Haven was quite a small city, but certainly more than a town. It was the home base of the sect that had taken on the same name. They had several styles they shared among themselves, and auxiliary members who had joined with their own styles. It couldn’t yet be said to be an impressive figure in the region- not for the sake of its cultivators at least- but it was on track to someday be a force to be reckoned with.
As one of the fourth tier members, Mistress Simran had responsibilities towards the sect. Fortunately she was only minimally involved with the administrative side of things, but she had students to take care of. She wasn’t sure if she was qualified to teach them… but someone had to. She did her best to teach as Grandmaster Ravenhall had, but she couldn’t replicate that exactly. Nor did she think he would have wanted that. He did his best to match himself to whoever was learning, so Simran couldn’t even guess exactly what he would do. She wasn’t as good at judging the limits people had, for the sake of testing them as a Pure Body Temperer, but she thought she’d picked out some good students regardless. They’d at least started on the path.
She was enjoying a day by the lake. Currently she was letting herself dry. She wanted to step on the water like Grandmaster Ravenhall… but it seemed beyond her at the moment. At most, she could skip off the surface of the water momentarily.
Simran turned her head when someone approached. A messenger. He bowed his head, “Mistress Simran. There is a traveler who says he has come from afar to challenge you to a match. He appears to be a Pure Body Temperer.”
“A friendly match?”
“He says he hopes you will both be enlightened by the experience. I saw no trace of malice in him.”
“Very well. Provide accommodations for him, and tell him we shall have our match tomorrow.” Simran still found it strange to speak and be spoken to in a formal fashion, but some things were expected.
Pure Body Temperers were a rarity. Mistress Simran had come across several in her time of cultivation, but she could count them on their hands- outside of her fellow students. The opponent she faced posed an impressive figure, but he radiated friendliness. A combative friendliness, but honest competition was quite welcome in Haven. They spoke only a few words before the match began.
As Pure Body Temperers, a match without weapons or armor was quite desirable for both of them. They could compete in pure strength and skill. While weapons might provide an advantage in an actual battle, in friendly competition they made it more difficult. Haven couldn’t afford a proper battle arena that would protect those inside of it from grievous injury, so leaving out the weapons entirely as long as the match would remain fair provided the best chance to not hold back.
Mistress Simran didn’t go easy on the challenger. He wouldn’t want that, if he was serious, and he knew of her strength. Her body moved perfectly in sync with itself, her arms and legs flowing from one move into the next.
The challenger defended himself brilliantly, striking back where opportunity arose. His strength matched hers, though his style differed. While saying that his body didn’t move as one unit would be incorrect, the way his movements felt was different. He was more prone to strange body movements that could only be done with Pure Body Tempering than just perfecting the way a normal body could move.
The battle was evenly matched enough that both contestants began to tire together… but Simran started to notice something. While her opponent’s strength and speed were nearly matched with her, his technique was better. She didn’t know how much more experience he had in battle, but as the battle stretched on it became more apparent. She didn’t let herself give up, however. She hadn’t lost yet, and she would give the best she had.
Bodies moved back and forth, arms and legs striking and parrying. Simran could see she now wouldn’t be able to win… but if she could prolong the match and reach a draw she would be satisfied. Even if she lost now there was nothing to be ashamed of, and she could learn something.
Then she found an opening. A leg off balance. She swept her own leg under it… only to realize that none of the weight was being borne by her opponent there at all. The challenger toppled head over heels under his own volition, pulling her off her balancing leg and throwing her into the dirt. In the same strange tumble, his leg came over his head and down towards her throat, before instantly stopping.
“Let’s stop this here,” the man said.
“Of course,” Simran agreed. “I admit defeat.”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” said the man. His voice seemed… almost familiar. “Though I held back my body, I do have a few more years of experience than you.” His face distorted, changing. Not with magic… but the muscles and bones reshaped themselves to return to a familiar face.
“Grandmaster Ravenhall…?” It was a mix between a statement and a question. Simran was surprised to see that face… and in such a manner. However, his build fit her memory… and so did the fighting style.
“That’s right.” His voice finished returning to normal as the rest of his body adjusted. “I have to say, wearing another face is quite unpleasant. I don’t expect to do it often.”
Barrett was glad to see Haven was doing well. They were not without their troubles, but they had grown strong enough to have a foothold in the region, and they had built up friendly relationships with other sects such that they couldn’t be ignored. That had been the intent before he and Nilima left, because the threat of grandmasters somewhere far away wouldn’t necessarily mean anything.
Simran’s technique was excellent. Her body was in perfect balance. As she had stepped forward to attack, she took the power from the muscles that weren’t working and transferred it to those that were quite naturally. It had started out as her making up for inadequate bodily power, but now that she had the physical foundation to support it she was that much more effective. It was a style that could tire her out quickly but pull out the maximum amount of power she had at every moment. If she quickly defeated an opponent, it would be all the better. Regardless of that, she had the stamina to continue at her maximum output for quite a while. Barrett had noticed a few flaws, but they were things that only a grandmaster could easily exploit. He gently mentioned some ways she could improve, then came to a topic he was quite curious about.
“The battle didn’t turn into one with much bloodshed. Have you trained the technique I left behind?”
Simran bit her lip. “I studied the blood, and applied some things to myself. However, the technique… didn’t seem to suit me. I allowed some of the others to study it. My apologies.”
Barrett grinned, “Good. I will trust that you made the right choice. How are… those students doing?”
Simran sighed, “They are… quite reckless. Like the berserk energy cultivators and those trained by Grandmistress Nilima, they fight constantly. They get covered in injuries and then recover just to do it all over again.”
“But they succeeded?” Barrett asked. “Any fatalities?”
Simran shook her head, “There were only a few I allowed to study it, and only after they changed their bodies as you instructed. I believe they did it correctly, at least.”
“If they haven’t regressed at all yet, I would say that is likely. How many are there?”
“Only a handful. They needed to be masters or close to it, and there weren’t that many of us. Even as we grow, we have ended up with more cultivators with… lesser talents. I hope you do not mind.”
Barrett kept his expression pleasant. “Of course I don’t. The reason my initial training was as harsh as it was… most people have better options than being Pure Body Temperers. It’s a hard path.”
“I would agree,” Simran bowed her head. “I feel like I’ve just barely begun to understand it myself.”
“Good. That means you have much to keep learning.” Barrett reached into his magic bag and pulled out a box, sealed with runes. “Take this. There are seeds inside. They must not be exposed to magic or energy. I can help you to set up an area where they can be grown into very useful trees. I would have liked to plant them when I was here before… but having valuable plants would have only been a detriment at the time. They will grow into vitality pears… eventually. They do wonders for restoring stamina and healing the body.”
“I believe you mentioned them before. I will be careful in handling them. The box…”
“The magic very specifically doesn’t reach inside. It will fade when you open it, so be careful. Only open it inside the prepared area. You and other Pure Body Temperers can tend to them, or you can hire non-cultivators. Or both.” Barrett turned his head, “Someone’s coming.”
Simran listened, but didn’t hear anything for several seconds. However, eventually she heard the feet approaching. Another messenger entered. “Mistress Simran. An envoy from Ivory Peak is here…”
Simran grimaced, and Barrett raised an eyebrow. “They… are a new part of Heavenly Mountain. Magical bone cultivators. We’re not exactly friends.” Simran turned to the messenger. “Tell him I shall be along shortly.”