After they left the earshot of others, Barrett asked Kaylani, “What are the details of our mission? The mission summary only said you were looking for people capable of contesting with third tier opponents… without weapons or armor.”
“Well, technically you’d be fine as long as they aren’t metal… but we’ll be fighting metal energy cultivators and mages. Like me, but, well… not me.”
“Tch.” Nilima shrugged, “I guess it couldn’t be that easy, could it? If we just had to defeat you we could get paid and go home.”
Kaylani frowned, “And what do you mean by that?”
“Nothing much. Barrett beat you in that last tournament, and I beat him, so with the two of us together… you don’t stand much chance.”
“… a fair assessment. How would your technique fare against someone like me in single combat?”
“You have internal organs?” Nilima asked.
“Umm… yes? We’re fairly closely related to humans. Our cultivators generally have strong internal organs though.”
“How strong? Compared to, say… Barrett over there?”
Kaylani shook her head, her silvery hair staying locked in position with her head. “I don’t know. I haven’t ever damaged him enough to determine the toughness of his internal organs. However mine could be compared to steel.”
“What quality steel? All the way through or just on the outside? Does that count the brain? Spinal cord?”
“… Are these details necessary?”
“Sure. If I’m killing people like you I need to know.”
“Well, you don’t necessarily have to kill them but… it might be preferred. We can talk about the details later.”
“Anyway…” Kaylani continued, “According to the details of the mission you will only be responsible for engaging in combat with those actually attacking our clan. In particular we have recently had conflicts with another clan, the Bachons. They have launched increasingly bold attacks while our hunters were out. Many of our guards have been injured, and thus we needed to call on outside aid.”
“How many do you expect to attack?”
“Ten to twenty. Maybe more. Mostly first and second tier, but they have at least one third tier. I could at least delay any third tier opponent but they likely have more. We are a stronger clan but we can’t afford to have our best hunters continuously guard the village. Moreover, we have to guard two locations. Our village, and the spring we recently acquired.”
“A spring?” Barrett asked, “While water isn’t that common here, I’ve passed many actual streams. It it something else?”
Kaylani nodded, “It’s a metal spring.”
“…Isn’t there an entire metal ocean not far away? What’s different?”
“The spring is pure mercury. The sea itself, however, is mostly rubidium and then gallium. While it also contains mercury, it is a tiring process to extract it, and it is less than one part in a hundred of the whole. It also is deeper in the sea, where dangerous beasts dwell.”
“And mercury is better why? Isn’t it toxic?” Barrett knew some things about each of the metals Kaylani mentioned, but they were not extremely common in most places.
Kaylani shrugged, “It is not hard to remove it from the bloodstream with the right techniques. It is, however, very dense.”
“And usually liquid, right?” Barrett frowned, “Not much good for weapons or armor…”
“Not for you, no. However, it is quite useful for us.” Kaylani held up a metal ball, “See this?” She tossed it to Barrett.
Barrett almost dropped it- not because it was heavier than expected, but because its impact was… different. It was still a solid ball, but it moved unpredictably after it impacted his hand. He shook it back and forth gently a few times, “There’s mercury inside this?” He tossed it back, and saw it slow down in the air before Kaylani snatched it.
“That’s right. It can also be used defensively if you are powerful enough to control large quantities of it. It’s easy enough to temporarily harden it with magic but since it is normally liquid it’s easier to reshape if you want to. It’s also more than half again as heavy compared to iron and steel. While that is a drawback when you aren’t strong enough…”
Barrett nodded, “Eventually you need something more. Lead is almost as heavy, right? But a shell of steel around mercury could be better…”
Kaylani shrugged, “If you can make it, anyway. Some metal magic is necessary to make it right, and even then they might collapse more easily without continued control. There are better options available at high tiers but… for our clan, a large amount of mercury is very valuable. We can’t just give it up.”
“I imagine you aren’t interested in sharing, either.”
“We wouldn’t mind combined control of the spring with some other clan… but not the Bachons. We’ve been enemies for some time. We discovered this spring, and it is within our lands, but they still chose to attack us instead of even attempting to negotiate. Unfortunately, we don’t have the resources to strike back at them. They shouldn’t be free to attack us, either, but perhaps the spring is worth enough to them to take the risk. So far they have done surprisingly well…” Kaylani shook her head.
“That’s because we weren’t here!” Nilima punched her fists together, “We’ll kick their asses if they dare show up. Unless you guys have magic spinal cords or something.”
“They shouldn’t. The snakes out here had pretty normal spinal cords. Except for the metal I guess.” Barrett pulled out the head and made a terribly unrealistic hissing noise, clapping the jaw open and closed. Then he turned it around to where it had attached to the rest of the spine, “See?”
Nilima poked it. “Eh, it’s a bit tougher, but if things didn’t get tougher my style would be invincible. I can manage that… though having more targets would be better.”
Kaylani looked at the head in Barrett’s hands, “How big was that one?”
Barrett shrugged, “I haven’t seen any others for reference. Maybe ten meters long.”
“I see. At least we shouldn’t have many worries on our way back to the clan.”