No matter how trained someone was, they still made noise. They had to breathe… but even if they held their breath they still made noise. There was always the slight trembling of muscles beneath the skin that they couldn’t escape from. Well, Barrett thought he could probably stop that for some time if necessary, but it didn’t really matter. He couldn’t practically hear that for anyone else anyway. Even with his hearing enhanced to its maximum, anyone more than a foot away didn’t make any detectable noise with just their muscle tremors. People still had to breathe sometimes, however- and larger groups of people had to breathe even more.
Barrett held out a hand to stop Kail, then held a finger up to his lips. It was already hard to pick out breathing further away, and it strained his ears to a point that was painful- though not dangerous. Having people moving around nearby didn’t help when he was trying to pick out something specific. With the relative quiet, he heard what he was seeking, and more.
What had given away the group was one of the steelhead goats with them. No matter how stealthy individuals were, they were only as hidden as the whole of their group. Steelhead goats were relatively easy to train for riding and other work, but teaching them to hold their breath or breathe quietly was another thing entirely. If the group had been moving Barrett would have heard them far sooner and would have a better idea of their numbers, based on the sound of hooves. However, he knew there were at least ten, possibly twenty people ahead.
Though it was muted, he also felt a presence he recognized. It was the leader of the group of Heavy Blades that had attacked before. He was a third tier warrior, so it was hard to hide his presence even if he tried. It wasn’t his area of expertise, though Barrett had to admit that he wouldn’t have been noticed if Barrett hadn’t stopped to take a closer read of his surroundings.
Barrett gestured for Kail to follow him as he stepped off the road. When they were only about ten meters away, Barrett started to run, “Let’s go! Steady pace!”
Since they had been traveling for a while, Barrett had worked to learn about Kail’s limits. A steady pace was however fast he could run for a long time- hours, at minimum. That speed was actually quite fast, since Kail actually trained in body more than energy.
“They’re following,” Barrett said. “But they’re not currently getting closer.” That suited Barrett and Kail just fine, but it was worrying. They could catch glimpses of their followers in the rocky terrain behind, only a few hundred meters away. That sort of distance didn’t take long to close, even if the speeds of both parties were very closely matched. However, they let the distance remain.
Barrett kept his ears open for anyone trying to move around them. Anyone able to keep pace with them would certainly make some noise. He could keep that up all day, since it used little stamina, and running at Kail’s pace he could go for several days without issue.
After the first hour it was clear their pursuers weren’t planning to catch them. They didn’t even try to make them change paths, so Barrett continued to angle in toward the Metal Sea. Barrett actually became a little worried. Did they happen to have an ambush set up at the arbitrary angle he chose to run, or did they think they could tire them out? Perhaps it was the second one, in which case after another hour where they showed no fatigue they would likely push forward to catch Barrett and Kail.
Barrett managed to take stock of the enemy as he ran. There were twenty members of the Heavy Blades… and five Silver Blades. Despite the name, they likely weren’t connected except through virtue of working in the criminal underworld. After all, there were only so many names possible… especially if one wanted to avoid names indicating criminal nature. Most cities would not welcome ‘The Great Despoilers’ to stay within their walls, no matter how well behaved they acted.
The important part of Barrett’s observations was that he and Kail couldn’t win in a fight. If he thought they had a good chance, they would have done it long ago. However, while together they might have taken out the Heavy Blades or Silver Blades, they had too much of an advantage of numbers and they weren’t lacking in strength either. If Barrett was correct, there were two second tier Silver Blades and three third tier. No matter how well they fought, they couldn’t take them all out. At least, not without weakening them beforehand.
That was part of the reason for running toward the Metal Sea. At their current pace they were about three hours from the Sea, but in less than an hour they would be within the danger zone where the air became worse. Kail and Barrett could handle traversing that area without issue, but their pursuers might have a harder time.
Barrett hoped for that, but they continued to follow behind seemingly unconcerned. Even though they had managed to separate to about a kilometer of distance, if they stopped they would be caught within a pair of minutes. Barrett was still fine to continue running, but Kail’s focus could be seen on his face as he regulated his breathing and took each step quickly and precisely.
Kail had the training necessary to run for long periods… but it was one thing to run for a long time at a certain pace and another to do so while being chased by people trying to kill you. Even though the physical actions were the same, the second was many times more tiring. Even so, Kail kept up the pace even while dealing with the corrosive air.
It soon became clear that the pursuers had some sort of way to resist the air… and it worked for their steelhead goats as well. Barrett doubted it could last forever, but it didn’t need to. As long as they could be followed for a few more hours and then a few more to get out of the area, it was good enough. It wasn’t like they were going to stop and let Barrett and Kail rest overnight.