Alana felt on fire, moving and reacting, predicting and being predicted. The Ghosthound’s Style of fighting was not her own; where she relied on strength and breaking the opponent’s momentum, the Ghosthound seemed to steal the very momentum from her as she was moving.
Her spear flashed forward, aiming to inflict a strike on his shoulder, but he simply stepped forward and sideways, and his foot flashed upwards, catching her in the gut and sending her sprawling, the light about her dimming. Alana winced. That hit was like a truck, even after Child of the Sun took off a flat percentage of its force. God, how high were his stats?
“Attention up, you lost me.”
Alana blinked, and realized that she really had; the Ghosthound was gone. The air around was quiet. Instinctively, she raised her shield above her head and brought her spear across her body, her eyes scanning for an enemy. Then the world… seemed to darken, and she spotted something out of the corner of her eye.
She gasped, or at least tried to, as she spun around, but she found that the air was stuck in her throat. Her chest heaved, but her lungs seemed suddenly cast from stone, unable to inflate and pump oxygen into her blood. Which just made her panic, and stumble, her head abruptly pounding at the pressure in her chest.
In front of her, standing about 10 meters away, was the Ghosthound, his eyes a brilliant emerald, seeming to pierce right through her, freezing her chest. Her eyes narrowed, and she forced the panic in her chest down. She would not break from just this.
She could feel streams of energy flowing to her, as the rays of sunlight were bent by her Skill, twisting towards her, making her warm and glowing with power. Then she struggled again, determined, and she felt the grip on her lungs flutter. Gritting her teeth, as her vision began to swim, and little bits of black unconsciousness ate away at the edges of her awareness, she pressed again, harder, throwing everything at that binding.
It wavered, then broke.
Her gasp was loud, and full of relief, but then her mouth tightened, because the Ghosthound had arrived. Inwardly, she cursed herself for showing such weakness, allowing her spear and shield to both fall away as she was so focused on her breath. Inwardly, she was aware that really, being deprived from oxygen for a short amount of time wouldn’t be that big of a deal, her body had the Stats to handle it.
But there was a raw, ingrained panic in her human body in response to it that she couldn’t overcome, when paired with the shock, and that had left her vulnerable.
The Ghosthound’s attack wasn’t overly fast, and it simply made her hyper aware that he was going easy on her, which was infuriating. But in the face of the evidence…
Still, going this easy on her, was a mistake.
“Solar Flare,” She whispered, feeling the rush of hot, extra concentrated energy fill her. It would only last for two or three seconds, depending on how quickly she burned through it, but it would be enough to give the Ghosthound a nasty surprise.
It was the Skill her Class had given her at Lvl 40, and it packed a punch.
Moving at double the speed she had previously, she brought her shield up and knocked away his attack, and then stabbed at his exposed midsection with her spear. His body seemed to flap in the wind, moving cleanly around the blow, his speed instantly adjusting to just a hair below hers.
Her hope plummeted. Even after this, he was only just a hair slower than her…? This time he clearly jumped up in speed, so he was likely forced to rely on his Skills, but still…
However… with her amount of Mana…
With the last of the energy from Solar Flare, she brought her spear across in a brutal Sweep, that forced him back a step, and elicited a grunt. He wasn’t unstoppable, just too strong, and too fast. So she activated Solar Flare again, and then again, in quick succession, and the two activations made her body scream and sing, and gave her a half second of invulnerable power.
Her spear ripped forward with the speed of a shaft of sunlight, and with the strength of an apocalypse.
There was a small fraction of time where she felt a tinge of fright. If she overshot, and actually hurt him seriously… But then his body was smoke, dissolving as her spear pierced his body, and Alana realized that this whole time, he had never been in front of her, but he was hovering behind her, holding his spear in a wicked crescent, whirling down to take her life.
Her blood slowed, and her pounding heart was the only noise in the still world.
‘If I died now…’ Alana thought dazedly, ‘Who would train Tykes…? The defense of Donnyton… the growth of our Squads… How… how would they…’
‘…would they mourn me….?’
“Burn.” Alana whispered, activating her Lvl 30 Skill, causing flames to emerge from every part of her body. She spun around and slashed upwards with her spear, a trail of liquid flame arcing up in the wake of the spear’s passage. It headed towards the Ghosthound, but his burning emerald eyes just crinkled in satisfaction. Within a split second, he leaned easily out of the way and landed on his two feet, spinning his root spear.
Her double use of Solar Flare faded out, and her body began to tremble, unable to withstand the strain of her speed and strength. The Ghosthound seemed to notice this, and moved out of a fighting posture to a thinking one, regarding her with a frown.
“…those are interesting Skills. But they aren’t sharp enough. That burst one, where you grow stronger briefly… what Level is it?”
Alana blinked. She had actually gained two Levels in it during her fight with him, using it like that. “…it’s Level 48. I have had it for two months, but it is ultimately a finisher, and I thought it would be better to focus on my base Skills-”
“The theory is correct, but in practice, the execution is a bit…” The Ghosthound said, and Alana’s stomach dropped, a sour taste in her mouth. He seemed to notice, and coughed, scratching his head. That only made her feel worse. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to train it, it was just… simply repeating the exercises didn’t work well, and it wasn’t feasible to use it repeatedly against monsters. It drained too much of her Mana, and left her weak for a short period of time.
“…well anyway, what about your Spear Mastery, what Level is that?” He asked.
Straightening, Alana said, “Level 67.”
His wince was all the answer she needed for what he thought of that. They stood in silence for a while, Alana feeling oddly scolded and indignant, but also a sense of relief. Her Skill Levels weren’t the highest in Donnyton, not by a long shot, but that was due to the fact she trained up multiple different types of Skills, ones that usually required different sorts of training.
Alana had received some assistance from Mrs. Hamilton in terms of training strategies, but that woman managed so many different things that Alana wasn’t willing to foist her problems on her as well. Everyone went to Mrs. Hamilton for advice. Except for the few things that Mrs. Hamilton said to her in passing when viewing her training, Alana didn’t bring it up at all.
“We will have to get those up, over 80 at least, within a month. Well, less than that. Say 3 weeks…” The Ghosthound said, rubbing his chin. “Most of what you need is a training partner, yea? I’ll help with that when I have time. But first…”
The Ghosthound flexed his hand and produced two potions, one of which was made of clear liquid that Alana had never seen before. Throwing those potion bottles to her, he said. “Take these. Hopefully it will restore all of your Mana, and heal whatever status effects from the aftershock of using that Skill so much. And then we are going to go again.”
“Eh…?” Alana said, catching the bottles. The Ghosthound flicked his fingers, and three more root spears popped up out of the ground. He walked over and carefully inspected each, and then he selected two, tossing one over to Alana, who had barely swallowed the liquid before it arrived.
The Ghosthound’s smile was sharp. “Don’t rely on your weapon too much. Now, take a stance, Alana. Let me see you do that again… but if you try it the same way twice, I’ll make you pay for it.”
Then he disappeared, and Alana was left scrambling to raise her weapon in time.