Jenglot. Thick-haired humanoid creature of the forest. Long arms, dirty fur, and claws that might as well be knives. Long snout with two overarching fangs that were perfect for biting down and punching through armour. If one had armour.
And of course, it had the high ground.
Arthur huffed out a long breath, then immediately sucked in more air. He lowered his backpack, shrugging it back on properly and tightening the straps as he stared at the creature, never letting his gaze shift as he waited and recovered as best he could.
The sparrows might have fled, leaving the creature and him alone; but Arthur could not count on that holding for the more obstinate members of the monster population. Eventually, the babi ngepet would make it here. The rat swarm, diminished, would make their way through the snakes and birds and come for him.
Eventually, he would need to move.
Arthur cast a glance at the second-last rise. It was steep, though still no vertical wall. If he had time, he might scramble up it. If his leg was not half-dead, he might be able to take a running leap and somersault himself all the way up.
He’d still have to cross the open ground, much shorter this time, but still cross it. Then ascend one last level to reach the portal. All the while, the jenglot would be rushing over.
Arthur had a vision of his body arcing through the air, in a spectacular leap, before his leg was grabbed and he was yanked into the ground. There would be an Arthur-shaped hole in the earth as those big hairy legs came crashing down on his supine form.
He shook those morbid images out of his head, dismissing the entire thing as a bad, bad idea. And not even the cool kind of bad, like biker chicks in leather pants or sex on the beach. No, this was just bad. So no jumping.
His arms had been burning and feeling like they would drop off at any second. But now the pain had slowly decreased. The exhaustion faded a little, allowing him to switch from deep panting breaths to something a little more controlled. His legs ached still, and a glance down showed that blood continued to leak down his wound. Somewhere along the way, the damn sparrow that had lodged itself in his calf had fallen off, leaving a gaping wound behind that refused to clot fully.
His hands were still shaking. Holding the spear at ready, so that he could parry the jenglot if came charging suddenly, he yanked his canteen out with his other hand. He gulped down the water, almost emptying the entire thing between haste and splashing. Then he slipped the canteen away, working the cover till it closed.
All this time, the jenglot just chose to stare at him. Behind, raucous fights between the monsters grew in volume, the birds shrieking their unnatural anger as they divebombed new invaders. Still, they left him and the monster alone, another peculiarity of the test.
“You wouldn’t be willing to just step aside, would you?” Arthur called out. He wanted to wipe his wet hand dry, but his clothing was either muddy or bloody, leaving him with nothing to use. He settled for just shaking it off and then putting both hands on his spear.
Arthur nodded, glanced back to check on the progress of those monsters and made a face. No more delay then.
Back foot still dragging a little, he ascended the slope, spear held steady. He was still tired, his muscles aching, his breathing laboured, and his heart pounding like a machine gun. This was probably the worst timing for him to start a fight, but he had no other options. He was out of time.
Energy coursed through him as he pulled on it, triggering the Heavenly Sage’s Mischief. He felt himself lighten a little, his movements ease. It almost seemed like the ache in his body faded to the background as newfound strength poured in.
Even his punctured leg felt steadier, such that he began to ascend faster. On his forehead sat a Refined Energy Dart, ready to be unleashed. Now he wished he practiced making a second one. But one would do well enough.
And anyway, a Focused Strike might be all he required.
A plan was forming, as he neared the stationary monster. As though it could not, or would not, walk down the slope, it stood at the top, its body hunched low, long claws swinging back and forth. Tiny eyes set above a deep muzzle watched every moment of Arthur’s, baleful red and yellow eyes glinting with malice.
Nearer now, barely ten feet apart. A long lunge with the spear was possible, if Arthur dared to try it.
He heard a growing rumble from deep within the creature. It was like a bass speaker had been turned up, a stick swirled around the drum, rising and falling each moment. The hands rose a little now, guarding the lower end of its body.
Taunting, tempting a strike to the face.
Another step closer to meet the creature. And then another. Arthur could easily strike with his own raised spear. Stab and thrust, tear and rip. But the much taller monster could do the same if it leaned over.
That last step had been dangerous. Entering a close range was often a striking point for experienced duelists.
But the jenglot cared not. It wanted him nearer, it wanted him all the way up there.
And Arthur took the invitation, taking another step in.
Now, he was within the monster’s easy reach. It could lash out with its claws. And so could Arthur with his spear.
A micro-second of hesitation, as both watched and waited for the other to move first. Then, both claw and spear in a blur and the fight was on.