Chapter 72

Chapter 72

The Suey Ying tong members who emerged out of the darkness, stumbling out of the boundary forest around the tower, were not looking for a fight. Instead, their eyes had been locked on to the flickering flames that made the tower a beacon to their entry.

It took them long moments to notice Arthur’s group, even longer to pull themselves together. It was obvious that the five members that survived of the group were the worst for wear, with one of their members dragged along by another and two others limping, their breathing harsh and ragged.

Even under the matte of dirt and blood though, Choi, the samseng that had harassed Arthur when he first arrived, was simple enough to pick out. The big nose, the lined face, the thuggish swagger that had not disappeared even in his exhaustion were burned indelibly into Arthur’s mind. More than that, the voice . . .

“We found you. Found you now . . .” Choi said, grinning madly. He straightened up a little, then flinched and collapsed as he clutched the lower part of his ribcage. “I’m going to kill you people.”

“How did you find us?” Shar said, edging away from Arthur as though she had already made up her mind to dissociate from him. Arthur noted that, even as he glared at Choi and her.

“Had a tracker . . .” Choi said, grinning. “Thought you were smart, eh, but you left a trail for us. Now let’s see that treasure you got.”

“We didn’t get anything,” Mel said, gesturing at the tower. “You’re welcome to try, but clearing it got us nothing. Just a lot of jenglot to kill.”

“Then you got cores, don’t you?” Lowering his wounded friend to the ground, another man said greedily, “Figure that’s good payment. Just drop it all.”

“No way,” Jan said. “You stupid, ah?”

“You want to die?” Choi said, gesturing for his pitiful group to split and flank the women. “You kill us, we’re going to war. And your people can’t beat us.”

“Who’s to say what killed you all the way out here?” Mel said, confidently.

“Doesn’t matter. My brother will start the war anyway,” Choi replied. “So you should just give us all we want and escort us back. Unless you want to go home and find all your precious members dead.”

The group fell silent, Mel looking at Shar. The pair traded a long glance, one that spoke volumes to those who could read the subtle language of old friends. As for Arthur, he didn’t have that deep knowledge, but he sure as hell knew a bad deal.

“Not happening,” Arthur said, pushing himself to his feet. He hurt, in an indefinable way, inside himself. His soul was still scarred, and as he tried to form a Refined Energy Dart, he found himself bending over as his whole body cramped. Pain, as his soul seized up.

Raucous laughter, as he collapsed after attempting to trigger his technique. He writhed in insubstantial pain until he managed to gain control over himself, struggling to his knees just in time to realise that the other group had closed the distance, now only a dozen feet away.

Weapons were leveled. The battered teams stared at one another over bloody instruments of war.

“Can we not talk about this?” Uswah said. “Fighting now, a lot of us are going to die. And we still have to get back through that forest alive.”

“Oooh, the creepy lady is scared of death.” Choi laughed. “Crippled and creepy. Make a horrible wife now, won’t she, boys?”

“I’m going to kill him,” Jan muttered under her breath.

There were a few nods from the women, and both groups fell silent. It was the quiet Rani who chose to act first, conjuring a hole under the feet of the approaching men. She did so under the entire line of them, though Choi in the vanguard jumped over while his nearest companion stumbled into her trap.

It was not a deep depression, barely a foot and a half. However, it forced them to separate, leaving Choi alone at the front. His companion’s momentum caused him to fall over. Uswah, triggering her own shadow technique, had tendrils of darkness reach out and grab the fallen man, yanking his foot in the hole harder whilst pulling his face into the dirt, muffling his screams.

But Rani and Uswah’s actions had a cost, for the pair of cultivators had expended what little energy they had regained before the Suey Ying showed up. The two women sunk to the ground, faces pale, leaving the rest of the gang to deal with Choi and the men before them.

Mel rushed Choi, followed along by Shar. They wanted to take the leader down fast. That, unfortunately, left Jan and Arthur to deal with the two thugs who had jumped over the gap in the ground and the injured fella at the back who had a pinched look on his face as though he’d had a really bad curry.

Making a quick decision, Arthur heaved his spear, throwing it at the last member of the party. Too weak to dodge, the spear skewered the man in his lower body, disrupting whatever cultivation technique he had meant to use.

“Jeff!” shouted one of the thugs. He turned to Arthur and screamed, “You bastard! Attacking the wounded? I’ll kill you.”

Resolved, he rushed Arthur, choosing to avoid Jan and the others.

Without a weapon on hand, Arthur chose the better part of valour and turned around, legging it for the tower entrance. He glanced at the guttering fires, remembered the rope strung across the open doorway—which unfortunately was meant to deal with jenglot and not humans—and ran in, closely followed by the other man.

Lungs burning and his side aching from the run, Arthur grabbed the edge of one door and ducked to the side. He dropped himself flat the moment he did so, letting his body fall against the propped-up barrier that had been built there: above were makeshift wooden stakes pointing outwards.

Behind him, the man followed Arthur’s example, spinning around the door. He did not, however, drop prone like Arthur, having missed that action as the door blocked his view.

Instead, he ran directly into the stakes. The first missed entirely, but the second caught him in the right part of his chest, piercing muscle and glancing off bone. He howled and pulled away, shocked by the ambush, but his cultivator-strengthened body saved him from being pierced all the way through.

Only for Arthur to rise, grip hold of his shirt and pull the man forward as he thrust his own body backward, using weight and angle to pin his opponent on a stake. This time, with the added weight of both parties and the initial injury in play, the stake pierced the body.

Even then, Arthur’s opponent refused to die. Lashing out with fists and knees, as the sickle he had been wielding had dropped to the floor, he battered at Arthur’s body even as Arthur hugged his torso close, blood falling upon his head and face as his opponent bled out.

Eventually, movements slowed, the strikes growing weaker with each passing moment until they stopped. He extracted himself from under the body, scooped up the man’s small scythe, and wiped the blood off his face.

Then listened, for trouble.

It was quiet out there. Too quiet.

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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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