Moving quickly, Arthur made to verify the condition of those collapsed. He first checked on the closest, Shar. He extracted bandages from his pouch, pushing it against her wounds to help stem the bleeding before wrapping them around, watching the woman hiss. There was so much blood, and she was half-delirious from blood loss, her eyes glazing over as she entered a state of shock. He was not certain she’d survive. That was the best he could do for now. And she was only one of a few who needed attention.
Moving on, he scanned the group. Uswah was unconscious, bereft of energy and likely overdrawn. Nothing he could do for her. Her chest was rising and falling, breaths coming slowly, but he was certain she was still alive. Good enough.
Rani was alive, knocked unconscious from a blow to her head. Alive and not even bleeding out. He left her immediately after double-checking that her pulse was moving. Lastly, Mel. He found her crouched over a jenglot body, swaying on her feet as she dipped the amulet into its blood. Blood filled a teardrop on the amulet.
Coming over to her side, he bent down.
“How is it? It working? Need anything?” he asked, eyeing the hasty bandages the woman had wrapped around herself. Not that it helped, for blood continued to leak out.
“I . . . fine. Finish. This,” she managed to croak out, her eyes focused entirely on the amulet.
Arthur could not help but agree. Letting her get on with it, he noted that there was nothing he could help her with, not with the small strips of first aid left in his pouch. He turned back towards the tower, intent on grabbing the remaining items they had scavenged. More bandages, needle and thread. Probably something to clean the wounds, though infection wasn’t likely. Something to do with the Tower itself and their cultivator bodies.
He only managed to make it a dozen feet before he heard a laborious exhalation and the dull thump of a collapsing body. Spinning around, he realised that Mel was on the ground, unconscious.
“Shit, shit, shit.” Rushing to Mel, he checked her over. Luckily, she was unconscious but alive and still bleeding out. A quick check on her bandages and tightening them helped a little, but . . .
Now, he was forced to choose. Leave it? Wait? There was at least one more monster left, possibly hiding in the trees. If he waited, one of the others could actually put the blood in the amulet themselves. Though if they had to fight off a large group again, with the team this injured the chances of survival were slim.
The chances of survival for some of them were already low.
Flicking his gaze back and forth between the women lying prone, he resolved to get this done. He scooped up the amulet from Mel’s senseless fingers. Then, figuring it was only fitting, he jogged over to the dead Elite’s body, pushing the amulet deep into one of its wounds.
That simple task done, he hurried back to the tower to complete his initial objective, finding the first aid kits they had set aside. Finding them quickly enough, he returned to the group outside and propped up Mel to finish bandaging the woman, hauling her back and forth as gently as he could. Even so, he was no trained health care professional, nor did he have help to adjust the positioning of her body.
And yet, for all his rough care, the woman stirred not at all.
Once he had her bandaged and laid back down on the ground, Arthur stood up and eyed the remainder of the group. None of them looked likely to expire anytime soon, so he hurried over to the amulet, plucking it out of the body and pool of blood by its chain. It swung back and forth, and as the blood dripped off, he noticed it seemed to be glowing a little.
Curiosity overtaking him, he grabbed the amulet itself, only to feel an electric shock run through his body upon contact. His hand spasmed tight, and then, to his utter surprise, refused to open again. The electric shock was not the only sensation, for pain spread across his palm as if the amulet were searing it. On the other hand, his fingers that clutched the other side of the amulet were untouched by the pain. But he could not pry them open, not even by using his other hand.
Soon enough, he had to stop, for all he was doing was tearing the skin off his own flesh. His hand was magically bound to the amulet. At the same time, the pain in his palm grew ever stronger, and a smell of sizzling flesh floated through the air as he fell to his knees. More so, the pain radiated from his hand and up his arm, into his chest, and then to his dantian.
Eyes wide with fear as he realised where it was reaching towards, he tried to pull his hand open once again but failed to do so, instead collapsing as the pain reached his center. And then, what had been aching pain grew to blinding agony as it exploded through his soul and mind. He rode the pain like a rising tide until a glowing light in the form of a crest seemed to float before his gaze. A crest in white and yellow light that danced in the sky.
Then the pain overwhelmed his control and he was sent spiralling into darkness. Leaving him to join Morpheus himself in the land of dreams.
Waking was a pain. Literally.
Head throbbing, soul pounding. If you have never had your own soul scoured, imagine a sander taken to the insides of your very being and multiply the resulting pain by three.
But at last Arthur managed to open his eyes a bare slit at the early morning sunlight streaming down around him. His hand ached.
And a parang swung at his face. Well, near his face. It was not, at this moment, being swung at him. Which was good. What was not, was the argument going on above him.
“You can’t kill him,” Mel said, frustrated.
“Yes, we can. Pancung kepala dia sekarang, while he’s still sleeping,” Jan said urgently, twitching the parang she held. “He betrayed us lah, Mel! Remember what I said.”
“We don’t know if that’s what happened. It could have been a mistake,” Mel said.
“He is foolish, but not dumb,” Uswah said.
“Maybe he didn’t know it would react like that,” Shar said weakly. She was seated on the ground like Uswah. Neither of the girls looked up for another fight.
“Doesn’t matter what happened. But we need to kill him and get the seal back,” Jan said.
“We can’t,” Mel repeated. “We don’t know if the seal will disappear.”
“So what? Because of him we don’t have it anyway,” Jan said.
“But maybe we can make a deal,” Mel said.
“Or we could cut it off? Maybe that’d work?” Shar offered.
“Oooh, yes.” Jan’s voice seemed to light up.
“What do you think?” Uswah said. Her question startled the group, and they looked at her, only to follow her gaze over to Arthur’s open eyes. Jan’s parang twitched again, and only a bump by Mel into her side stopped her from swinging it down on him.
“I think I’d like to not die,” Arthur said.
“Then why you betray us?” Jan snapped.
“I didn’t! I saved your ass. All your asses,” he snarled. The pounding headache had driven some of his control away. He breathed in deep, forcing the pain away. “I don’t understand what the hell you’re talking about.”
Before Jan could say anything, Mel pointed to his hand and said simply, “Look at your palm.”
Dread flashed through him, as memory of what had happened before he fell unconscious ran through him. He suddenly had a dreadful premonition of what he might see there. And, as he turned his hand over and raised it—and himself—up, he saw it for what it was.
The branded clan seal, on his palm.
And deep within his soul, he felt the notification waiting for him to look at.
Which he would, if he could convince the damn women from chopping both his hand and head off.