Alana raised her hand, looking at the sky. They were making better time than they had anticipated, mostly due to their clearing the roads on the way down to Franksburg. If they went through and did a little more thorough job, they would basically have a personal highway that went straight between their two cities.
Opening her menu, Alana looked at the map of the area given to her by the Ghosthound. The area that constituted their “Zone” was a rectangle, slightly taller than it was wide. It ended up being 189 miles wide, 223 mile tall. If you were to plot their locations on an X and Y axis, Donnyton would be about 150, 83, being in the Southeastern quarter.
Franksburg was Southeast of Donnyton, quite near the absolute Southeastern corner of the Zone. Although it wasn’t an issue now, Franksburg would be an incredible asset as an ally. They were sequestered in the corner, and had a lot of space, and a burgeoning population. Once they found their feet, able to survive through the monster hordes, they could begin to establish themselves, and prepare for the Tribulation to come for them.
Still, Alana had a feeling they would be fine. They had struggled for a month without classes, and their initial growth, especially that Lucifer’s would likely be explosive, quickly reaching the point that he could single handedly contend with a tribulation.
‘Well,’ Alana amended her thought, ‘Perhaps not single handedly. But with the support of the Freedom Fighters behind him, he would be able to slay it, hopefully with only a small loss of life.’
Lucifer was not, after all, the Ghosthound.
Alana checked their spot on the map once more. It seemed as though they could make it by nightfall…
After several seconds of internal debate, she moved through the trotting crowd, eventually tracking down a brooding woman wearing two pistols, and another woman, hooded and masked, even though the day was hot.
The masked woman inclined her head. “...I suppose if you’ve come, you want…. The speed of the convoy to increase?”
“Yes,” Alana said simply. She did not mind using Raina like this, and ever since the acid had melted the skin on her face and incited a fanatical mob to sacrifice their lives to kill monsters, Raina had been very sparing in the use of her powers. Now, she spent most of her time simply drawing, creating pretty accurate renditions of the world under the influence of the system.
Setting her drawing pad aside, Raina stood. But then she began to hum. It was a small tune, relatively short and simple, but Alana instantly felt rejuvenated after hearing it. Then, when the tune began to repeat for a third time, Alana hummed along with Raina.
When they started for a 4th time, some nearby people began humming along with the tune as well, almost instinctively. By the 6th, the tune spread further, and almost everyone was humming along, picking up their pace.
By the 10th, Raina stopped humming, and nodded respectfully to Alana and then picked up her pad once more, simply continuing to draw as the convoy hummed around her, rushing forward.
“The 4th squad of Donnyton has fallen. Who dare step forward to fill the gap?”
It was a heavy sentence, full pregnant meaning. It would be, everyone knew, the last challenge made before the Ghosthound fought against the full war party. It was also a battle that seemed hopeless to win.
“The 3rd Squad dares.” The 9 men and 2 women that made up the 3rd squad walked forward, heads held high.
The previous challenges had gone rather predictably. This especially became obvious as the Ghosthound began to not alternate between his 4 modes, but do 2 of them at once. Then 3. For the 4th squad, he used all 4, blasting with magic, moving like a ghost, crushing their defenses, and ignoring all damage that came his way.
It was monstrous.
Donny and Dozer arrived, already dressed fully in their armor, their weapons gripped tightly at their sides. Paolo was stretching lightly to the side, while Daniel and Kayle were engaged in a heated discussion, their eyes on the the Ghosthound.
Decklan just stood still, a nervous Tera beside him, his eyes burning. Yes, this was how it had to be. The Ghosthound must be at least this strong. Otherwise, how else could this all be possible? How else could this town be held together by the force of will of only one individual.
Slaying the Ghosthound needed to be difficult, or what was the point?
“Alec,” Donny said, speaking to the leader of the 3rd squad. Alec turned, and tilted his head to the side.
“Make him take the numerals seriously.”
Alec grinned, and then turned to the Ghosthound. The Ghosthound stood, pole spinning slowly in his hands, his eyes a mild green, like mint.
“Are you ready?” His voice was still calm, as it had been the entire trials thus far, as he had completely brutalized all of Donnyton’s squads. But there was more of an edge now, an eagerness.
An eagerness to finally experience the tension of a tough battle.
Alec nodded, and the squad raised their weapons, vigilant. Which was for the best, because when the Ghosthound moved, he came to kill. It wasn’t that the Ghosthound was impossibly fast, it was just that he always seemed to be a hair faster than your eyes told you he would be.
But this was Squad III, and when they knew what was coming, they could prepare for it.
Their main tank threw himself forward to meet the rush of the Ghosthound, smashing his shield forward. Swaying, the Ghosthound dodged the blow, and was faced with sharp stabs from two other squadmates; at this level, a small chance was enough for the squad to get into position. They weren’t the best Donnyton had to offer, but they surely knew their business.
The Ghosthound feinted right, avoiding the stab that bought the feint and aimed to intercept him. The other stab was avoided simply by brushing the blow slightly to the side, so that it scraped along his ribs, rather than pierced into them.
Rushing forward, the tank attempted to push the Ghosthound back, but was stopped dead by a thrust by the Ghosthound. Grunting, he attempted to regain his footing, but the Ghosthound had enough time to use his characteristic Phantom Thrust, aiming for the shoulder of one of the two individuals who had stabbed at him.
They had already been familiarized with the fearsome power of the thrust, so by the time the attack came, the woman was throwing herself backwards out of the way. With an impossible amount of force, the blow swerved and caught her in the chest, knocking the wind out of her.
The Ghosthound turned, aiming to pounce towards the second attacker, but a blast of fire ripped towards him. Spinning his pole, most of the force was dispersed, a cloud of ash and smoke spreading slowly. Alec’s pupils dilated instantly.
“BACK!” He bellowed, and the squad quickly retreated, gathering at the other end of the arena. Their healer hurriedly used Healing Palm on the woman, and most of the group gulped down stamina potions to replace what they had lost. Most of the squad hadn’t actually engaged him, but they knew that if they gave him half a chance, the Ghosthound would rip through their mage and healers, leaving them helpless before his superior regeneration.
With a calm face, the Ghosthound was revealed as the smoke parted, looking completely unruffled. Then he smiled.
A Wall of Thorns sprang into being, ripping upwards, splitting the group in half. Alec blinked, then swore under his breath. Eyes narrowing, he then gave the order.
“Everyone on this side with me, keep him locked down for them to burn through the thorns. Hold nothing back.”
They marched forward, rushing towards the waiting Ghosthound. His smile widened as he came forward to meet them. With grace and power, the pole swept back and forth, crushing resistance. Alec was the only one who could totally block it, and threw himself in the way time and time again, using his axe to hack away at the pole, cutting chips of wood from it, slowly whittling it down.
The rest of the squad spread out to surround him, but he moved with an unnatural grace, always seeming to just dodge or deflect the attack. It was as if there was something… inevitable about the Ghosthound’s victory. As if the entire world was twisting itself to make sure that he won.
But Decklan knew in his heart that wasn’t the case. From below, the smallest edge, over time, will come to seem an impossible mountain. All it took was a single man to step upon the summit, and then…
Almost if Alec had been following that train of thought, he roared, a red light forming around his body as he activated the skill Battle Lust. The Ghosthound’s eyes narrowed, and a Phantom Onslaught rumbled forward, dozens of attacks rushing to put Alec down in that few seconds as the Battle Lust took effect.
It was undoubtedly a powerful technique, that boosted physical capabilities for a short while. But there was a short time of vulnerability, as your body was changing gears, as it were. Most of the warriors chose not to use it, for that reason. Alec was probably the one in Donnyton with the highest skill level, and his required about 2 seconds to activate.
Even though that was more than enough time for the Ghosthound to defeat him, he did it anyway, gambling on the boost he would obtain from the skill.
After all, in this instance, he was not a man. He was a member of the squad.
Their voices rising in support, the 4 other people stuck on this side of the wall threw themselves in the way of the Ghosthound’s attack, blocking and deflecting those they could handle, using their bodies to soak up the damage from those they couldn’t. But the Phantom Onslaught of the Ghosthound was not something that any of them could come close to equaling; in terms of speed and power, it was unmatched. It was as if he could unleash 20 Phantom Thrusts, all at once, in a specific duration.
But those 4 did their best. In the end, only a single attack ripped forward as they fell away, all of them sporting multiple broken bones. And a hand rose to meet it, curled into a fist.
The fingers shattered, and then the palm, and then the wrist, but the force at that point was dispersed. Alec’s left hand was useless, but his eyes burned red, a fiery energy overtaking him. And, behind him, healers rushed forward to help, as 3 fireballs smashed forward as covering fire.
Snorting, the Ghosthound rushed forward around Alec, but to his surprise Alec moved more quickly than he had previously, repositioning himself in front of the Ghosthound, spinning his axe. Then he began to swing with a wild abandon, smashing around with surprisingly precise strokes with his axe.
That moment that the Ghosthound was forced to pause was enough to change the course of the fight.
“Entangling Roots!” The dedicated mage bellowed, and roots curled upward from the ground to grip the Ghosthound’s legs. This seemed to incense him, and with a single step, he ripped the bindings to shreds. But that step put him right in the way of a swing of Alec’s where there was no time to deflect. He was forced to block directly, and his pole snapped into to pieces, broken by the force.
Roaring victoriously, Alex swung again, but he met nothing but air.
Blinking, he spun around, because the Ghosthound was already behind him, the healer and mage incapacitated, their guards knocked to the ground.
Alec paused, the vicious redness in his eyes urging him onward, but something in the Ghosthound’s stance told him that something had changed. The Ghosthound turned, gazing at Alec with burning emerald eyes.