Barrett continued to spar with Lamont. He learned that lightning’s most fearsome effect was not that it easily penetrated defenses, but that it caused his muscles to spasm. Ice on the ground was annoying, but so were knives of ice speeding through the air at him. The ground was just the ground… unless it decided to shift beneath him, or become hands that grabbed him and held him still. Fire… was still fire. It burned his skin and caused him to remember things he didn’t want to remember… but he couldn’t ignore it. He would much rather face fire from Lamont than avoid it and later face someone who wanted to kill him with it. Not that magic users were particularly common… but they did exist. Master Hykel always stressed that leaving weaknesses you knew about was the easiest way to get killed.
Before people from the Southern Tiger school started being drafted, Barrett hadn’t paid much attention to the rumors of war. However, once people he knew started getting caught up in it he remembered that the outside world continued on whether he paid attention or not. Padrein was north along the mountain range, and shared the largest border with Etron. The dispute started with Padrein claiming a coal mine, and a border skirmish. Then both sides started claiming they had right to pieces of land that they had probably never stepped on and hadn’t belonged to their own country in a hundred years- if ever. The situation had escalated into being a real war, and that meant drafts. This included those in martial schools, though most would come from the ranks of common laborers. Only an agreed-upon amount of each school was drafted, depending on what they had negotiated. This was based on tribute paid, prestige of the school, and any other factor of value that could be considered. Only if it turned into a full scale invasion would martial schools participate with all of their members… but in such a case a war would certainly be long and bloody.
Barrett hadn’t considered that Master Hykel might get involved in the war, until Barrett was told he was leaving. “Don’t worry kid, you have enough material to study to last you a few months. There’s enough money here for food, and dried rations if you somehow run out of that. I shouldn’t be that long though.”
“I thought the Immortal Berserker Sect was exempt from the draft…” Barrett stated questioningly.
“I’m not exactly getting drafted. This is part of a deal I have with the council. I help them out a bit, they leave me alone on the mountain here. Don’t worry, I’m not getting up to anything particularly dangerous. I’ll mostly be there as an intimidation tactic. A few other masters and I will be going as a group to convince Padrein to end the war early. If we actually got involved in the war, things would turn ugly real quick.”
“Oh.” Barrett nodded, “Good luck.”
“Don’t need it, but thanks. You too. Don’t slack off in your training while I’m gone. I’ll know.”
Barrett wandered around Verton trying to think where he might find good sparring partners. Many of those on his level from the Southern Tiger School were off participating in the border war. There was danger involved, but as a special unit they would be relatively safer than the common foot soldiers. Real battle experience would also be good for them. Master Hykel stressed that it was a very important factor in growth. He had been talking about a training mission in a monster-infested forest, but that was still six months away. Barrett wondered if he would be able to pass the tenth destruction by then. That would place him in the second tier… but of course he also had to pass the eight and ninth first. Still, if all went well with his berserk energy training and he didn’t regress, he should have reached that level by then. It was an interesting quirk of the Immortal Berserker Style that the latter parts of a tier actually took less time, at least if one looked at it from the perspective of successful destructions. Really, his overall strength had been growing at a pretty constant rate, and he could be considered at the high end of the first tier of power. That was strange to think about, as he had only been training for two years. He would be just about as strong as the head of his family’s guard.
It had been so… short. Barrett almost thought ‘easy’, but that clearly wasn’t the case. Even so, he had watched the growth of those in the Southern Tiger School, and they weren’t much slower. It was amazing what proper training methods did. Of course, having a good teacher and the right resources was important too. Barrett knew that all the medicine he had wasn’t cheap, though he didn’t really use it. He just kept it stockpiled for if he actually needed it. Master Hykel had told him it would retain its efficacy for almost a decade, so he could imagine needing it in the future. Especially after fighting monsters in the forest. They wouldn’t hold back, and even if they were around the right level he doubted it would be an easy time. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be training. Besides, he hadn’t killed anything yet. Even if he knew how much effort it took in theory it wasn’t the same. Even when sparring he got some injuries that were fairly serious- a real fight would carry far more risk than that.
Barrett realized he’d spent a whole day wandering through the city without fighting anyway. Well, he could count this as a rest day. Lamont wasn’t in town, having gone back to wherever the heck his school was to spend more time in book learning and practicing new abilities. Twig-girl also didn’t appear to be anywhere in the city. She’d checked out of her inn without saying anything… not that he thought she particularly owed him the courtesy of saying she was moving on. He hadn’t even bothered to learn her name. Still, it did leave Barrett down one of his best sparring partners… even if he always regretted the fight when he was coughing up blood or had some popped eye vessels.