Barrett was momentarily surprised at the two competitors in the finals. He had expected Stredo and its huge martial sects to produce terrifyingly strong opponents, yet two of his friends- Reina and Nilima- had made it to the finals. Then he realized… they were part of those same powerful organizations. The Immortal Berserker Sect was one of the top organizations in and around Stredo. The same was true of the Order of Four Winds that Reina’s Mistress was from. Nilima was an exception in that she wasn’t from a local power… but her mistress was a powerful wandering figure.
Though he’d been knocked out a little past halfway through the tournament, Barrett didn’t feel bad about it. After all, he’d basically tied with Nilima who made it to the finals. He wasn’t too proud to admit that he would have rather won, but losing wasn’t the end of the world. If everyone gave up after a single loss, then even if the entire world was involved in the martial world, nobody would ever participate in more than thirty fights with anyone on their level before the entire world had been kicked out of the rankings.
Barrett had idly imagined how he would have fared against Nilima’s opponents, but he couldn’t be sure about what the results would have been if he’d continued on instead. He thought he could have won, but wasn’t sure. It didn’t matter, because he could participate in the next tournament in two years. Actually… Barrett thought about that for a moment. Maybe he couldn’t. He would be on the cusp of third tier in two years, if everything went well. There was no point in artificially delaying his training to he could win a tournament. If he did so… would he be a ‘winner’ or just ‘someone who spent more years training’? Not that he would begrudge anyone victory just because of how old they were. Still, Barrett would just take whatever happened as it came. If he missed that tournament… there was one for third tier the year after. He would be at the bottom… but that just meant there was more he could learn.
Reina and Nilima faced off against each other in the arena. Barrett didn’t even have to think about who he would cheer for. He had known Reina since they were children, and the thought of her death had hurt him just as much as that of his actual family. He had been ecstatic to learn she was alive, and would gladly fight to the death to protect her- again. He was sure she would fight for him as well. Nilima, meanwhile… Barrett wasn’t actually completely sure they were friends. Mostly they just tried to beat each other up. There weren’t any ill feelings there… most of the time, and Barrett’s opinion of her was positive… but the choice between the two of them was easy. Not that his decision of who he wanted to win made any difference. The two competitors would be the ones deciding that.
The battle started off with Nilima charging towards Reina. Nilima didn’t care that gentle styles often focused on defense. She could attack, and so she would. That was just the way she did things. Barrett couldn’t fault her, because it had obviously been working out for her.
Reina countered Nilima’s charge with her rapier. That gave her longer reach, and it was quite effective against a straight on charge. Of course, if things were that simple they likely wouldn’t have reached the final rounds of the tournament. Nilima ducked down and to the side. Reina immediately changed her movement from a thrust into a slash, her sleeves flickering with unseen wind. In response, Nilima’s twiggy fingers reached out and slapped the flat of the blade.
Surprisingly, that motion sent Reina herself moving. As her sword was pushed to the side, it seemed to carry her along through the air. This abrupt change in trajectory pulled her out of Nilima’s reach. However, even as she landed on the ground- or just above the ground- Barrett saw her sword was trembling as she struggled to keep a hold on it.
Reina may have lost the first exchange, but her speed and ability to change trajectory without regard for pressing onto the ground allowed her to move around Nilima, showering her with cuts. Of course, the cuts were aimed to kill and not just to be surface wounds… but Nilima dodged the attacks with just the slightest distance between an inconsequential scratch and a serious bleeding wound.
Barrett could feel the energy from the both of them even from the stands, and almost thought he felt the winds from Reina’s movements and magic… though he was usually more than fifty meters away so it was probably just imagination. Even so, it was quite a scene to watch.
Then Reina charged toward Nilima with a thrust toward her head. Nilima leaned back… and Reina’s movements smoothly changed from a thrust into a slash as her momentum shifted toward the side, where her motions would take her floating past Nilima. With the rapier coming down across toward her throat, Nilima had nowhere to dodge.
The wards on the arena activated the instant after, pulling the two contestants apart safely. “Victor… Nilima!”
Nilima grinned, then seemed to instantly regret it as the movement agitated the wounds on her cheeks. She tried to pretend she wasn’t concerned, but Barrett could see through her even from the stands.
Reina patted her chest and sighed. Barrett saw her say something and walk off the arena.
Barrett went over to intercept Reina as she was leaving, “I guess the moral of the story is… Nilima is fast and tricky. If her attack hits first, there’s not much you can do.”
Reina shook her head, “That’s not it. I was faster. She just… completely beat me. Who catches a sword between their teeth?”
Barrett shifted his eyes around, “Well… with so many vital spots around it’s not considered an optimal strategy but…”
“But the Immortal Berserkers have a technique for it, if necessary.”
Barrett shrugged, “What’s a few teeth and… the rest of your face maybe… compared to having your throat cut open? It’s not really something you ever plan to use though. I’d be willing to bet Nilima didn’t learn that technique from her Mistress either.”
Reina shook her head, “But it worked and she even managed to counterattack. Even if she hadn’t pulled it off I wouldn’t have been in a good state in a real fight. I should have prepared for a counter even in that situation…”
Barrett shrugged, “That’s what this tournament is for. Now we know one more way not to lose a fight.”