Once Reina’s eye had finished healing, Barrett had to spar against her. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about hitting her. Hitting a girl… wasn’t the real issue. If it was someone who could fight, he didn’t feel that they should be treated differently.
Even after they had sparred a few times he still wasn’t sure how he would feel about it… because he hadn’t managed to hit her. It was exactly like trying to punch the wind. Coupled with the numerous slashes covering him, it looked like Barrett was losing horribly… but that wasn’t quite the case.
Barrett managed to block or dodge any attacks to vulnerable locations. Slashes on his arms and legs might hinder him, but if he was wearing full armor he would be almost undamaged. He was good enough to protect any openings the armor left behind.
Even though Reina avoided his attacks, she didn’t have an easy time of it. She would often run out of endurance before he did, and even though she technically avoided all of his attacks, he still damaged her. The berserk energy that extended beyond his axe or fists was enough to at least scratch her skin, and if he were to actually land a hit it would easily be the end for her.
Still, it could be counted as Barrett’s loss in most cases. Very fast opponents seemed to be a weakness. The assassins hadn’t been fast so much as stealthy, and they had underestimated him. Reina knew very well that she could lose easily- if he could hit her.
One time Barrett had caught her arm after she overextended on a thrust. She couldn’t pull away, so it was immediately her loss- but she also never made that mistake again.
Once Barrett got new armor, their sparring changed a bit. Since she only had a few locations where she could attack, she left more openings when doing so. Those openings were enough for Barrett to land a hit- or preferably a grab. If he hit her with any serious intent, she could be injured for a week. Unlike Nilima who managed to absorb most of the force of blows, Reina’s style was more interested in completely avoiding them. She wasn’t completely without defenses, as she wore armor made out of something light like clothing but still considerably strong. However, it was still much weaker than Barrett’s and she didn’t train her bodily toughness either. Barrett supposed she could stand up to more than a regular person, but the whole points was for her not to get hit in the first place.
Barrett closed his eyes as the flames washed over him… then opened them quickly. It was much worse with his eyes closed. With his eyes closed he would remember his home and family. Reina wasn’t dead, but the memories of thinking she was still remained. The flames also brought with them the first experience of what felt like death, even if he’d barely survived.
With his eyes open, he could see that he was not in a burning house. Through the flames, he could make out the form of Lamont, and that reminded him of what he was doing.
He was training to overcome the very things he was feeling. Lamont was merely there to help him.
The flames licked over his skin. They were hot, and Barrett could smell his skin charring. His hair had burned off the first time they did this and the sensation had convinced him to shave himself as much as possible for subsequent times. The fire hurt, and Barrett trembled. The pain he could handle, but the other feelings were what caused him the most distress.
Barrett bit into his lip until he drew blood. Perhaps before the force of his bite would have bitten the lip clean off. As it was, the wound was deep. It would require stitches to stop the bleeding. Even if he healed quickly, it wasn’t enough to ignore bleeding wounds. The pain, however, helped him to ignore the other pain.
“Enough! Stop!” As soon as Barrett called out, Lamont stopped his magic, putting his hands on his knees and panting.
“You know…” Lamont took a deep breath, “Isn’t this… supposed to be… training for you?” He wiped sweat from his forehead, “Why is it… harder for me?”
Barrett relished the feeling of the cool air on his skin for a moment before picking himself up off the ground and proceeding over to his pile of clothes to start wrapping himself in bandages. “Don’t belittle yourself. It takes a lot of effort for you to control the magic to just the right amount.”
“Hah. I’m glad to be on this side of the fire.”
Barrett wished that Shanta were around. She could stitch up his his lip easily… Master Hykel could do the same, but he wasn’t as skillful. Besides, Barrett preferred being treated by a pretty lady instead of a gruff man.
When Barrett found Master Hykel, he found him standing with a sword in his gut, and his hand around the throat of a woman. “I lose.” Reina’s Mistress, Bridgette Seviren, slowly pulled out five centimeters of bloody sword as she shook her head. “Honestly, what are your organs made of? Without a perfectly straight stab my sword just slides right off, if I can even stab through your muscle.
Master Hykel gently released his grip and pulled back his arm, “The same thing as everyone else… mostly.” He turned around, “Ah, Barrett! I can… smell that you have been training.”
The normal smell of Barrett’s training was sweat… and Master Hykel wouldn’t have been able to notice Barrett’s over his own. However, the Barrett’s current burnt smell was quite distinct. “Yeah.”
Master Hykel moved to pat Barrett on the shoulder, but pulled up short, “Don’t sound so down! You’re doing very well to face your fear like that! Tempering the body with fire is also good for you.”
Barrett nodded. The wound on his lip was actually almost cauterized closed, so he didn’t really need stitches this time. “It is… but I can only stand a few minutes at best, no matter how hot or cool the fire.”
“I’d still call that a significant improvement. In a fight, you won’t have trouble with momentary flames. It takes a lot of work to overcome a fear. You know, I used to be afraid of heights?’
“Yeah… I didn’t get over it even up until I entered the third tier. Then my master threw me off of a mountain.”
“That… helped you not be afraid?”
“Oh, sure. Anytime I see a large cliff, I just think, ‘well, at least it’s not as scary as my master’.”
“… Thanks for being a good master, Master Hykel.”