Barrett was encouraged by the fact that he was still conscious after the battle, but that was about as far as it went. He was almost completely out of energy and stamina, and the effects of overdrafting were starting to hit him hard. However, he couldn’t let himself fall asleep until he was sure the assassin was truly gone. That meant several hours of walking along the shore where the waves would wash away his and Kail’s footprints. Kail’s feet looked like cooked lobster instead of their normal golden color, and he knew his weren’t much better.
The worst part is his wounds weren’t even healing. Well, they were… but they were also corroding from the air at the same time. It was at best barely going in the direction of recovery. At least the attackers had carried water on them, since it was a pain to get more. Barrett took their nearly ruined waterskins and put them in his fortified magic bag.
“So… “ Kail asked, “Where are we headed next?”
“Stredo,” Barrett shook his head. “The Silver Blades are still after me, but there’s nowhere else around here to run. I can’t let them organize against me again. They’ll just send more people and fight me in a less optimal situation. We’re pretty lucky they followed us here to begin with.” Barrett looked over at Kail, “And you’re pretty lucky they fell for your trick, and that the poison was… negligible.”
Kail’s shoulders sagged, “It wasn’t something I wanted to do. It’s not particularly honorable or glorious… but it was all I could do. I just had to hope they didn’t care about me much. It helped that they weren’t exactly thinking straight. Most of them also weren’t that good… even if they were second tier.”
“You even killed a third tier. How does that feel? I’ve never beaten anyone two tiers above me.”
Kail shrugged, “Dunno. I haven’t either. I just killed him. He was beaten by you, and the ‘air’ here. Besides, I’m basically second tier.”
“The killing blow is the most important part. At your age… I’d just become first tier.”
“Really? I thought you said you were from a noble family.”
“I was… but Ashia doesn’t exactly have an abundance of cultivators. I never even learned the right terminology, and our captain of the guard was only first tier. Nothing against him, but he just didn’t have a real technique to grow stronger. Master Hykel just happened to be in the area when I needed to run away… and he took me in.” Barrett didn’t mention that Master Hykel had been looking for him in particular- though neither of them had actually known that at the time. Barrett still wasn’t sure about prophecies, but Master Hykel believed it so there had to be something there. It wasn’t likely to be just a coincidence and it took a full decade to find Barrett. That said, there were only a handful of students Master Hykel had taken before him.
“It’s a shame we have to run…” Kail shook his head, “We’ve done nothing wrong, but the cities either side with those in the wrong or let them get by without punishment.”
Barrett nodded seriously, “It’s true even in Stredo. The Silver Blades manage to keep a foothold as long as they rarely get caught causing trouble near the city.”
“Why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?”
“Because they don’t care… or aren’t strong enough.”
“Then…” Kail held up a fist, “When we’re strong enough, we’ll should do something about it.”
Barrett grinned, “Agreed. We should… we will. Stredo… may take a while. However, Ashia and the Southern Metal Sea will be somewhat easier… I hope.” Barrett shook his head, “It just requires finding the right people, and removing the wrong ones. Killing the wrong ones is easiest but… prone to mistakes and causing more problems.”
“So… they can kill us, but we can’t kill them?”
“I didn’t say that. It’s just good to consider other options.”
“But we’ll probably end up killing them anyway.”
Barrett didn’t have anything to say to that. That certainly seemed to be the way his life was going at the moment.
Barrett frowned and stopped. He tilted his head.
“What is it?” Kail asked.
Barrett just held up a finger. He wasn’t exactly sure what he was listening to. There was a strange sound of sloshing liquid. Of course, there was always the sound of the waves and the sound of the gasses escaping from between the first and second layers of the sea… but it was a new one. It was also getting closer. “I don’t remember hearing about many different things that lived in the sea… but I didn’t like the idea of any of them. Something is coming.” It was already heading directly toward them, so it probably didn’t matter if he made noise. In fact, he could sense killing intent, though it was faint. Monsters generally didn’t have killing intent, or at least not that was as easy to feel.
“It’s hard to say right now…” Barrett started walking forward, “It’s still a few hundred meters away. Let’s continue in this direction and hope it’s after something else.” That could be the reason the killing intent was faint, but Barrett didn’t have much hope of that. After a minute of walking, Barrett shook his head, “It’s turned toward us and sped up. Let’s move inland more. Perhaps it won’t come out of the sea.”
They did so, running as fast as they could inland. Unfortunately, the creature sped up to match pace with them. When it reached the shore, it sped up even more. “No good. It’s faster in the sand. From what I can tell… it seems to be a great worm. It’s more than fifty… maybe a hundred meters long.” Barrett could hear its movements stretching over a long distance, first liquid metal and now sand shifting. Great worms were nearly incomparable to their finger sized counterparts. They were massive, and as a creature native to the Southern Metal Sea they had certain traits. Their skin was hard and metallic… and since they lived in the sea itself, they were also quite resistant to heat and needed little in terms of what normally was considered breathable air.
“Well damn. There goes our safe path. They’re extremely rare too… but nobody spends days right next to the Sea either.” Kail looked nervously down at the ground behind them.
“We’ll have to split up. At least far enough that it can’t eat us both at once… or crush us.” Barrett stepped back, then reached into his pack. He pulled out half of the vials of poison they’d taken off of the dead Silver Blades. “I don’t know what all this is by sight, but if you get a chance… well, with all of it together it might do something.”
Kail looked at the bag and at his scavenged axe. “I hope so.”