Barrett found himself lying on his back. His head hurt, but when he reached up to feel it, he couldn’t feel a bruise. His hands roamed around his head, and everything felt fine… except it hurt everywhere. Then he felt just a small bit of moisture near his ear, and his hand came away with blood. Had his eardrums popped? “That would be bad.” Barrett said to himself… but his hearing worked just fine. It was only a tiny amount of blood… but it was disconcerting nonetheless.
Upon further consideration, it was the inside of Barrett’s head that hurt. Everything under the surface, beneath his skin, was in pain. It was… unpleasant. Barrett felt dizzy when he sat up, so he just continued to think for some time. What has happened was… he had fought a little kid?
That wasn’t quite right. He hadn’t spent much time analyzing what he saw then, but his opponent had been taller than a kid. They would have been at least a teenager like himself, but not adult yet. They’d been skinny, though, little more than skin and bones. That didn’t seem to have affected their ability to move. It had been a blur, then a strike straight to his head. Then… energy?
Barrett hadn’t expected such a result. His body became tougher as it was damaged and healed- he had started to notice that more and more as he sparred with more people. Though he hadn’t received too many head injuries, the berserk energy he cultivated would also break down the weaker areas of his body. It should have taken a strong sort of energy to knock him out so easily, but it hadn’t felt very powerful.
Barrett did have to admit there was a bit of carelessness on his part, but he had been serious about watching his opponent’s moves and dodging. He just hadn’t gotten the opportunity. They were unexpectedly fast, and strong. Well… not strong exactly. It felt like the energy had passed through his skull, which left it only weak brain tissue to fight back. While a shockwave would transmit well enough, it would still lose power- and damage his skin or skull. Bypassing that entirely was a weakness Barrett hadn’t expected.
Barrett considered his sparring, and realized he still had several weaknesses in his experiences. He mostly fought against warriors- bulky, straightforward types. That was the disadvantage of mostly sparring with the Southern Tiger School, though he had built up a good relationship with them. He had occasionally fought against more finesse based, swashbuckler types, but they were more rare. As for those who used magic… Barrett only recalled seeing them at the recruitment event. He hadn’t seen any before or since.
He decided to ask Master Hykel about that. “How come I haven’t seen any mages or other magic users in Verton?”
“Because they’re rare. You might have seen one, but they don’t all wear robes. Mostly though they stay out of the city because they prefer to train at places of power, and those aren’t in cities unless a city was built around a magic site. They’re generally not in optimal city locations though.”
“Is this a place of power here? Is that why we live on top of the mountain?”
Master Hykel shook his head, “Nope. At least, not that I know about. I’m not particularly sensitive to any kind of mana though, so I suppose it’s possible. This place was just out of the way, so I wouldn’t cause any intrusion when I suddenly moved in. Plus, it’s nice here isn’t it?”
“I guess so. With them not living in the city, it’s kind of hard to get any experience fighting against magic. I don’t suppose you know where any live?”
“I might know of some. I’m not sure if they’d be interested in sparring against berserkers though… magic users tend to see it as beneath them. That, or they’re scared about getting their faces smashed in and losing all their teeth.”
“Could they take these pills? Err, do these even work for other people?”
Master Hykel nodded. “They work for others. Similar side effects of reduction in energy cultivation, and it would possibly throw off mana affinity for a time. Well, it would probably take more pills to grow back teeth, because they only work for so long. Most people don’t have those available though.”
Barrett nodded, “Yeah, I figured. Most people don’t get injured on purpose…”
“It’s not like we get injured on purpose…”
“I’m just told to fight stronger opponents until I can’t fight anymore. It’s basically getting injured on purpose.” Barrett frowned, “How’s your training going? I don’t see you coming back injured… Is there even anyone for you to spar with? You’re… fifth tier right? I don’t actually know how strong those around here are.”
“Master Vencel is around early fourth tier. There are some others around who are stronger than that, so I can get some progress. As for seeing me injured… it only takes me an hour for over a year worth of healing. You didn’t forget that, right?”
“Ah… I might have forgotten how quickly the numbers scaled. It’s sort of a strange thing to think about.”
“Well, that’s right.” Master Hykel frowned, “I don’t know if any of them have apprentices… they might be good sparring partners if they do. Well, except for the healer.”
“You spar with a healer?”
“Sure, his phenomenal mastery of anatomy goes a long way toward combat. It’s also a necessary thing to be able to fight when the medicinal plants try to strangle you.”
“Plants strangle people?”
“Not most of them. Only some of the rarer ones eat meat, and most of them are small and only eat bugs. Around here you won’t find many of those either. Still, some places have almost anything you can think of- aggressive plants isn’t much.”
“Wow, you must have learned a lot of neat things in your travels.”
“That’s right. Remind me to start educating you about the outside world some. It’s never too early to broaden your horizons. These tiny little countries here aren’t such a big deal.”