Harrying the jenglot that tried to reach them with thrusts and stabs, Arthur retreated in line with the others, pulling back to the tower entrance. On his right, he noted that Shar and Jan were doing the same too on their side of the entrance, with Uswah appearing briefly after having planted a dagger in the back of a monster and then tearing up an ankle. Then, to his surprise, she faded away between one blink and the next, disappearing into the darkness once more.
“Come on back!” Shar snapped, calling the group to reenter. There was a moment’s hesitation when they hit the entrance, as the inward-swinging double doors had been propped to allow only a few people through the gap at a time. As Rani and Jan hesitated over who would enter first, the moment’s delay was enough to create a gap in their defense.
In that moment, a jenglot on the right surged forward, striking with its long claws to tear into Jan’s side. She cried out in pain, Shar too busy warding off another monster to step in. Even as the jenglot raised its arm to attack again, Rani threw her broken spear end at it, the attack glowing with a slight green colour as it pierced the monster’s chest.
Crying in pain, the jenglot hesitated, only for its raised fingers to be hacked off by the half-sobbing Jan. Clawed fingers flew through the air, missing as Rani grabbed Jan and pulled her through the entrance.
“Shar! Back off,” Jan cried out.
Taking orders, Shar retreated, followed a moment later by Mel and Arthur, their long spears deterring the jenglot momentarily. The injured monster that had attacked Jan was struck by Shar on her way in. Shar’s spear cut into its ankle and it collapsed sideways, blocking the way for a brief moment.
“Uswah!” Arthur called out, his gaze darting from side to side in the brief moments while swinging his spear to bat aside reaching fingers, claws dripping with blood from repeated jabs.
“We’re clear!” Rani cried out, Jan repeating the order a second later.
Arthur, still outside, backed off further toward the double doors. He searched for the Yin-bodied fighter but could not find her. She had chosen to continue harrying the jenglot instead of retreating, but this was not the way to do it. As he searched, he and Mel holding off the group, his body burning with strength and speed from Heavenly Sage’s Mischief to match the damn monsters, he realised that big Elite was gone.
“The Elite! Where is it?” he shouted.
Disregarding her spear, Mel jumped and snapped a front kick into a monster’s lunging face. He watched the jenglot fall backward. Mel landed, her head turning from side to side. “It was there . . . but it’s gone.”
Then a loud cry, and they found the Elite and Uswah fighting one another in the shadows. Uswah was retreating, one hand clutching her side while swinging her dagger with the other. At the same time, the Elite stalked towards her, moving to cut off her retreat.
“No!” Shar cried out. Sensing movement, Arthur glanced back to see her being held back by Rani.
He could not afford to look too long, for the other jenglot were still pressing toward him. He nearly had his head torn off, the momentary distraction allowing a claw to sneak past his long spear. Only a hasty drop to the ground left him with his head intact.
Another scream and Uswah stumbled away. The Elite jenglot raised its head, Uswah’s torn-off arm in its bloody mouth. Armless and weaponless now, Uswah tried to fade into the darkness, only for the monster to pounce and hold her down. Breath crushed, she thrashed under its foot.
Arthur threw himself at the nearest jenglot. This time, it was the monster who was distracted as a scream from the Elite brought its head around. Taking advantage, Arthur poured energy into a Focused Strike to plunge his spear directly into its throat, and it staggered away clutching at a pierced throat. “Got you!”
Mel, meanwhile, had stabbed her own monster in the thigh, forcing the creature to limp away and retreat. That created a gap in the line of jenglot, and Mel leaned forward, almost as though she would rush into the throng. Yet, she held off because of the sight that caught all their attention. The jenglot were all suddenly retreating, toward the Elite.
“What is it doing?” Shar whispered.
“Playing with her . . .” The anger that burned in Rani’s voice was palpable.
Arthur could not help but agree, for the monster was crouched over Uswah, tracing a sharp finger down the screaming woman’s face, ignoring the weakly slapping hand against its leg. Then, the Elite turned its head to stare at the group, its wide, teethy mouth falling open in a lolling grin. Malevolence stared back at them, clearly evil paired with intelligence.
“Why isn’t it killing her?” Shar said.
“It’s not just playing,” Arthur said softly as realisation struck him. “It’s taunting us. Trying to make us come out. It knows we’ve trapped the tower. It’s not going to let us have the power.”
“No. It can’t . . . it’s not that smart, is it?” Mel said, shocked.
He just nodded at the giant figure, who had pinned down the beating arm and pierced the hand with a single oversized claw. Then, drawing the claw downward, it tore the hand open, eliciting another long scream.
“I’ll kill it!” Shar shook off Rani’s grip, emerged from the tower, and shouldered her way towards where Arthur and Mel stood. Only to pause as she stared at the wall of hairy flesh before her, the jenglot having reformed their lines.
To the group’s surprise, even as Shar stood shaking in rage and indecision, the Elite let out a barking noise. The jenglot hesitated, and the noise was repeated much louder. Moving slowly, the monsters moved into a ring-like formation. Then they parted, opening a pathway toward the treeline. Toward Uswah and the Elite.
“Oh gods, they aren’t thinking we’ll fall for that trap?” Arthur said, even as he regarded the jenglot. After all that fighting, there were still five monsters uninjured despite three worse for the wear in close proximity, and another three crippled but further back.
Too many for their group to fight, but it didn’t matter.
Because Shar, even knowing that all this was a trap, was running forward. And right behind her, Mel was following. Even Rani and Jan had reappeared from the tower.
“You have got to be kidding me,” he muttered.
“Do-or-die time,” Jan said, limping forward with steely determination in her eyes.
Problem was, if they all died, he’d be following them moments later. Offered little choice, he followed after the women, forming an Energy Dart to unleash for when things inevitably got worse.