Barrett was light on his training for another few days before he was sure everything had healed up completely. Master Hykel was correct that he was ready for the eighth destruction. He had been close anyway, but using his berserk energy in actual life-or-death combat had helped him gain a greater control over it. As he got stronger, it required more and more control, but he could handle it. That was part of the training, after all. It did take quite a bit of stubbornness, but he had that in abundance.
The eighth destruction was much like the others. It was almost routine now, destroying parts of his body that kept him alive and let him heal. Now that he was so far along, he wasn’t worried if he regressed. If he did, he wouldn’t die- he would merely have wasted some time. Of course, a regression would hurt much more and take longer to recover from. Barrett tried not to think about it.
He guided the berserk energy to the right points, detonated it, grimaced… and that was it. It should have been successful. He used his senses to look over his body. If he had any hidden injuries, they would become immediately obvious at this point, but everything seemed fine. In a month and a half he would recover and be able to move on. Then he could do the ninth, and the tenth. He was a bit worried about the tenth destruction. That would be a special one, denoting his advancement to the second tier. Likewise, it was also a special point in the training, and it came with its own difficulties. Apparently, chances of regression were higher at such points. Even so, Barrett wouldn’t let the thought of failure slow him down. He was growing stronger, and had nothing to worry about. People weren’t even trying to kill him right now.
About twenty days later, Barrett went down the mountain to see if he could find anyone to spar with. He was only half recovered, but that still meant he would heal at five times the normal rate. He couldn’t afford to just laze around and do nothing for an extra twenty days just because he was in a bit of pain.
Verton felt different immediately after he entered. He couldn’t place his finger on it, but there was something. It felt almost subdued. He started off with a visit to the Southern Tiger School. Perhaps they would be able to point him to someone…
Upon entering, he found it was full of students. Barrett thought that was odd, since many of them had been drafted. Now, they were back. It only took a bit of asking to find out why.
Etron had lost the war- they surrendered, actually. They would cede some of the claimed territory to Padrein. Barrett had thought that losing a war would have more effect on the country… but it didn’t seem so. To the regular citizens, and even the Southern Tiger School, not much had changed. Some lands was in different hands, and paying taxes to different people.
As for why the war was lost, Barrett was the most surprised. There hadn’t been any military victories by Padrein. In fact, they had mostly been losing… until most of the council died. Officially, the members died in a horrible accident. At first, Barrett had thought they had been assassinated by Padrein, but that didn’t seem to be the case. The rumors indicated that the council had angered a powerful martial sect that they couldn’t afford to. There were rumors of tens or hundreds of people storming the council chamber and slaying all but four of the councilors… though nobody could agree on what the intruders looked like or where they were from.
In all that, there hadn’t even been any wanted posters or orders to arrest Barrett that reached Verton, though official word of his innocence of any crimes still arrived. Barrett wondered how that happened with the council so busy after the incident. It sure seemed… lucky. He couldn’t help but think about it, but he also had sparring to do.
Barrett found that he suddenly performed significantly better. Reaching the eighth
level wasn’t enough to explain it. Instead, it was the experience of being in real combat. His moves carried less hesitation, more surety… and tiny differences in speed or reaction time could have a huge impact on combat. Some of those he sparred with were much improved as well, but Barrett had grown the most. After all, those of the Southern Tiger School had been put into squads where they worked together with other martial students. They had actually been a good part of the reason Etron had been winning the war- Padrein didn’t have as many tiered warriors or their equivalent.
Even though they had experienced real combat, Barrett had been thrust in the deep end. He wasn’t given adequate equipment or training with his squad, and had been in only a slightly better position than fighting alone, until the spear in his back made it worse. He was probably lucky to survive, but of course his training to make his body tougher was a huge factor as well.
Barrett remembered the faces of those he had killed… many of them anyway. It wasn’t a particularly comforting feeling. He’d had no grudge with them, but it had happened anyway. Of course, there were also August and his guards. Barrett thought he’d felt better about killing them, but all he really felt was ambivalence. His grudge with August hadn’t been that serious from his perspective- until they tried to kill him. Then, in only a short period of consciousness, he’d gotten revenge. It was satisfying, but not more satisfying than making an improvement in training or any number of other things.
Barrett couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. Life and death felt cheap. Not just his, or the foot soldiers he had faced… but even council members had died all too easily. That thought redoubled Barrett’s desire to grow stronger… and though he was mostly concerned with himself, he also wanted to be strong enough to protect others he cared about… or even people just caught up in fights they didn’t choose to have. For that, he would need to be very strong… but he had Master Hykel to guide him, and that gave him great confidence.