A day spent resting in the village allowed the team to heal up the majority of their injuries. A day was long enough to finish off two more scouting parties and to push all the bodies outside but not too long before the monsters would eventually respawn. Arthur was relatively liberal with his use of the accelerated portion of his healing technique, not content to be injured badly while behind enemy lines, so to speak.
Or was it “in the field”? He had no idea. It wasn’t as though he had ever been in the army—not that joining the Malaysian army was something he’d ever consider. For one thing, it was blatantly unfair and rather disheartening to be fighting wars in-person when the enemy likely used drones.
“Don’t die for your country, make their drones die for theirs” just didn’t have the same ring to it. Some people thought, without even the slightest fig of shame over real personnel injured, that some of the richer countries were about to wage wars of conquest again before the coming of the Towers. Now, Tower climbers made the mathematics of violence a little different. An angry, high-level Tower climber could do more damage than an army if needed—and was, in their own way, harder to stop.
And even harder to predict.
Israel had learned that lesson the hard way early on, when an angry Palestinian Tower climber had snuck into the middle of Jerusalem and proceeded to require nearly half a day before he was pinned down and killed. Even now the concern was ever present, even as some countries eased up on human rights violations.
Didn’t stop the corporations much though, but those kai dai were another kind of sociopathic, narcissistic set of fools.
All of which was to say, wars and civil wars and violence were not a thing of the past, but just very, very different. They were less likely to be utilized by governments that had any sense, but also more prevalent in everyday life as Tower climbers became living weapons in the real world and everyone else hoped they never blew up.
Or armed themselves when they did.
“You can’t sulk the entire walk back,” Casey muttered, walking alongside Arthur with just the slightest limp.
“I’m not sulking,” Arthur said as they slogged their way back. With the majority of the orang minyak dealt with in this region, the group had relaxed a little on the way back. The other monsters were dangerous, of course, but less immediately fatal.
“I said you were right already, didn’t I?” Casey said. “Did you want me to apologise too?”
“I’m not the one you should be apologising to,” Arthur replied. “I’m not the one still sporting broken bones and torn tendons and muscles. Or have half my face swollen and an ear ripped off.”
Casey could not help but look back and nod apologetically to Lam at his last sentence, wincing a little at the swath of bandages that covered the bodyguard’s face. The man had been half-dead when they finally got to him and even now he limped behind slowly.
Most of the group moved at a glacial pace. Healing technique or not, the amount of injuries they sported was significant. It was why Arthur had pushed for his own healing early on. And why Rick now had a secondary set of responsibilities. If they did run into major trouble, conservation of ammo and auditory levels were his last concern.
“Don’t tell me how to manage my employees,” Casey snapped at Arthur. “I know what I’m doing.”
“Like you knew how fast to push?” Arthur shook his head. “I’ve burned a ton of energy, which means now I’m behind on growing. We should have waited a few weeks, trained, and at least gotten our second transformation.”
“You said that already,” she growled.
Arthur opened his mouth to continue arguing, then snapped his teeth shut. He knew better. He’d made his point. He was just grumpy because everything still hurt, and he was forced to focus and watch what was going on. And he worried, just a little, that returning as injured as they were, they were asking for additional trouble.
Casey stared at him for a time before she realized he was done arguing. She let out a long sniff but turned away rather than prod him further.
Later that evening, Arthur found himself propped up against a tree once more, having volunteered to take the majority of the night shift, what with having healed the most. As the night drifted on, he spent his time watching the surroundings and reviewing details about the Night Emperor’s Cultivation Technique, making use of the time to slowly pull at Yin chi from the surroundings. It was a half-asleep attempt, never truly focusing or drawing too intensely, and yet still continuing the effort.
It was wildly inefficient, but taking the time to take tiny sips of energy rather than breath deeply as he should while properly cultivating meant he could watch the flow of energy more closely, attempt to perfect the flow and control and increase his efficiency.
Most importantly, it kept him from boredom. If one had ever done watch before, the realization that keeping one’s mind active and watchful was all too necessary.
Still, Arthur missed it entirely when Uswah drifted over to join him, nearly startling himself awake and hurting himself when he finally sensed her presence looming over his shoulder.
“What?” Arthur snarled, then held a hand up. “Sorry. But what’s up?”
“I’m sorry,” Uswah said, ducking her head a little.
“Being useless.” She raised her arm, the one half-missing, and waved it. “I couldn’t, I didn’t, do much. When things went bad.”
Arthur breathed deep, forcing the Yin energy he had been gathering to disperse before it made itself all the way through him. He could have continued to try to work on the small sips of energy, but she deserved his full attention. It also allowed him to take his time considering what he should say to her. The truth? Partial truth? Mollify her concerns? In the end, he was uncertain what to do, but he chose to go with the only examples he ever had.
“You weren’t able to help much, it’s true,” Arthur said. “But, and I can see you already dismissing my words, so don’t do that and listen.” A finger pointed at her arm, he said, “That is just an excuse. You’re not as deadly as you were before, but that doesn’t have to be true forever. We’re in an alien Tower that gives us magic powers. If you can’t figure out how to make that work for you, with or without an arm, then I’ll take your resignation from the team and wish you the best of luck.”
Uswah glared at him, but Arthur was unrepentant. “I don’t recall why you wanted to be here,” he continued. “I don’t know if we ever talked about it. But it might be time to reconsider whether you need to finish the climb or not.”
“I have to,” Uswah said. “I have family. I can’t just . . .” She waved downward, though Arthur couldn’t figure out what she meant. “I’ll get better. I just, I’m sorry.”
“For getting injured?” Arthur shook his head. “Don’t be. For not being stronger already?” He shrugged. “You weren’t the only one to mess up.” He sighed. “I should have stopped us from going on. But all we can do is learn and get better. And since no one died, this is the perfect time to do that, eh?”
“Ya.” Uswah smiled a little. “You know . . . you aren’t bad at this.”
“What? Kicking people into getting better?” Arthur shrugged. “I had to do that with my master.”
“You kicked your master?”
“No, no. I meant in my school. I had to help teach,” Arthur said. “Not that he ever forced people to, but you often had to push those who did come to better themselves. Mostly, people would sit around and whine about how they weren’t good enough yet. As though just coming to class was how they got to be great, rather than the hours spent sweating in class.”
“True.” Uswah gestured at his seat. “Anyway, it’s my turn. For watch.”
Arthur hesitated, sweeping a gaze over the woman once more. For all she had said about not being helpful, she also had managed to avoid getting injured. Which was just as important, what with their need to get home.
He considered mentioning that as he stood up and Uswah replaced him at his spot, but chose to keep silent for now. Whatever dark cloud she’d been carrying was driven away for now. Let that be enough, for the moment.
After all, he needed some ammunition for the future. Because sure as the clouds would turn, she’d get depressed again. Kind of the name of the game, being human and wounded.