Escaping into the forest edge. It was beginning to become a trend, it seemed. Not one that he was particularly looking to continue, but what was it they said? Once was chance, twice coincidence, and three times enemy action? He knew that didn't make sense here, but then again, maybe fate--or the Tower--enjoyed watching him run.
“Doom here, doom there. Where’s the doom you can fear, when the boom comes to adhere?” Arthur muttered as they hurried into the forest.
“Eh, you cakap apa?” Jan poked him in the side.
“Nothing, just making something up.” Arthur shrugged, unrepentant. “Just wiling away the time, waiting to do some crime. You know?”
“Dia ni gila, ke?” Jan rolled her eyes in disgust. “Why we risk our lives on this guy?”
“Just a little insane,” Arthur replied, waving his hand around. “But it’s just that we’re all volunteers.”
“Oh God, kill me now.”
“Not sure God’s around here.”
Silence. Arthur turned his head and found Jan glaring at him. “Eh. Don’t joke about Him, ah.”
“I . . . right. Gotcha.” Arthur nodded though he didn’t share her sentiments.
There was nothing in the Good Book about giant Towers appearing all across the planet, or about cultivators developing powers that could only be described as supernatural. No one really knew what to make of it, but hey, they didn’t stop trying to. Some people had gotten creative, started a number of new cults. Not that there hadn’t been a surplus of them since everything went automated and people started losing faith in, well, everything. Hard to believe in capitalism or your government when every day was a scramble, when the rich just got richer and calls for reform were at best given lip service and authoritarian states proliferated like lalang grass.
They made it under the canopy and kept moving, a pair of new warriors joining the pair flanking him soon after. Then a few more women, until there was a group a dozen large with him in the middle. Any hope of running away was dashed.
The group picked up the pace, until they were practically running. He had, despite the last few hours of being hurried around from one place to the next, recovered a little from the beating and cultivation deviation. That little was not helping him much, not when he was being forced to run. Each breath was a desperate, painful stab in his side. Each step a stitch as his inners complained. His face throbbed as blood rushed, and he found his focus narrowing.
Yet through all that, Arthur could not help but notice something. He was not sweating, not nearly as much as he should be. The pain from the overabundance of Yang chi in his body was slowly fading, as his body burned it away at a faster than normal rate. The Yin chi cooled his body and clarified his mind with each step.
He moved on and on, hurrying alongside the women as the day lengthened. Eventually, they called for a halt, Arthur stumbling to a stop before he collapsed onto his back. The sun peeked out between leaves, casting long shadows onto the clearing as he cycled chi through his body, refilling energy reserves.
When he caught his breath, Arthur could not help but ponder out loud. “What is a Yin Body? The Yin and Yang are a duality—that’s the entire point of the Yin-Yang symbol. You can’t have just one or the other. So maybe having a little Yang in my cultivation method is actually right? . . . Or do I just generate Yang normally? Does a Yin Body actually mean that I’m entirely or mostly made of Yin energy—or just what I’m geared towards using?”
“And why, oh why, are you asking us?” Sharmila crouched beside him asked, amused. When he looked over, she offered him a bottle of water, which he took gratefully. You might not need to eat or drink here, but throats still got dry.
“Is there anyone else to ask?” Arthur said, lips quirking a little as he tried not to smile. “Your supposed expert hasn’t appeared.”
“Perhaps if you were not so lazy, you might have seen her already,” Sharmila said.
Arthur turned his head to the side, staring at Sharmila. Then, he turned to the other side, searching. Nope. That left two directions, both of which would require more work. And seeing as he was flat on his back . . .
“Later,” Arthur muttered. “Or she can come over.”
“So Yin Body just another word for lazy boy, eh?” Jan asked, amusement trickling through her voice.
“I had a cultivation deviation and then was nearly beaten to death today before negotiating with a group of angry women for my life before trekking untold miles through the wilds,” Arthur said. “I’m allowed to be lazy.”
“And what you call laziness is just choosing to make the most of this little break.” The unfamiliar voice had, surprisingly, a drawling Australian accent. Arthur frowned. The voice had him searching till he found its source: She was lying on the branch of a tree, one leg hanging off the edge and a hand beneath her head. Not Caucasian, but Malay. And she wore a head covering, an olive green tudung.
“Uswah?” Arthur said, hesitantly.
“Huh.” Then he flopped back down, his initial burst of curiosity overridden by exhaustion. He would deal with her and his questions later.
Later was, unfortunately, only a half hour away. The group took off, with Uswah the last to join them after dropping from the tree. She seemed to be both idly strolling along and yet, somehow, managing to keep up with the fast-moving group. Arthur frowned, watching her for a long time before he was forced to ask.
“Are you using a movement technique?”
Silence. When he realized she intended not to clarify, he grimaced. “So, I don’t know if you know, but—”
“You have a Yin Body. And you want information.”
“Um, because I can’t cultivate properly with it?”
“Why should I help?”
“I was told you would,” Arthur said, his jaw jutting out a little. “They said you would!”
“They did not,” Sharmila called out from behind. “I said there was someone with the Yin Body named Uswah. I never promised she’d help.”
“You—!” Fuming Arthur turned around and glared. Sharmila simply grinned at him unrepentantly. “Fine. Whatever. I don’t need you people.” Picking a direction, he started walking away from the group. He had his backpack, his spear. He could and would leave if they would not hold up their end of the bargain.
“What did you say?” Arthur turned around, his temper flaring. Still, it guttered out faster than he would have expected, exhaustion robbing him of the energy to be incensed.
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t help.”
Eyes narrowed, Arthur breathed. He forced himself to calm down, to remember what she had said. She was right. Just . . .
“I’m done being dicked around. By you and everyone else. If you want something, just speak plainly,” Arthur said. No heat in his voice, he was surprised to find. Which made it sound . . . stern? Well, he’d go with stern.
Uswah cocked her head, watching Arthur curiously. “You’ve lost your heat. Your Yang.”
“Told you, half a man,” Arthur could hear Sharmila mutter to Jan. “Pity. He’s got a cute butt.”
“I have not.” Arthur frowned. “Alright, maybe I’ve lost some of my Yang. But I’m still a man. I can still—”
“Don’t care,” Uswah waved his excuses away. “Your heat, your anger, your Yang—it’s been overridden by the Yin. Not a bad thing. But your passion will be subdued, your anger run deeper, your grievances sharper.”
Arthur said nothing, and she continued.
“Yin is not lack of passion or movement, but the slow progress of the world. The cooling of the earth, as the world rotates, the changeover from burning enthusiasm to long-lasting coals of dedication. You won’t struggle for revenge but patiently plot your vengeance.”
A step closer, and Uswah looked into Arthur’s face.
“You are Yin now, and we do not give for no reason. Or take without cause.”
Arthur shivered, staring into the pools of inky blackness that looked into him. Her eyes were not brown, not the earthen silk of the past, but the abyss. Staring into it, he shivered again and understood.
“Then, let us bargain,” Arthur said.
And for the first time, Uswah smiled.