As Barrett threw the central rider into the one on his left, the third rider on his right reacted instantly, leaning toward him and swinging their axe toward the center of his torso. With little time to react, Barrett reached out toward the handle, just below the blade. The massive weight behind the blade cracked his wrist upon impact, but he kept his arm straight. That launched him backwards, along with his own legs pushing him away.
The third rider had been hiding his own strength. Instead of first or second tier like he rest, he was definitely third tier. In the moment of impact, Barrett could feel the energy providing weight to the axe, more than it would have from just muscles alone.
Barrett landed and steadied his footing as he waiting for the followup attack, but instead the rider took a close look at Barrett then shouted, “Men, retreat!”
Barrett didn’t miss the chance to throw one of the axes at the man he now presumed was their leader, but he avoided it as his steelhead goat turned and fled the scene. In the end, about three quarters of the Heavy Blades successfully retreated- most with injuries- while a handful of them stayed behind, dead. Barrett could have chased after them, but nobody else would have been able to keep up. The steelhead goats the caravan had were firmly attached to the wagons, and they weren’t trained for riding in any case. The ones left behind by dead mercenaries were not going to welcome foreign riders instantly. Barrett didn’t want to fight that many enemies alone, so all he could do was watch as they retreated.
The caravan was better off- only one of the guards had died in the attack while a handful of others were injured. Barrett saw Kail had a gash along one arm- but such an injury wasn’t life threatening.
“Good job men!” Iokua came out from cover, “Bonuses for everyone. Keone’s will have to go to his family,” he looked sadly at the dead guard. “Thanks to you especially, Barrett. If they’d caught us out in the open things wouldn’t have gone nearly so well.” Iokua turned back to speaking to the group in general, “Form up! We need to get back on the road, and keep your eyes and ears out in case they try to come back!”
“You’re recovered already?” Kail looked at Barrett incredulously. “I thought your wrist was broken yesterday.”
“It was. Why are you surprised?” Barrett asked, “You’ve seen me heal as we move near the Metal Sea.”
“I… just assumed it looked worse than it was.”
“It’s the Immortal Berserker Technique. We train our healing rate… I’m at about 100 times normal.”
“Tch. And I thought I recovered fast. The Anakoni clan training includes some body training that speeds up healing rates a few times faster than normal, but that’s it.”
“At fifth tier I’ll be equivalent to a tier 1 immortal body, and at sixth tier that will be tier 2. Ten thousand and a hundred thousand, respectively.”
“Wow. That’s crazy. Do you think you’ll actually get to fifth tier?”
“If I don’t die or have something else go horribly wrong, absolutely. That’s one of the strengths of the Immortal Berserker Technique. Advancement is nearly guaranteed… predicated on not dying.”
“So once you pass the initial ten to thirty percent chance… it’s smooth sailing to fifth tier?”
“Ha!” Barrett laughed, “There’s also a very real chance of dying on any advancement between tiers. With that attitude, anyway.”
Kail grimaced, “Almost doesn’t seem worth it. Except I’ve seen you fight…”
“If there was no payoff then it wouldn’t be practiced at all. Though depending on affinity there are better options with less risk of dying… assuming you don’t make the wrong enemies. Most people prefer to back off from a fight if the risk to their life seems too high.”
“Like those mercenaries earlier?” Kail asked, “What about you?”
“We ran away, remember? Sometimes I haven’t had that option. When that happens… you just have to win. To do that… you always have to be growing stronger.” Barrett looked at Kail, “But you know that already.”
The pay from the caravan guard duties was enough that Barrett didn’t have to worry about money anymore. Not that he was particularly worried- he could survive in the wilderness, if necessary. However, having enough to comfortably stay in the city and eat decent food was better. For a short trip, even at pay relevant for third tier cultivators, it wasn’t enough to buy any new equipment. At least, nothing that would be of use to him. The rewards from the mission for the Leipeka clan might be enough to do something with, but that was waiting for him in Stredo. If he’d known he was going to spend so much time running around the Metal Sea he would have asked to be paid before he left, though there weren’t many things he wanted that were actually available in the area.
Even the biggest cities around the Metal Sea didn’t have items available for purchase anywhere near what Stredo had. That said, he would have liked to commission some armor if he was staying in the area. However, he didn’t have the money nor did he plan to stay in the area for so long. Even so, he took a few days off from traveling- partly to let Kail’s arm finish recovering.
He couldn’t spend all his time training… well, he could, but since he was in a city it was good to take a look around. Actual constant training was a good way for people to go crazy. Walking around a city let him be more in touch with normal people’s reality. Not everyone was a cultivator who regularly experienced violence… though the lives of normal people weren’t without their own troubles.
By coincidence, he spotted a familiar style of axe on the back of one of those moving about town. He would be one of the Heavy Blades. He shouldn’t have been one of those that attacked them. They had already been reported for banditry, and while Iokua had said there would likely be little effect from that, at least it would keep them away from the city for a while. That was a rabbit hole of thought Barrett didn’t want to go down. They clearly violated the laws of the area but would get away relatively free. While he understood the need to make sure false accusations weren’t easy to carry out, the laws seemed too lax. Each city seemed to mostly care about itself and whether or not anything or anyone was currently causing them trouble.
Barrett decided to follow after the member of the Heavy Blades. He wasn’t an expert in stealth- far from it- but he could at least slightly reduce how visible he was in terms of berserk energy. The man hadn’t seen him, so if he stayed far enough away it might not be a problem. The man eventually moved away from heavily trafficked streets, which meant Barrett had to stay further behind… and that meant following him by ear for some time. He couldn’t risk going around a corner and the man looking back, because that would make it obvious. Finally, he spotted him going into a building. It didn’t seem to be public, and that meant Barrett couldn’t follow further. Tailing someone was borderline legal in most places, but entering a building without permission was both likely to get him spotted and in trouble, even if it had some sort of illegal dealings going on- and that was complete speculation on Barrett’s part. Even so, he took a position a few blocks away, far enough nobody would be able to see his face clearly, and watched. Maybe nothing would come of it, but it was a good chance to practice enhancing his vision.