Heavy armor was a staple of Barrett’s regular training, but it had never been anything like his current training. His current armor was several times as dense as anything else he’d used, and it covered his whole body. There were even sabatons and greaves made out of multisteel. As a component of armor, one might think that something so dense would be quite handy, if the user could handle the weight. Sadly, that simply wasn’t true. Multisteel was both brittle and soft, deforming any time he took a hit and making any sort of combat much harder than it should have been. At least it was cheap to forge and reforge- Barrett probably kept several apprentice smiths busy.
The armor slowed his movements and blunted his attacks. Though the added weight made any hits by him deceptively strong, that was only in comparison to the slow speed. A faster attack without the weight of the armor still contained much more force.
Barrett sparred against Alnherr, who restricted himself to an approximation of a second tier Pure Body Temperer. Indeed, he never made any movements that Barrett couldn’t react to… at least mentally. Physically, his body was behind. He couldn’t dodge blows like he intended, and he couldn’t change the trajectory of his attacks.
They didn’t bother with any exercise but sparring- he was training all the muscles he would need in real combat, with the exception of a small bit of running. Each kilometer felt like a hundred as he ran, and sweat poured out of him. Inside the armor, he was melting. His body could handle excess heat and still function, even internally, but that made it no more pleasant to deal with.
He trained, not to a state of utter exhaustion, but to half-exhaustion. He needed to have the stamina left to fight off the curse whenever it tried to tear his lifeforce apart. However, instead of that making the training feel easier, it felt harder. Instead of getting to work very hard and take a break, he worked moderately hard and never got to rest fully, except at night. Even then, he still had to deal with the curse.
A few days into his new training schedule, Master Hykel actually came to see him. He folded his muscled arms in front of his chest. “So, I hear you got cursed.”
Barrett nodded, “That about sums it up.”
“I thought I told you not to fight necromancers?”
“You did. You also told me to make my own decisions when it was necessary. Besides, I fought a necromancer and won. There shouldn’t have been any around where I got cursed. I suppose I did get a bit careless in an area I knew enemies had been in recently. What about you?” Barrett looked at Master Hykel. He looked exhausted and physically pained. He also didn’t feel like he was sixth tier. “How did… your breakthrough go?”
Master Hykel shrugged, “I’m just going to go sleep it off.”
Barrett was worried that Master Hykel had failed and possibly even caused himself some sort of lasting injury. That bothered him until the next morning, when Master Hykel came by again looking refreshed and feeling like he was sixth tier. When he’d come to see Barrett, he had just broken through- and thus, while his potential had increased, his current state had been lower. Barrett sighed in relief, until Master Hykel also decided to ‘help’ with his training.
Doctor Stieber came to look over Barrett after some time. Though he was positively inclined towards Barrett, he had more important things to do than analyze a curse on a third tier cultivator. Perhaps if it had been an emergency it would have been different, but there were also other people in need to consider- and anyone who needed Doctor Stieber himself was in a dangerous position, even in Stredo. There were very few doctors more experienced who regularly came through Stredo or the surrounding area.
He looked over Barrett carefully, checking his health and of course examining the curse. “Hmm… do you want the good news or the bad news first?”
“I want the news in whatever order is most useful for dealing with this curse.”
Doctor Stieber laughed, and Shanta looked on nervously nearby. “Very well then. Let’s see… first, your body is quite healthy. You appear to be more or less maintaining a certain level of life force. As has been noted, I am quite capable of treating most physical maladies, but curses are a bit out of my area of expertise. My energy attribute is not much good for reaching into the metaphysical space where the curse resides, so I could not safely remove it. I could even make things worse in certain circumstances.”
“I see. I expected as much,” Barrett’s head hung down. It seemed he would have to keep looking for someone to help.
“I’m not done quite yet, young Barrett. In addition to what I have already said, I determined that the curse derives most- but not all– of its power from the lifeforce it steals from you. The originator of the curse must also provide it some energy- though distance does not appear to be a factor in this case.” Doctor Stieber tapped his chin, “Perhaps it merely has enough range to function in a large radius around Stredo. It would be hard to tell without testing it.”
“So… if I wanted to try to remove it, I can try to isolate myself from their magic somehow or leave the area around Stredo… then I just have to make it use more energy than it gets from me.”
“Either of those could work. It is possible the curse would react differently in those situations. Alternatively, just kill whoever cursed you.”
“Oh, I would if I could.” Barrett shook his head, “I’m not completely certain who did it, but there’s someone I want to kill anyway. Of course, around Stredo that’s not practical. Even if I could get in without being killed, the Silver Blade headquarters is still within Stredo’s jurisdiction.” Barrett pondered for a few moments, “I wonder… if I could prove she was the one who cursed me, could I claim self defense if I had a chance to kill her? After all, this curse has attacked me within Stredo’s jurisdiction. Actually, the Tornado Plains might count anyway. I did actually see her try to kill me there.”
Stieber shook his head, “Good luck with that second one. It’s only debatably within Stredo’s jurisdiction, and underground. Save it for adding on to something else, if anything. Alternatively, file an investigation but don’t make a public statement. They might not actually do anything now but… if sometime down the line you need to make the public accusation, filing for an investigation now will give you more legitimacy- even if they get it thrown out.”
“The Silver Blade sure gets away with a lot,” Barrett shook his head, “It would be so easy if they just raided their headquarters. Someone important must be in their pocket.”
Stieber raised an eyebrow, “Why, are you insinuating that Stredo is less than perfect? A dangerous claim to make, until you are much stronger.”
Shanta frowned where she watched from the side, finally speaking, “Who was it? That Silver Blade you pointed out… Victoria? I’ll kill her for you if I get the chance.”
Barrett nodded, “I appreciate the offer… but be careful. She’s quite tricky and knows when to run. She can also become invisible… and possibly curse people. It could be some ally of the Silver Blades or another member.”
Shanta shrugged, “Alright, but after all that trouble I went through to put you together that one time it would be a shame to let you wither away.”
Barrett was glad to have become friends with Shanta. Realistically speaking, he still owed her. She had saved his life, and then he had saved her trouble at the cause of a lot to himself.