Second-floor doorway. Third. Each breath was an ache. A stitch grew in his side as he was forced to slow down his headlong rush. Cudgelling a brain already dull with pain, he was still unable to find a suitable plan. He had the beginnings of one at least.
Step one, get rid of the kris. He could not fight Choi when the man was waving that damn enchanted blade around. If he froze again, Arthur could not expect luck to save him a second time. On that note, he wiped at his face, trying to shed more of the blood before it ran down, leaving his arm streaked with the liquid.
Step two, kill Choi after disarming him.
Really, to call what he had a plan was to consider a child’s dream to be Prime Minister a plan. It had the barest sketching of an idea there, but it needed more concrete steps.
Gulping down air, Arthur had to stop, breathing hard as he looked downward. Not backward, not to where he might accidentally spot Choi and his blade, but down at his feet where the bobbing light moved. He gauged its distance, strained to listen to the man ascending.
Damn thug moved lightly. If not for the torch, his progress would have been hard to gauge.
So maybe step one-point-five was to get rid of the light.
Arthur patted himself down to verify what he still had on him, make an assessment of his resources. Not much, in truth. He had the starter pouch which contained all the remaining beast cores. He had his belt, the sheath for his belt knife—but no knife because that had fallen off somewhere. Clothing, of course, and boots. Half his energy resources and a couple of points of refined energy, but none of which he could actually tap into without crippling himself.
The light began bobbing up the stairs faster, as though Choi sensed that Arthur had stopped. Then, to Arthur’s surprise, Choi’s voice called out.
“You should have just given up, boy. The payment would have been over. But no, you just had to make it hard on us, didn’t you?” Choi said, his voice echoing as it bounced off the stone walls, stopping occasionally as he caught his breath. “Now, I’m going to take your life, your friend’s treasure and all the cores you’ve acquired.”
After a breath, he added: “I’ll keep the pretty one alive though. We can always use another slave.”
Arthur growled but chose not to answer. Instead, he saved his breath as he began climbing again. Even if Choi was doing his best to hide it, Arthur could tell he was tired too.
“Kuching got your tongue, did it?” Choi said, after a few minutes of further silence.
“Maybe I’ll make you a slave, you knave!” Arthur gave in to an impulse to speak as he checked the next door.
He almost turned around to deliver his retort, before remembered the kris. Instead, he pushed onwards to the next door. Beneath him there was laughter as Arthur’s continued failure at taunting missed its mark.
“Stupid, greedy, idiotic, smelly . . .” Arthur breathed each invective out as he climbed. Each word was punctuated by another step, as Arthur no longer ascended by the steps in twos. He was exhausted and needed to make a choice soon. Or else Choi would not even need to fight him to finish this, just plant the kris into Arthur’s prone and exhausted form. “Greedy babi . . .”
Why did he keep coming back to greedy? Arthur shook his head, wiping at sweat again and letting his hand fall to his side. It brushed against his pouch. Arthur blinked.
And floors above that weren’t open spaces but composed of small rooms.
A plan began to play through his mind, options to distract, strip the kris, fight and end this battle. To get away from the man chasing him.
It was risky, it was simplistic. At the level of a child’s prank, really. On the other hand, he had few resources and even less time.
Making his decision, Arthur pushed himself harder. He had to get to a suitable floor. And then, he needed enough time to prepare the trap. Which meant he needed to speed up.
Again, he took two steps at a time until he hit the next level. Pushing the door open, he ducked into the hallway that he remembered. A sudden thought struck Arthur, as he reached for doors within the room, throwing them open as he passed or shoving them ajar just enough that it might seem to Choi he might have entered.
It would just be his luck to have a jenglot respawn now behind one of those doors. Still, the thought only brought a moment’s hesitation as he continued to open doors, headed for the second to the last room.
Anything to slow the enemy coming after him. Anything to buy him the time to finish his trap. All he needed, in the end, was a few seconds of surprise. And then, it would be over. One way or the other.