The screams of the jenglot chased after Arthur as he crawled away, both of them moving in a slow circle. He kept his head faced forward, not daring to waste even the fraction of a second required to look behind. Each movement was painful, each pull of his arms driving him forward as he wiggled his hips to help with his crawl. Time stretched; he crossed a half dozen feet, leaving a trail of blood behind.
Then long fingers, hairy and callused, closed around his foot and yanked.
Screaming, Arthur found himself dragged backward. He kicked with his free leg; the other foot being gripped was numb. The strikes did little but annoy the monster as it clamped down with sharp teeth on his calf, punching through his jeans and into the skin beneath.
Another scream, another series of kicks. This time, with his target fixed, the attack did more damage. To himself and the jenglot as its teeth tore free, leaving a gaping wound in his limb. The monster swallowed the chunk of flesh it had won, then turned its attention back to him.
Sitting up, Arthur reacted. At first, he meant to throw a punch, already pulling energy from his dantian for Focused Strike. Only to realise he had not the range to lash out. Refined Energy Dart was the obvious option, but pinching off his aura as he gripped it and poured refined energy into it inadvertently mixed with his Focused Strike. An attack he realized he had not released.
Acting on instinct as much as training, he poured that energy into the pinched-off section of his aura that formed the Energy Dart. The attack warped and twisted, almost escaping his control but desperation and the short distance he had to throw it meant that the entire structure managed to hold itself together as the glowing chi attack struck the jenglot in the face as it lunged.
To Arthur’s surprise, the attack worked even better than he had expected. The Refined Energy Dart shredded the jenglot’s natural aura protection before penetrating into the skin and flesh beneath. It exposed bare bone, which was crushed by the infused Focused Strike. The impact caused the monster’s head to snap back.
Of course the attack had not been without cost. His hand ached, his body feeling exposed as a large portion of his aura was torn away. He cursed, fingers numb as he scrabbled for the knife he carried for eating. Pulling it close, he crawled his way to the stunned monster and plunged the knife into its neck, feeling hot blood spurt from the wound onto him.
Again and again he stabbed the monster, wasting energy and drowning the fear that had filled him in the wash of blood. Only after a half dozen strikes did he turn aside, good sense returning as the dregs of his terror washed away.
To find the other monsters dead and the women staring at him, partially in horror and partially in disgust.
Grinning weakly, Arthur could not help but think that the Yin Body’s impassive nature had limits. Death by mutilation and cannibalism was one such limit.
“They’re not attacking the door anymore,” Jan murmured.
Arthur barely acknowledged her words, having just finished wrapping his wounded calf with bandages from his discarded backpack. He did not even remember dropping it, but he must have when he fought the first jenglot.
He wondered if the group of jenglot outside had meant to drive them in here. Or had the biggest creature been hiding within all along? Or hiding away, perhaps? Who knew. Certainly, none of these monsters would be explaining themselves.
“They left, ah?” Sharmila said.
“Probably,” Uswah said. She looked about, noting there were only the four of them left, most wounded. She sported a long series of cuts down one side, her dress hanging open in rather bloody rags. Walking over to Arthur’s backpack, she rummaged in it before extracting a shirt and his bandages before grabbing at his water bottle.
“Hey!” Arthur cried out.
“I’ve gotta clean up. Kita tak bawa apa pun,” Uswah said, gesturing to remind him they had left behind all gear but weapons. “So don’t be selfish.”
Arthur nodded mutely, especially since the woman began to strip off her tunic right in front of him, hissing as she pulled down her shirt across the bloody, jagged wounds. Sharmila, herself still bleeding from cuts on her arms and legs and a matted wound across her scalp, came over to help. To Arthur’s amusement, he idly noted that Uswah had a rather nice, frilly bra on, until of course the women glared at him.
“You did it here!” Arthur muttered, but he did turn away then. Admittedly, he had been looking but not looking, as his heart was still pounding from the danger they had all been in. And the usual rush of horniness that should have arrived after the fight was missing. Had been missing for a bit.
Another characteristic of the Yin Body?
It didn’t take away his desires entirely, but they were more controlled. Which, really, wasn’t a bad thing. So long as he wasn’t emasculated, as Jan had teased.
Speaking of her, Jan limped over, one hand fumblingly returning her parang into its sheath by her waist. She was glaring at him, which was not unusual, but this time, it seemed to have a more scrutinizing look.
“Why do you have a bag? Why does it look so full?” Jan said.
Oh. That. “Would you believe coincidence?”
Jan’s hand went to her hilt, going so far as to half draw the weapon before Sharmila gripped her hand. The older woman shook her head at her friend before looking at Arthur. “You’re not helping yourself.”
“Wasn’t trying to.” Arthur tested his foot and winced. He needed to heal himself, but he could not afford to do so now if they were threatening to kill him. “I was leaving.”
“Did you bring the jenglot to us?” Sharmila asked suspiciously.
Arthur noticed that Uswah had shuffled aside, putting herself at an angle such that he could only see either the pair before him or her. Tension knotted his shoulders, but he chose not to make any big moves just yet.
“If I did, why the hell would I call out the warning?” Arthur replied.
“That . . .” Sharmila fell silent.
“Why you trying to leave?” Jan asked accusingly.
“I got spooked.” He gestured around him. “Missing members, a silent tower. None of that creeps you out?”
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion, but Arthur just returned the stare blandly.
“Then why didn’t you talk to us?” Uswah asked, forcing him to turn to look at her.
“Her.” A finger jerked over his shoulder to where Jan was. “I doubt you’d let me just leave, not with your desire for security. Even if I didn’t say anything and promised, I bet she’d bitch and complain and force me to come along.”
Lies mixed with truth. Best way to lie.
“He’s just a traitor,” Jan said.
“Good thing too,” Arthur said, tugging his bag to him and gesturing for Uswah to give back the water. She had used torn, clean portions of her tunic to clean her wounds before having Sharmila wrap the bandages around them, though the job was only half-done. She was awkwardly holding the bandage roll in one hand, but she reluctantly handed the water bottle back.
“See? This guy only cares about himself.” Jan pointed accusingly at his face.
“I'm not sharing with you.” Arthur paused. “With you. Until you apologize.”
“I’d rather die!”
He shrugged and began to pack his gear, while Sharmila hissed at Jan and yanked her away. Smirking to himself, he finished putting away his bag, only to find Uswah plopping down beside him.
“Help please.” A waggle of the bandage in her hand indicated what she meant. Arthur hesitated for a second before helping her. No reason not to. And having at least one person willing to be partly in his favour might help.
“You shouldn’t antagonize her,” Uswah said.
“I shouldn’t? I wouldn’t, if I didn’t,” Arthur half muttered, half sang.
“She’s just protective. Of the Lotuses and us.”
“Whatever. We’re all going to die anyway.”
Uswah lips pursed but she had nothing to say to that, considering their current predicament.