Climbing the jenglot tower was a slow, painful slog. Each battle was risky, for the jenglot were strong and smart enough to adapt to changing circumstances. Failing to block one of their attacks could easily lead to significant injuries, and so everyone including Arthur fought with care rather than risk accumulating even additional wounds.
Which did help, even if it didn’t prevent injuries entirely.
After each battle, the medallion was dipped in the bodies, tear drops of blood slowly filling up. It never stopped being creepy of course, but filling the medallion’s many tear drop hollows was satisfying. More so for Mel and her team after the long period of stagnation.
By the time they had managed to make it most of the way to the top of the tower, they had filled three quarters of the medallion in only a few days. However, eyeing the group and the constant battles, Arthur could not help but wonder how much more they could take.
Movies and TV shows often had heroes who could fight tirelessly. Even in most shows about wars, they only highlighted the great battles, the push and pull of death approaching or being cast aside.
Yet, humans were never meant to exist in a constant state of violence. Travelling through the forest was bad, but the attacks only came once every day at most if one was unlucky. That had been no MMO where battles were never-ending and around every corner. In the forest the mind could still rest, the heart-pounding could slow, and constant tension could drain.
Here, in the tower where the next battle was but another floor above, the exhilaration and exuberance of violence never ended. Pulled by the knowledge that their task was finally nearing completion, pushed by their impatience, the group moved from fight to fight with few pauses.
And the toll was showing.
Jan, always the most impatient of them, was hurrying forward and refusing to stop. Bouncing from foot to foot, she clutched her weapons tightly and startled at every loud noise or sudden movement, occasionally sweeping her parang in that direction. The others kept away from her, worried they would be hit, which made her even more agitated.
Mel in contrast looked impassive for the most part, except he caught her worrying her lower lip whenever no one else was looking. She kept touching her chest too, placing a hand on the amulet to ensure it was still there.
The others all showcased minor variations of tension and worry, Daiyu picking at the crusted wounds on her body without end, Shar and Rani bickering and snapping at one another, sending cutting asides before parting ways to sulk. Only to find one another later and begin the process again.
It was, to Arthur’s surprise, that only he and Uswah seemed to handle the pressure well. As they rested, he found himself taking a seat beside her, curiosity driving him to speak.
“Why aren’t we affected?” he asked her.
“Affected by what?” Uswah murmured. And once he explained, she smiled a little. “What do you cultivate?”
“Um, just the basic cultivation style and what little I’ve learnt from you.” Arthur paused, then added, “Thanks, by the way.”
“No, I didn’t mean your cultivation style, but ‘what do you cultivate’?”
Frowning, he took a moment to find the answer she was looking for. “Yin chi.”
“You mean, because of our Yin Body and the Yin chi…”
“We are calmer. Yes. You’ve felt it before, have you not?” At his nod, she continued. “Cool in battle, calm in our passions. Not coldly logical like a robot, but a faded passion. One worn away from long nights of repeated exposure, but no less true.
“That is the Yin. And because of that, we feel the pressure less.”
“Because it’s what we do,” Arthur murmured, in a slow dawn of understanding. Yang was all fiery passion, the momentary explosion. But that kind of passion had to be built upon ever increasing amounts of fuel, or it would gutter out.
Yin, though, could take the same amount of fuel and keep burning for ages. Providing heat and warmth for hours on end, though not to the same extent as Yang.
Some might think one or the other was better, but it was but a matter of context. Yin and Yang, they moved in tandem, and the mindsets they formed were but mirror opposites of one another.
“Yes. And it’s why you need to watch them too,” Uswah said. “I know you worry about us turning on you.”
“I see your eyes dart to exits, the way you hang at the back all the time. Never leading the charge, always watching for a way to leave.” She held up a hand when Arthur tried to protest further. “It’s understandable. We are strangers, even though we have shed blood together. And some of us . . .” Her eyes drifted over to Jan, who was pacing up and down the hallway, “have been less than accepting.”
She went on: “But loyalty and trust go both ways. If you are always looking to leave, we will always be looking for you to go.”
Arthur nodded jerkily, acknowledging her point. Still . . .
“But that’s not the point I was trying to make. It’s this. They are like Yang to our Yin. When they begin to burn out, when their fuel subsides, we must contain them. Make them rest, recharge. Or, if in battle they rage beyond reason, we must step in.” She touched her hijab, idly adjusting it. “We must face and fight when they can’t.”
“Because they’ve done too much?” Arthur said.
He frowned, looking over the group spread around. Saw the bags under their eyes, the occasional tremble in Shar’s hand that appeared out of nowhere and only stopped when she focused. He saw Mel wearing at her lower lip, clutching the necklace.
And he wondered if Uswah’s earlier comment about him leaving was really as much an aside as she had meant it to be. Looking over her, the way she sat serenely with her legs crossed, he could not help but wonder. What she believed might be coming, and what she had planned.