He nearly made it out of the crowd. Thankfully, there were not that many monkeys. Or there were, but they were also spread out, which meant that instead of having to handle a hundred chittering asses, there were just over a score in near proximity. Now, with the monsters in disarray, their king cradling its injury and not daring to near him, he nearly made it out with a straight run.
Problem was, he never saw the flung projectile. It wasn’t aimed at his head, or his torso. Instead, either due to a bad throw or deep cunning, it went for his foot. The upraised foot that, once clogged by the slimy addition, came down unevenly and sent him sprawling to the ground in an undignified fall.
Of course, Arthur rolled with it. He had spent countless hours learning breakfalls and rolling falls, learning how to crash to the earth again and again from different positions. There was embedded muscle memory in his body, just like the muscle memory his sifu had invested in him when he learnt to stab, cut, and otherwise butcher fresh meat.
For that matter, he had spent a number of months working in a nearby farm, cutting chicken necks and bleeding them out before helping to pluck the feathers as well. All to get used to the idea of taking a life. He started when he was twelve and had, for a few years, nightmares of screaming, clucking chickens covered in blood. That was the kind of trauma he had signed up for.
Not so different from running away from hordes of screaming monkeys with poo flung at him from behind and sideways, with a herd of babi ngepet were just making their way up from the level below, and a creeping kuching that had made its way to the monkey level and started snacking on one of the injured simians a short distance away.
He caught sight of bits and pieces of this as he rolled and came up, swinging his spear to ward off the nearest monkey. Only to realize that the monkeys were now farther away than he had expected. Mostly because they had gone to look for more projectiles to throw at him.
The monkey king in the back was screaming—insults and orders, probably. It seemed no longer willing to risk its people. In the meantime, another troop of monkeys was rushing over, with a leader of their own emitting shrill shrieks. To Arthur’s surprise, their arrival split the attention of the troop before him.
“Monkey fight in front of me, and that’s when I run rather than be.”
Arthur turned and ran, hunkering his head down a little, more in hopes that he could hide himself under his backpack. Thankfully, he never really had anything too precious inside. Pots and pans that got a little banged up, changes of clothing, scrolls or documents that might be useful, canvas tent and bedroll to make sleeping easier. And of course, some food . . .
“Arse. I bet that’s all messed up.” He heard a rather wet splat of something striking his backpack from behind and a fresh nasal assault began.
He could not help but let out a long sigh, though he didn’t stop running. At least nothing was ahead of him this time, which meant all he had to do was keep moving.
Or so he thought.
Until the other troop drew near enough and began throwing too, and then the ranged barrage came from two directions. Arms held up to cover his face, he felt the impact of projectiles all over his body Arthur felt like he was in the most brutal, most malodorous, most uncivilized game of dodgeball ever.
One impact after the other, causing bruises and pain. He hissed as a particularly strong throw hammered his lower ribs, driving breath from his body. Already, he had been struggling to breathe properly, the stink forcing him to take short sharp breaths even as his nose struggled to reduce the olfactory assault. Lungs burning, his limbs heavy with disease, he hissed and huffed.
Then another stone struck his thigh, punching into the peroneal nerve running along the outside of his thigh. Even though he had trained to take kicks to it, nerves and mind deadened to daily abuse from training, he still collapsed.
This time, there was no artful roll. Just a sudden collapse and slide forward as knee bruised the ground and his front leg kicked forwards. He slid on the slick bottom of his foot, grinding against the dirt underneath his feet. Pants tore, and older, scabbed wounds sprung open.
This time around, he heard it. Monkeys too close. He dropped to his left leg, and his right leg was still not working right after the strike. He rolled over his shoulder and came up to face the opposite direction with his weapon pointed at the incoming horde.
The first monster, launching itself in a brave leap was pinned by the spear. Its body slid partway off the spear, pulling the tip down. It died coughing and spluttering on the spear even as Arthur yanked the weapon, trying to free it from the corpse.
Another monkey, second in line and smarter, angled itself around the body and spear. It came low, claws extended and Arthur snarled a little. He poured energy into his fist as he swung it, hammering into the monster’s temple and using Focused Strike to crumple the small bones.
Then, it was down.
Legs still burning, Arthur forced himself to stand but the troop of monkeys, though much reduced in number, were surrounding him. He backed off, swinging his spear in arcs to keep them away, eyes flashing.
His breathing was harsh, panting. Every second, he could feel the energy gained the Heavenly Sage’s Mischief running out. Yet he pushed on. He had to. He could not stop, so he backed away, kept swinging his spear.
Each time he swung, he drove one of the monkeys back. Each time he looked aside, another monster crept forward, darting closer. The creatures ducked back and forth, always trying to get closer and past the whirlwind of Arthur’s spear. Which was spinning slower and slower.
And then, suddenly the rush from Heavenly Sage’s Mischief ran out. The monsters, sensing the shift in pace, charged all at once.