He woke up a second later, still hurting. He pushed himself upwards, struggling to rise as he gripped the sword. Ribs were cracked, his hip twisted, and his leg bruised from where he had hit the ground and eventually a tree. To his surprise, the monster was dead. But there were still other babi ngepet.
Three left. Not the largest; in fact, one was an adolescent, half the usual size. Arthur’s eyes narrowed, even as the monsters charged. The first to move forward was the largest of the three, charging in a straight line. Propped up against the tree, Arthur breathed slowly, knowing he had one chance.
Timing. It all came down to timing. Figure out how fast the monster could reach him, figure out when it would be too late to turn, figure out how long he needed to dodge. If he was uninjured, he could do that math on instinct. But leg injured and body tired, he had to guess.
And hope he was not wrong.
He dodged, and the babi ngepet turned its head a little to track the cultivator’s fleeing body. A pained whimper as he hit the ground, bouncing off roots and grass before the monster hit the tree. One tusk embedded itself deep in the trunk, the entire tree shaking.
Pulling himself to his knees, he lurched forward and plunged the weapon deep into the boar. A twist of his hand, pulling the blade out and widening the wound. Then he turned on his knees, the rumble of even more monsters approaching making him wince.
Too close. No time to dodge. Thankfully, it was the adolescent. Rather than run away, he stayed focused instead and braced his sword against his hip. He shoved forwards at the last second, locking his body tight as he allowed the smaller pig to skewer itself on his weapon. It still bowled him over, hundreds of pounds of meat and fury pounding into his chest and legs.
Bruising, pain, even worse than before. Only good thing was that the momentum drove the monster off his body mostly, a heave of legs and arms pushing the bottom half away from him. Arthur whimpered and twisted, seeing the monster turn slow down rather than bowl over its own kind.
It ran past him, buying Arthur time.
Time for him to struggle to his feet, to stand as he desperately pushed. Pain, fury, arrogance. He should never have tried this, never taken the risk. But he would not die here, not when he was so close to finishing this battle.
One last babi ngepet. One last fight.
It was charging him, and he could barely stand. He could not dodge aside and had no tree to trick the monster into hitting. All he could do was gamble. Hands holding the sword, shifting his grip a little so that he held it parallel to his arm, he focused his entire body as he hurled the weapon.
Focused Strike but twisted, pushed into his weapon and thrown. The weapon flew, sinking deep into the monster’s lower body even as the energy shoved into the weapon forced the creature to stumble, stop, and . . .
Arthur’s jaw dropped, blinking at the sudden end of this battle.
Exhaustion and pain took over as adrenaline faded, drive both shock and consciousness from him. Leaving him to slump senseless on the ground among the corpses.
Waking up was a painful process, one that almost made Arthur choose to fall unconscious once more. Yet, recollection of where he was forced him to his feet, hand scrambling for a weapon and finding nothing at hand. He searched around with bleary eyes, memory of what happened coming slow.
“Right, right . . . I might have . . . might have thrown. Thrown . . . aside a weapon or two.” Hunched over broken ribs, he stumbled over to his sword and picked it up. Once, twice, and then a third time he attempted to sheathe the weapon, only succeeding on the last try. Then he bent over again to pick up the nearest crystal and tipped too far, landing on his face, only barely managing to roll a little as his body gave way.
For a time he just lay there, staring up at the sky. Pain pushing and fading in waves. All he was able to do was hold on like a tiny raft of consciousness on the waves of agony. Eventually, the tide swept out and Arthur rolled over to grab and store the crystal in his pouch.
“Bugger dignity… tak ada duit, guna dignity.”
Suiting words to action, Arthur started crawling around the clearing. On hands and knees, stopping occasionally when the pain was too much, he picked up the monster crystals. Each breath made his ribs ache. Each time he put weight on his left hip or arm, he wanted to cry. Under the light of paired moons, he could see the dark bruising all along his limbs.
If there was one thing to be grateful about, Arthur knew it was that none of the broken ribs had pierced his lungs. Whatever internal bleeding he had was confined. A cultivator could heal—and heal fast. He had never heard of one dying from something as prosaic as a brain bleed or aneurysm.
Still, the faster he collected the crystals, the better off he would be. There was no telling when other monsters would stumble upon him, and he was in no shape to engage in another fight.
Eventually, the crystals were all picked up, the last couple taking him longer than the previous dozen. Between pain and the way his sight kept doubling up on him, Arthur was having trouble focusing. By the time he stumbled over to his backpack and staff, he was ready to collapse.
Squatting, Arthur stared at the heavy pack and winced. There was no way he was going to be able to pick it up and carry it, not with his ribs, not with his hips and arm. Making a decision, he reached over and grabbed the pack and dragged it, headed for a fallen tree he recalled seeing.
Once there, he stuck his staff diagonally across the fallen tree, threw a tarp he extracted with great labour over the top of the entire thing, and then absently threw leaves and branches on top of the hastily assembled camouflage.
Then, crawling into the simple construction, he crashed to the ground and fell unconscious once more.