Chapter 216

Chapter 216

A week later to the day, they finally arrived at the site of the lost city of D’mai. The trek to the city had grown increasingly perilous, the introduction of non-native fauna to the marshlands adding to the difficulty. The first time a crocodile appeared to pull one of their group into the water, only Rick’s deployment of his pistols had ended things without allied fatalities.

While Yao Jing spent the day healing, the group took to building makeshift rafts from cut wood and rough-woven vines. Strapping them together and then caulking the gaps with boiled rubber sap and various wood and tree debris kept the rafts mostly waterproof at the bottom and their bottoms dry. The addition of simple benches for the group to sit-on in the low-walled vessels allowed them to push onward, even as Arthur made note to consider supplying paddle boards in the future.

Inflatable paddle boards, probably.

Once they’d committed to the use of the rafts, travel had grown somewhat less arduous. Not easier, of course, but Uswah was able to pick waterways that allowed them to pass with minimal trouble. Where that was not possible, the light rafts could be schlepped over-roots till they came to free water areas once again.

It made Arthur regret not doing this from the start, but traversing unknown terrain was always a gamble. He’d just lost that time.

“Not much to look at, is it?” Rick said, arms crossed and hands buried in his armpits. Bobbing in the water next to Arthur, he was at the front where his guns were most useful for incoming threat. Not that they’d had to use it too often, though the glimpse of something large and white in the water had them all on edge.

“No, but I guess that’s why it’s lost.” Arthur had to admit, the man might have been selling the ruins a little hard. Beyond a few crumbling stone walls that peeked out of the water, the lost city of D’mai was truly lost, sunken beneath the water. If not for the walls and the sudden change in vegetation, they might never have realized they’d stumbled upon it.

“Rectangular,” Jan said, calling down from where she’d climbed a nearby tree. Yao Jing and Mel traded stones behind Arthur, almost making him rolling his eyes at the betting. “The lake is definitely not natural.”

“Not sure you can call it a lake, what with trees inside.” Of course, those trees in the rectangular expanse of water were mostly young, significantly smaller than the ones all around. The occasional tree that stuck out of the water that were on the larger end were few and far-between, most likely from someone’s precious garden.

Most interesting, was the massive tree in the center. Not a marshland tree with its wiry, crawling roots but something from the western hemisphere. An oak or something like that, with silver bark and wide trunks, broad leaves and massive branches that sheltered any who might make their way below.

“Then, what do you call it?” Jan said with a snort. She dropped low, adding. “Saw fish. Water’s very clear.”

“No lotuses,” Arthur said, idly. “Not muddy enough for leeches.”

“Thank God,” Rick muttered.

“Any ideas what the tree might be?” Arthur asked the group. They weren’t moving, letting Uswah scout their surroundings. It would be hours before she was back as she was jumping from shadow-to-shadow on the perimeter of the lak, intent on ensuring there were no traps. Or obvious clues they might be missing for the quest.

“The tree,” Mel said, immediately.

Aiyo! Ngo yao gong go dit!” Yao Jing complained.

“I’m not carrying a tree back,” Arthur said, flatly.

“Maybe its heart?” Rick ventured.

Bodoh ah?” Jan said. “Apa heart of tree?”

“Sap, maybe?” Rick said.

“The inner core of it?” Mel offered.

“I’m not cutting a tree down just for a quest.” Arthur jerked his chin towards the immense tree in the distance. “Never mind the sheer destruction of a natural beauty for our own good, I didn’t bring an axe. Did you?”

“Then what?” Jan asked.

Arthur could only shrug, feeling his low-berth raft bob as he did so. He had no idea, but there was another, bigger problem. Thus far, to move, they’d been using poles. The marshlands always offered something to push-off, if not the ground, then nearby trees and the like.

However, the lake – the city – ahead of them, the water was a lot deeper. He could see, reflected in the nearly clear water ahead, portions of the ground below. Their makeshift poles might not reach, and the worst thing they could do was float out to the middle and end up… stuck.

“We need oars,” Arthur pronounced.

“One, two?” Mel said.

“Double-headed?” When everyone stared at Rick, he mimed the motion of dipping one side and then another. “Like kayaks.”

“I… maybe?” Arthur considered. He wasn’t sure that oars like that would make sense, not with the way their skiffs were made.

“Single oar and rudder,” Yao Jing said, gesturing to the back of his own craft. The group stared at it, the way there was a cradle of sorts to allow placement of a spear, or perhaps an oar that was sloped and twisted a little. Arthur leaned back a little, staring at the whole thing as his imagination put two together.

“Was this drawn from something?” Arthur said.

“Traditional.” Yao Jing gestured to the side where the trees were. “I make. Not good, but will work.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense.” Arthur gestured for the others to get to work, knowing that Uswah was going to be focused on keeping them safe when she got back. “Rick, you’re on guard duty.”

“Why me?” Rick said, affronted.

“You good at carving?”

“Actually, yeah. Shop was one of my favorite classes.”

“Shop?” Arthur said, confused. Before the man could explain, he held a hand up. “Fine, you carve. I’ll watch.” He was not ashamed to admit, it was not a skillset he had. Now, all they had to do was wait for Uswah.




She slipped up next to him. Uswah had nearly caught him by surprise, if he had not seen the flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye as she emerged from a nearby tree and then jumped again, slipping between whatever realm the shadows there might be to reach him. Her ability to step between shadows was powerful, but short-ranged. At least for now.

“What did you learn?” Arthur said.

“No one else around. Rectangular. Very long. No creatures that seemed different, no settlements or other boats.” Uswah replied, only a trace of disappointment registering on her face at not being able to scare him.

“So, nothing,” Arthur said to tease her. He received a flat stare in return which made him smile before he gestured at the boats and the work being done. “Any good at carving?”


“Neither am I.” Arthur stared outwards, into the water and shook his head again after a moment. “I don’t like it. It’s too easy.”




“What?” Arthur looked upwards, crouching down a little at the same time while his spear head came vertical. Instinctive, just in case something was jumping at him. Not that there was anything, but he was looking up anyway. After a moment, he got it. “You want to look from up there.”

“Yes,” Uswah said. “Maybe I’ll see something more.”

“Good as any suggestion I have.” He hesitated, looking at the distance into the lake, the lack of shadows and tree branches for her to use. She might be able to make it… or probably not. “Who are you joining for the trip?”

No answer. When Arthur looked over, she was gone, already faded into a shadow. He’d figure it out, later. It was not the biggest concern after all.

Right now, working out what the trick was, was.

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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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