Barrett crested a rise only to be faced with a large pit- a depression in the top of the mountain… or perhaps that used to be the top of the mountain. It was a giant circle that dropped into the ground for a dozen or so meters before ending in glowing red-orange rocks. That would be lava, then.
Ruben was right behind Barrett… and the terrain had stopped being so difficult. It only gently sloped up until the pit full of lava… and Barrett would have to run the long way around if he wanted to run. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fast enough for that.
He held his axe ready as he turned to face Ruben. “Come on then.” Barrett had already lost to Ruben not long before. He probably wasn’t going to survive this… but he’d already accomplished his goal. Hopefully, it was enough.
“Finally. You’re a real pain to chase after. What a coward.”
Barrett didn’t respond to the provocation, merely keeping his position and taking the chance to catch his breath. That was difficult, as the heat was significant… and there were putrid fumes making the air impure. Ruben came within range and swung his halberd, covered in flames of rage.
Barrett’s body moved almost on its own. It seemed to be the move Ruben was most fond of. His axe hooked onto the haft of the halberd and diverted it over his head, leaving Ruben open for a counterattack. Barrett’s axe plunged into Ruben’s chest, aided by no small amount of berserk energy.
There was a cracking sound as Barrett’s axe found the same break he had caused before… but unfortunately at a different angle. Barrett saw blood, but he had to retreat to keep from being grabbed. If he let Ruben get a hold on him, he would likely burn to death regardless of the other’s grappling skills.
The close proximity to Ruben had briefly covered Barrett in fire… and even after he retreated what remained of his hair and clothing continued to burn. It was painful but… not unbearably so. Barrett was reminded of accidentally reaching his hand toward a cooking fire back in the manor…
Ruben’s chest was already healing. The blood was evaporating, and behind it the skin was starting to knit together. Barrett frowned as he thought he saw something… but he didn’t have time to think about whatever it was as he was once again attacked by a flaming halberd.
Barrett and Ruben continued to trade blows. Barrett felt his armor begin to crack and break, especially as it started to weaken from the heat. Meanwhile, he put all of his effort toward attacking Ruben’s chest and the ever weakening armor there.
Blood dripped down Barrett’s forehead only to dry and crack nearly instantly. There was no part of him that was unwounded… though nothing was actually deep. Meanwhile, the dozen or so wounds on Ruben’s chest were in various states of recovery. Barrett’s lungs screamed for air, but there was none to be had. There was only fire and smoke. Even so… Ruben’s breathing was not much easier.
“Just give up. I am at an advantage here. I train to resist the heat. Wouldn’t you like your little girlfriend to see your body in one piece instead of sliced and diced?” Ruben didn’t actually wait to see whether or not Barrett wanted to surrender. He once again swung his halberd in a cross-body slash.
Barrett moved to dodge… or he would have if his body would move at all. It wasn’t even a trick by Ruben… but merely his own exhaustion. He heard the sound of rending metal, felt a searing pain in his right shoulder… and found himself knocked to the ground and to the side.
He lay on the ground and looked to his right. “Ah, that’s what it was. Just my arm being cut off.” Barrett climbed to his knees, coughing. “That doesn’t matter. I understand now.”
Ruben just shook his head as he looked at the confused figure kneeling before him, “I have no idea how you made it this far, but this is where it ends.” He hefted his halberd, bringing it down toward the pathetic form in front of him.
Then, suddenly, his defeated opponent moved. Barrett had no more energy or physical stamina… but a good cultivator knew that was never quite true. There was always more energy to be had if you weren’t dead. In particular berserkers could always dredge up more energy… at a price. Generating berserk energy came with tiredness of its own, but that could be delayed- though it would be more costly later. Barrett could also overdraft his own muscles to let them move again… and so he did. He held nothing back as he sprang forward, diving under the halberd, his one remaining arm grabbing Ruben around the waist.
Then, he continued. It was only a few steps to the edge… and then he was falling… falling into the fire. He didn’t even notice the pain from slamming into the ground, certainly not once he started feeling the true heat from the lava beneath him. Barrett’s skin was instantly burned away. He couldn’t see through the smoke and the blood in his eyes… but he could feel Ruben underneath him.
With his one good arm, he punched down, slamming Ruben’s head into the lava beneath. The dense, viscous liquid rock supported their bodies with only a small bit of give.
Barrett couldn’t even tell what was going on now. He only continued to punch into the barely sensed form beneath him. He couldn’t even tell whether the screaming was Ruben’s or his own. Actually, it had to be both.
Barrett felt his own flesh burning. The skin was already gone, but the muscles were also beginning to char. The heat of lava was nearly impossible to resist… and if it had been two weeks before, Barrett would have been burned to death in mere moments.
However, the current Barrett was different. He had already had some of his flesh burned down to the bone. He’d had fire deep in wounds in his back… and then he’d recovered.
Barrett had no more berserk energy, but he needed it. He recalled the fire of his house burning down- thinking he was dead, Reina was dead… Now, Ruben had wanted to take Reina away against her will. Barrett’s fist slammed down with a cracking sound.
Below him, Barrett could only barely make out Ruben’s form. Mostly, it was some scale armor and a charred corpse. His wound weren’t healing anymore. After all, they required some sort of energy to do so. Ruben trained to resist heat… but only the heat from his own flames. That was why his equipment was the way it was- why he had to use dragon scale instead of a metal breastplate.
Barrett coughed and cackled in victory, but he found himself slumping forward.