The sound of twisting metal and flesh striking flesh rang out throughout the training ground. Kail’s fist punched through the heavy multisteel on Barrett’s chest, carrying with it the momentum of a giant hammer. Barrett’s ribs cracked, but he remained steady.
Barrett ignored the new hole in his armor. It barely protected him anyway. Because of that, it didn’t matter that it curled out of the way of Kail’s attacks. However, against anyone whose armor was important, leaving a big hole whenever he made a slight puncture would give Kail a significant advantage.
Being weighed down by his armor and unable to use energy, Barrett was nearly evenly matched with Kail. At least, when Kail chose to fight with his bare hands instead of using an actual metal weapon he could accelerate to multiply the force. Regardless, Barrett’s body alone was third tier, and thus weighed down by the armor they were nearly matched. At least, once Barrett had grown used to the weight. He more strongly relied on predicting his opponents moves through watching them and sensing killing intent instead of reacting and changing his motions partway through an attack.
Barrett reached his limit first. He was trying to be cautious to not go too far in his training, because he didn’t want to lose out to the curse. He breathed heavily, “You should… participate in the tournament next year.”
“You think so?” Kail took a deep breath, “It’s sort of… intimidating.”
Barrett shook his head, “You’ll be fine. There’s nothing special about people from Stredo. There are just a lot of us. Some of those people might be stronger than you, but you’ll learn the most from them.”
“How come… you sound like… you’ve been resting for several minutes already?”
“Pure Body Tempering can help distribute oxygen quickly and efficiently. Remember I have a lot of practical experience with it.”
“Mmm.” Kail nodded, “I accidentally keep assuming… everyone here is like you. However, just because everyone is older than me doesn’t mean they’ll be much stronger.”
Barrett nodded, “Though there might be a few younger people… very rarely. Your family’s technique allowed you to start proper training a bit earlier than most, but there are many groups here that will be the same. Not all of their members will advance at your pace, but you’ll only meet the good ones or older ones in the tournament.”
“What about you? Are you going to participate this year?”
“Like this?” Barrett shook his head, “I might be able to pass the first rounds, but I can’t go all out to beat anyone that would really matter. It’s not worth risking my life for the tournament. At this point there’s only another month… and we haven’t yet found a trustworthy person to help with my curse.”
“It’s a shame to have to wait another four years…” Kail shook his head.
“I agree. At least by then I’ll be cured somehow… or dead, maybe.”
“That’s… not funny.”
“I know, but it’s true.”
Once again, Master Hykel was visited by a woman in flowing robes and jewelry. “This time I have taken care to make sure this is the right day. Tell me, Teran, where is your student?”
“He’s returned. Thanks for letting me know he would come back, Ismene.”
Ismene shook her head, “That was never my intention. I merely lost track of time. I have a divination for your student.”
“A prophecy?” Master Hykel sighed, “It’s not going to have him sitting in a backwater country for a decade, is it?”
“It’s a half-prophecy at best.”
“Does that mean it will only waste five years of his time?”
She rolled her eyes, “It will be beneficial to both of us if he enters this year’s tournament.”
“In what way?”
Isemene shook her head, her earrings jingling slightly as she did so, “I cannot know. It is connected to my own future in some way.” She looked hard at Master Hykel, “Tell me, Teran, do you really think that decade was wasted? You got your apprentice.”
“Look, don’t get me wrong… Barrett is great. A true immortal body and an excellent work ethic to boot. However, I could have spent those years doing more efficient training here and just shown up to recruit him the same year.”
“Would you really have taken him, though? Would everything even have been the same? You might have never seen him.”
“Would I really have missed him? You could have just told me who he was, specifically. I could have even picked him up a year earlier.”
“He would have been a different person then. Besides, you know even those of us who have opened the fourth eye can’t see all futures clearly.”
“Why is it the fourth eye, anyway?” Master Hykel stroked his chin, “Doesn’t the third eye let you see the future?”
Ismene shrugged, jingling slightly, “Indeed it does, but without depth perception our eyes can play even more tricks on us than normal. It is far too unreliable.”
“Right… so… is it really safe for Barrett to participate in the tournament? You heard he was cursed, right?”
“I did not,” she shook her head. “Who would tell me? You? But you never come to visit me, so I suppose no one. I did not even know your apprentice’s name.” She made a sweeping gesture with one arm, “Regardless of that, it does not matter if he is cursed. Entering the tournament should be better for him than not entering. You trusted me for over a decade, now you will see results within a month. Or rather, two months. The tournament takes that long, right?”
“Yes, they all last a month.”
“I thought so! Anyway, tell him to enter the tournament.”
“Shouldn’t you give him the prophecy yourself?”
“Why? I already told you. It’s only a half prophecy anyway.” Ismene frowned for a moment, “Though I should mention that, instead of being better for him… the tournament might be much worse. I can’t give any details on that.” She turned to leave, jewelry jingling as she walked away.