Seeing how ‘easy’ the test was for the young woman, several other fellows requested for Barrett to teach them. After all, he was some sort of master. He didn’t mind teaching people… but he gave them equally hard tests. That is, impossible ones. Not very impossible, but certainly not completable.
However, just because they were impossible didn’t mean they were unfair. Everyone received something just barely impossible. Some of those who wanted to learn didn’t have enough determination to come close, while some pushed right up to the edge. They could never do it… but Barrett also gave out hints.
It was hard to exhaust himself on any task to the same degree he could exhaust those who weren’t even cultivators yet. It took him much longer to wear out his arms to the point he couldn’t use them- and use Pure Body Tempering to go further than that- but he had all day to do so.
The young woman came each day to receive another test, though it was clear she hadn’t recovered from the previous days. However, Barrett could choose something different for her. In short, he had her exercise her whole body… but that wasn’t necessarily helping her at the moment. She exhausted herself to the point she had trouble finding enough food, and she needed that to recover properly.
If some extra nutritious ingredients found their way into the weekly provided meal? That benefited everyone. Barrett could have shown any sort of bias he wanted to. Nothing stopped him… but he felt that it wouldn’t actually help.
After a few weeks, almost nobody came to Barrett to be tested. The word was going around that he really didn’t want to teach anyone, and that he was using the tests as an excuse to avoid directly rejecting people. Nobody said that in front of him, of course. At least, not when they thought he could hear. One thing he had to say, everyone was quite respectful of the two masters. That included avoiding conflicts among themselves… though it was entirely possible that was because of one certain individual. He was causing some trouble, claiming a larger area and pieces of what others already controlled. Not quite robbery, but close to it. Then Nilima took one look at him, and he left.
Feeling killing intent in general took effort to learn… but if it was intentionally made clear, it wasn’t difficult to feel. The man in question had truly been on the verge of death, even though Nilima hadn’t made a single move. But if she had… it wouldn’t have taken any effort. She wouldn’t even have had to stand up from where she sat far away. He could feel it… and nothing needed to be said.
Barrett found the most impractical exercises particularly invigorating. There was no need to balance boulders on individual fingers or toes, or to do so while hanging over a branch that couldn’t support even his own weight… but it was actually rather fun. He wasn’t sure if it got his point across, but at the very least people had to recognize he had mastery over his own body. He had only a few ‘students’, though none of them were officially recognized by him yet. Instead, they were just those who regularly came for tests. At least a few of them had realized that while they wouldn’t necessarily be taught anything, they would receive exercises and an amount that would push them to their limits, allowing their bodies to grow stronger.
It wasn’t hard for Barrett to see the areas each person needed to work on, so his tests managed to keep the overall difficulty sounding quite low. Yet it was always just a bit more than what a person could do… even with extreme willpower. Willpower wasn’t enough when your arms had nothing left to give. Instead, it required taking the very first step into Pure Body Tempering. Since willpower could get them to a single exercise short of where they needed to be, it really was that simple… and yet quite difficult. Barrett could have explained it, but he was being a difficult master at the moment.
Maybe he hadn’t correctly judged the best way to get the results he wanted, but he had correctly judged the determination of the young woman. She didn’t return every day for a new test now- instead training her body as well as she could while finding or growing food as much as she needed. She would also find Barrett to watch his training some, trying to figure something out… but even if he wasn’t trying to hide it, Pure Body Tempering wasn’t so easy to learn just by watching. Maybe it wasn’t the best way… but he had a feeling. Maybe his methods were unfair, since he was basing his strategy off of what he wanted from one person. But then again, he couldn’t stay forever… so if his students were to succeed, they would need to be able to learn without continual instruction from him.
“Take this rock,” Master Ravenhall held it out to show it, “Then raise it above your head, like this. Let your arm drop back to your side. Twenty… nine times.” Master Ravenhall nodded, “That should be enough.”
The young woman was already clear that the master wanted the exercises to be done exactly as instructed. No working around the problem. The rock wasn’t so heavy at first. Five kilograms… well, months before she would have had trouble doing even half what he requested. Now, she was certain she would be just short. She had watched Master Ravenhall train. He pushed himself to the limits too. She saw him collapse to the ground… and then keep going. Beyond the limits. How? Was it just willpower? If so, she had not nearly enough. Ten. She tried… but she couldn’t quite make it. Her arm burned. Twenty. Two thirds of the way. Twenty-five. Twenty-six. She couldn’t lift her arm anymore. It wouldn’t do it. But she made it. She gritted her teeth, and her arm raised, just as it was supposed to. Twenty-seven. Now it couldn’t lift. It would barely even twitch. If she had just a minute to rest… but of course, the test would be over then. He clearly knew her limits.
Was it true? He just didn’t want to directly reject students? Why would he put in so much effort? Why not just give truly impossible tasks, instead of something… so nearly manageable? He didn’t seem the sort to enjoy the suffering of others. He just watched without expression. Her arm couldn’t move anymore. Why? If it would just… if she could just get this master to really teach her, just be a fraction as strong as he was… but her arm had no more ability to move.
Master Ravenhall also had been training single parts of his body. Pushing them to their limits. She saw him collapse, then continue. It couldn’t be faked, could it? If not… where did that ability come from? While the rest of her body wasn’t tired, her arm couldn’t move.
She clenched her teeth so hard she thought they would break, straining herself… but her arm lifted. It slammed back down, the rock impacting her thigh painfully. Twenty-eight. But… she only needed one more. Twenty-nine. Not thirty. There had to be something. It couldn’t just be a cruel joke, right?
If only she could use her left arm. She could do another twenty five with that, probably. Or she could support her right arm. She’d never tried skirting the rules, but those who had, propping up their bodies or having slightly improper form… they just got a shake of the master’s head. It had to be done right… but she had nothing left in her arm. But her left arm could move.
What if she just… she couldn’t even think it in words, or really picture what she wanted. But she moved. Her left arm went up. It had no rock in it, but even if it was allowed to lift the rock her right arm probably couldn’t lift just itself right now. But she just had to match it. Her left arm came back down. She knew she was running out of time, though she hadn’t heard a countdown. She couldn’t really hear much of anything. It hadn’t been quite right. Her right arm needed to… go up with her left? Could she use it to lift her right without touching it?
A second time… and her left arm moved on its own. The third time. Her right arm had to move. It had to have something left in it. She thought about shoving the rest of her body into it to help it, and lifted her arms. Both of them.
Barrett took stock of the surroundings. Nobody else was watching. “That’s time. You just made it.” Technically, she was a second late. But there was no point waiting for the next day. She could already do it. In fact, instead of simply transferring stamina from one part to another, she’d also made use of the movement of her other arm to pull her right arm up. That was actually a more difficult technique. At least, for Barrett. It wasn’t possible to say what others might find most troublesome. “What’s your name?”
“…Simran.” She looked like she was about to collapse. She also didn’t seem to have registered her success. Then she did collapse. Barrett returned her to the small hut she had constructed, after feeding her one of the nutrition pills he had brought with him. He hadn’t had a chance to buy anything like it in Cangui, but then again he mostly avoided the cities.
Barrett wondered if she would remember that she had succeeded in the morning. Well, even if she didn’t, her body would remember how to do it. He didn’t think sending her down the path of an Immortal Berserker was the best option, though he had full allowance to distribute that version of the technique as he wished. Instead, he felt like she should develop something of her own. She just needed a chance.