Arthur looked over the group, all lying asleep. His bag was packed, his gear over his shoulder. All but the tent which he had to leave behind. He had slept rough before, so leaving the tent was no big sacrifice, well, except to his comfort.
His lips curled upwards in a smirk, as he hefted his spear one last time. A small pang of regret flickered through him when his eyes dropped to where Uswah slept, curled up with a hand and leg thrown out from under her blanket carelessly. Of them all, she had been the most upfront and fair with him. He could almost believe she knew nothing about the others’ upcoming treachery.
Yet it did mattered not. He was not going to stay around and play bait. Let them test the tower themselves. He would return to the camp alone. And if he made them enemies, well, better enemies in the future than dead.
He was half a dozen feet out of the perimeter when a noise made him turn, eyes narrowing at the shaded forest. He crouched lower, leveling his spear in the direction of the noise as he tried to spot what it was. Something high up in the trees was moving.
The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, a sixth sense warning him of the creature’s regard. Without thought, he raised his voice. “’Ware! Monsters!”
Thrashing out of their blankets behind him, as the seasoned adventurers woke. The creature shifted, two glinting yellow eyes disappearing for a second. Then, they returned, multiplying.
One, two, three . . . six pairs of yellow eyes, all of them hovering nearly ten feet off the ground.
“Oh sial,” Uswah was by his side, cursing.
“Yeah, you can say that again,” Arthur muttered as he began backing off.
“Shit.” Sharmila formed up beside the slowly retreating pair.
“She said that already,” Arthur replied. “Why aren’t they attacking?”
“You want them to attack?” Uswah said. “I’m okay with them not . . .”
Jan sniffed. “We can beat them.”
“Really? And what, exactly, is this ‘them’?” Arthur could not help but ask sarcastically. The hair on the back of his neck refused to lower, the twisted knots in his stomach refusing to unclench. Every one of his instincts told him that he wanted nothing to do with these creatures, even if he did not know why.
And his instincts had kept him alive so far.
“Monsters, of course . . .” Jan’s voice trailed off as they finally chose to reveal themselves, stepping into the clearing. Large humanoids with long hair and two long tusks. Their arms hung to the ground, covered with the same coarse fur that encompassed their whole bodies. Even with their fur, which was matted with dirt and blood, it was clear that these creatures were muscular with broad shoulders and tiny waists.
“Jenglot,” Uswah breathed.
“Time to go,” Arthur said, speeding up his retreat. When he noticed she was not moving, he called out, “Move, Uswah!”
Shocked out of her fear, she began backpedalling, as did the rest of the group.
“What about our gear?” Jan shouted.
As though their retreat was the signal, the creatures tore forward. Their long legs covered the ground quickly, their movements unusual as they bent large, heavy upper torsos forward to aid momentum.
An arrow, loosed by one of the other girls, sunk into the coarse fur where one of the jenglot’s heart should be. The attack seemed to not bother it at all, for the creature kept sprinting towards the group.
Shouts rose up as the group loosed a variety of other ranged attacks. Energy attacks, chi blasts, even a throwing knife went out to meet the monsters. None managed to do more than annoy the creatures and superficially wound them.
Choosing to not waste his breath further, Arthur turned around fully and ran for it. Let the girls fight for their belongings. He was not going to fight those creatures, especially when everything he owned was on his back.
He darted to the tower entrance, losing precious time to shoulder one of its double doors open. Only after he had stepped inside a half-dozen feet did he think to check for traps. Thankfully, there were none, but he still slowed down long enough to scan the room.
Not a moment too late, for a monster was waiting within: another jenglot. Except this one was twelve feet tall, hunched over as it stared at the group, hands darting forward for him. Arthur managed to bring his spear out in front of him at the last moment, blocking the attack only to watch the shaft of his spear bend. He fell backwards, the monster yanking its hand back as its skin was split by the shaft’s splinters.
“Damn it!” Arthur cursed as he backed away, jabbing with his spear as he tried to keep the monster back.
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the open archway and the staircase leading up. Unfortunately, it was an angle opposite him, nearly perpendicular to where he and the monster stared at one another.
Roaring, the monster chose to take a wound as it darted forwards, skin ripping as it grabbed Arthur’s spear by the haft and tore it from his grip. Unable to keep hold of the weapon, he let it go and danced backward.
Instinct had him flick his hand outwards, the Refined Energy Dart shooting out of it to strike the monster in the face. He missed hitting the eye dead-on but the monster was so big and with it hunched over and paying attention to its newly acquired spear, the attack managed to gouge the eye and half-blind it.
“Gotcha!” Arthur cried.
Seconds later, he was throwing himself across the ground as the creature stamped on where he was. The ground cracked and splintered. Rolling away, he stuck a hand out to grab his spear from where the monster had discarded it, then got back on his feet.
“Let’s try this again,” Arthur hissed.
Jumping forward, he stabbed with his weapon, once, twice, thrice. It forced the monster back, before it managed to clip him in the side, spinning him. A sideways drop and roll had him coming up, his arm throbbing after the glancing blow.
Again the monster came forward, edging him backward. Circling to the side, Arthur tried to reach the archway up the staircase, only for the doors to swing open. The jenglot turned its head, eyeing the girls who had burst in.
Jan, leading the run in, let out a long scream before she struck out with her parang, catching its thigh muscle. Shoving its leg sideways, the jenglot managed to back her away, leaving Arthur a chance. He triggered Heavenly Sage’s Mischief, feeling the strength course through him as he leaped forward and thrust the spear. The weapon plunged into the monster’s neck before it was pulled out again as he fell, leaving a gaping, bloody wound, hot blood spilling everywhere to stain the air.
“Move!” Jan snarled, shouldering past him as she pushed through. She warily eyed the jenglot that had staggered back, clutching its throat as it died.
Arthur, spear back in his hand, glanced at the dying jenglot briefly before he turned to the entrance. Just in time to see Sharmila and Uswah to stumble in. A pair of jenglot came charging in, only for Uswah to grab one by its arm, throwing herself and the monster backwards. She flipped it through the air, using the strength of her fall and her arching legs to throw the monster back out the door.
Sharmila and Jan slammed the doors shut, leaving the final, unmolested monster to Arthur. Trapping the four humans in there with two jenglot.
“Yeah, this feels just about right for my luck,” Arthur muttered as he charged.