The best thing about learning something in combat was there was real, immediate feedback related to whether a technique was functional. The worst thing… was that if you needed to learn something new in combat, things weren’t going well.
So far Barrett was down to about half of his stamina reserves- a quarter of that was from his training in the cold and the other quarter was from the fight with the ice wraiths so far and the damage they had caused to him. He could still run at any time- all he had to do was pick a direction and go straight and he would get down the mountain at some point. He wasn’t worried about falling down a pit or off a cliff just because he couldn’t see very far. It was just that running away would constitute giving up.
Was giving up always wrong? Not at all. Knowing your current limits was important… but conversely, that meant giving up too early meant not really knowing your proper limits. Barrett felt like he could do more. As long as he paid attention to his stamina reserves and didn’t let himself take any dangerous hits, he would be fine. As for what constituted a dangerous hit… Barrett leaned to avoid an ice spike stabbing towards his neck. Even a small bit of damage could be significant on his neck… if a bit of ice blocked part of his windpipe or an artery, his combat efficiency would drop. There was little chance of him actually taking a serious enough hit to be immediately dangerous, just because there wasn’t that much force or sharpness behind the ice spikes… enough to kill a normal person instantly, probably, but in most cases that was just a scratch to Barrett.
Regardless, he could continue for some time… and now that he had thought of a method to attack he had to try it. As his fist passed through another ice wraith, their souls overlapped in space and Barrett imagined his soul attacking the ice wraith… except of course that didn’t work. It wasn’t that souls couldn’t do things on their own, probably, but mostly they were guided by something else. They were accessed through energy or magic or even Pure Body Tempering.
Barrett recalled fighting off the curse. The curse had come and gone, hiding itself in places he couldn’t reach… but he could intentionally reach out to the ice wraiths and their souls. He just had to do something to it. It should be easier because he was the one choosing when it happened.
Since the ice wraiths knew Barrett couldn’t hurt them, they started to take advantage of every time Barrett attacked, since his movements would be more predictable. While their attacks still did very little individually, together they might cause trouble. Barrett had to avoid or deflect their attacks as much as he could without giving up his chances to try damaging them. Pure Body Tempering was already about doing things inside himself… he just had to reach even deeper than normal to try to reach something that seemed to be outside himself.
As his fist trailed through another ice wraith, he not only felt the traces of their soul but touched it. Just a tiny bit, but the ice wraith’s incorporeal body was moved back a small amount. When Barrett’s follow up attack did nothing it seemed to think it was a fluke, returning to concentrating on its assault… but Barrett knew better.
As wounds built up on his body, his attacks grew more effective. He shoved the ice wraiths around, further and further. However, since they had not yet felt any pain, they didn’t seem worried… but they should have been. Barrett reached out and grabbed an ice wraith. Its body was insubstantial- or perhaps it was better to say their bodies didn’t really exist- so no matter how quick he was he couldn’t hold onto it… but its soul was certainly real. Barrett clamped down his ‘hand’ on a tendril of the creature’s soul. It slipped out of his grasp, but he could feel the damage he had done. That was good, because it took more stamina than expected… and he was starting to feel like he was made out of more ice than flesh. In addition, as he perform that attack his soul even felt a chill… but only a slight one.
The next ice wraith he approached with a kick, slamming it down towards the ground. It couldn’t be crushed between his heel and the ground since it had no form, but the sudden shock of the initial hit caused it to shudder. Barrett tried swinging one into another… but it seemed he needed something else since their souls didn’t directly impact on each other. Then again, he couldn’t say his current level of proficiency with this technique was at all elegant. Barrett continued to throw attacks, none of them yet enough to destroy an ice wraith… but as they started to realize he could actually hurt him, the ice wraiths began to retreat.
As they were fleeing, Barrett chased them briefly, finally turning his ‘hand’ into a claw- and though the imagined shape was similar to what he did with his actual hand, it was all inside of himself… and the ice wraith, as their bodies and souls slightly overlapped. There, his claw-hand was sharp… and actually tore apart the ice wraith which shrieked horribly as it died, the sound of chill winds and ice cracking.
The remaining ice wraiths flew up into the air or down through the ice, and Barrett retreated to his cave, where it was… well, not as cold anyway. As he warmed up, his blood started to unfreeze… which meant it was flowing from the numerous tiny wounds. However, he kept it from bleeding too much… and his replacement magical bandages helped warm him and cover his numerous wounds. It didn’t do much more than prevent too much blood from leaking out, but at least he didn’t have to bandage anything by hand, and controlling his own blood in so many places was difficult.
Barrett built a fire- he had mostly done that to cook the bear’s meat in the past, but he needed to be warm now. The entire cave he’d dug out warmed up to a toasty above freezing temperature, because recovery was an important part of training. Normally less-freezing temperatures were enough… but now Barrett bundled himself up in every warm thing he had in his magic bag and dozed off in a corner. Even if the room itself was warmer, at most a little bit of water would drip down the walls from the ceiling… refreezing as it did so because of the dreadful cold that permeated through the ice all over the mountain.