians.” She nodded. “I heard. But I don’t know if you’re him. Name didn’t come with a description.”

Arthur grunted. Fair point. But still… “What you going to with him?”

“Beat him. Then find out where he put the techniques. Then beat him some more.”

Released for air, the man heaved once again. He let out a series of mewling cries while Arthur frowned. “That’s…” He shook his head, then had to ask the obvious question. “Why not kill him?”

“Because if he lies, then we can find him and beat him again till he tells the truth.” Grimly the other woman replied. Then she jerked her head in the direction of the mountain. “Now, go lah. Not your business.”

“It will be,” Arthur said.

“Not yet.”

He hesitated again, but for the moment, Arthur really could not find a reason to stay. He didn’t have enough information, and waltzing in and making decisions like a storied hero was only going to cause resentment. Better to just let it go as she said.

It sat ill with him, the torture. But the Tower was its own domicile, its own kingdom and the laws of Malaysia and pure justice were far away and theoretical. Here, might made right and you did what you had to do to climb.

You just had to make sure you could live with it, after you left the Tower.

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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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