Barrett had expected the spring to be bigger… but if it was bigger, it would have been perhaps too impressive. It wasn’t overflowing with something abundant like water, but instead something much rarer, mercury- even around the metal sea. It was only about a meter across and ten centimeters deep. It refilled at a speed rapid enough to fill a large bucket every day- though of course most buckets weren’t meant to hold mercury- about a twentieth of the total amount. The actual storage methods were usually a few tens of glass bottles that were taken away, some to be sold and some to be used by the Leipeka clan.
Barrett wondered at what sort of strange thing was going on beneath the surface that such a heavy metal could be forced to ground level. It certainly wasn’t a normal geological phenomenon- but nothing around the metal seas was something he could consider ‘normal’.
The actual spring was in the center of a small tower that had been built up around it. The tower itself wasn’t to protect the spring- it was unlikely to sustain damage in a battle, and even if the currently available mercury was stolen it would just be an annoying setback. Instead, the tower was for the sake of the guards who had to fight to defend the spring and as a base to control the area around it.
The patrols consisted of two third tier cultivators, ten second tier, and several times as many first tier cultivators. They had just enough numbers to have three groups, one resting, one on patrol, and one training and standing guard around the tower. The tower didn’t have enough space to accommodate everyone- even with the small bunk beds. Thus, the first tier cultivators filled up the area around the tower, behind a smaller less defensible wall. In the case of a siege they could be brought into the central tower if necessary, but there would be almost no extra space available.
Since they didn’t know when an attack might occur, Barrett and Nilima couldn’t go very far in training. In Barrett’s case, he reduced himself to single destructions. Although he could do about a dozen together, that took more energy. A single destruction took relatively less. Even so, within a hour and a half he was at a stable place with recovery above the normal human level. It took a bit more than a week for full recovery with the increase in recovery time at third tier, but he wasn’t going to actually heal any significant amount in combat in any case. A hundred times normal recovery was still very useful, recovering from almost anything in a day, but unless a battle stretched on for hours he wouldn’t do any significant healing. Generally doing destructions in groups was more efficient- there was some amount of time needed to set up in between them, adjusting to the right mental and physical state. A couple of hours every week added up to a significant amount of training time, but in an unsafe environment he couldn’t afford to use up all his energy at once.
Barrett shifted between the positions the same as the rest of the guards. His current assignment was the night watch. It was still uncomfortably warm, but without his metal armor it was merely unpleasant. Compared to being in a volcano, it was quite comfortable. It was hard to stay focused, looking out at the area around the tower. There was almost nothing to be seen. Very few plants, no animals. Patrolling back and forth along the wall was the only thing that temporarily broke up the monotony.
Because he was expecting an entirely different type of enemy, Barrett barely avoided the first attack. It was only a glimmer of killing intent that let him dodge in time. Even so, without his light inner armor he would have still received a deep cut in his side. Barrett kicked out to the side and behind him, but the attacker stepped back. “Enemy!” Barrett called out in warning to the other guards.
There had been no mention of anyone in the Bachon clan who was proficient in stealth. In fact, the general abilities of those in the Southern Metal Sea were not geared toward hiding in the slightest. Just a quick glance solved Barrett’s curiosity. His opponent wasn’t even from the Metal Sea. He could only see the smallest bit of flesh around their eyes, but that and the eyes himself told Barrett his opponent was a normal human. Well, at least not from the same stock as the Metal Sea.
Almost no light from the moon deflected off of the daggers held in each of the assassin’s hands, their blades painted black. Those very same blades slashed at Barrett as his opponent stepped forward, one blade aiming toward his neck and the other stabbing toward his chest.
Even without the element of surprise, the assassin was quick. Barrett barely deflected the knife going toward his throat, though his counterattack toward the second arm made them pull back. Barrett felt a slight trickle of blood on the side of his neck as both fighters stepped back.
The fighters moved back and forth, trading blows to little effect. The assassin wasn’t much interested in staying within Barrett’s reach, and Barrett didn’t want to rush in recklessly. Other guards should have heard Barrett’s warning- they should be able to come help soon, and then the opponent would be easily defeated.
However, Barrett heard fighting elsewhere, which meant this wasn’t the only attacker, and waiting wasn’t necessarily the best idea. He feigned an opening, leading his opponent to stab toward him. If he had an axe ready, he could have cut their arm off, but with just the reach of his arms he was actually a bit less able than the enemy. However, nothing stopped him from grabbing the dagger with his left hand and hammering his opponent’s wrist with his right. Even though they let go even before he struck, he still heard the crunching sound of bone breaking.
Meanwhile, his own left hand was sliced open. That was what happened when trying to catch a dagger directly. Even so, the cuts weren’t deep. Barrett did feel a twinge there, and from his neck. It was even slightly familiar.
Barrett let his eyelids fall, as he once again feigned weakness- but instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to attack, his opponent leapt over the wall. Barrett saw him land softly ten meters below and flee past the numerous first tier guards who had awakened. Barrett rushed toward the other guards on the tower, but the fighting was already over.