Alana sidestepped, letting Tykes’ huge iron ball fly past her and slam into the tree behind her.
“If you telegraph like that, even Dozer will seem like a ballerina fighting you,” Alana said as she snorted decisively and advanced towards Tykes. The boy was strong, sure, but he wasn’t strong enough for him to just rely on raw power, yet he repeatedly tried.
As the boy’s shit eating grin didn’t change, Alana realized there was something else to this, but she didn’t change her movements. Only, her right hand tightened on her spear, while her left kept an even grip on the spear, and she began to glow a warm red color as her energy gathered into her body. Better to rely on her Skills to suppress him. It wasn’t really fair for her to use her Lvl 47 Stats to oppress a Level 35.
There was a whistling behind her, as the iron ball ricocheted off a tree and changed direction. Out of the corner of her eye she could see that the ball was rotating rapidly, and it began to curve towards her back. Clever, but this she was already prepared for, since the moment he chose to fight with a weapon that left his hands. If he didn’t manage at least this much, he wouldn’t be much use against monsters with actual powers.
Her Child of the Sun Skill just burned that much brighter to compensate, and she could see Tykes cover his eyes: there.
Her body blurred as she rushed forward, ignoring the iron ball as it rushed towards her back. Immediately, his senses picked up on her change of pace, and he began to backpedal rapidly. With a gesture, he somehow managed to increase the speed by which the ball was moving, and the air seemed to hum behind her.
Tsk’ing to herself, Alana spun to the side and let the ball come past her. But contrary to what she expected, Tykes did not panic, he just stood there and raised his hand. Alana’s eyes narrowed, running through a list of possibilities.
One of the more low key projects that Donnyton’s leaders had engaged in recently, in response to the coup that was Lucifer killing the first Tier III Raid Boss, and to the battles against the Skeleton Knight, and the people underneath him, was to engage in Skill Spotting training. Basically, Mrs. Hamilton located people with rarely seen Skills, and it became a game for the group of Alana, Annie, Dozer, Decklan, Donny, and Glendel.
They would alternate seeking out their own rare Classes and Skills, trying to flummox the rest of the group. Alana wasn’t as incisize as Annie and Glendel had become, but she was pretty confident of her relative skill compared to the rest of them. And this… a shockwave Skill.
Her eyes burned, as she stomped her foot at the same time the metal ball smashed into Tykes’ hand. Low Thunder over the Mountains.
Tykes yelped and was sent stumbling backwards, his shockwave overwhelmed by hers. Alana didn’t dwell on the fact that this was probably due to Stats rather than Skill Level, because this was one of the Skills she trained the least, and just folded her arms across her chest. But as she opened her mouth to speak, she was interrupted by a soft clapping.
A figure walked out of the treeline to their arena, moving so silently it gave Alana chills. But as she looked at who it was…
She felt it in her chest, that constant flow of warmth, that connection of energy that let her grow at an incredible rate, filling her with drive and potential.
The Ghosthound looked different from when they last saw him. There used to be a sort of angsty anger and pride to him, a rejection of the world. And a brutal daring that allowed him to challenge 50 people to a fight, and expect to emerge victorious.
Alana wasn’t sure what detail it was; he looked similar, if a little more muscular. Just a small transformation from a mountain lion to a tiger, gaining bulk, but maintaining the same grace and sleek utility of form. Other than that, his feet were still bare and slightly dirty, covered with a layer of callous. His clothing wasn’t anything special, a series of haphazard leathers that indicated he had not had access to Donnyton’s armory in the past several months.
There wasn’t even any weapon on his person, but he appeared to be more threatening than anyone else Alana had ever seen, the air around him thick with violent potential. There were lines to his face that were new, and light scars, and more than anything there was a certainty to his gaze, an implacable depth that seemed to allow his soul to be completely still, without fear, and survey the world around him.
“Holy shit, its you.” Tykes said, his mouth wide. He dropped his iron ball on the ground and took a step towards the Ghosthound, his hands tightening into fists.
The Ghosthound glanced at Tykes, and there was a flash of recognition. “Yes… you were the one who wouldn’t stay on the ground in that last challenge. You’ve… grown stronger, I see. But I wanted-”
“Quiet,” Tykes growled, picking his iron ball back up and spinning it around on his chain. “I need to know. I need to know how much of the distance between us has narrowed… draw your weapon.”
Alana tensed somewhat at Tykes’ rude response. Mostly because… because it became immediately clear that his senses weren’t refined enough to see what she could see. That hovering behind the Ghosthound, adding weight to the air, was a huge monster, lurking in his shadow. It was a burnt and desolate world, it was an endless and hungry vitality, it was a woman whose body is half a skeleton come to tell you that your life is over. It was vast and thick, that monster, and it seemed… of all things, amused by Tykes’ outburst.
It laughed, and Alana heard that in that laughter the sound of a burnt out house collapsing, all soot and ash.
“Have it your way… Alana? You are in his team. Don’t let him wander to far afield.”
Almost on instinct, Alana raised her own spear and shield, pointing them towards the Ghosthound. As desolate and horrifying that these perceptions she was having were, that did not make her fear the Ghosthound, exactly. Randidly. No, more than that…
It set her determination on fire, to see that the man who she had trusted had not betrayed her trust, and had spent the intervening time becoming increasingly unfathomable. This was a leader worth following, and the reason that despite everything against them, Donnyton would never fall.
“Create an opening for me,” Alana said gravely to Tykes, as she advanced towards the Ghosthound, who simply stood there, his eyes sharp and emerald as he watched them. Tykes was clearly annoyed that she had been lumped into his team, when he intended to fight in some sort of hyped up duel in his mind, but he liked the role Alana gave to him.
Alana could only grimace as the boy grinned and rushed forward towards the Ghosthound. Cocky, and desperate to prove himself. Hopefully enough of his training kicked in for him to avoid the inevitably brutal counter attack.
Honestly, the real ideal scenario would be for Alana to cause the opening, and for Tykes to capitalize. As the most solid fighter, she should be at the front, giving Tykes cover to show his extremely destructive power. But the fool probably didn’t have the patience for this, or the vision. He would be just as likely to strike her from behind, destroying their formation.
Rushing forward, Tykes raised his steel ball, the chains clicking as the muscles of his back contracted. The Ghosthound hummed, reaching out and grabbing a spear made of roots that emerged from the ground, and pointed it at them as they approached. He remained still, allowing them to choose the moment of conflict.
Tykes roared and threw the ball forward. Alana rushed behind, past Tykes, aiming for the moment that the Ghosthound defended from the attack to strike.
Still humming, the Ghosthound used the point of his spear and touched the steel ball, applying enough pressure to guide it to the side, past him. Although his spear bent dangerously, forced to bare the weight of that attack, it did not break, and the ball rolled past the Ghosthound, most of its momentum gone.
Tykes hissed and yanked on the chain, pulling the ball back towards him, but Alana ignored that and approached the Ghosthound, spear raised. Her Spear of the Broken Ridge Mastery was a brutal, offensively focused spear style, but she compensated for that with Shield Mastery, making her ability to fight an opponent in a duel one of the top 5.
She stopped dead as the Ghosthound turned his spear towards her, holding the tip pointed towards her throat. Her instincts screamed that she could accomplish nothing like this.
Behind her, she felt Tykes leap into the air, obtaining a line of sight, and whip his ball forward, sending it screaming down towards the Ghosthound. Gritting her teeth, Alana stepped forward, preparing to rush the man, forcing an opening if there wasn’t one. She couldn’t just let him walk around, unharried.
But the Ghosthound was already moving, and she could see his spear morphing, becoming something else. He side stepped, then casually threw his spear side arm, up towards Tykes. The weapon moved so fast that it was almost impossible to follow with the eye, and although her instincts kicked in, to knock it out of the air, it was already past her, striking Tykes mid air.
He collapsed with an mmph, crashing to the ground and groaning. After several seconds, Alana became sharply concerned.
As if sensing this, the Ghosthound waved a hand. “Just knocked out, I can hear him breathing. It just didn’t seem like we would get any good training in if he was throwing that ball around.”
After cracking his neck and his knuckles, the Ghosthound produced another spear from the ground and grinned at her. “Now, let’s see how well you’ve trained without me.”