The Leipeka clan only had a few hundred members. That put them at the size of a small town, but that was only in reference to normal places. The Southern Metal Sea and the area around it generally had fewer people. This was because of the difficulty of obtaining food resources. Agriculture was difficult without anything resembling normal soil, and the ‘plants’ that did exist were smaller. Likewise, the wildlife wasn’t easy to hunt or raise.
They did trade for outside food, but while it might seem that they could become extremely wealthy by trading their natural resources with nearby countries, there wasn’t much trade overall. Most countries nearby could more cheaply mine iron or transport it from elsewhere, and some of the more rare metals weren’t much good for everyday use. There was danger in transporting the goods- they could be destroyed by rust monsters or the transporters could be killed by other monsters. Most importantly, while there was an abundance of metals, they still needed to be purified into usable forms. This wasn’t something that could be done by regular blacksmiths but needed metal cultivators… and while they were plentiful around the Southern Metal Sea, it still took enough time and effort that the area wasn’t considered extremely rich.
The Leipeka clan was, however, much richer than the average citizens of the Southern Metal Sea. That was how they could afford to hire third tier cultivators, but of course they also needed to do so to defend their wealth.
Barrett admired the walls around their land. They were tall and sturdy- over five meters tall and more than a meter thick. More importantly, while iron was abundant in the area it would easily rust. The walls around the clan were not only rust free, but also nearly seamless. Barrett couldn’t imagine how much labor had gone into the construction, but it wasn’t something that could have been done in just a handful of years, even by talented metal cultivators.
“The walls are very impressive,” Barrett complimented.
“Thank you,” Kaylani smiled, “It took many generations for them to reach their current height.”
Nilima tilted her head, “Are these walls even any good? I mean, sure they look strong and hard to climb, but you’d face off against metal cultivators most of the time right?”
Kaylani shook her head, “Even a hundred metal cultivators would have trouble bringing down or tearing apart one section of wall, and that is just from the mass alone. It is made from a special formula and worked with magic such that it cannot be manipulated any longer. Not without spending days to unravel the enchantments from the inside, at which point they already control everything.”
“Oh.” Nilima rubbed her hand against the wall. “Seems good. Mostly.”
Kaylani frowned, “Have more criticisms?”
Nilima shook her head, “It’s probably fine.”
Barrett sighed. Nilima was blunt and not interested in being diplomatic. Barrett had considered the possible weaknesses too, but walls didn’t stand for long if they didn’t work.
Kaylani introduced the two of them to several people on the way. “Finally, this is Kaipo, the captain of the guard. You’ll mostly be coordinating with him.”
The captain of the guard was a tall man. He wasn’t particularly bulky, even less than Master Hykel… but he also didn’t seem to be a warrior. Not that his body wasn’t somewhat trained, but from what he could tell most of those in the clan focused on metal energy cultivation and magic. Kaipo looked over the two with Kaylani. “Is this all you brought?”
“What?” Nilima glared at him and took a stance, “Wanna fight?” Barrett shook his head. It was already somewhat restrained of her to act that way. At least she hadn’t actually attacked yet.
Kaylani stepped between the two of them smiling softly. “This is Nilima, the winner of last year’s second tier tournament. Since then she has advanced from mid second tier to early third tier. Barrett is the one who defeated me in that tournament… and in the tournament in Voscea before that. He was only defeated by her.” Kaylani didn’t mention that Barrett’s defeat wasn’t in the final round. She turned to Barrett and Nilima, “As you know, we were hoping for more people to take the mission.”
Kaipo inclined his head, “Indeed. We have more than ten third tier combatants already… two more will not bolster our combat prowess as much as we might have hoped. I meant no offense.”
“Fine.” Nilima returned to a neutral position almost instantly.
Kaipo continued, “The two of you will be assigned to defend our most recent expansion. As young miss has likely explained, it is a point of contention. The clan ground are quite well defended with our walls and some magical formations, but we have not yet been able to bolster our defenses elsewhere as much as we might wish. We anticipate another attack in the next few weeks. You will be paid for at least a month even if we do not need to retain you that long, preferably because the enemy has been sufficiently weakened.”
Barrett nodded. The contract in Stredo was taken with the knowledge that there would be danger, and the possibility of death. If they abandoned the mission out of fear of their own life there would be consequences for them. That said, they didn’t have to fight to the death, and if the enemy forces were significantly more dangerous than the contract specified they didn’t have to fight a hopeless battle. Of course, as their employers the Leipeka clan also a responsibility to take care of them. Regardless of whether or not their threat assessment was correct, they would look bad if people working for them died. Of course they could also lose control of the mercury spring without anyone dying, though that wasn’t extremely likely- unless the Bachon clan had a large show of force such as over twenty third tier cultivators or a handful of fourth tier cultivators and otherwise equal numbers.
According to what Barrett had been told, they only had around half that many third tier cultivators, and that was even leaving their clan lightly defended. Even if they could hire more people, they wouldn’t have as much money as the Leipeka clan so they would likely not get much help that way. It was even possible they wouldn’t attack at all… but knowing people, Barrett doubted that.