As Obyrn had suspected, Alana appeared after the ogres had demolished the first wave of metal beasts that harried them. Although they were resistant to projectiles, the metal beasts ceased functioning after a single hit from an ogre warhammer. They were fragile, brittle things.
Unfortunately, about twenty ogres died during the struggle. And about ten times that, fully half the group, were bloody and injured in the aftermath. Rather than being designed to fight, the metals beasts were experts at maiming the opponent before they were finished.
As such, Obyrn was in a grim mood when Alana appeared, with another army of metal beasts, and challenged him to a duel. Obyrn turned her down and instead sent another of his Captains. This one was Level 66, one below Alana, and would likely give Obyrn a good show.
The Ogre Captain had been briefed on Alana’s fighting style and wore extremely heavy armor. Alana stabbed him anyway. Her spear glowed with a strange light and turned that heavy armor into paper.
Desperate, the Ogre Captain tried to use his large body to his advantage, yet Alana seemed to have predicted that. She tripped him up with some clever spearplay and moved in for a debilitating blow on his larger joints.
At this point, the Ogre Captain instead simply relied on the thickness of his flesh to protect his vitals and went on an all-out offensive. This worked, in so much as he was able to disarm Alana.
Then, the tiny human woman used her fists to pummel the larger ogre into submission. A bloody and beaten body of the ogre captain crashed to the ground, unconscious.
For several seconds, he didn’t react. Then a furious Obyrn stood and pointed a long finger at Alana. “Fine then. You wish to duel? I will duel you.”
Even though her face was even, Obyrn could sense the change in her aura. Agitation. She had spent quite of a bit of her strength in the prior duel and needed time to recover. Even at her height, fighting against Obyrn would be difficult. To strike her now was to do her a disservice. But Obyrn didn’t care about that.
He was about to walk forward when Duual grabbed his arm. The left head, which had been sleeping previously, snapped awake. “Care, Obyrn. Bad voodoo is heading this way. The hound who rides the ash of calamity has his eyes fixed upon you.”
Then the left head yawned and fell right back asleep. Obyrn looked in askance at the other two heads.
They both shook themselves. “Lefty’s prophecies are always his own. But he is rarely wrong. You must be careful-”
Into the tense atmosphere, a voice spoke.
“What’s going on here…?”
Before he saw the speaker, Obyrn saw Duual slowly stiffen. Both of his awake heads paled, and the sleeping one twitched and frowned, as though tormented by a nightmare. Obyrn smoothly turned and looked at the new arrival.
There were two of them, both human. One male, one female. The female’s gaze cut at Obyrn like a knife, sharp and jagged enough to draw blood. The male was much milder looking, but Obyrn couldn’t help but shiver as he looked at this human. Because there was a… thickness to the air around him that Obyrn recognized.
The day that Obyrn was named Ironfist of the West, he was required to report to the ancestral home of the Ogres: Nordawn. There, he witnessed the Bonehelm, leader of the world. Their eyes met just once when the Bonehelm touched his shoulder and named him an Ironfist in the service of him.
It was like sinking into a vat of honey. Sticky and heavier than expected, that gaze left a persistent residue on you. Such was the strength of this character that every aspect of them contained some fraction of their vicious power.
So it was with the Bonehelm, who left Obyrn shivering for days. So it was with this new arrival, the dark-haired man missing his left arm, on a smaller scale.
This was not an enemy to offend lightly.
Perhaps even worse was that the metal beasts parted and almost a hundred humans flowed forward to gather behind this new arrival. They looked at each other and whispered, awe in their eyes. The relief wafting off of Alana was palpable as she nodded toward the arrival. The spirit of the humans was soaring.
Meanwhile, his people continued to bleed and slowly tire. Obyrn ground his teeth and spoke. “You stand before I, Obyrn Myyr, Ironfist of the West. We have come to conquer this place and seize it for the ogre people-”
“You have ogres on your planet?” The woman with the sharp eyes interrupted, looking at Obyrn with interest.
The man shrugged, seemingly helpless. “Well, we do now.”
The woman nodded sagely while seeming to think about this and Obyrn suppressed his rising fury. “I would not act so relaxed if I were you two. You are only Level 39 and 32 respectively; I could crush you without breaking a sweat.”
Again, both seemed to ignore Obyrn. The woman glared at the man. “You were Level 39? For our fight?”
“Not for our fight.” The man seemed exasperated now. The gestured for Obyrn to continue. But the woman glared at Obyrn to stay silent. Both’s casual reference to him made Obyrn bubble with hot rage. He hadn’t been disrespected like this since he had become Ironfist. For all that this was clearly a powerful individual, he was still only Level 39. It was time to teach them a lesson for underestimating the ogres
And Levels were a barrier that was impossible to overcome. Obyrn knew that all too well.
“Do it,” Obyrn said to Duual.
The mage nodded and raised his hands to the sky. The magic circles behind them began to glow. “Oh great Gaia, grant our people strength. Wrathful Avatar!”
There was a dull rumble as roots curled upward out of the ground. They wove together into thick limbs, almost three meters across. And still, the plants grew, forming a giant towering tree avatar with burning white eyes. After stretching, it seemed to form an impossible pillar of strength that these people couldn’t resist.
At almost fifty meters, it dwarfed everything in the surrounding area. With cold eyes, it stared down at the humans as its face twisted into a snarl.
Obyrn clapped Duual on the shoulder. Plant Shamans like Duual were very important; their rituals were some of the only ways to grow food in their barren world. But what can be made into nurturing food could also be controlled into a powerful tool of destruction.
The plant colossus took a rumbling step forward. Between the monstrosity and the humans, there were a few score meters. The threat was very real. Obyrn spread his arms wide. “Do not forget yourselves. You stand in the presence of the Ironfist of the West. We will take this land from you, one way or another. Do you think your weapons can threaten this? Before the power of nature… you are nothing!”
Grinning wickedly, Obyrn looked around for the looks of helplessness on the faces of the humans. Unfortunately… they were not present. Instead… there was an awkward silence after his pronouncement. In addition, all of the assembled humans seemed rather… embarrassed. They turned and looked at the new arrival.
The man coughed lightly, then looked critically up at the towering monstrosity that would undoubtedly soon crush him into a pulp. “Ah… interesting. You drew a magic circle beforehand and drastically reduced the Mana cost… I’d like to see that trick again. I’m Randidly Ghosthound, by the way. I know why you are here; your world has no Aether, right? We can discuss terms for a portion of your population moving here. We don’t need to fight.”
The hound who rides the ash of calamity has his eyes fixed upon you…
well met, Randidly Ghosthound.
Obyrn thought darkly. He refused on principle to accept the offer to discuss terms. If they stopped now, before the fighting began, they would see that as weakness and leverage it against them.
In addition, Obyrn did not like the phrase “has his eyes fixed upon you.” For all he knew, this world also relied on some ritual like the Arena for energy. Perhaps this Ghosthound was simply seeking another source of fuel for some dark ritual. They would be allowed to cross, then treated like cattle to feed these humans.
“End them,” Obyrn said shortly. Instantly, Duual urged the colossus forward. It roared and tightened its hands into huge fists of heavy wood that would smash the humans to mush. Two steps and its rumbling charge had crossed almost half the distance to the humans.
Grimacing, the Ghosthound waved a hand. Thousands of roots sprang out of the ground and wrapped around the legs of the animated plant matter. Although they were individually weak, they still somehow managed to slow the colossus down.
“Please wait-” The Ghosthound began, but Obyrn just sneered.
The colossus roared and ripped through the bindings and took another rumbling step toward the humans. Rather than seeming scared or annoyed, the Ghosthound just seemed tired. Small tongues of emerald flame danced across his body. He raised his hand and pointed at the colossus. “Halt.”
The colossus stopped dead with a creaking groan. Duual blinked in shock, then hurriedly began to chant. The magic circles behind them began to glow once more. It was shuddering at first, but the colossus slowly began to move forward.
The Ghosthound’s eyebrows rose. “And you maintain control through the circles too? Fascinating. Fine then, let’s stop playing nice.”
This time, when the Ghosthound gestured, the whole world began to shake. At first, was nothing, but then the ground between the two groups ripped open. The colossus was about fifty meters tall, a being made to crush and eradicate these humans. The white glow in its eyes was its inner desire to destroy, made manifest.
And within five seconds, a seventy-meter tall left hand, woven of vines and roots, was in front of the colossus. Before anyone could react, the hand reached forward and seized the colossus. Then it squeezed until the colossus cracked and broke. Then it squeezed further, grinding the bindings that held the summon together into much and pulped wood.
The sound of the hand dropping the destroyed colossus to the ground echoed.
“So, are we ready to talk now?” The Ghosthound said, hand on his hip.