The first orang minyak that Arthur saw truly lived up to its name. A weird mix of bigfoot or sasquatch and greasy, oiled porn actor, the creature loomed out of the gloom of the forest suddenly, the shimmering aura around it indicating a magical camouflage technique being broken. It swiped at Yao Jing, catching the big brawler in the side and throwing him a half-dozen feet away and leaving blood spiralling through the air. Its clawed fingers glistened with ruby droplets.
Directly behind his friend, Arthur lowered his spear and thrust, the weapon on a direct trajectory to pierce the monster’s throat, Focused Strike flowing through his arms to empower the attack. To his surprise, the orang minyak managed to slide away, avoiding the attack and battering his weapon aside a moment later. Only quick feet let Arthur get out of the way of a return kick, the butt of his spear sweeping up to pull the oily foot higher.
Momentarily thrown off-balance, the humanoid creature was unable to dodge the sweeping blast of energy from Casey’s sword draw. After having seen her sword technique in action, bisecting golden monkeys and babi ngepet alike, Arthur was surprised to see the orang minyak only mildly injured, a mere bleeding wound that parted greasy but tough black fur.
Then, he was too busy to worry about such minor concerns as the creature started swinging its claws. Joined by Casey, Arthur was forced to pay full attention not just to his attacker but also the heiress who waded into the fight without care for Arthur’s spear, forcing him to restrict his own motions and dance out of her way or risk hitting her. Or being hit.
“Oi!” He shouted, more than once. Or words to the same idea, though it mattered little to his companion as sword or arm swung, dark eyes glinting with fierce concentration.
A series of quick exchanges later and another presence joined them, Lam slipping into the space on Casey’s right. He paid less attention to striking, instead wielding his metal polearm in defence, blocking and swinging the spear to defend his charge from strikes. It offered Casey the opening she required and she began to make her opponent bleed. Sword cut, skittering across and tearing glossy fur.
Arthur pushed forward, though he kept a distance from Casey. He noticed Jan hurrying past the fighting trio, her focus on something beyond them. He was grateful for her attention, knowing that there might be additional attackers coming. Now, he could truly pay attention to his battle.
Together, the three pressured the monster, forcing the humanoid into a corner. It backed up against a tree, unable to escape further. Rather than give up, it grew more agitated, preferring to take additional wounds in exchange for the chance to strike against its attackers. More than once, a wild swing nearly tore Arthur’s spear from his hand, the creature’s greater strength causing him to stumble about and widen his stance.
“MINE!” Casey shouted suddenly. She threw herself forward into a full lunge, her sword glowing. A moment later, the blade sunk through ribs into the center of the monster’s chest where its heart might have been.
However, the creature did not fall or pause in its motions, instead joining its hands and interlacing its fingers to swing the hammer of its fists down upon Casey. Oblivious, the woman snarled and twisted her blade, widening the wound and sending another pulse of energy. Light flowed from her shoulders down the sword, pulling the light into a single ball of energy that entered the chest.
Having understood the woman by now, Arthur and the bodyguard both acted at the same time as the heiress, thrusting their spears at the descending hammer of fists. Spear tips pierced the creature’s arms at crossed angles, the pair bracing against the greater weight and failing.
Hands partially pinned by spears came crashing down on the woman’s head and shoulders. Yet, what would have been a life-ender was slowed, the blow dispersed a little by the spears that were in the way and drained strength.
Sword yanked out of body, and the energy that was sent into the orang minyak exploded. Light shone from the wound briefly, illuminating the insides. Arthur was surprised to note the colours, lighter where Casey’s weapon had entered and darker where lungs and a heart were—lower in the orang minyak’s body than a human’s.
Then, finally, the creature slumped over, its will to fight finally destroyed. Arthur managed to shove the hands off Casey, pulling his weapon back and checking for additional dangers even as the bodyguard pulled her free, checking over the woman.
“Owww . . . that hurt,” she complained, rubbing her head and chest.
Arthur frowned, looking down at the woman. He noticed a trace of blood on her fingers, where the edge of one of their spears had grazed her scalp, but more concerning was the way her eyes failed to focus on him.
“You okay?” he asked.
“No. You didn’t block it.”
“Not my job.” Arthur huffed. “You need to guard yourself better, woman.”
“That is your job.” She rolled her head a little to the side, accepting the pill offered to her and swallowing it, letting the healing energy roll into her before she went on to scold her bodyguard. “And yours too, Ah Lam.”
“My apologies, mistress,” Lam said. “I told you, it’s hard to guard you adequately with only one of us. Without Ah Kit—”
“Do better,” Casey snapped.
Arthur frowned, then looked at Lam, watching the older man bow his head a little as he was rebuked by someone nearly a decade his junior. Like Arthur, Casey was barely over twenty. Lam fussed over Casey a little more before she dismissed him, allowing her to prop herself up against a tree as he went to extract a core from the body. For a moment, he debated if he was going to say anything.
“Lam Kor,” Arthur said respectfully, using the Cantonese title for an older brother, “Please open the corpse up a little, will you? I want to take a closer look at its vital organs.”
Lam froze for a second before he nodded. “Good idea.”
Then, now that the man was sufficiently distracted butchering the body, Arthur walked over to squat next to Casey. She was holding a compress to her scalp wound. He waited for her attention to turn to him before he spoke, his voice low but intense.
“I’m not going to tell you how to speak to your employees. I do think it’s foolish, but you do you. I am going to say this and I want you hear me.” He watched as she rankled, but at least she wasn’t speaking. Not yet at least. “You need to stow that attitude and start guarding yourself.”
“I’m more effective this way,” Casey snapped.
“And you’re making the rest of us worse off,” Arthur said. “You’re the one who wanted to do a speedrun. If you haven’t realised it, that means working with us, not against us. That means joining together and figuring out how to work as a team, not acting as though you’re the shit.”
“You dare to speak to me like this?”
“Yes. Because I can,” Arthur said, still keeping his voice low. “And obviously, no one has told you otherwise. You’re not horrible, but you’re a little too self-centered. Wake up, figure out how to work with us, or we’re going to fail your speedrun. Quite possibly someone’s going to die—if so, trust me, it isn’t going to be me or my people.”
“Are you threatening me?” Now her voice rose, causing her bodyguard to look over to her.
“We’re just chatting, Lam Kor. Good work on finding the core, by the way,” Arthur said, giving the man a thumbs up. He waited till the bodyguard turned away, grateful that Casey did not choose to interrupt them. Grateful that the rest of the team was carefully giving them the privacy to have this conversation. “No threats. Just observations and statement of intent. I’ll pull my people out of a fight long before you cause real damage. Then we’ll train till we’re ready to do it your way, however long it takes.”
“That’s not what we agreed.”
“Plans change. Deal with it.”
Having said his piece, Arthur stood up. Casey still looked half-dazed, though the healing pill seemed to have gotten rid of the confusion a bit. It was a little naughty to tackle the subject while she was semi-concussed, but on the other hand, it might just leave her open to suggestions.
And if not, well, he wasn’t lying. Not at all.