“Move, move, move,” Arthur chanted as he ran, drawing the others to him. “We’re hitting the village and wiping them all out. We’ll deal with the ones on the periphery later.”
“What if they gather?” Mel asked as they ran in a double line.
“That’s why we move fast.” Arthur jerked his head towards Rick, saying, “He takes out the ones in the village first, then we deal with the stragglers.”
A cry from ahead had Arthur tensing. His eyes swept over the bobbing figures of Jan and Yao Jing. The big man had leapt forward, one hand glowing as the knuckles of his fist glowed. A moment later, he crashed down onto his target, the attack flashing forward and blasting the orang minyak back. On the opposite side, Jan ducked under a sweeping attack, her parang catching the monster in the torso to score a light attack as she ran right past it.
Right behind her, Mel used the creature’s distraction to slice it across the eyes with her spear tip, refusing to slow down. Another pair of orang minyak were shifting out of the brush, their camouflage broken. Before Arthur could react, the bark of pistols rang out. One bullet took one of the humanoid monsters in the temple, throwing its head back. Uncertain if it was alive, Arthur hit it with his shoulder to send the body sprawling back.
Then, he was past, unsure of what had happened to the other orang minyak. His heart thudded in his chest with each breath and the cultivator had to force himself to calm his breathing. They were running right into danger and if he tensed up now, he’d be too tired to actually fight when they reached the village.
Once more, they encountered another group—scouts or guards—on the periphery. But only two this time, the creatures battered aside with ease. Arthur wasn’t sure if they survived the combined attacks as his group ran past. His own Refined Energy Dart shot through a raised elbow as he skidded past, the attack tearing into exposed flesh.
As suddenly as it began, they broke out of the forest into a clearing, in which ramshackle huts made of woven branches jutted out of the rolling earth. Orang minyak were waiting for them, dozens it seemed, screaming their readiness. No smaller creatures, no children, no women. Not that female orang minyak were to be expected—after all, the legends spoke of orang minyak as male, always looking for female prey to copulate with.
Uswah, in the forefront as always, adjusted the direction of her run, hurtling herself to the side even as she wove tendrils of shadow to slow the creatures’ attack. Not fast enough, but Jan and Mel were next, the pair having shifted position in line.
Mel cast her spear forward, the weapon glowing as it took the first monster in its chest, combining a Focused Strike and another elemental technique to blow the monster back. It left her without a weapon briefly, but it created a gap. One that Jan made use of. She sped up, pouring energy into her own version of the Heavenly Sage’s Mischief, making her faster than ever. Her blades cut deep, slicing into the group as she plowed in and danced between the monsters.
Arthur and Yao Jing were next up, the pair splitting to the sides as they sought to deal with monsters that were trying to surround them. It also, coincidentally, allowed Rick to open fire without worrying about hitting them. His guns barked away deafeningly. Only Jan was in the line of fire, and she was crouched low, spinning beneath the bigger monsters.
From Casey’s hand, a series of small stars flew. None of the attacks themselves seemed to do much damage, but they were distracting. Blood blossomed around them as Arthur and the rest of the team plowed in. Only Lam chose not to attack, focused on the backline as he was.
Spear spinning constantly, Arthur struck and struck again. Heavenly Sage’s Mischief roared through his body. His sweeping attacks pounded opponents away. Each movement, each strike and kick, was combined with Focused Strike—no need to conserve energy at this moment.
After all, their goal was not to win but to create chaos for a short period. Uswah, hunched behind him, was contributing to that as best she could, her fingers weaving and tugging, pulling monsters off-balance with strings of shadow even as the continued flurry of bullets took monster after monster down.
Then . . . silence.
“Reloading!” Rick cried out.
“Oh hell,” Arthur cursed, blocking an attack. He staggered back as he blocked an overhand sweep, the shaft of his spear bending before rebounding. He kicked out, his foot staggering his opponent back, before the monster swept him aside with a powerful knock of its fist.
He tugged the kris out of its sheath and plunged it into the lunging monster. The orang minyak staggered back, clutching at its new wound and letting out a burbling hiss. Arthur blinked, his balanced regained as he grounded his back foot.
“Hey, that’s mine!” Arthur cried.
Mel, clutching his kris stabbed again, pinning an arm and tearing downward. Then, she danced to the right next, swinging the kris still. “Borrowing.”
“Gah! Give it back,” Arthur grumbled, backing her up with his spear.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the rest of the team fighting. They had fallen into a defensive formation, holding off the roaring monsters rather than going for the kill as Rick finished reloading. A dozen, maybe, creatures left, and another ten or so already on the ground, messing up their footing with blood, guts, and corpses.
Together, the team held the monsters back. For a second, then two, then a dozen. But inadvertently, the monsters’ greater weight and numbers began to push the team in retreat, their feet sliding on blood- and oil-slicked ground.
“Reloaded.” To punctuate his words, the roar of Rick’s pistols began once more.
All in all, things were going swimmingly. Which was when the scouts finally arrived, of course.