The group cautiously approached the edge of the forest. The trees were rapidly thinning, which left fewer places for enemies to hide…but also made it easier to find them. Since they weren’t sure about the situation, they couldn’t be sure if this would actually be a safe zone.
“Over there.” Reina spoke in a hushed voice and pointed. “Many people are gathered.”
“I think I see Master Hykel…” Barrett commented.
Before they could discuss anything, there was the sound of a strong breeze, and a woman appeared in front of them. She was tall and fair skinned, and wore an elegant but practical dress that seemed to flutter in the breeze. Everyone moved into a defensive stance… except Reina.
“Mistress!” Reina bowed.
The eyes of Reina’s teacher swept over the group. Barrett could feel the strength behind the gaze, and that there was something more. If this wasn’t Reina’s teacher, they would be in serious trouble.
She nodded, “Good. You made it out. We had not expected… this sort of trouble.” She waved her hand, “Come, let use take you to the group.”
As Barrett approached closer, he noticed many of the students and some of the masters were injured. He was relieved to see that Master Hykel was uninjured… but realized it meant nothing. He could have been filled with injuries that would take a month to heal merely an hour ago, and he would have looked pretty much the same. Not that he’d ever actually seen him injured, outside of the aftereffects of a destruction.
Brody was in the those who had made it back, but Barrett noticed one person missing from their group. There were also many others missing. Barrett thought perhaps half of the students had not yet returned. While some might be able to make it back in the coming days, he knew that many had died.
“Barrett.” A hand on his shoulder startled Barrett out of his thoughts. He looked up to see Master Hykel, “I’m glad you made it back.” Master Hykel raised his eyebrows, “What happened to your equipment?”
“Ah, well, there was this giant boar… and then a second one.” Barrett told the whole story as well as he could.
“That’s why you have to remain aware of your surroundings!” Master Hykel patted Barrett on the shoulder, “Don’t worry about the armor and axe. I’ll get you new ones.”
“Oh, right… we got a little bit of information about the assassins. They might have been from… the Black Adders?”
Master Hykel nodded. “That’s right. Some of their leaders came to distract us. Groups like them sometimes like to take advantage of events like this. Unfortunately for them… they didn’t have sufficient intel on the situation. There are a handful of us here who don’t normally come to these events.”
“There’s not much point in going without students. Stieber and some others are out dealing with the rest of them at their secret hideout. He’s… good at getting information out of people.”
“It’s really that simple?”
Master Hykel shrugged. “Killing people is simple. Saving people isn’t. We couldn’t be everywhere, and many people will never return from that forest.”
Barrett was glad he was one of them. He felt sorry for those who hadn’t survived, but it wasn’t like his death would have helped anyone. On the contrary- he was involved with fighting and killing a handful of them. Though he hadn’t sought out more to try to stop them, he didn’t really have the proper skills to track them down. Without knowing their numbers, it was foolish anyway.
Fighting assassins trying to kill them was likely good training for those who survived, but there was a reason it wasn’t done that way. Far too many people died. The assassins themselves had only expected a small number of deaths on their side, but both the apprentices and more experienced members had died because they chose the wrong targets. For a normal year, they might have succeeded- but they didn’t take into account a few exceptional individuals.
The trip back home was easy in terms of traveling, but the training along the way was actually more intense than normal.
Master Hykel cracked his knuckles, “The fact that your armor got damaged to the point of being useless means you hadn’t trained enough on your awareness and reaction times. We’ll work on that next.”
What that meant was that at various points on the trip Master Hykel would throw a rock or something else at Barrett without warning. Small rocks wouldn’t be enough to damage Barrett… if thrown by normal people. With Master Hykel throwing them, they could and sometimes did break bones. The rocks themselves sometimes broke in the process, but Barrett found himself covered in bruises and broken bones. It was difficult to dodge even if he was watching Master Hykel at every moment, and if he was the rocks usually came even faster.
At first he mostly just got pummelled, but by the end of the trip he was actually managing to dodge some. He came to recognize the sounds of shifting weight and sudden movement. Beyond that, though, he gained a strange ability to sense what was happening even where he wasn’t looking.
Master Hykel nodded, “Good, good. You’re getting it. Training for this is harder for berserkers. Berserk energy isn’t suited for sensing, and isn’t stable enough to keep active continually anyway.”
“How does this even work?” Barrett frowned.
“You’ve been subconsciously gathering other types of energy besides berserk energy. You’ve picked up some traces of different kinds from those you have fought. While berserk energy will drive out most of everything else, enough will remain for you to use for things like sensing. As you grow stronger, you’ll be able to use it more.”
“That seems… good. Say… is it possible for me to learn magic? Mana is mostly external, so it could work, right? I haven’t really been tested… except for fire affinity.”
“Not yet. Even if you had the affinity… it would be a waste of time to split your attention right now. We can see if you have affinity for anything… later. Maybe in a few years.”
“Okay. It was just a thought anyway.”