Arthur had taken to lightly meditating, considering the combined attack he had inadvertently created. He knew it was not complete, not done right yet. If it had been, the Tower would have given him a new technique. So he considered what he had done, trying to remember the feeling of it, the process in exact detail, so that he could recreate the glowing chi attack. He wasn’t cultivating, so he was able to keep an ear out for trouble.
Which was why he noticed when Jan stomped over to him, her talk with Sharmila over. Her friend followed a short distance away, Uswah having disappeared into a dark corner of the tower to cultivate. Unlike him, she was secure in the knowledge that no one wanted to kill her.
Jan came to a stop before him, and Arthur could not help but take a slow count of three breaths before he looked up at her fully. The woman was visibly trembling with rage at the delay and only a light touch from Sharmila stopped her from exploding at him.
“I’m sorry,” she grated out, once she was certain he was paying attention.
“Huh?” Arthur said dumbly. Of all the things she could have said, that was not one he had expected.
“I said, I’M SORRY!” Jan shouted at him, making Arthur wince.
For a moment, a malicious part of him wanted to rub it into her. However, knowing that he would have to rely on them all if he wanted any hope of surviving quelled that thought. After a certain point, his personal satisfaction at having her humbled was outweighed by the need to not get stabbed in the back.
Not that he expected them to kill him today, but it was better to be backstabbed later instead of right now.
“Fine. I’ll share. Not that I have a lot, but the bandages should help.” Arthur pushed the bag forward, and Jan snatched it up with a jerky nod of thanks and stalked off. When she was half a dozen steps away, only then did he call out, “You’re on first watch though.”
She froze at being given an order, but Sharmila stepped in. “Second. I’ll do the first. I have the least injuries.”
Arthur nodded and closed his eyes, waiting till they were away and on the other side of the room. He debated continuing to meditate, but eventually chose to focus on healing. The pain from his numerous wounds was making it hard enough to concentrate as it was. Better to heal first, then go back to cultivating and meditating.
Plan made, he began the process of triggering his Accelerated Healing technique, trusting they wouldn’t kill him just yet. At least, not after Jan had gotten over her initial impulse.
After all, they still needed bait.
Which was all kinds of ironic if you thought about it.
The bite on his calf healed up, not fully but at least it went from agonizing pain each time he stood up to just blinding pain. Once he had cycled a trio of the beast cores he had, he crashed. Hours later, he woke up with his leg hurting a little less and the girls seated over on the opposite side, chatting quietly with one another.
Arthur levered himself to his feet, wincing with each movement. Other injuries made themselves known: a pulled muscle on his right shoulder, a stitch down his lower back, a graze along his neck that had opened a little. He didn’t even remember getting most of them, but the pain was mostly dwarfed by his foot. Grabbing his spear from where it had lain discarded, he used it to limp over.
“Apa kita cakap?” Arthur asked as he neared them. “And how much of it includes me?”
“Just weighing options,” Shar said.
“What options are there?” Arthur said. “Up or outside. Even if we choose to go up, we’re going outside eventually. Or we’re dead. I prefer not being dead.”
‘Then run away, lah,” Jan muttered.
“How many, exactly, of the jenglot did you see?” Arthur said.
“We counted a dozen,” Uswah murmured.
“Yeah, and it took only three of them to kick our ass.”
“We beat them, though,” Jan snapped
“Barely.” Arthur gestured around the building. “We’re all banged up and exhausted. But they won’t come in here. Which means we can heal up, then go out and kill them. Retreat. And do it again, till the group is wiped.”
“Except they respawn,” Uswah said.
“Except they respawn.” Arthur winced. He had forgotten that part. “Then that means we have to do it faster.”
“Faster? Just the four of us?” Shar said, shaking her head. “Not possible.”
“Then what?” Arthur replied. “Go up and hope to find the ladies you’re looking for. Except they’re dead, you know.”
Jan grabbed the hilt of her parang. She didn’t draw it, but her teeth were bared. “They’re alive,” she snarled.
“Mmm . . . alive and trapped up here, in this tower. For weeks,” Arthur snorted. “Grow up.”
He barely managed to dodge the punch and only because she telegraphed her intention by releasing the grip on her sword. Jan tried to punch him again, only to be yanked back by her pants by Sharmila.
“We can’t win just by leaving,” said Sharmila. “But this . . . this is probably a dungeon or lair or something special. Which means there might be enchanted tools. And who knows, maybe even our friends, trapped. It’s a slim chance, but better than the no-chance out there. In any case, we need all of us. Working together.”
“We holding hands and singing songs next?” Arthur said. “Fine. But I’m renegotiating our deal.”
“So selfish,” Jan said.
“I’m just practical,” Arthur replied.
“Shellfish,” Arthur said, just to provoke.
“What do you want?” Sharmila asked.
“Equal share of the loot. You can keep first dibs on the clan seal, ‘cause I don’t need that kind of trouble. If that’s the only loot there is, you pay me an equivalent amount.” Arthur tilted his head to the side, considering what else he wanted to say. “Oh, and I get to join the Guild, as a founding member. With all the rights that might entail.”
“What! No,” Jan said. “It’s a women’s only guild!”
“Sexist much?” Arthur said. He then ignored her, focusing on Sharmila. “Just consider me an honorary member, then.”
Uswah, standing by the side, smiled a little, watching the entire conversation before she spoke up. “You really think we would agree to this?”
“Think, guess, maybe. Believe at least,” Arthur said. “Got to, eh?”
Uswah nodded and then looked at their leader. After a moment, Sharmila sighed. “Okay lah, fine. I agree. But no idea what the others will think.”
Arthur nodded before he laughed. “All theoretical anyway. Got to survive first, right?”
Sharmila snorted but could not help but nod in agreement.
Of course, Arthur did not miss the way Jan had returned to gripping her parang. Or the thoughtful look on her face.
That one was going to be a problem.