Barrett and Reina caught up on each other’s lives as they walked. They didn’t have any particular direction, except toward the entrance of the forest. They weren’t planning to stay around, but they also couldn’t risk alerting the enemies to their location by sending off a help signal. Even if their masters could deal with anything when they arrived, they would have trouble before then.
Reina took on an awkward expression as she heard Barrett’s story. “Oh… wow. You had it much worse than me. Mistress makes me work hard, but I don’t have to go get myself injured or anything.”
Barrett shrugged, “Master Hykel’s training is fine. It made me strong quickly… pain isn’t a big deal for that.”
Reina shook her head, “I guess. So um… if you’re so strong, where’s your weapon… and armor?”
“Ah… I dropped my axe when I got knocked down that hill by a giant boar. That mangled my breastplate.” Barrett looked down at his arms and legs, which still had functional- if battered- armor.
“You got hit by one of those boars… and you’re not dead? I guess that training really works. I still think you’re crazy though.”
“Maybe… but I don’t like being weak more than I don’t like pain.”
Barrett and Reina came across large beasts as they travelled. Though they avoided them if they could, that wasn’t usually the case. Their fighting styles couldn’t be more different. While Barrett didn’t have his axe, he wasn’t helpless. A punch or kick could contain berserk energy just as well as his axe- perhaps better if one considered that his body would recover from any damage the berserk energy caused. Meanwhile, Reina floated around like a feather. There wasn’t much momentum behind her attacks, but she had a sharp sword and speed. She would defeat enemies with swift cuts to vital locations.
Barrett could barely believe the transformation she had gone through. She hadn’t even had basic combat training before, and though he understood how much he himself had changed in a few years, it was still startling. “You’re already a second tier… swashbuckler?”
“The Sword of Four Winds style isn’t exactly a swashbuckling style, since we use wind attribute energy and a little magic, but the name doesn’t really matter. I’ve just barely reached the second tier, but haven’t you done so as well?”
“Well, yes… but the Immortal Berserker Style sacrifices safety for training speed and power. We started at pretty much the same point but you still arrived at the same point.”
“Mistress said I was particularly suited to the style, and didn’t I basically have a half year extra?”
“I suppose so. It’s just that none of those in the Southern Tiger School were advancing as quickly as me.” Barrett stroked his chin. “The Sword of Four Winds style… I don’t recall that one being local.”
“It isn’t… Mistress just happened to be here. Then she decided to train me. Actually, isn’t your Immortal Berserker Sect not truly local either? They should be from the same area to the west, I believe.”
“Really? Master Hykel didn’t mention your school… On the other hand he doesn’t talk about there much at all.”
“He probably didn’t realize Mistress was in the area, either. She knew he was staying in this country for some reason, but had heard that all of his disciples… quit.”
Reina frowned, “You… are crazy.”
“Perhaps I was. Now, I don’t actually have any significant chance of death from my training. I’m actually less likely to die to outside influences.” Barrett shrugged, “I got stabbed full of wounds on a battlefield and lived through it because of my training.”
“Would you have been there without the training though?”
“Probably, yes. There was a draft after all. Being in a different warrior school wouldn’t have made much difference. I didn’t want to stay in Ashia, so I would likely have ended up here regardless. I could have been drafted as a common laborer. Actually, I was supposed to be exempt from the draft.”
“Oh, I heard about that.”
“Well, there was the whole thing with the council…”
“What?” Though his bandages covered it, Barrett’s face lit up in realization. “Oh. I hadn’t… thought about that.”
“You didn’t know?”
Barrett shook his head, “Master Hykel didn’t say it. He just mentioned my situation was dealt with.”
The two of them remained on alert as they travelled through the forest. Barrett hadn’t yet seen those who had been killing the other trainees, but it was possible they were still around. They might even be able to track them. During the night, one of the two would stay on watch while the other rested. This meant they both got less rest than they should have, but that was better than dying in their sleep. Besides, it would only take a few more days to reach the exit of the forest.
“Shh!” Reina held her finger up, and actually managed to make a quiet shushing noise. “Do you hear that?” she whispered.
Barrett nodded, “Voices. It might be another group… or…”
Reina gestured that they should sneak closer. As they did so, the voices became clearer. “How should I know?”
There was also another voice, quieter than the first, “… prove it.”
Barrett’s ears twitched. “I recognize those voices.” He peeked around the edge of a large tree, then nodded, “I know them.”
He walked out from behind the tree, “Yo!” He intentionally made his voice louder so they would hear him, but all three figures jumped.
“Bwah, Barrett?” Lamont stood there blinking.
All three figures took defensive stances. “That’s right, it’s me. I didn’t expect to see all of you together.” He nodded to each of them, “Lamont… Shanta… … twig-girl.”
Barrett saw her eye twitch as he said that. “Bandage boy.” That was an acknowledgement of his presence if nothing else. “Who’s that?” She nodded toward Reina who had followed behind him.
“This is my friend Reina.”
“Uh huh.” Twig-girl had an unreadable expression. “In that case, who are those two?”
Barrett turned to look to see… himself and Reina, coming out from behind another tree. “Fakes, I guess?”
“Aren’t you the fakes?” the other Barrett sounded just like him, and even spoke as he would have. At the same time, they both shook their heads and sighed.