“Let’s go over some ground rules,” the mage said. “I’m sure you haven’t fought many mages. If you- uhm, what is your name?”
“Right. I’m Lamont Levine, elementalist. If you break my magic barrier I will consider it my loss, so please refrain from attacking if you get to that point. Likewise, I promise not to explode your eyeballs or otherwise cause lasting harm.”
“Can you explode people’s eyeballs?” Barrett raised an eyebrow.
Lamont shrugged, his shoulders touching the tips of his hair. “Not yet, unless you stood still and let me touch them for a few moments. Regardless, none of my attacks will aim to cause more than temporal injuries, though I can’t stop you from throwing your head into my attacks and making things worse for yourself.”
“Right, so… how do we start?”
“Well,” Lamont put his finger to his chin, “Most mages would prefer to start a duel from over a dozen meters away, if they even accept duels. However, at our current tier the generally accepted rule is for non-magic combatants to start several paces away, and with the mages to have a chance to prepare basic shields.” Lamont nodded seriously, “I cannot yet maintain shields continuously, and without them I cannot be expected to put up a valuable fight. Alternatively if you start further away I can raise my barrier during the fight.”
“Creating the barrier beforehand is fine,” Barrett nodded. They weren’t betting anything on the match, so the rules sounded reasonable enough. They might even favor him slightly, since he didn’t imagine most mages would appreciate being any closer to someone with an axe than a dozen paces, let alone three or four.
“When the shield appears, you may begin any time.” Lamont’s eyes close in concentration, resting both hands on the staff he had in front of him. In only a second or two a shimmering barrier appeared and his eye snapped open. Barrett could understand why he needed the chance to place the barrier first, as within that two seconds he could have moved forward to attack… and even without his weapon he knew he could take Lamont out with a good gut punch.
Barrett stepped forward, ready to swing his axe at Lamont’s barrier, while Lamont held his ground and twirled his staff. The ends traced a circle of fire, which then expanded into a full disc and then grew forward to cover him.
The crackling and heat covered him and Barrett found himself back in his family home. This time, he could find no windows and flames filled the hallways. Reina ran along the seemingly infinite hallway with him, but the heat was causing blistering to their skin. Smoke filled Barrett’s lungs and eyes, but he couldn’t cough it out or blink the pain away. Then the whole house came tumbling down, trapping him and Reina underneath. He looked into her eye again as she died, and he cried out in pain, both of his body and his heart.
Barrett heard something calling to him. The pain on his body reminded him of his cousin’s house and the torments there. He screamed in rage.
“Are you alright?”
This time Barrett heard what was being said, and opened his eyes. He found himself breathing hard and coughing, staring up at the sky. The pain… while not gone, was very faint. It wasn’t even as bad as when he burnt his mouth on food that was too hot. Standing nearby was Lamont, and Barrett remembered his voice. “I…”
“Are you hurt?” Lamont asked, “I didn’t use that powerful of a fire, but you collapsed, screaming… Did something go wrong?”
Barrett moved his whole body, one piece at a time. It didn’t hurt… at least not any more than normal, except maybe a few tiny bits of pain. He stood up, slowly, but he didn’t feel any other problems. “No, it’s just… I’m bad with fire.”
“I see.” Lamont frowned slightly, “I am sorry. I did not know. I am an elementalist so…”
Barrett nodded. “It’s not your fault. I didn’t warn you. In fact, I didn’t think something like this would happen.”
“Very well then. Would you still like to spar? I have other methods at my disposal than fire. Unless…”
“Anything else should be fine,” Barrett said. “Fire is just… a particular problem.”
“Understood. Whenever you are ready, then.”
The second attempt at the duel started much the same way, with Barrett rushing forward. However, Lamont raised his staff, then slammed it into the ground, pushing himself backward… and creating a circle of ice underneath it. Barrett started slipping on the ice, though his momentum carried him forward. With another circle of his staff, Lamont used more magic, though Barrett had no idea what it was until he felt wind pressing him back. He was nearly knocked over, but then he raised a foot and stomped it to the ground. Perhaps the movement wasn’t strictly necessary, but it felt right. Along with that, he gathered energy to his feet, anchoring himself to the ground. The wind was not strong enough to affect him once he had his balance, and the thin ice dissolved under the application of energy, leaving behind less slippery water that did nothing to stop Barrett.
Barrett continued a few quick steps forward against the wind, before it ceased. Lamont clearly could tell his tactic wasn’t working, and Barrett saw sparks of lightning appear on the ends of his staff. However, Barrett wasn’t going to wait around for the attack, and he brought his axe down in an overhead chop. It was somewhat easier to dodge, but it also carrier more power and flowed more smoothly into the next swing. This also made it harder to stop, but Barrett wasn’t worried about that. He wasn’t sure how strong Lamont’s barrier was, but it extended out from his body several centimeters. Thus, Barrett had no qualms about a full force strike containing the power of his muscles, gravity pulling down his swing, and a good portion of berserk energy.
The barrier was only visible as some slightly colored fluctuations, but when his axe struck it he saw it crack slightly. Barrett was surprised when Lamont was flung backwards as if struck himself, though he was already moving backwards in an attempt to dodge as well. The lightning on the tips of his staff dulled, but he kept his feet. Barrett continued forward with another swing, and this time the barrier cracked even more, then there was a slight popping sound as it disappeared. Once again Lamont was pushed back, and fell to the floor a meter or so back. Barrett moved closer to him. “Are you alright?”
Lamont immediately took a deep breath, and patted himself. “Ah… I am fine. Just a bit bruised. Consequences of the barrier.” After he picked himself up off the ground, he reached out his hand to Barrett. “You are a formidable opponent. Not many at the first tier have the sort of instantaneous power to break my barrier in a just two blows, unless I let them strike me head on.”
Barrett accepted Lamont’s handshake. “You are quite good yourself. I have no doubt that if I hadn’t managed to hold my balance something unpleasant would have come my way. Since you were fighting somewhat restricted, I imagine you still have some tricks up your sleeve. I would love to spar with you again.” Barrett also couldn’t help but wonder what lightning felt like. He didn’t like feeling pain, but that was why he wanted to experience different kinds… to see how much he should try to avoid it in the future.