For several long seconds, Alta just stared at how tiny Ryal’s body looked with the hand of the Earth Golem around his neck. Then her eyes traveled up to the terrorist himself. Like all Earth Golems, his face was defined by a powerful and low hanging brow. His cheeks were flat and his eyes were hollow.
There was a certain sort of glee in his expression, but Alta could also tell that he wouldn’t be one to lose himself in the thrill of the job. He was here for a reason. There would be no chance of distracting him from this.
Although it was a long shot, Alta let go of the brief daydream where she was able to bring her way out of the scenario. Alta took a few steps back, her hand rising to her chest. Her bridesmaids clustered around behind her, while the groomsmen were scattered in a loose clump between Alta and Ryal. Half of them seemed to want to rush to her defense, while the other half were shaking as they stood before the monster that had come to claim their lives.
“You’ll be killed. Jailed for your whole life. Your family-” Alta began, but the Earth Golem interrupted.
“My family is dead. My emperor has been captured, or worse. You are a woman of means, Miss Bounty. Your company sits on a high hill of bloody gold. I do not believe you haven’t been trained for situations such as this. Walk over toward me or you all will die painfully. It is a simple request, is it not?”
“Alta, don’t!” Ryal seemed to have finally found his voice. “Run away! I can-”
Another Earth Golem pushed down a side door into the chamber, which was all the signal that Alta’s bridesmaids needed. They launched themselves forward, spreading their figures to display sharp daggers that had been tucked away in their dresses. Even the leader of the Earth Golems seemed somewhat confused as the seven women in dresses exploded into a fury of motion. Three went toward the leader, while the other four swarmed toward the door.
With a deft flick, the large Earth Golem flung Ryal to the side. He crashed into a bookshelf built into the wall and rebounded off the solid construction, seeming dazed. This bought Alta’s bridesmaids a few seconds, but it wasn’t enough.
A broad spear was retrieved from the large Earth Golem’s back, and he faced the oncoming women calmly. “My world has burned, children. All that is left for me is to charge forward, heedless. I have no other options.”
At his words, Alta’s eyes narrowed. Through her long hours of training with Creta, her teacher had covered in detail the ‘Great Skills’ that governed the world. When someone tapped into these Skills, they would be able to display a strength far beyond what a person should be capable of.
When pressed, Creta had been unable to provide compelling explanations as to why those different actions were the Skills that were powerful, but Alta wouldn’t deny the results they achieved. And from the Earth Golem’s words… he understood a very powerful one amongst these Skills.
The Earth Golem took a single step forward. The room shook. Even Alta trembled. Two of her bridesmaids were bisected by a casual thrust. The thrust spun past the attack and slashed at the Tall Earth Golem. The knife was sharp enough to leave a long gash through his thick skin, but then the terrorist sneered. He backhanded the woman, and she twisted sharply with an audible snap.
Boneless, her body fell to the ground. On the other side of the room, the four other bridesmaids cut through the group of Earth Golems that had circled around with minimal injuries. But the nearest one was very far away when compared to the large Earth Golem.
“Your name?” Alta asked lightly, surprised to find her voice was trembling. As the large Earth Golem took a long step toward her, she felt the cold metal of the resonance implant that was located at her sternum. The feeling of cold was reassuring.
“Halgr, Miss Bounty.” He rumbled. He took another step, and suddenly he was within arm’s reach. “I do not hate you. In fact, you will no doubt be something of a hero for generations to come. The woman who gave Spriggits the tools to rival an Earth Golem… But you must not continue. It has been ordained.”
“Alta!” Ryal screamed. His face was bloody, but he flew in like a hero. His kick hit Halgr at the waist, and to Alta’s surprise, the Earth Golem grunted and took a step back. Her eyebrows rose. Her fiance seemed to have some feel for the Great Skill Roundhouse Kick. That was worth noting.
But Ryal was not Halgr’s match. After the step back, Halgr’s eyes flashed dangerously. The spear was raised once again and rotated to point at Ryal.
“Fool. I would have left you alive if you had taken the coward’s way out,” Halgr shook his head once. Then he thrust his spear forward.
Luckily for Ryal, one of his groomsmen careened into him from the side. The brave fool was ripped in half, even as his best friend stumbled away, unharmed.
“Jaime, no!” Ryal’s voice was horrified as he turned to find one of his best friends ripped into pieces next to him. Alta had an ‘aha!’ moment as she finally was able to match the name that Ryal threw around all the time with the face.
Through this all, Alta hadn’t moved, so she was still only two steps from Halgr. She stayed very still, unwilling to attract his attention if she did not need to. Three of her bridesmaids were occupied fighting the Earth Golems crowding into the room, but one hurried back over to join the group facing Halgr. In addition to her bridesmaids, two of the groomsmen had overcome their fear and were standing with Ryal. Honestly, Alta was somewhat impressed.
With a deadly sort of finality, Halgr turned, aiming his spear toward Ryal’s chest.
“Alta,” Ryal said in a low voice. “When he attacks, there is a moment where he will be caught up in the fight. I know it’s going to be hard, but I need you to use that moment to get away from him. After that, just run. I’ll be fine here. I know I don’t look like it, but I’ve received a lot of training from my grandfather. I doubt there is someone as demanding as he is in all of the Land.
“And no matter what,” Ryal said, never taking his eyes off the spear, “Know that I will always love you. If you make it out, I will find-”
“Ah, excuse me,” Alta interrupted, holding up a hand. “I am receiving a call.”
Everyone immediately paused. Ryal’s eyes when wide and he turned to look at her, somewhat confused by her rather mundane reaction. Heedless, Alta picked up the short range communicator and answered it.
“Yes? This is Alta speaking.”
“Finished up here. Messier than I thought. I don’t think we will be able to avoid the press.” Creta said bluntly. Alta almost chuckled. The other woman always took such great pains to remain low key. Not that Alta didn’t understand the benefits, but the lengths Creta went to…
“And…?” Alta said, her voice playful.
Even through the tinny echo of Creta’s voice, Alta could hear her vicious smile. “You were right. Immediately after the wedding started, several accidents happened to your majority shareholders. Often, those shareholders had inheritors who had recently become involved in seedy agreements. The Chairman of the Board, Bonsil Car, had a Soulless Behemoth inexplicably appear in his mansion. Since I happened to be there… I caught the operative who released it.”
“So the game is over?” Alta asked. Then she sighed with relief as Creta answered in the affirmative. This was beginning to become tiresome. As she used a thread of her will, the resonator in her chest began to hum.
“Uh, Alta-” Ryal said, but that was the moment that Halgr moved. His spear ripped through Ryal’s stomach, and her fiance spat up blood. Immediately, his face went pale, even as the other defenders launched their own attacks on Halgr.
Alta didn’t move, but her heart did flicker, a tiny bit. She allowed herself a sad smile. She needed a bait of the sort that the Council of Fates would go for. A time where she would be seen as on top of the world, so that band of fuckers would see it as poetic justice to strike then.
She hadn’t expected to like the man she chose for the role, but it had some benefits associated with it, notwithstanding the sex. Now, what she appreciated was the spark of fury she felt when Ryal died before her very eyes. It was very rare that something moved her, so sometimes she needed a little kick to activate the resonator.
Creta had designed it with one very powerful Great Skill in mind. Although Alta turned out to be rather hopeless at martial arts, she did have a vicious sort of vindictiveness in her heart that manifested in a fiery way. And that, it turned out, was exactly the key that one needed in this world to become an incarnate of Ash.
“Burn,” Alta whispered.
The mountain around her exploded.