Waiting around for more rodents to come attack didn’t sound like a good plan to Barrett, so he grabbed Kail and started to take him towards their exit tunnel, but then something dropped out of Kail’s hands. It was a small orb, reflective like a mirror… and very heavy, Barrett discovered as he picked it up.
“Is that… a metal heart?” Kaylani asked, “That would explain why he came down here.”
Barrett tucked Kail under one arm so he had a free hand, then started moving through the tunnel, “What’s a metal heart?”
“That. Probably.” Kaylani started following behind Barrett. “They’re formed when a large concentration of natural metal energy gathers. This gopher nest has likely been around for a long time. That would explain how there are so many of them. The metal heart itself shouldn’t matter to them- but they would have assumed Kail was coming to attack the nest, the same as us. Anyway, a metal heart is extremely valuable for cultivation. I wonder if he’d sell it.”
“You’d have to ask… but if it’s that valuable, perhaps you couldn’t afford the price.”
They walked past a split in the passageway, going down the pathway without the dead rodents, back towards the surface. “The Leipeka clan could afford it. However, he doesn’t really need the money. He doesn’t have to support a clan at the moment, so it would only be useful for buying other treasures- and selling then buying can easily come out at a loss.”
“How rare- wait. Quiet.” Barrett held up a hand to his lips. There was a scuffling sound up ahead. After waiting for a few moments it grew fainter. The pair- plus the unconscious Kail- moved forward as stealthily as they could, but saw nothing. Barrett shook his head, “They seem to have gone down the tunnel to the left.” He paused for a moment, “Weren’t there more bodies there?”
Kaylani nodded, “We never fought less than a dozen so…”
“Perhaps they were cleaning up. Let’s get out of here.” As they continued on, down the tunnels behind them came the sound of fur sliding against the walls and metal clacking on metal in very large numbers. “Let’s run.”
It wasn’t normally possible to run in such tunnels- Barrett had to bend at the waist and shift all of his weight towards the back while carrying Kail across his body. He just barely had enough room to run that way, though Kail occasionally got bumped against a wall- but with his body, it wouldn’t do worse than cause him a headache.
Kaylani managed to speed herself up by taking advantage of the surroundings being metal. She made the walls and part of her armor repel each other so that she could walk at a strange angle- nearly forty five degrees from the angle of the floor. This allowed her to move at at least a jog.
The two managed to keep ahead of the following gophers as they passed the dozen or so branches they had gone past on the way in, finally reaching their exit with the sounds of those following them uncomfortably close. Fortunately, while the gophers had no trouble moving in their own tunnels they were never extremely swift.
As they made it back to the surface, they broke into a real sprint as hundreds of rodents poured out of the tunnels behind them- and a few entrances around that they hadn’t seen. However, a short time later they had put a few kilometers between them and the nest and the pursuit stopped.
“Should we give him anti-corrosion medicine?” Kaylani asked about Kail. “If he was down there for even a day it would have worn off.”
Barrett shook his head, “He shouldn’t need it. Though he was pretty much out of energy when we arrived, I could tell he had broken through to third tier. He could already handle the air here without trouble long before then.”
“Right. They do that sort of body tempering…” Kaylani nodded.
The two of them continued walking- away from the Metal Sea itself and towards safer territory- as Barrett looked over Kail. He was covered in wounds, but none of them were new. None of them were bleeding, and Kail’s breathing was stable. Barrett didn’t really have any way to check on Kail’s internal condition, so he just fed him a nutrition and hunger pill. His body still needed the proper resources to heal itself, after all. Of course, the pills Barrett had weren’t tailored specifically to Kail, so there were probably various metals that he could also use that were either not useful for people outside of the Metal Sea or actively toxic. Kail would probably have some food in his magic bag, but he wasn’t in a state to actually eat.
Kail didn’t wake up until after they had arrived at the Leipeka clan over a day later. When he did, Barrett was there waiting. “How are you feeling?”
“Hmm…” Kail stretched his arms and legs, “Sore. Drained of energy. Not as bad as I would be if you hadn’t shown up. I didn’t consider a plan for getting back out of that nest. I just sensed the metal heart and… well, it represented an important opportunity. I need to become stronger as much as possible to take revenge for my clan.”
“Right. Wouldn’t do you much good to sell it.”
“Sell it?” Kail asked.
“Kaylani came with me. She saw it and wanted to buy it for the Leipeka clan.”
“Sure, I can sell it,” Kail nodded without thinking. “They’re a good clan.”
“Hey, I’m not saying you have to. You also have use for it yourself and-”
“Right, but I don’t need two.” Kail grinned, “The other one was much deeper in there, and I almost made it back out when I got surrounded.” Kail took a deep breath and looked down at his bandages, “Good thing you showed up. I wasn’t even that late to return. How’d you know I was in danger?”
“Just a guess. I actually just wanted to come see how you were doing after the tournament.”
“Oh yeah. How did that go?”
“I placed second… though I didn’t get to fight the final match because my arm was jelly.”
“Oh? You’ll have to tell me about that.”
“Sure. How much excruciating detail would you like on the pain?”
“…Maybe just the overview.”