Chapter 223

Chapter 223

“You sure ah?” Yao Jing was saying doubtfully for the fourth time as he peered upward, the waning light of the falling evening making it hard to pick out even individual leaves, never mind the fruit.

“Yes.” Arthur’s tone of voice was a lot shorter than before. Especially after the first three times he’d said the same thing. He gestured for Yao Jing to return to his seat, as he continued. “The fruit is up there.”

“But the heart?” Jan said, doubtfully. “Not very… center.”

“It’s not, except in a metaphorical sense.” He slapped the side of the tree he was leaning against, the huge diameter of the tree easily reaching forty or fifty meters. “But I didn’t see an opening. Unless it’s under the water, between the roots, this doesn’t seem like the hollow kind either.”

Bukan lah,” Jan said. “Not right kind.”

“That’s what I thought too.” Arthur shrugged. “Which means that we’re looking at either cutting it down, searching the waters for another building…” He waved towards the pair of climbers who were still in the water, diving over and over again. They’d made it quite far by now without any indication of problems from the hantu air which meant they were focused on finding Rick’s gun and the rest of their items. Already, one soaked bag and its contents lay drying on a series of roots. “And they’re doing that. Sort of.”

“Maybe something up there?” Yao Jing offered, gesturing upwards.

“Or magic doorway? Press a knob and it opens?” Jan said, miming the motion.

Arthur snorted. “You’re welcome to press on the tree knobs till you find it, but I think that might take a bit.”

Jan eyed the bark, the way it was warped and twisted, the hard bark that slowly peeled away and the numerous worls and knobs that presented itself within easy reaching distance. And then she looked up and up, staring at the hundreds of feet along the bark that might, contain a magical doorway that she theorized existed. And winced.

“Maybe climb first.”

“That’s what I thought too,” Arthur said. “We climb up, check out what might be out there and go onwards.” He hesitated, glancing at Uswah who would find the entire trip more difficult. It was not as though they had bought a hook attachment or anything else for her missing hand yet.

Something to look into in the future perhaps, if they had a moment.

“I’ll stay and watch,” Uswah said, waving to the diving pair. “Somoene needs to.”

“Thank you.”

She shrugged in answer.

“So, if everyone is properly topped up, I recommend we start from here and keep going tomorrow morning. I’ll bring the bag,” nodding to the emptied out that they had left drying, “and we’ll stick to shorter weapons otherwise. If we’re not back by nightfall…” He grinned. “Come and rescue us!”

There was a little laughter at that, but the team nodded in agreement. There was little enough for them to do but finish cultivating, sleep and rest and then get ready. Climbing the massive tree was probably something to do in the day after all.




Amusingly, for Arthur, the night did not end with rest but with cultivation. He’d poured the first hour into refining the Tower energy rather than sleeping, then proceeded to refill his stores to full once again in the deep of the night. He repeated the process a couple of times as the night went on, making full use of the increased Yin energy to benefit his cultivation before he finally crashed for a few hours sleep before dawn fully broke.

Washing his face and then brushing his teeth down with a cloth was all he could do for the basic abulations in the morning. Thankfully, with the Tower having rebuilt their body entirely during the process of transporting them over, the problem of bad morning breath was entirely missing. The very bacteria that were the cause of such things were never replicated, leaving the Tower blessedly stink free.

Not that he’d ever admit that or fail to use the insult. After all, that was an insult that was still politically acceptable. Weight, penis size, body proportions and height – those came and went in terms of insults. Race, of course, was always tricky – and quite inflammatory. If for no reason other than the fact that some of the stereotypes reached for were all too common.

But bad breath? That was something anyone with a little care and a toothbrush could handle. That was a choice, unlike so many other things.

“Let’s go,” Arthur said, simply to his companions when they were ready. He chose not to bid goodbye to the others. After all, this was just a simple climb, without any concerns at all.

Or so at least he forced himself to believe.

Climbing the massive tree was a little trickier. No way to tie one to the circumference, allowing the body to lean against and use the friction of a belt to help take the weight off. And for the first fifty or so feet, there were no branches to utilize to pull oneself up. Such things had grown upwards with the tree, leaving the trunk bare of simple handholds.

Bark was tough, and grainy. To climb, the team had to search for minor protrusions, knots and gaps in the bark and wedge fingers and toes within or ontop. And then, utilizing these minor edges, they would pull themselves up.

“I’m a lousy boy scout. Who never thought. To pack a spike, for a hike.” Cursing quietly, he kept hauling himself upwards. There were bear claws that ninjas utilized, that he was missing now. It would have made climbing simpler, if he had them.

Instead, at best, they had knives that sunk into the hardened bark and into the even harder wood beneath. It required some effort to do so and the group were careful not to do it too often. After all, once the last member – Yao Jing – had passed the knife, they had to pry it free carefully and pass it upwards so that Arthur was never entirely bereft of their improvised handholds.

No, for the most part, they free climbed their way up. They didn’t even tie themselves off to one another, what with the rope they had brought along sunk to the bottom of the lake and lost – for the moment – to them.

It probably was for the best anyway. Without pitons or other levers to brace against, a falling body would likely just drag the rest of them down.

“Remember, three point holds if you can,” Arthur called out again as he levered himself upwards and caught sight of Jan pulling her whole body up using just her hands. He shook his head a little at the action before returning to his own climb.

Truth be told, he could understand her impatience. For all their lack of preparation and the overall lack of experience showcased by his companions, they were making good time and distance. A climb that would have been challenging if not outright impossible for most was relatively trivial for the tower climbers. Multiple points in Body had increased not just their strength and stamina but co-ordination as well.

Hold yourself up with two fingers wedged in a sliver of space where bark had cracked and separated? Easy. Painful, admittedly, but easy. And while mortal climbers had to concern themselves with stamina and exhaustion, the trio were empowered by the Tower and the cultivation energy within them as well as the persistent healing side-effects of their Clan technique.

This increase in their overall endurance was not a factor Arthur had ever considered, but it was obvious that it had provided them with significant benefits. How much faster and further had they hiked, because of the technique? Hard to tell, in the end, but something worth noting.

And further worth considering that Rick, who did not have the technique, had kept up with them without complaint.

Rough bark beneath fingertips, wind pressing against skin and clothing. The smell of fresh sap, dried wood and clean water arising all around him. Though his mind wandered, the motion of climbing, of searching for a new handhold or place to wedge a foot was familiar. He took his time, making sure Jan could watch his motions behind him, and Yao Jing hers.

Took his time to look around, take in the world below. The marshes that surrounded the lake of a destroyed city, the tree that dominated the surroundings, the hills in the distance and the smoke rising in the distance from the beginner village.

This was an adventure, and for all the watchful eye he kept, Arthur could not help but marvel at that thought.

A far distance from sleeping on a dojo floor and running mundane errands for portions of the dollar.

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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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