In the next round, Barrett was matched against Nilima. It was somewhat surprising, but not extremely improbable given how relatively few people were left in the tournament.
This would be a different sort of match than normal between them. Although they seriously fought, fighting to win and fighting to kill were different. Even during the times they got annoyed with each other they were never trying to kill each other. Maybe cause pain or injury, but never kill.
Barrett also didn’t usually fight her with an axe. During sparring, though she could absorb the impact force of most blows, a direct hit from a weapon could still cause significant damage. She didn’t exactly wear armor, though her clothes were laced with magic that would at least make the difference between having an arm chopped off and just a deep wound. She could dodge heavy attacks with weapons quite expertly, but it would only have to take one mistake to be a serious issue. It wasn’t like they’d had high quality defensive wards around all the time. The Immortal Berserker Sect didn’t have any of that because they relied on taking damage, instead trying to moderate it to nonlethal levels. The arena, meanwhile, was currently tuned to prevent deathblows or crippling injuries of all sorts. It was a very expensive sort of thing to set up, and required powerful magic users to create and maintain. That wasn’t a problem for Stredo to sustain, but the Immortal Berserker Sect was only a small part of the people, and it just wasn’t worth the investment for them to have.
One thing Barrett liked about sparring with Nilima was that he didn’t have to be the one to charge toward her. If it weren’t for her size and the sort of energy he cultivated, Barrett might have even thought she was a berserker with her violent attacks and almost casual shrugging off of blows- though her methods of doing so were quite different from a berserker.
Nilima charged toward Barrett, and he countered with a sweep of his axe. In one fluid motion she curved her forward momentum downward, her palm driving toward Barrett’s ankle. It was a tactic he had seen before, and he stepped away to avoid it. Instead of losing her momentum, Nilima once again curved up to a standing position, not wasting the energy but turning it.
The battle continued on as a flurry of blows, Barrett avoiding Nilima’s attacks and vice versa. Occasionally she would achieve momentary contact with Barrett, driving energy into an arm or a leg, but it was brief enough to only cause minimal damage. On those with lower defenses it might have been enough to incapacitate them or slow them down, but Immortal Berserkers placed having a solid body high on the list of necessary features.
Barrett also got in some hits of his own- a kick here or there when Nilima left herself open. That usually resulted in her flying backwards with no real damage taken. Still, everything took energy. No matter how efficient she was, she would tire eventually. The same was true of Barrett, and though he had more bodily stamina he also used more to move his heavy body and drive his attacks.
Soon enough, Barrett realized that there was another reason to not fight her with an axe. While it was entirely possible that a good swing with his axe loaded with berserk energy could instantly defeat her… that was only if it hit. Barrett’s axe swings weren’t slow, but they just weren’t fast enough. It took too much time to build up momentum and then it was hard to redirect. Very occasionally he got close enough to nick her with a bit of berserk energy, resulting in tiny cuts on her face or arms. They really were just skin deep. Even so, every little bit added up.
Barrett took more damage and could sustain more, but if neither of them managed to get in a solid hit the match would end rather disappointingly. They were both tiring, but who was tiring faster was up in the air. It was better for them to act while they had good control than moving on and betting they wouldn’t be the one to majorly slip up first.
Then the moment came. Barrett had just a single flash of killing intent, a truly powerful attack headed straight for his chest. Barrett could probably dodge to make it a lesser attack, but instead he took the chance. He was already a half step behind, so his axe would be too slow. He gathered energy while at the same time punching forward with his left fist. Nilima couldn’t dodge and hit him, nor could she devote significant energy to both attack and defense.
Barrett couldn’t actually tell if he had been fast enough. He was a moment later, but his arms were longer. Meanwhile, Nilima’s reach was shortened by using a palm strike. Then Barrett was blinded by the arena’s defenses, and felt the two of them being pulled apart. There was only the slightest twinge of pain in Barrett’s chest. On the other hand, his fist had connected with Nilima’s ribcage.
However, even before the announcer called out the winner, Barrett knew it in his heart.
There was just a tiny point of pain on his chest… but it went all the way through. Instead of a palm strike, she had stabbed out with her fingers. Instead of an attack that could turn all of his vital organs to mush, it was like he had been stabbed with a spear that drilled through his heart. The arena’s defenses had blocked most of it, but Barrett could feel what had happened. The killing intent had even felt that way, but he hadn’t registered it, instead assuming she would continue her normal method of attack.
“Haaah.” Barrett sighed, “I messed up.” He looked over at Nilima, who was clutching her side. She wouldn’t be seriously injured, but her ribs would probably be sore. “Make sure to win a few more matches for me, okay? I’d like to think I could go further than this.”
“Sure, no problem. Maybe I’ll just win the tournament while I’m at it.” Nilima casually waved her hand as she walked off the arena.