The tracks continued on through the metallic sands before more disturbances could be seen. Barrett looked at the new tracks and shook his head, “Some kind of animal? Looks to have a few toes…”
Kaylani closed her eyes as she thought for a few moments, “There aren’t many things that live this close to the Sea itself. Especially not anything so… small?”
Though Kaylani called the tracks small, they indicated an animal more than a meter long. Compared to a great worm that was nothing, but it certainly wasn’t an insignificant size. Then again, it was still smaller than the giant scorpions of the area.
As they continued along they found more and more tracks going off in other directions, but the human tracks they presumed to be Kail’s continued until they reached a hole in the ground. Looking down into the hole they saw a tunnel perhaps a meter and a half in diameter leading down into the metal sand at an angle. Barrett didn’t hesitate to step inside, slowing only to pull out a belt that had been enchanted to emit light. It was much better than a torch, because it didn’t take a hand to use and didn’t use up the air. The area around the Metal Sea was bad enough to breathe without adding smoke into the mix.
“Gophers.” Kaylani stated. “That’s what would make a tunnel like this.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Barrett commented.
“These have metal teeth and claws twenty centimeters long. They chew and claw through metal just to create their burrows.”
“That’s somewhat more worrying,” Barrett nodded. “Still need to go in.” He ducked down to step inside the tunnel. Kaylani followed behind.
Given the type of animal that had dug the tunnels, they were actually quite spacious. That didn’t mean they were comfortable by any means, but Barrett would have thought something at the estimated size of the creatures here would have tunnels half a meter wide at best. “Why is the tunnel so wide?”
Kaylani shrugged, “Some of them are probably bigger. Plus, they like to travel in packs.”
“Great.” The tunnel continued to slope down into the ground, where the sand started to give way to more solid chunks of metal with a substance more like actual dirt holding everything together. After about a minute of walking hunched over, they came to a branch in the tunnel. “Any idea which way to go? I don’t see any tracks anymore.” The tunnel floor was a mess of scratch marks and clumps of displaced metals, but no single tracks could be made out.
“Let me go first.” Kaylani crawled through Barrett’s legs to get in front as he pressed himself up against the ceiling. She closed her eyes for almost a minute, sensing. “I think I feel something like Kail this way.”
As the took the left path, the tunnel walls turned into more pure chunks of metal, starting with golden but lumpy crystals, almost teardrop shapes. They branched out from a central point, the teardrops growing off of the various arms on every side. However, these had also been dug through more or less directly, with very few times the tunnel turned to go around some obstruction.
As they continued on and approached another split in the tunnel, suddenly part of the ceiling collapsed on top of Kaylani, half burying her. “Are you alright?” Barrett reached out and tossed some of the chunks off of her, before they all moved themselves away at once, noticing how light some of them were.
“I’m fine. A little bit of metal isn’t going to stop me.” Kaylani was still picking herself up when they spotted the figures coming out of the dark. “Tch.” Kaylani clicked her tongue, pulling open a bag out of which flew a number of metal spikes. Even as a half dozen dog sized creatures with extremely oversized teeth rushed forward, several times that many metal spikes flew out at those in the lead. To their credit, the creatures managed to withstand several hits each, and some of them deflected the attacks with their claws or even their teeth. However, only one of them reached Kaylani before it died. It did managed to swipe her with a claw which tore through her armor and slashed into her arm, though not deeply… and then it was full of spikes. “Can’t dodge in here…”
“I’d help but I couldn’t exactly reach them… and sending exploding lead balls filled with berserk energy doesn’t seem good for the tunnel stability.” Barrett held his hands out helplessly.
“Hmm…” Kaylani tapped her gauntlet on the ceiling and walls, “I wouldn’t worry about that. It’s quite solid. I think this particular part was a trap.”
“Great. They’re smart enough to make traps.”
“Only just. Mostly they just swarm people.” Kaylani looked down at her arm before applying a salve to the wound, then she concentrated for a few seconds, running her fingers along the punctured portion of her bracer. “Good enough. Real repairs take more energy though.”
The two of them piled the bodies down the tunnel that Kaylani determined wasn’t the right way to go, and they continued onward. The tunnel continued to slope downward, branching off occasionally- sometimes into three or more paths at once.
“Hmm…” Barrett vocalized, “Is it getting colder? Up on the surface I was basically sweating but…”
“You’re right. It’s almost chill down here. The air’s just a bit more breathable too.”
The golden rounded crystals started to mix with silvery blocky crystals. Barrett didn’t know the words that those from the Metal Sea would use for the specific metallic sheens, but they were good enough. It wasn’t like Barrett was selecting paint for a summer home.
Barrett had switched to the front position- while the tunnels probably wouldn’t collapse from some ‘minor’ explosions, Kaylani could fight just as well from behind him. The next split in the tunnel they came to, Barrett didn’t do anything but suddenly felt the weight of the ceiling collapse on top of him. It wasn’t that much- less than a ton of material in total- but it still surprised him and took him a moment to push himself up. Once again, skittering rodents with teeth and claws like large daggers came crawling out of the tunnels on either side.