Alta spat out a mouthful of dirt and slowly pushed herself up from the muck of the ground. Although the logical part of her mind knew that she was trapped in the strange dreamworld of the highest Land and buying into it would do nothing to help her advance, there was something oddly compelling about the figure in front of her.
The two were standing on a vast muddy plain. The only real feature to the place aside from the constant ruts and downtrodden grass was a hill on which was built a fort. For the past hour, Atla had made a beeline for the fort, yet it still appeared the same distance away. And she was trapped here, Alta could sense. That was the oppressive truth in the air. This place was… a prison.
The man standing opposite her was faceless but held a spear that he kept pointing at the Alta.
“Fine then,” Alta said through gritted teeth. “If you want to play the hard way…”
Alta reached for the vast image of ash she held, drawing deeply enough from her resonator that she would burn this whole place to nothing. And she found… emptiness.
The resonator was gone?!?
In her shock, Alta missed the beginnings of her opponent’s attack. His spear smashed into her stomach and knocked her almost a dozen meters backward. Whatever spirit was torturing her had a sadistic streak, because it had used the butt of the spear to strike. Rubbing her stomach, Alta got to her feet. She was practically trembling with hatred for this strange figure, but she also felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness.
Of course, the resonator was likely not
, she simply couldn’t reach it in this dream world. The problem was that her combat abilities otherwise were rather lackluster. Even Danz, the lab monkey that he was, considered Alta’s abilities in a physical contest laughable. And that, of all things, rankled so much that Alta had taken a few classes on the side.
However, the quality of instruction that catered to the Spriggit Elite was soft putty compared to Creta’s brutalizing regimens. Alta had been praised endlessly by her new combat tutor. Her protests fell on deaf ears, even as the tutor could easily overpower her.
At the time, Alta remembered thinking,
This is how the world ends. We are told we are capable and even when we know it is a lie, and we do nothing
, but even she fell prey to that very sentiment. Creta’sno-nonsensee practicality was a necessity for planning to tear down an entire society, but it didn’t often make Alta feel as good as those false praises did.
Besides, Alta had rationalized. What did she need to be good at hand to hand combat for? That was why Creta was around. To be the fist she broke the world with.
All Alta was to do was watch and feed that hungry, cold beast that was wrapped around her still heart.
But those memories seemed short-sighted and foolish as the spear-spirit smashed his spear against her nose and followed up with a kick to the gut. With a grunt, Alta dropped to the ground. Groaning in pain, she still forced her eyes to scan left and right. There weren’t any true openings, but…
This time, when Alta got back to her feet, she simply sprinted away from the spirit figure, toward the fort in the middle of the plains. To her surprise, the figure didn’t follow. So after a minute or so, she let her pace drop to a more managable speed.
The spear took her in the legs, sending her sprawling into a mud puddle. Dirty water splashed across her, soaking her to the skin.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” Alta choked out. The faceless figure stood above her, waiting for her to stand. And when she glanced toward the fort, it seemed just as far away as it had before. What-
“Running won’t help. To escape these things, you have to follow his path. Fight your way forward and you will move closer to the center.”
Alta twisted around to find a lovely young woman with blonde hair to her shoulders. The new arrival was dressed in something akin to camping gear, with heavy leather boots and a sporty looking vest. When Alta simply goggled at her, the woman flashed her a smile; her teeth were impossibly white. But the most disturbing thing was the woman’s eyes: they were red-violet, and so luminous they were hard to look at.
“Who… are you…?” Alta asked slowly. As she looked at the woman, it seemed that the world… almost warped around her. Like there would be flaws in the air above a campfire due to the heat. This woman seemed separate from the dream.
“Ah… I guess you would say a tourist…? I come here occasionally so I can walk in his footsteps. Deepen my understanding, you know. Well, maybe the truth would break your brain, sweet thing.” The woman’s smile was condescending. “But you can call me Lyra.”
Without any warning, the faceless spear-spirit attacked. This time, to Alta’s delight, he aimed for Lyra. But quick as a flash, the woman had drawn a thin rapier from her waist. As the spear was thrust forward toward her, Lyra spun out the way and drew a sharp line through the air aiming for the spirit’s eyes.
Of course, he ignored it. He didn’t have eyes. The spear smashed into Lyra’s thigh and sent her stumbling. The spirit followed up with a thrust toward her collar bone but Lyra proved extremely slippery. She shimmied sideways, that thrust.
Or at least, Alta thought she did. The attack was so fast that her eyes couldn’t even follow it. But on pure instinct it seemed, the spirit leaned back and the attack missed.
“Are you just going to fucking watch?” Lyra asked, sounding extremely annoyed. As much as Alta appreciated that condescension beaten out of her, overcoming the spirit was the goal. So She worked her way forward with her arms raised. She had no weapon, but she was pretty confident in her ability to hit things.
Years working with machinery had given her an impressive amount of upper body strength.
The spirit scored a light hit with his spear across Lyra’s stomach and the woman hissed in pain. But instead of backing off, her rapier flashed out, faster and faster. Even the hyper-athletic spirit slipped a little as it moved backward out of the trajectory of her strikes. Which was just the chance that Alta was waiting for.
With a roar, she simply rushed forward. As she neared the spirit, she raised her hands, ready for anything.
Graceful as a cat, it spun around out of Lyra’s thrusts and managed to smash his spear toward Alta. But instead of dodging, Alta simply raised her hands in an attempt to grab it.
Of course, doing such a high-speed maneuver without practice was impossible. Alta spent all day in the lab. Things occurring at speed was not her forte. The shaft of the spear struck her in the palm of her right hand, but her middle, ring, and pinky fingers of her left hand were caught and smashed downwards. She felt the bones snap like twigs as the spirit pulled back his spear.
Although Alta was knocked backward by the attack and swearing from the pain, that cold creature around her heart stirred. It’s icy influence spread down her arm to her right hand. Even if it should be possible… Alta’s gaze was vicious.
Fuck this world. If you don’t like the way I live, I’ll tear it all down.
Her right hand scrambled for purchase on the spear shaft and found it for a split second. The spear spirit hopped sideways and pulled again to dislodge her. But as it did so, the thin blade of the rapier rammed itself up through its jaw and into its head.
It dissipated like a bag of knocked over flour, coating them boat in a strange glittery substance that lingered for almost thirty seconds.
“Nice grab,” Lyra said, cautiously eyeing Alta. “I… couldn’t have managed that without you.”
“Hard to admit, huh,” Alta said sourly while cradling her hand. She looked down at the fingers. Without any of her healing serums, she would be forced to nurse the injury for as long as she remained in the dream world. Would the world truly subject her to the false pain for now reason?
Of course it would. It doesn’t even care about the real pain I’ve carried for four decades.
Alta looked up, dispelling the soft whispers. “Didn’t you say you had been here before? If you were so shit with a rapier, how did you get out of here?”
Lyra shrugged. “That was then. I had different methods. Believe me, I wish to rush her just as badly as you do. So why not work together?”
“Alright fine,” Alta said. She didn’t know if she truly believed that this woman wasn’t another part of the dream put here to fuck with her, but considering it was only due to her influence they beat the spirit, it seemed worth the risk. “But next it’s your turn to have a bone broken.”
Lyra smile was white and brilliant, even as her red-violent gaze was slightly sickening. “Deal.”