Chapter 236

Chapter 236

Early morning dawn had come and gone, leaving behind its soft light and gentle waking to the harsh light of mid-morning and the reminder that they had things to do. In this case, after finally finishing the healing process and pulling a small amount of energy from a core to refill his reserves, Arthur and Uswah were making their way back.

Silence had fallen between the two, a recriminating and disapproving silence for the most part. Eventually though, Arthur could stand it no more and spoke up.

“How long were you following me?” he asked.

“Since the start.” Uswah hesitated, then added. “You left me behind quite soon though.” She grimaced. “It costs me more to push through.”

Which probably answered by she was jumping between or hopping between locations rather than just disappearing and reappearing. When he enquired, she added.

“It costs me a fraction of Refined Energy to pull myself through each time. I can do it if I have enough reserves, but I’m trying not to…” she trailed off, shaking her head. “I didn’t think you’d run away that far.” A hestitation, then she added. “Or at all.”

“Yeah… sorry.”

She sniffed and Arthur ducked his head again. He was getting tired of apologizing, so he wouldn’t again. At least not to her. “Is that why you took so long to arrive?”

“Yes.” She grimaced. “You all fighting quiet didn’t help either. If not for that first explosion…”

It hadn’t seemed that quiet, at least to him, in the middle of it all. But he guessed, outside of the explosive dart he’d released, they’d mostly been quiet. He certainly had grown silent once he had set up his trap, hoping to heal and surprise them.

That thought brought a flash of surprised, long-lashed and pretty eyes, wide open and flailing as panic reached them, pain and fatalism creeping up the edges. He remembered her face, in parts, but it was her eyes that he recalled the most, the way they looked as she realized it was over.

His stomach rebelled, and he wobbled as he landed. Hand extended, pushing into prickly outer trunk as he steadied himself, grimacing a little as blood was drawn, Arthur tried to find balance. In all ways.

“You okay?”

“Just… recovering.”

Silence, and Arthur removed his hand, pulling it away from the prickly tree and flexing his hand, grimacing as he realized there were a few thorns embedded. Using his teeth, he pulled them out while regarding Uswah who had a look of pity and understanding as she regarded him. Spitting to the side, he broke eye contact rather than see those eyes. He didn’t need pity, not over something like that.

The understanding was worse, because it reminded him that they all were killers. Murderers. Enders of lives and hopes, of dreams and sons and daughters. The tragedy of death was not loss of potential, the threads snipped shut and potentials frayed, even as new cords were pulled tight and others frayed.

Who was she? Did she have family outside? Friends? Parents? Maybe even children. The desperate made the majority of those who came here, those who could not, would not settle for a life outside. When most of the ladders to climb higher had been chopped short, when the ones standing at the top hired others to shove everyone down, a chance, however slim, however shortened to make life better became tempting.

Not everyone would take it. But a run, a period being someone’s mule and climbing higher and higher, that was better than nothing. Nevermind the fact that you could stop on the first floor. Build a new life there, even if it was not… comfortable.

So many reasons to come in, and he would never know hers.


“The archer…” Arthur said, glancing at the bow Uswah had slung over her shoulder still strung. No way to unstring it and carry it easy, so she’d kept it strung even if it was not best for the weapon. The quiver knocking against her hip had a half dozen arrows left, not that many at all.

“Yes?” Uswah asked, softly.

He shook his head. He did not need to ask. He knew what happened to the man, even if he did not have the exact details. A part of him wanted to scream at the stupidity of it all, that they could have just moved on and not forced him.

Another part of him, the rationale portion, noted that they had attacked him first, without provocation. That wasn’t the actions of upstanding citizens, but of bandits. Of thugs and gangsters and assholes. There had been nothing he could have done to stop them…

Except, maybe not go out alone.

“You did well, you know.” Uswah said, the pair wandering over the main bridge that led into the village. Traffic was mostly headed the opposite direction, light though it might be. No sign of the trio still. Arthur debated looking into it further and then dismissed the idea. He had no reason to spend time and energy on something like that. They’d show up or not.


“They were all strong. Must have been close to leaving,” Uswah said. “You took out two yourself. If there had been a single one, you’d have been fine.” She smiled a little, amused. “Other than the archer.”

“Other than him.” Arthur agreed, though he wondered about that. He had no methods to stop someone from running away, not yet. But he could have perhaps surprised the other with a burst of speed, or something. “Thank you.”

“Keep training. You’ll get there,” Uswah said, somewhat approvingly.

They fell silent as they made their way the rest of the way back to the Clan hall. There were climber tokens that they’d gathered to verify in the Administrative hall, but Arthur was not feeling it right now. Later on, perhaps, he’d do it but for now, there was clothing and armour and other goods to sort and deal with from their attackers. That gauntlet that banged against his leg might be something Yao Jing wanted, if it fit. The club had been discarded, the weapon no use to them but her belt and the bandolier she had worn had been of good quality. As were all their shoes.

Tools and clothing and, of course, more stones. A small pile of loot from the attack to be washed and cleaned and distributed within the Clan, or left behind for others. He needed to clean himself too, his clothing stained and dirtied and torn. And while the weather was warm enough that he wasn’t particularly fussed about being shirtless, it didn’t stop the mosquitos from sucking his blood or the other insects from crawling on him.

“Where were you?” Mel snarled, the moment they stepped into the room. She almost bounced right in front of him, forcing him to partially block the way in.

Uswah, stuck behind, grunted and squirmed through and answered before Arthur could say anything. “Hunting.”

Gaze locked onto the dimunitive Malay woman. Mel softened her tone a little as she spoke to her. “You were with him.”


Mel frowned, stepping back and looking Arthur over. “What happened?”

Glancing over to Uswah, surprised she had partly covered for him, he chose his words carefully. “We got attacked. Got stuck with some arrows and caught by a grappler.” He touched his nose where he remembered the crack and smush. “It took me a bit to heal up and rebuild my energy stores.”

“And collect the stones.” Uswah held up a heavy bag of stones, swinging it back and forth. “Took from our friends.”

Arthur unhooked the gauntlet from his belt, waving it towards Yao Jing. The man was meditating so he shrugged and walked pass Mel, dropping everything down.

“I’m fine, and outside of losing some energy, nothing bad happened. I needed to test my techniques out anyway,” he said.

Mel shook her head, obviously wanting to continue to berate him but forcing herself to not do so. She glanced at Uswah who nodded a little, and in the end, Mel just let out a huffy breath. “Just, leave a note, will you?”

“I will. Figured I’d be back earlier, but things happened.” He made a face. “I guess I need to learn to play better. Now, if that’s it, I’m going to bathe and put some new clothing on.”

As he dropped the last of his gear away, keeping the kris with him as he wandered towards the showers, he mentally thanked Uswah. And resolved not to make the same mistake again.

Whatever he thought, he had new responsibilities. Running away from them, even to practice, was a bad idea. He just needed to make sure he wasn’t that hard-headed that he needed to relearn this lesson again.

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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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