Kail breathed heavily but regularly. He had been running all day without a chance to stop. It wasn’t the fastest he could go in a pinch, but keeping it up for so long was difficult. Maybe in regular terrain he could actually go for another day or two, but the closer they got to the Metal Sea, the less air there was for him to breathe. It didn’t matter that the air’s corrosive nature didn’t harm him. Kail spoke carefully between breaths, “Are they just… trying to… wear us out?”
“Possibly,” Barrett shook his head, “It’s hard to think of what else they would be doing. While their mounts are getting tired, they will be fresh… and we can’t run much further.”
“I… can keep going… for as long as we need.”
“I appreciate the determination, but I doubt you will want to continue into the sea itself… and we’ll be there in a couple minutes. Maybe they’ll let us run along it… but perhaps it’s best if we don’t even try that.”
“What do we do then?”
Barrett looked back. They were still about a kilometer ahead, and there was enough noise generated by the people following them that they wouldn’t be able to overhear their conversation even with exceptional hearing. “Take a minute or two to rest… and then fight. I wouldn’t trust any offer of theirs to surrender, so unless they choose to leave that’s all we can do. We can’t exactly swim through the Metal Sea…” Barrett and Kail were close enough to see the almost-boiling waters that formed the top layer of the Metal Sea.
“You could though… right?” Kail asked. Barrett didn’t respond. “Sorry to hold you back…”
“Save your breath. You’ll have at most two minutes after we stop before they catch up. If we stand next to the Metal Sea, we won’t be able to be surrounded… though we do risk some danger from the scalding water. We’ll have to deal with ranged attacks, and make sure to watch out for flying needles from the Silver Blade. They’ll be laced with various poisons, and can be hard to spot. They don’t need to go deep to cause damage. As for the Heavy Blades… since they won’t be able to charge past us, their mounts won’t do much good. Those steelhead goats are tired, too.” Barrett took a deep breath, ignoring the unpleasant heat and moisture of the air and the way it burned as it went into his lungs. “You’ll probably have to fight three or four people at a time. If there’s an opening, I’ll take some of them out but I will also have to deal with my own enemies. Too bad I’m not better at earth magic… or water magic.”
“What would that help?”
“We could just dig under the beach or water and take cover there. As it is… we’ll have to do with those few rocks over there for our only cover…” The rocks in question were boulders half buried in the sand. They were as tall as a man and stood right up against the current edge of the tides. That meant they could be used with the sea itself to cut off some avenues of approach. From the perspective of the sea at his back, Barrett saw that one would be straight ahead, only about two meters from the points where most waves were reaching. There were also two boulder blocking off half of the right side. There was enough space for two or three men to fight between the boulders on that side, but no one could move around behind the boulders unless they stepped into the Metal Sea’s boiling waters, though they might attempt to go over. The left side was still open, but there wasn’t time to pick a better location.
As soon as they reached the sea, Kail leaned with his back against the single boulder, where he would be hidden from view of the pursuers. Then he pulled away, “Damn that’s hot.” He took steady breaths to try to rest as much as he could in the short time he had.
“Try some rations. Only a few bites,” Barrett advised, “You’re still learning how to digest quickly, after all. Too much and it could hinder your fighting.” Barrett took his own advice, though he took more than a few bites. They had already been drinking water as they ran, small bits at a time, so they didn’t need more at the moment. Barrett then did something Kail was clearly avoiding. He stepped into the waves. “Tsss. It’s almost worse than the volcano.” The volcano had been much hotter, but he hadn’t been covered with lava but just standing on and very slightly in it, and the heat didn’t transfer quite as fast. Since they didn’t have long for the pursuing riders to catch up the gap that was merely a kilometer, Barrett didn’t waste any more time. He went around the boulders, touching them and wincing slightly when he did.
“They’re all hot, you know. Why keep touching them?”
“To set up fun surprises for our guests. I can barely do anything with magic in combat, so I might as well use most of my mana here…” Barrett would have preferred a few more minutes, even, but he couldn’t do much about it. “Here they come… get ready.”
Kail sighed and stepped slightly away from the boulder he was standing behind, sighing. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people chasing after me trying to kill me.”
“Sure you will,” Barrett nodded, “Unless you plan to give up here or quit cultivating, you’ll have many more opportunities.”
“Is that supposed to encourage me?”
“Absolutely! I’ve had lots of people try to kill me, and I’m still here. Only people too afraid to stand up for their own ideals avoid conflict completely. Besides, this is the strongest either of us has ever been right?”
“While technically true, it’s not very reassuring.” Kail didn’t have time to continue talking as he had to step to the side to dodge a hail of fist sized rocks.