Barrett kept looking over his shoulder, back down the road.
“See something?” Master Hykel asked.
Barrett shook his head, “I just… don’t want to leave things unresolved.”
Master Hykel shrugged. “We can go back. You have my help if you need it…”
“But… you don’t think it’s best for me.” Barrett sighed, “I think you’re right, but I can’t really control my worries.”
Master Hykel nodded, “Durham is much bigger than Triridge. The fact that your family, the ruling family of the city, could have something happen to them… implies something more than just your cousin and aunt were involved. That means someone high enough in the authority of the country of Ashia to make it happen- or at least able to cover up what really happened.”
“Hmm. I hadn’t really thought about that. The king certainly isn’t fond of city leaders killing each other off, though I got the sense from my lessons that sometimes people got away with it. However, burning down my family’s manor wasn’t exactly… subtle. Nobody escaped, either. Reina and I were probably lucky to look like we died.”
“Indeed. I expect there were people watching.”
“Do you think Mistress Seviren would know something? She found Reina the morning after the fire…”
“…” Barrett sighed, “I’d say ‘why didn’t she say anything’ but I didn’t really ask. There would probably be a good reason as well. Or maybe she didn’t see anything. She did say she was just passing through. Didn’t she say she checked the scene of the fire on a whim?”
“Something like that,” Master Hykel nodded seriously, “Sometimes it’s good to follow whims. You never know what you might find.” Master Hykel scratched his chin, “There were a surprisingly large number of excellent candidates in these small countries. You and your friends, really.”
“Hmm. Couldn’t there have been more, then? I mean, maybe there are people waiting to be found by the right master everywhere.” Barrett wanted to continue the conversation, not just because it meant a break from the running… but because he was curious.
“Maybe a few. Tell me, do you believe in fate?”
“Well…” Barrett shrugged, “I don’t know. What do you mean by fate? Do you mean things are predestined?”
“Fate is finding a pupil with a true immortal body after a decade of waiting.”
“…Is that fate? You were looking for me, or someone like me, right?”
“I was, but I asked a prophet. Some people have a discernment of fate.”
“Hmm. I don’t really understand how that can work. What if you didn’t go to them?”
“Then I wouldn’t have come here, and we would not have met… and there would have been no fate between us. Likewise, if you hadn’t chosen to the martial recruitment event that would have also been the case.”
“But if I had to make a choice and you had to make a choice, how can we both actually choose and have fate? When you talked to the prophet, did that choice and the prophecy actually make my choice?”
Master Hykel shrugged, “Who can know? The only thing that is for sure is that those who cultivate the body, or energy, or magic… they are bound to run into others who do the same. There is the simple explanation- that those who do similar things choose to go to the same places- but there is certainly more to it. You and your friends all finding masters and congregating in the same area at the same time is one of those things. Furthermore, as masters we were also connected to each other before. You could say it’s a coincidence Mistress Joshi and Nilima stopped in Verton when they did. It would be hard to prove otherwise, but there’s more to it.”
“Well, while masters with connections and their students meeting up isn’t particularly novel, it’s not that often that people stumble upon a perfect student. That said, your friends are all just as suited to their specific masters and their styles as you are with me- including your immortal body.” Master Hykel frowned, “Not that they’ll say it like that to them. If I didn’t have to explain a true immortal body to you, I probably wouldn’t have. At least, not yet. It’s easy for people to get cocky.”
“Does this include Lamont? I mean, both he and his master are local… right?”
“Lamont was local, but his master was not.”
“Hmm.” Barrett nodded. He had certainly not thought that his friends were any worse than him. He might have won more spars against some of them, but that was because they couldn’t afford to get injured. Real fights were something else entirely. Barrett tried to imagine Nilima succeeding with any other technique than what she had- but with her twiglike body she would have had some difficulties. Even so, she could distribute the force from one of his blows so that she only got knocked flying instead of breaking arms… or ribs, or anything. The others all had their own strengths as well. Before Reina was taught by Mistress Seviren, Barrett doubted that she had ever fought anyone. However, she was clearly an excellent combatant now. Her sleek, elegant moves were beautiful, just like her. Barrett could think about those memories all day… but then he wouldn’t get any training done. “Ah, is Mistress Seviren’s school somewhere near the Immortal Berserker Sect?”
“More or less. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of chances to see your girlfriend in the future.”
“Ah…” Barrett scratched the back of his head. He wanted to deny it, but he had to admit that he liked the sound of it. He hadn’t really thought about her that way much before the fire… but that was because she was his servant and he expected to be married mostly for political reasons. His parents wouldn’t have forced him into anything… but he knew they would have found someone acceptable to both Barrett and them. Probably.
“Alright, that’s a long enough break. Let’s move!”
Barrett sighed, and prepared for another tough run. He enjoyed improving… but the process itself wasn’t always fun.