None of the bandits besides the leader had anything of much value. While their bows weren’t worthless, they weren’t much good for Barrett either. However, there was no reason not to sell them either. The bandit leader’s armor was likewise less valuable than what Barrett had, but it made him a few coins. More than he’d spent in several months while a young noble, but probably still less valuable than the bowstring Barrett had obtained. Barrett wasn’t sure what it was, just that it was better than the shaft of the bow had been. He’d only used about half his strength and the shaft broke, and that didn’t count any berserk energy. The string itself, however, had survived some subsequent pulling and prodding.
Barrett and the merchants parted ways at the next large city. Barrett still had more travelling to do before he reached the southern metal sea, but it wasn’t a route that normal people would travel. The merchant family would likely head back along their same route, though one that was now hopefully devoid of bandits.
As he headed closer to the metal sea, Barrett noticed a change in landscape. Plants and trees grew smaller and then disappeared entirely. The ground itself changed, turning from standard sorts of dirt into a reddish soil flecked with silver and gold. There were no longer regular towns to stop in, so Barrett had to camp in the wilderness.
Then plants started appearing again. At least, Barrett supposed they could be called plants. They stuck up out of the ground, if nothing else. If he squinted, he could just make out a form that was like a twiggy bush. The key difference was that instead of wood and bark, they were made out of metal. As for what type of metal, Barrett wasn’t exactly sure. There were some that were more silvery, as of iron or any other number of such metals. Then there were copper colored ‘plants’. There were also rusty red plants and the green of oxidized copper. Then, very occasionally, there were some that were a rainbow of colors.
Barrett had read about these plants before he came, but seeing them in person was quite different. Curious, he broke some of them open to see the insides. In fact, they were much like plants. At least, they weren’t solidly one thing, and the inner layers were different. In addition, they all bled a sort of sap- either silvery or somewhat gold. It was much heavier than water in either case.
Barrett hadn’t really taken note since it didn’t bother him, but the ambient temperature had gone up. Quite a bit, in fact. Even at night, it was as hot as midday in summer- though it wasn’t much hotter during the day. It did make Barrett uncomfortable and sweaty, but at least he wasn’t wearing his armor. Not his heavy metal armor anyway. He was already in an area with rust monsters- beasts who ate metal. While they could consume most metals, they preferred ferrous compounds, of which there weren’t as many in the area. Thus, they would prefer Barrett’s weapons and armor. Keeping them in his magic bag meant the rust monsters would have no reason to even approach him- and they would be peaceful. While they probably weren’t a danger to Barrett, they were strange scaly beasts that could grow to the size of a horse… and if they were attacking him because he had weapons and armor available, a single touch by them could weaken either to a point of being useless. Thus, it was better to not have them out in the first place.
Of course, a lack of weapons and armor meant Barrett was more vulnerable to other dangers. He had planned out a route to avoid the most commonly dangerous places, but even if he was perfectly familiar with the area there was no guarantee of safety.
Besides the rust monsters, there were scorpions and lizards and other creatures with metallic scales, but for the most part they were small and non-threatening. If Barrett didn’t give them reason to attack, they would not bother with something so much bigger than them.
Barrett still kept his senses alert for dangers. Though there weren’t many places to hide behind plants or even much in the way of hills, there were still many burrowing creatures. Barrett couldn’t sense very far into the ground, but his training in earth magic helped somewhat, gaining him about a quarter further that he could sense. Earth magic overlapped with metal, after all, so it was still effective.
Various creatures moved about under the ground, leaving very little indication of their presence behind. However, Barrett felt something larger approaching rapidly, and knew its target could only be him. If he had waited until he felt the ground move or saw any physical trace of it, he would not have been able to dodge as the snake sprang out of the ground.
As it was, he barely avoided its sudden burst of speed. With the snake half out of the sand, it was already five meters long and at least as big around as his thigh. Seemingly unperturbed by his dodging, the snake whipped around toward his legs, still half buried in the sand.
Barrett wished he had his axe out so he could chop it in half… but he couldn’t just instantly pull it out. However, that didn’t mean he couldn’t fight. If that were the case, he would never have even considered the mission.
Barrett jumped over the snake as it swept toward him, moving toward its midsection which was sticking out of the sand and immobile. He stomped down, his foot coated in berserk energy. Surprisingly, the snake’s body was both tough and springy, giving slightly before returning to its state seemingly undamaged. At the same time, the snake pulled itself up and around, swinging around his waist. He couldn’t jump over or duck under fast enough, and found it starting to wrap around him, squeezing him.
His arms were still free, so he brought his elbow down on the top coil. There was a crack but the snake continued to move around and around, making more coils. Barrett covered himself in berserk energy in every spot it touched him. While it might not cause significant damage immediately, continued application of berserk energy would wear down on anything. Barrett just hoped the snake would go before him.