“Who is he?” Hank asked Dozer, who stood next to him with folded arms. Although the rest of the almost 100 man group were keeping together in tight formations, Dozer strode alone. So when they stopped at the gates of the Refuge to face the single man standing there, Hank went to the big man for answers.
“He is strong,” Dozer said simply.
Annie stood at the front, opposite the man. “You are going to insist on doing this? Just turn that squirming maggot over to us. It’s already a big favor we don’t just burn your shitty Village to the ground.”
The man grinned at Annie in a way that made Hank narrow his eyes. This man truly had a lot of balls.
“Look, I get what you are saying. I was very surprised when it turned out the Undying Hero had committed an act of terrorism against Donnyton. I was about to give him a stern talking to when I heard he was fleeing the city. Then, because I was bored, I decided to set up shop right here and challenge anyone who comes this way to a duel. It’s just a coincidence that I stopped you all.”
Annie looked at the man like she would look like a piece of dogshit. “How many people need to die before you take your head out of your own ass, Ace?”
The man’s grin didn’t waiver.
Annie sighed. “Fine, but-”
“Please, let me.”
The crowd of people parted and a woman walked to the front. She had a spear, a buckler, and was wearing a Valkyrie helmet. Even just looking at her, Hank felt tingles in his fingers. Alana, the true power behind this expedition. When Donnyton went looking for the pound of flesh it was owed for the attack, Alana was the sharp edge to that attack.
Grinning, Annie moved to the side. “Good, this will be much easier then.”
Alana just walked forward. Ace cracked his knuckles and crouched down. He was only dressed in soft furs and a pair of leather gloves. Comparing him to Alana was comparing a civilian to a tank. But the longer that Hank gazed at the other man, the more his estimation of him rose. Even with Hank’s dueling sense, he couldn’t see any obvious ways to attack the man.
Silently, the presence of the two individuals rose upwards before Hank’s very eyes. But even as the man they called Ace, leader of the Refuge, rose into something impressive, it remained eclipsed by Alana. As she walked forward, the ground seemed to hum with the heat of her passage. The tip of her spear began to glow golden and leave a slow trail in the air.
Around him, the entirety of the force from Donnyton drew a collective breath. Often, Alana would teach lessons on fighting, but very rarely would she ever take an opponent seriously. It was only training, after all. But now, she was pulling out all the stops. Everyone who was here wanted to etch this scene into their memory.
After the dead body was discovered, Donnyton had formed itself to the cause of tracking down the killer. When it was revealed by Glendel that the one who killed her was the one called the Undying Hero, the people were incited. A troop led by Alana left almost immediately. They even took volunteers, which was how Hank joined in the search.
Dozer clicked his tongue in annoyance. “What a fool.”
Hank looked up sharply at the other man and regretted it immediately. Because by the time that he turned back to the fight, Alana had already attacked.
In a blazing charge, she crossed the final several meters to reach her opponent. Even as Ace sprang into motion, spinning out of the way of her first thrust, Alana thrust again. Waves of heat roiled upward off of her blazing spear.
Ace sidestepped three more times, and then rushed forward. There was a strange shadow around him, making him difficult to follow with your eyes. But as casual as could be, Alana brought the shaft of the spear around and smashed Ace backward.
Backflipping mid-air, he landed without seeming to have been affected in the least by the attack. But when he landed, Alana was already there, relentlessly attacking. This time, Ace was forced to block and he was forcibly thrown another dozen meters backward by the clash.
His feet skidded over the ground as he attempted to find his balance, but Alana wouldn’t let up. She rushed forward again with a raised spear that seemed to burn with its own miniature sun.
Roaring, Ace pounded his chest. The strange fuzziness surrounding him grew stronger, but then Alana thrust forward with her spear and a wave of flames washed forward, crashing into Ace. The other man stumbled, whatever Skill he had attempted to use broken. Again and again, she advanced and battered him.
“He is cocky.” Dozer grunted, with another shake of his head. Then he waved his hand. “Begin to move out.”
“The duel…” Hank said, nonplussed, but Dozer just shook his head and said nothing.
Hank turned back to regard the two people. Alana continued to smash her way forward. She raised her spear up and thrust it downward. Like an eel, Ace twisted around the blow and brought his foot up in a brutal high kick that struck Alana in the temple.
She didn’t even tremble as she thrust her spear through his side and pinned Ace to the ground. Then she raised her fist and smashed it into his head. Ace bellowed again, so Alana did it exactly seven more times. Then, with a grunt, she removed her spear from the prone body.
As the group began to move forward, Hank watched as Alana turned to another woman, one who had come out of the Refuge.
“You are simply going to let this happen?” Alana asked the woman. Honestly, she simply sounded curious.
The woman said nothing for several long seconds. Then she said, “Be careful. He has not let me see him since the early days. I’m not sure what he is up to.”
Alana just grunted. Swept up in the momentum of the hunting posse, Hank followed the group West after the Undying Hero.
As Dinesh, Karlito, and Bruya began to take an inventory of all of the new “recruits” Randidly returned to his spot in the steel working facility. It was almost nostalgic to see the grungy men and women trudging into the smelting areas. Today, Randidly was here for a very specific purpose: he wanted to see what was the limit of the metal he could make.
Before he could enter into his private room, Foreman Davey spotted him and walked over to chat for a while. They didn’t talk about anything important, but Davey did give Randidly a pretty good idea of the rising and falling value of different materials and metals.
“Oh, by the way,” Davey said, as he was about to leave. “You must have really done something to impress people because I’ve been instructed to get you anything you need to help your research. Plus, there is a charity dinner this weekend you are invited to. No need to give me an answer now, just think about it.”
In the smelting area, Randidly breathed in the smell of hot metal and smiled. There really was just something about the air in these blast furnaces that he enjoyed. Then he began to forge metal. This time, he didn’t use the weak materials.
The steel was refined and refined again. Then the impurities were extracted and extracted again. Only then did Randidly grind up a significant amount of Raid Boss bones to mix into the metal. In addition, a drop of Randidly’s own blood went into the metal.
He took his time during the forging process. Part of it was proof of concept, but the other part was to work out the details of how much bone, metal, and blood should be a part of the finished product to make it as strong as possible. To this end, Randidly made as many as ten iterations which he compared against each other. He was rather perplexed, and pleased, that there were three that he simply couldn’t test under normal conditions.
They were all so strong he couldn’t affect them easily, and he had left Acri at the farming compound to help deal with any wandering Raid Bosses. Randidly shook his head sorrowfully. It was obnoxious that a piece of metal could make him feel weak, but at least the person who made that metal was him.
With that accomplished, Randidly made himself about a hundred ingots of something he considered mid-tier. That is, stronger than Erickson Steel, but nowhere near the stuff he had made for his own uses. Then he returned to the drone making facility.
Apparently, Foreman Davey wasn’t lying about giving him everything. Henrik had pulled some strings and now Randidly had access to every single blueprint that Ghost had in its database. Immediately, Randidly immersed himself in it. As a show of good faith, Randidly also produced five more Pterodactyls, which was more than enough for Henrik to hop with glee.
With the demands on him satisfied, Randidly turned to another goal; to make the drones that others could use to protect the various cities in Zone 1. To that end, Randidly carefully began designs for three drones. One to locate and identify threats, one to take care of small-scale problems, and another that could be used to stamp out locations that were filled to the brim with Raid Bosses.
They were called Hunter-Seeker, Stalker-Reaper, and Reaver-Crusher.