The first monkey to dart forward was speared in the face. The second took a Refined Energy Dart in the face, leaving it injured and in pain. That left the other five that swarmed him uncontested, the group managing to catch Arthur by surprise as he was still reeling and adjusting to his sudden drop in speed. Even as he swept a foot back to retreat, they were on him.
One grabbed at his spear and arm, dragging the weapon out of alignment from his prepared strike. Another monster took his injured thigh, claws digging into tattered pants and unprotected skin beneath. It ripped and gored at his flesh and muscles, even as a third launched itself past the spear as Arthur tried to twist the entire weapon around to dislodge the monster holding it. Within seconds, the combined strength of the monsters had his weapon stripped from him, even as the final two went for the kill.
The first jumped towards his face, and a last-minute surge by Arthur left the monster’s own face smashed and his own head pounding from a bad headbutt. So many stories saw the headbutt as the be-all-and-end-all of surprise attacks, but like any footballer who’d taken a header wrongly, it could also leave you reeling and concussed. Even while dirty mouths and sharp teeth tore at your scalp and left bleeding wounds.
He went reeling, feeling the impact around his torso pushing him back. His body tipped over sideways and without his spear he came down hard, bouncing off a monkey’s still scrabbling arm around his torso and cracking it.
Each monster was nowhere as strong as him, but combined, they clambered and grappled, tore and swiped at him. It was in the gaps of their movements that he found space, as they tried to hurt rather than hold him down.
Right hand, free of the spear that had been pulled away, punched a monkey in the side from where it clung to his chest. Another strike freed up space around his belt for him to grab at the kris that had been trapped there. As he rocked back and forth on the uneven surface of the backpack, his balance shifted constantly and the added weight pressed onto him caused sharp metal implement and tent poles to dig into his muscles and elicit shards of pain.
But with kris in hand, Arthur had a weapon now which he wielded swiftly, slicing with the wavy edge of the blade up, sliding the sharpened surface of the enchanted weapon along flesh. He nicked monsters again and again, even as he dodged claws that sought to do more than damage.
One dirty finger plunged towards his eye. Only a last-minute move caused it to dig into his cheek below. Sharp claws tore deep into flesh, even scraping bone. The pain from that was just a portion of the pain all over his body as a monkey clamped down hard on the meaty flesh of his shoulder. But another thrashed as it fell off, dying and poisoned from his kris.
As he rolled aside, a spear—
his own spear—plunged into the ground next to him, brushing against his thigh. Eyes wide, he gripped the spear before it was being yanked out by the monkeys.
Thank god that, smart as they were, these monsters were still not highly adept tool users. It would have been incredibly embarrassing to die from one’s own weapon at the hand of a mere monkey.
He’d never live it down on his resurrection.
Jerking an elbow into a torso, blinking around the blood covering one eye, he lurched to his feet and kicked out while keeping the kris moving. He scored a shallow slice on furred flesh, barely a light wound. But it didn’t matter.
The goal was to damage and open skin, to drop the poison enchantment within. He kept moving, forcing himself into a spin, even as the last free monkey jumped onto him, only to receive a backpack in its face. It still managed to grab on, forcing Arthur to lurch to the side, his breathing coming in ragged breaths as dust and blood and spittle flew through the air.
Then, he cut and cut, sweeping the spear around. In the distance was a thunder of incoming hooves as the fighting monkey troops were bowled over by babi ngepet, bringing a new mix of screams and shouts.
Another stab, and the last monkey in front of him was down. Taken with fear, the monkey on his back dropped. Too wounded and tired to finish it off, Arthur just staggered to the wall of the slope, leaning against it as he tried to catch his breath and watched the survivor scurry away.
It took him three tries before he managed to sheath his kris, nearly cutting himself on the second attempt. Maybe he did, but he hurt so much that he was not entirely certain. Well, a little soporific effect from the Yin poison might not be a bad thing.
Transferring the spear over to his right hand, he forced his aching left hand to flex twice by sheer effort of will. Arthur then swiped at the blood on his forehead. He wiped a bloody forearm on the nearby wall, then repeated the process as he sucked in deep breaths. There was something wrong with the last two fingers of his left hand, and when he stared at them he winced. Somewhere along the way, he’d managed to wrench the bottom finger entirely out of place.
It said something about the amount of adrenaline in his body and pain that the actual dislocation was the least of problems. Or that he simply leaned his spear against himself, grabbed hold of his dislocated finger and yanked it back into position with nothing more than a resigned but screaming effort of will.
Then, panting and sweating from exertion and pain, vision blurring from loss of blood, Arthur took in his options. He needed to get moving. But his feet refused to move, and the monsters were—thankfully—in the middle of their tiny war.
He wondered if this was the Tower’s plan all along, something for him to exploit. Or if this level was entirely untested, the fighting between the groups an unexpected side result. Regardless, Arthur was finding the entire trial harder than he had expected.
Looking up as he finally caught enough of a breath that he could afford to pay attention to anything else, he looked at the swarm of birds above. He had forgotten about them.
Then, pulling his water bottle free, he chugged down a few mouthfuls, washed the blood from around his eyes a little and wrapped a bandage around his head to soak up any further blood. He left the gummy, bleeding wound on his cheek alone, along with the other myriad wounds on his body.
Because now, the monsters had settled into an uneasy peace. Monkey troops formed together, the injured monkey king dead and the new king gesturing for the group to back away from the babi ngepet. The furious boars, on the other hand, seemed intent on going after him, trotting together in a small group towards him, regaining speed with each moment.
And in between, the rats and the cat were definitely waiting for their own chance.
Time to run.