The group marched forward, Arthur and Yao Jing leading the way. Casey, Rick, Lam and, surprisingly, even Jan were the ones wielding the crossbows this time, with Mel adding to the fusillade with her spinning sling. Arthur had kept his packed away, instead opting to form a Refined Energy Dart over his third eye for use later. As for Uswah, their scout was hanging back in the treeline, able to use the majority of her skills from there and, also, spot orang minyak reinforcements coming from outside the village.
Prepped as best they could, the group strode towards the open gate. No guards there, but an unlucky orang minyak was caught crossing in front of it. A bolt sprouted from its head, nearly shearing the majority of it off as it punched through.
Arthur slowed and stopped, waiting as Rick reloaded the weapon. It did not matter if he took his time, since he preferred not to go in. Even if the huts within looked similar to the other villages they had hit with the same shanty town appearance—though larger and more numerous, of course—he knew that the irregular placement would put them in danger of being flanked if they stepped within.
Better to stay outside, better to wait. Better to draw them out.
“Come on,” Casey grumbled. “Why did you pick something so damn big?”
“Stopping power,” Rick said, grunting as his arms strained. He managed to haul the arm back finally, and he lifted the entire contraption to load another bolt. “This is the way.”
“It’s how you use it.” To punctuate her point, Casey fired, sending the bolt through the head of an oily man that had hauled itself up the wall to look over before its unfortunate demise. “See?”
Arthur snorted, but since the other crossbows were actually smaller and easier to reload on the fly, he started forward again. Thirty feet, twenty . . .
Then, a racket of shouts and screams, unintelligible to his ears, rose from within the village. He could see the humanoid monsters gathering near the gate, though the crowd fell pretty fast as bolts flew now, loosing as soon as they had a target. Jan missed, but Lam winged his target. A fast-moving slingstone cracked against a body and made its target howl before another crossbow bolt from Casey took the monster in the stomach, dropping it to the ground to clutch and scrabble at its wounds.
Ten feet before the gate, Arthur called a halt. They could not see around the corners, but urgent whispers from Yao Jing had him glancing at the sides of the walls. He watched as one orang minyak managed to clamber over a wall before tendrils of shadow grabbed it and pulled it over, headfirst onto the ground behind the wall. The sickening crunch of its fall and snap of bone spoke of its demise.
“I hate being right,” Arthur muttered, for rather than face direct fire at the gate, the monsters were scrambling up the walls. “Fire on the climbers. Rick, hold off for the center.”
“I could pick them off with my pistols,” the gunslinger offered.
“Wait.” Still Arthur wondered what it was that was making him hesitant.
The click of crossbow bolts leaving their seating, the twang of string releasing and metal unbending, filled the air briefly. This time, all shots hit, some more fatally than others. Arthur noted the hesitation, the retreat of fingers over the ledge as the creatures paused to assess their options.
Then, movement. A large group hurrying down the street and carrying . . . “Is that a door?” Arthur said, jaw dropping a little. He had expected an adaptive response, but a door? “Rick . . .”
He might as well not have bothered. The gunslinger had already raised his overly large crossbow, seated it snugly onto his shoulder, then fired. The large broadhead of the crossbow bolt not only punched through the door but also punctured a creature behind it, causing the impromptu defence to fall.
Not that it mattered, for now the gathered monsters charged. Releasing howls and yips, as though understanding that taking their time would prove fatal, they came running through the gate and clambering over the wall.
“Fire!” Arthur commanded, picking the closest fool on the wall to loose his own Refined Energy Dart at. It punched through hand and upraised arm. His opponent fell and hurt itself on the wall’s spikey edge.
Crossbow bolts released and the cultivators reloaded as quickly as they could. The deep thump and bark of Rick’s pistol consumed the silence. Semi-automatic weapons that had twenty-one bullets in each magazine—not clip, though Arthur didn’t give a shit about correct terminology—meant that he could fire forty-two times before reloading.
Of course, it took anywhere from two to five bullets to end a monster’s life, depending on accuracy, placement, and sheer luck. You could hit a heart, but they had two. Plus the monsters were hyped up on adrenaline, or whatever monster equivalent. Crack sternums, shatter ribs, and fill lungs—yet they would keep coming.
At least for a while.
Ten seconds, twenty. Monsters rushed forward and were met with bullets and crossbow bolts. And when they finally reached the team’s frontline, they met fist and spear.
Arthur ducked left, mindful not to step right at all and thrust. The blade of his spear entered an arm, was ripped out, and then slashed downward. Cutting into tendon and muscle near the kneecap before he twisted and cracked the backend across a face. He spun on the tip of his toes, kicked, and dropped the monster back further.
But as good as Arthur’s team was now—practised and efficient—creatures kept coming in numbers. Somehow, forty suddenly seemed like too many for their team to handle. Though shadow tendrils rose up from the ground and gripped at bodies, even as bullets tore holes in furred bodies and crossbow bolts injured and killed at range, the orang minyak were too many.
“Retreat!” Arthur called. He could sense it: the fear, the desperation, the determination. The shift in battle as one side was about to crumble. “Back off, Yao Jing!”
The brawler’s answer was to surge forward, grapple an opponent, then—lifting it off the ground—throw the oiled monster into the incoming group. It bowled over several orang minyak. Yao Jing skipped back and sideways, eliciting a curse from Rick who had jerked his hand up at the last second, his shot spoiled.
But now that they had space, even as Arthur loosed another Refined Energy Dart to create his own gap, the team retreated. No turning and running, but a careful and controlled backing away. Ranged weapons were discarded and melee weapons drawn. They retreated.
Even as more orang minyak swarmed out of the village like a flood of ants.