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A note from puddles4263

7/14

Before Alana could truly examine the notifications she had received, the huge boulder she was currently riding cracked further, splitting directly underneath her feet. Immediately the Dragons roared in triumph as they spotted her moving through the swirling snow. She sidestepped quickly and looked upward toward her attackers.

As she suspected, the Dragons were wasting no time in pouncing downward in order to strike while she was vulnerable. Cobalt bolts began to crash against the ground around her, scattering shards of stone that left tiny paper-thin cuts on her legs. Unfortunately for them, Alana felt that the change that resulted from the evolution of her Stat was much more potent than the rather short paragraph would indicate.

Although being able to live through the first time anything would kill me is already benefit enough… Alana thought grimly. For a second, her gaze stretched upward beyond the three remaining Dragons that were moving to hunt her and to the peak of Mount Olympus, where a beast that was almost Level 80 waited with half-closed eyes.

Hell, at this point it had probably returned to its lazy doze on top of Mount Olympus without another thought to Alana’s fate, the arrogant fuck. A resolution had firmed in Alana’s heart that she would rip that things heart out and eat that precious organ in front of its children. Then she would kill the rest of them to make sure another monster like this would never exist.

The wild violence of the sudden resolution shocked some part of Alana, but her stoic side accepted it as natural. If the Broodmother itself would have moved after its breath attack, Alana likely would have died. For whatever reason, it hadn’t. But the truth that Alana could have died in those desperate moments was not an easy one for her to swallow.

How long before Donnyton would find out that she had been crushed like a fly on top of this distant mountain? What would they feel, so soon after the loss against Randidly in the challenge?

This humiliation would be paid back with interest. Alana glared upward. But then she refocused on those who were currently in front of her.

The Dragons above Alana blasted out a heavy rain of cobalt bolts, and some strange whim caused Alana to just take a long look at them as they approached her. She ceased dodging and simply followed their bright track across the sky toward her. Then she flexed her left hand, feeling the tingling numbness recede as blood and energy flooded back into the previously frozen limb.

Almost casually, Alana reached up and chopped with her hand. Somehow, her instincts told her that attacks of this level weren’t enough to reach her any longer.

With almost comical ease, Alana simply smashed aside the Ice Dragons’ Skils. Her hand blurred outward with methodical efficiency as if she was swatting away lazy and fat flies.

The Dragons paused in their bombardment and regarded Alana with their bright sapphire eyes. Alana chuckled and raised her right hand. Her Skill Vengeful Javelin condensed into a bright orange weapon above her hand. With practiced ease, she threw the javelin of burning energy with enough oomph that the snow in the surrounding area was vaporized by its passage. Such was its speed that the targeted Dragon didn’t even have time to blink its sapphire eyes before one of its wings was ripped off its body.

Screaming, the dragon spiraled downward to crash into one of the splintering pieces of the shattered ridge. Stone continued to fracture and break. The two other dragons dived quickly downward, hoping to avoid meeting a similar fate to their companions.

Alana walked calmly forward, unphased by the crumbling ridge beneath her. After all, she was the tip of Donnyton’s Spear. She bore the weight of all of their hopes and dreams. She couldn’t afford to die here. Fights like these-

The orange energy around her eddied and began to wane. Whereas before the image had felt painted on her Willpower like a glove, it now felt fuzzy and difficult to manage. The energy continued to deteriorate as Alana blinked in shock for a full second. And for the first time since she had encountered this problem, Alana had an inkling as to the cause.

Was I… trying to utilize an image that was too big for me to handle this whole time...? Alana thought in wonder. The energy around her continued to stutter and swirl. It wasn’t that the concept of an image had left her, it was more akin to the rare occasions that Alana had tried Dozer’s huge pillar of a weapon out of curiosity.

Even if she had the Strength enough to use it, there was some implicit understanding of the forces and momentum involved that was missing. Her flailings with Dozer’s weapon had been comically bad. Perhaps should could master the usage with practice, but she had felt uncomfortably unable to exert her Strength while wielding it.

Is that why Randidly stepped away from authority for so long? To focus his image on himself as an individual…? Alana looked down at her hands. The orange energy around her had died down to almost nothing now. The cold and the snow came howling back. The passage of the wind shrieked in her ears. Some distance away, Alana could sense the Dragons pause again, unsure of this new change in her behavior.

But then, as all of the orange energy around her faded to nothing and the wind triumphantly blasted her face, Alana’s eyes began to smoke and burn. When she released a breath, the energy blasted outward like a beam of light. Fine then. I don’t need to be anything to Donnyton if I can’t even manage myself. I’m simply Alana, Valkyrie of the Red Clay. Alaihym, Angel with no Lineage. And I will spear the heart of the Ice Dragon Broodmother and roast it over a fire.

Alana’s images came surging back. She could feel the glittering feathers stretching out from her helmet and the perfect, gleaming spear she wielded in her hand. But one small thought swam nervously around the base of her mind.

...just how much has Randidly’s image grown in order to cow the image of Donnyton with brute force…? He wielded an image so large that it completely suppressed us all… Is that a matter of practice, or is there something else that I’m missing…?

Yet Alana’s thoughts had to stop because the present danger demanded her attention.

Three Dragons scuttled forward to attack Alana as she stood alone in the ridge at the base of Mount Olympus. Two more were swirling downward in the sky above, much larger than the four that had come before. She had fallen far enough down in elevation that the snow transformed to sleet, pasting her hair to her skull and running down the back of her neck to her spine like curious fingers. The ground beneath her continued to crumble and split. Around her, what had once been a ridge was slowly devolving into an avalanche.

And Alana laughed as she rode it all into darkness, burning like a bonfire.

*****

Tatiana scratched her neck as she looked uncomfortably down at the terminal. “Please, make this quick, Helen. I have a meeting with the government in about ten minutes.”

“Plenty quick,” Helen’s reply was short and clearly annoyed. Tatiana crossed her fingers under the desk, hoping this walking timebomb hadn’t done something else that would keep Tatiana up at night with stress dreams. “It’s just… it’s so damn boring around here. I have to go farther and farther to find monsters worth fighting. Do you know how much I walk each day? Can we… like ship some strong monsters into the area? Maybe buy a high-Level Dungeon?”

Tatiana kept her smile polite. At least she’s focusing her violence on monsters. I can work with that. “There aren’t any Villages close to us, you know that. But the Level of monsters is slowly rising. Have you tried going down to Lake Apollo? I’ve heard-”

“Of course,” Helen’s tone was bitter. “I found a good amount of grubby fish monsters, but I cleaned out the entire lake area yesterday. I’ve had to go further South to the river. And even there, the monsters have started running away from me! Has there been anyone else suspicious up there? That bloodthirsty guy wasn’t strong, but at least he was mildly fucking entertaining-”

“Nothing here, just paperwork,” Tatiana replied as brightly as possible.

“Ugh.” Helen hung up the call after a brief pause and a sky. Although she didn’t know much else about the minutia of running a company, she certainly understood that she wanted nothing to do with paperwork. Which was why Tatiana had kept Helen at bay by bringing it up as much as possible.

How long will you be gone, Randidly…? It’s only been a few days, but I’m already at my wit’s end… The government has been quiet since Helen assaulted the police, but how long will that last? And now that their representative requested a meeting…

Shaking her head, Tatiana checked the time. 1:19. Which mean her half hour of break time had already dwindled to eleven minutes. When you included the time Tatiana planned to spend reviewing her notes about the specific government representative that was visiting… her time had basically gone up in smoke.

Tatiana sighed and collected her notes.

Lee Holloway was originally a lobbyist that was at the center of Zone 1’s scientific block that controlled Congress for the greater portion of the post-System government. Eventually, he was pulled from the lobby groups to working for Congress proper, as an aide for one of the top ten most influential figures in Congress. Since then, Lee had moved rather rapidly between a number of aide positions for different Senators, but they had one thing in common: they were all known associates of Senator Heathridge.

Tatiana tapped her lip as she regarded the series of names. Then she tried to recall as much as she could about Senator Heathridge. You’ve never held this specific dagger, but it’s clearly one you’ve kept with your friends. And I predicted the individual targeting Erickson Steel would soon make a move… has it been you this whole time, Heathridge…?

Tatiana looked up sharply at the sound of the intercom. It was from the front desk; it appeared that Lee Holloway had arrived early.

Clicking a button to indicate the man should be sent up immediately, Tatiana walked over to the cabinet and removed the completely empty bottle of her favorite Donnyton whiskey and set it on the desk next to her work area. Then she pulled several piles of meaningless earning reports and set them haphazardly around her chair and desk.

Tatiana paused briefly in her work when several papers fluttered to the floor around her desk, but that only made her smile in satisfaction. She then walked to the windows and pulled the blinds closed. The office became dark and disheveled.

Suddenly, it seemed that Tatiana was beset by a sea of accumulating problems in paper form.

To finish off the illusion, Tatiana poured herself a glass of a rich amber-colored iced tea. She took a sip and smacked her lips in pleasure. Bitter as the day I was born. Perfect. Let’s see what sort of hammer is about to fall. Let’s hope to god that this man doesn’t think he can play chicken with Randidly Ghosthound.

Lee Holloway looked exactly like someone who worked in government as a career wheedler; he wore a three-piece suit and his dark hair was slicked back with oil. His beard was impeccably trimmed.

When he entered the room, Tatiana took careful note of the way his gaze went to her face and never once flicked down to the empty bottle of whiskey on the desk or the glass of amber liquid in her hand. He was good at what he did, but that also made him relatively predictable. He would save that card for when he meant business

Gotcha.

Tatiana,” He boomed with a confident laugh as he strode forward and took a seat at one of the leather chairs in front of her desk. “How are you? You truly as young and beautiful as the rumors say.”

“Ah… well thank you.” Tatiana looked down demurely for just long enough. Then she quickly looked back up to his face and then away. “I’ve been expecting… I mean, how are you? What.. ah, what brings you here?”

“Of course, I should have guessed.” Lee winked at Tatiana. “Business before pleasure, I should have expected as much from a successful woman like yourself. So I’ll get right down to it. I represent certain interest groups… and I’m sure you realize that considering the recent activities of Erickson Steel… Zone 1 would eventually need to find a solution to this strange conundrum that makes every happy....”

Tatiana forced her face into a polite smile. To have no reaction prepared would be too amateur, might alert him that this is just a ploy. Better to immediately buckle down and show some capability. “Ah…? You must be referring to the recent shift in distribution strategy. I had no idea that Senators would be interested in such things.”

“...yes of course.” Holloway seemed amused. He winked at her again. “Based on that specifically… I’d like to inform you that the government of Zone 1… would like to sponsor a Village being founded on Erickson Steel land. We really think that if Erickson Steel wants to become a traveling hub… we should do everything to support that venture. You continue to supply the quality steel, and we will build the infrastructure to make this the second Orchard! What do you think?”

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