Wounds were bandaged, water drunk to hydrate parched throats and clear bloody mouths. Weapons were collected and resharpened, broken knubs smoothed out and checked over, whilst secondary weapons were handed around. All in all, it took nearly a half hour of mostly silent preparation before the group settled after the fight, a tense period in which Uswah watched the staircase for additional threats. In the end, the group gathered near the entrance by unspoken agreement, ready to hear the story of those that had come before.
“Don’t worry,” Mel said to Uswah. "The jenglot never come down from their floors. Not in all the time we’ve been here.”
Uswah nodded to acknowledge Mel’s words but chose to stay in her spot nevertheless. Mel shrugged, while Arthur stayed seated nearby, slightly apart from the group.
“How long have you been here?” Shar said. “We saw your camp but . . .”
“Two? Three weeks now?” Mel said, frowning. “It’s hard to keep track of time. And we’ve been taking turns cultivating and healing.”
“Eh! See, lah. Told you, right?” Jan said, smirking.
“Yes, yes, got it,” Shar said waved her off. Then: “Mel, what happened? What’s taking you so long to clear the tower?”
Mel made a face, glancing at the group before she sighed. “It’s not that easy. There’s a trick to the tower.”
“A trick?” Shar cocked her head to the side.
“This is the . . . third time clearing this floor?” Mel looked over at her friends, where Daiyu nodded firmly. “Third time. We’ve been up and down, clearing as we go, but they keep coming back.”
“And the seal?” Shar said carefully.
Mel frowned, casting a glance at Arthur, who gave her a grin.
“Shar dah cakap,” Jan muttered.
“Really. You told him?” Rani said, surprised. “Why?”
“We needed him to tell us where you went. He was the last one to see you. And things were getting hot here. Anyway, he knows he’s not getting the seal.” Here, Shar glared at Arthur. “Right?”
“Ya, ya.” Arthur waved a hand dismissively. “I ain’t dumb enough to put that big a target on my back. I’ve already got one group after me.”
“See,” Shar said.
Mel’s lips thinned but eventually she answered the question. “There’s sign, but no appearance. We . . .” Again the long hesitation as she looked at her friends.
“Just tell them,” Daiyu said. “We can’t finish the tower ourselves.”
Rani nodded in agreement, though she still eyed Arthur suspiciously.
“There’s no real sign that clearing the tower is the way to get the seal,” Mel finally said. “There’s no boss monster, no alpha jenglot to kill. Just more of them, no matter how many times we go up and down.”
“Are we even in the right place then?” Arthur said curiously. “Maybe the tower is a red herring.”
“What?” Jan said.
“Red herring: it’s an idiom.”
“More like an idiot,” Jan snapped.
“Neither of you are helping,” Mel said, raising her voice and shutting down the bickering pair. Then, with her gaze fixed on Arthur, she continued. “We know we’re in the right place. The seal guide says so.”
“It says so?” Arthur said.
Another long pause, when all the women looked at one another. In the end, Mel shrugged and reached into her blouse, fishing out a circular amulet. Without removing it from the string around her neck, she bent over to offer Arthur a closer look at the amulet.
Seated as he was, Arthur was treated to a bit of an eyeful which he valiantly struggled not to notice. It wasn’t that he was trying to be pervy, but it was just there and . . . nope.
“Ummm. Can you take it off?” Arthur said, turning his head to avert his gaze.
“What?” Mel snapped.
“Why?” Rani asked at the same time, clutching the spear in her hand tight.
“It’s a rather pretty bra, but a little bloodstained,” Arthur replied.
Silence, then Mel hissed as she straightened. She glared at Arthur for a second before she pulled the amulet off her neck and tossed it at him. However, she moved too quickly, angered as she was by his words and the amulet flew through the air, off course from Arthur. He jerked away and, expecting a slap instead of the amulet, batted it away out of reflex.
The metallic object flew through the air, bouncing once and then again before landing on the ground and rolling away. It finally fetched up against the body of a jenglot, slowly leaking blood.
“Bodoh! Why you did that?” Jan snarled.
Arthur scrambled to his feet, only to find a hand coming down on his shoulder. Rani stopped looking vaguely friendly and was now pressing him back onto the ground.
“It was an accident!”
“Sure, sure. We’ll just have Mel pick it up, and maybe we won’t have you touching it like that, eh?” Rani said. “Just so there’s no further accidents.”
Arthur narrowed his eyes but sat there, arms crossed. Together, the group watched as Mel and Shar walked over to the corpse. As the pair bent down to pick it up, their bodies blocked all view of the amulet.
Then, Mel’s voice, in a tone filled with wonder:
“Well now, that’s unexpected.”