Barrett and the skinny girl faced off against each other from about five meters apart, both hesitating to make the next move.
“What the hell was that, bandage boy?” The skinny girl rubbed her forearm with the other hand. “You should be unconscious… and not able to hit so hard.”
“Hmm…” Barrett pondered, “I was thinking something similar about you. My knee should have hit your gut, or pushed your arm into it. But instead of puking or getting a shattered arm you flew back through the air like a tornado came through.” He didn’t expect a response, and got none. Instead, he thought about what had happened. At the same point as his knee hit her, she jumped back. In addition to that, he felt his energy be scattered around, so it wasn’t focused so much on one point. This made it less immediately damaging, but the total force of her jump and the distributed force pushed her back very far. Barrett found that an interesting defensive technique, though he couldn’t utilize it himself. The two of them continued to face off at the same distance, neither moving forward, until Barrett finally suggested, “Why don’t we just call this one a draw. We can spar again some other time.”
“Whatever.” The girl dropped her stance. “If it’s a fight you want, I’m up for it any time.”
Even though he had countered the energy going into his head and brain, the remnants of that and his own berserk energy had left Barrett unsteady on his feet. He did think the draw was legitimate though. Twig-girl had actually been quite ginger with her arm as she left, and Barrett knew that even if it wasn’t broken, it had come close. Since Barrett doubted she healed at six times the rate of a normal person, that was a good place to stop unless she wanted to have to spend weeks recovering. Barrett thought he should probably have learned her name… but he supposed he could do that some other time.
Barrett found his life settling into a routine. A strange, painful routine, but routine nonetheless. Fight. Recover. Train berserk energy… go through destruction. The latter was the most surprising thing, because it had been absolutely terrifying and capable of killing him… and now even if he failed it would just be an annoying setback.
Barrett found twig-girl several times per month and they sparred. At least, it was something like a spar. They usually didn’t even say anything, but just attacked each other on sight. He supposed it counted as sparring because if he coughed up blood or she broke something, they stopped. She seemed to dislike Barrett for some reason, and her negative attitude made him feel the same about her… but it was good practice to fight her. Though they weren’t particularly friends, Barrett knew there were many worse people.
Barrett grew stronger and sought out rematches with some of those who had defeated him before. If they had been particularly unkind and excessive, he returned the same to them. As time went on, more and more people ended up with broken limbs… and Barrett had less. Well, individually he probably had more than anyone else, but he recovered quickly, and found that he was getting injured less not just because he was growing better at avoiding attacks, but because his body was tough. He was certain he could take direct attacks that would have previously killed him with just some bruising… or perhaps cracked ribs instead of a crushed ribcage. Though Barrett knew he didn’t make any friends when he took revenge on those who had been excessive, they wouldn’t have been his friends anyway. They were all snobs or people who thought they were better than they were at fighting. Even so, he never did anything to actually cripple anyone, even against the people who had almost done that to him. In that case, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to… but the laws were clear enough about what kind of trouble that would land him in.
Another five months passed, until he had been training under Master Hykel for almost two years. He fought, he coughed up blood, he ate, he studied, he trained, and he healed. Each destruction hurt more, but with each his tolerance for pain and recovery speed was higher. He passed the seventh destruction, and with his training his strength was now near the top end of first tier warriors. That was when an opportunity he had been waiting for appeared in town. The word of a magic user arriving in town spread quickly… and the first thing on Barrett’s mind was fighting him.
Master Hykel had discussed fighting against magic with Barrett, but he hadn’t been able to experience it. He knew it would be different than what he was used to. He could still dodge… at least most things. However, trying to block or deflect attacks would merely result in injuries to different parts, if it even did anything. A blaze of fire washing over him, for example, couldn’t be blocked with his arms. At best, he could protect his face and eyes from being burned. He also couldn’t punch or chop fire apart yet… though Master Hykel indicated that could be done with proper energy control. A magic user could also attack from far away, though the actual distanced depended on the individual and what sort of magic they actually trained in.
With all of that, it sounded like they would have a huge advantage over warriors, and perhaps they did. However, they were not without weaknesses. For example, Barrett would be able to kill one with a single chop of his axe or even a punch of his fist. A magic user might dodge, and some could throw up magic barriers that would absorb most or all of an attack, but if their bare body was actually hit, they didn’t have much going for them. Heavy armor restricted the ability to perform the gestures that most of them needed, and they wouldn’t have time to train their bodies to the same extent as a warrior. Master Hykel noted that any magic user that wasn’t foolish would make sure they weren’t physically inept, but they couldn’t stand up to someone who could punch through a brick wall. Barrett had done that, just as a sort of measurement of progress. Master Hykel had set up the wall and other tests so that he could see some of his progress, though going back and defeating former opponents helped him understand himself even better.
It wasn’t too hard to find the magic user. He was a rare enough thing that people kept track of him. Barrett thought he was lucky, because he learned that this magic user was first tier as well. He had grown evermore straightforward, so when he found the young man with the staff and nice embroidered shirt, Barrett immediately stated his intentions. “Fight me.” Of course, he was planning to explain why a spar would be beneficial to both of them, and he had some other ideas… but the response was pretty straightforward.
“Yeah alright.” The blond young man nodded, “We can talk about the rules as we head over to that field.” Then he was off… and Barrett followed behind him, surprised at how easy it had been. He had heard that most magic users thought warriors beneath them. Perhaps this guy did as well, but he hadn’t given any signs of that just yet, and had easily agreed to the spar.