The instant the match started, he could tell his opponent wasn’t fooling around. She threw needles the instant the start was called… actually, it might have been slightly early. The important thing was Barrett knew they were poisoned and that the throwing technique looked exactly like Victoria’s. The rest of his opponent didn’t, but what did a face and hairstyle actually mean? They were quite easy to fake even without magic. Barrett could see they were at least very close in size if not identical.
The last time they’d really fought- around the Southern Metal Sea- Barrett hadn’t been wearing his armor. It was also the case that Victoria had been worn down by the corrosive air before they started fighting, but the important thing was Barrett’s bracers were strong enough to deflect the needles before they got anywhere close to a gap in his armor. Barrett could feel her killing intent- it was muted, but she couldn’t completely conceal it.
Then as she threw the next volley of needles, the curse started to attack. Barrett had no patience for it, metaphorically ripping it in half as it started to attack. That would only cause minimal damage, but it would take a moment to stabilize. At the very moment he did so, he saw the slightest twinge on Victoria’s face- or the face of ‘Nina’, but he became more certain of her identity every moment.
The second volley of needles didn’t get anywhere close to Barrett- he dashed forward with a sudden burst of speed. It went beyond what just his body could do, and the arena floor showed slight damage where he stepped from the berserk energy he was using. He didn’t have any way to recover it… but this was a critical battle. He wasn’t sure if the curse would go away if he defeated or even killed Victoria, but that didn’t matter as much as winning or showing she was cheating. Of course, she was technically breaking the rules twice at once at the moment. Curses and poisons were both disallowed, after all. Barrett wondered why the arenas wards weren’t doing anything about that.
Barrett flicked his wrist, throwing a lead ball coated in berserk energy. Victoria dodged to the side as it flew past her and exploded, but one piece of shrapnel left a line of blood on her face.
The curse reformed and continued to attack Barrett’s life force. It took most of his stamina and half of his concentration to fight it off, but he could handle it for a few more minutes at least. It was better that he didn’t let the fight drag on, however.
As Barrett got close, Victoria ceased attacking and instead concentrated for a few moments, after which she shimmered and disappeared. Barrett continued to charge forward, swinging his axe covered in a sharp edge of berserk energy. Blood splattered, not where she had been standing, but a yard to the side where Barrett had attacked… as he had seen a tiny drop of blood falling through the air.
Victoria immediately became visible again- either she couldn’t concentrate on the invisibility any more or it just wasn’t useful enough with the new wound across her arm bleeding so profusely.
The previous time they’d fought, Barrett had exhausted himself fighting other enemies and she was significantly more affected by the corrosive air. She’d retreated before really engaging him, and Barrett could see why. She wasn’t incompetent at fighting in a melee- otherwise more than her arm would have been injured- but she wasn’t exactly trained to fight a berserker in something akin to fair combat.
Barrett could see the strain in her face, though she tried to hide it. Each time he dealt a damaging blow to the curse inside him, it also affected her. Of course, the curse was causing him great pain as well… but if there was one thing Immortal Berserkers could deal with, it was pain.
Victoria threw a packet of something to the ground which exploded to cover a large area in smoke- and poison. Barrett wasn’t sure whether the smoke part would have been against the rules or not, but he could feel the poison. He immediately ceased breathing and closed his pores and eyes.
Barrett heard the faint whisper of needles flying through the air even as he closed his ear canals to the intrusion of the poison. His energy senses told him they were probably guided by sensing his own berserk energy. That was why a number of them collided with his axe which he was holding up above him as he flopped onto the ground.
Unfortunately, to properly fool Victoria’s senses… he really used the majority of his remaining berserk energy on his axe. The sudden barely controlled berserk energy caused his axe to shatter. Barrett swept his hands across the ground around him as he pushed up off the ground and sprinted out of the poisonous smoke.
Victoria wasn’t far outside the smoke, and had only just begun to move away as he stepped out of the smoke. She threw more needles as she retreated, but she had used too much of her energy on the attempt to kill him in the smoke to penetrate his armor now.
Barrett caught up to her in a few moments, with the advantage of his already built up speed and faster top speed. He had no more axe, but he stabbed out at her with two of her own needles.
Victoria well knew the extent of Barrett’s reach as well as the length of her own needles. She dodged to the side, using Barrett’s own momentum to make him unable to reach her. He couldn’t change direction, and he couldn’t reach her even as he leaned. She knew his arms and needles put together would be just a bit short- and that counted berserk energy extending beyond the tips of the needles as well.
Then one of them stabbed into her shoulder anyway. Victoria looked down surprised at Barrett’s arm. It was… too long. All she saw was it contracting slightly… the fingers retracting a few millimeters, the forearm and the bones inside it shortening just a bit, the upper arm and joints retracting until the arm was just the length she had calculated. She looked down at the pair of needles sticking into her shoulder. She had built up an immunity to most poisons she used, but the poisons today were especially potent and expensive. They were provided by the Silver Blades… and she hadn’t yet had a chance to deal with the particular poison.
Victoria shrieked in pain as the needle entered her shoulder. Barrett couldn’t think how horrifying the poison must be to elicit a reaction that quickly- but she wasn’t faking it. She collapsed onto the ground… but the curse inside Barrett suddenly flared up.
It clawed into his life force, trying to rip away chunks of it. Barrett had momentarily pulled away his stamina to stretch his arm- and he’d needed to keep that concentration to bring it back to normal without causing damage to himself as well. That left him open… and the curse didn’t entirely rely on Victoria’s direction.
Barrett collapsed beside her, clenching his teeth. He vaguely heard someone yelling. Was that the referee? “Barrett of the Immortal Berserker Sect has cheated in a sacred arena match, and will be punished!” He felt killing intent as some figure raced towards him, but he couldn’t do anything to avoid the attack as a sword stabbed towards him.