There was a long period of awkward silence as Nilima and Barrett looked at each other. Finally, Nilima spoke, “So you almost died again. And now you’re weak.”
“Sorry,” Barrett shook his head, “Give me a few years and I’ll be back up to a proper challenge.”
Nilima shrugged, “Whatever. You thought you were going to die?”
“You read the letter right? But then, you went anyway. I don’t think you thought you were going to save me. You weren’t with everyone else. Were you planning to die?”
Nilima shifted her feet and changed the topic of the conversation. “So what are you planning to do now? Can you recover your cultivation? Going to enter the fifth tier tournament? You still have five years.”
“Hmm…” Barrett nodded slowly. “I should be able to. I’ll probably enter. Then again, maybe not. It doesn’t matter.” Barrett took a deep breath and released it slowly. “I’ve had enough of waiting and cultivating. I need to do something. Sitting around not causing trouble until I’m strong enough… it’s no good. It’s not like everyone else isn’t growing stronger at all either. The Convocation of Souls is very strong… even if they’re down one grandmaster now. Having Doctor Stieber alive would have been much preferred. Ruclua and the whole Ostain empire are still… well, the same. Ogloni is almost a better city than Stredo except they have zombies just walking on the streets.”
“Mmn.” Nilima nodded. “Well, have fun dealing with… all that. I’ll return… later.” With that, she turned to walk out.
“Why not stay and help me?” Barrett called after her without thinking.
Nilima looked over her shoulder and raised an eyebrow. “How? I can’t exactly go beating people up in Stredo… and I don’t have any other skills to speak of.”
“That is…” Barrett tilted his head, “You can tell me if I’m doing something dumb. Besides, it’s not like I know how to do anything I’m planning to do. It’s not easy to root out organizations in Stredo that probably have hundreds of years of practice covering up their crap. Even the Silver Blades only got in trouble because they got too arrogant and caused public incidents… they barely found any other evidence.”
Nilima rolled her eyes. “So, what? You’re going to reform Stredo and take apart all of the evil sects and overthrow a country?”
“And anything else I think up along the way.” Barrett looked at her with a completely serious face. “What, are you too busy? Got an important duel scheduled with someone else?”
“Sounds like you’re planning to die in any number of ways. Maybe just hire a bodyguard.” Nilima crossed her arms.
“You offering?” Barrett grinned. “I don’t have any money right now but I know a grandmaster.”
“…Hmm.” Nilima shrugged, “I guess I could stay for a while.”
Barrett really didn’t have any money- he’d authorized Rylan to spend all of his remaining money after his death. The fact that he wasn’t dead now was a surprise to both of them, and while Rylan offered to pay Barrett back… Rylan was making good use of the funds he currently had. There were thousands of people involved in his work, either helping with food or shelter or other needs or those who were being helped. On the scale of Stredo it was still a relatively small group, especially considering how few members were strong cultivators… but it was making more difference in the city than having another group of people fighting would do. In a city of ten million people, entirely cleaning up poverty in five years was an insane idea- but Rylan had at least managed a dent. And, they were spreading to other places. The followers of the nameless God did that regardless of Rylan, but with more resources and a good centralized location like Stredo, they could go to more places. Apparently, Georg was now running a small business in Ogloni, and providing charity for those who needed it. It was a harsh place to try to make people better, but maybe that was where it was needed most… at least, outside of certain organizations.
Rylan provided an opportunity for Barrett that made some things possible. He knew many people- or knew people who knew other people… and so on. The point was, he could get information, not from powerful people with knowledge of the inner workings of organizations, but just regular people. Even if most refuse was ultimately dealt with by cultivators- burned or buried or possibly broken down into component parts to be recycled- a city the size of Stredo had large amounts of it, and that meant mundane or low cultivation workers transporting it. There were workers who carried messages, cooks, maids, some of everything. Rylan wasn’t going to use his position to get people to reveal secret information… but various issues still found their way to him. Mistreatment by employers- sometimes people wanted help finding other work, sometimes they just put up with it for the pay, and sometimes it was just overheard news. None of it was something that could be directly acted upon… but just hearing what the people at the bottom thought of a certain group gave a glimpse of their character as a whole and what groups needed to be looked into.
Blood pulsed through Barrett’s veins bringing pressure, heat, and life. He was having to rebuild his body’s toughness one bit at a time… but with his experience, recovering from first to second tier took little time- approximately a month. It was fortunate that he didn’t have to undergo destructions again- his body had been fundamentally changed, and the foundation was there- he just had to rebuild everything on top of that. Regular exercises and combat training helped too… and Barrett found it interesting to spar with some of his Pure Body Tempering students. Many of them had reached third tier… and while they understood he had more knowledge than them, they thought that they could combat him while he was second tier. They were wrong.
Even without using his third tier magic- which had only gotten out of practice but not shrivelled and weak like his body had been- he was still able to fight them and come out ahead. After all, he was still up a couple decades of experience- and he knew how to use what he had more efficiently. Barrett looked at Rolph, Hayden, and Alexei lying in a pile. They weren’t bad- probably close to where he’d been in mid third tier, but maybe a little lacking in real battle experience. They’d experienced real battles, but hadn’t nearly died so many times… then again, perhaps that was for the best. He just had to make sure they would be ready when such situations arose.