Barrett found he didn’t have to go very far to find everything was exceedingly uncomfortable. His body didn’t take long to re-adapt to surface level conditions, the water level was just unpleasantly hot, and the steam layer was annoying… but it was below that things started to become problematic. The pressure gradually increased… and while his body could withstand it, there were various issues. Since he wasn’t protecting himself with energy, rubidium and caesium started pressing into his eardrums, his nostrils, and against his eyelids.
However, the pressure wasn’t much higher than water at the same depth… it was only when he reached the gallium layer that pressure started building up quickly. Barrett moved his stamina to reinforce the weaker points of his body as he moved through that layer to the mercury layer, where the increase in pressure per distance doubled once again. Every meter was like a dozen meters of water. Barrett had to press his way through… and along with the pressure he felt a buoyant force from the mercury. However, mercury didn’t work the same way as water, so he was able to work his way through it, with a little bit of shifting his weight around.
As he went past what he estimated to be twenty meters of mercury, he started to feel other issues. The pressure on his chest and stomach were starting to make it difficult to hold his breath. In cases of low exertion, he could hold his breath for an hour or more if he needed to… but in such circumstances it had only taken a few minutes to reach the point where he couldn’t hold his breath much longer. He worked his way back to the surface and took a short break, then returned down below.
There was no chance of finding much above the hundred meter mark. While very few cultivators would actually enter the metal sea, if they had a reason there were some who could work their way down… and sensing that far into the sea was possible. They would have to go much deeper.
During his second break, Barrett felt others also returning to the surface. All of them held energy around themselves, but their methods of protecting themselves varied. Kail was a body temperer as well as an energy cultivator, so he used less energy to protect himself, allowing his body to take what load it could. Kaylani was one step along from that- as a cultivator from the metal sea, her body was still tempered to be like metal… but she used more energy and magic to keep the sea at bay, forming a sort of shell around her. In fact, she might have been in the best state of all of them, because she could bring air down with her most easily- even if it wasn’t particularly good air. Nilima was the least like the rest, with much of the body tempering she had a result of ending up with berserk energy inside her. Instead of manipulating the sea directly like Kaylani, she made a much smaller shell directly around her body, gentle energy supported by berserk energy to power it.
Nilima was the first to comment, “If anyone tries to slowly crush me to death, I’ll be ready for it. I suppose it’s quite effective omnidirectional defense training.”
Barrett spit out a bead of mercury, “That stuff really likes to worm its way in through your pores, with all the pressure it has. Not that anyone else really will notice that as much.”
Kail shrugged, “Eh… I think my blood might eventually just be mercury based. The Anakoni clan technique does quite well down there.”
“I certainly prefer not allowing it to reach me,” Kaylani responded. “I’m quite happy with my current body structure.” She waved her hand, sending trails of mercury from a sphere she was holding behind her into glass vials. “This would be a very good source if it weren’t so far out of the way… and if there were more people who could actually retrieve it.”
Decades earlier, she hadn’t been sure she would ever reach fourth tier, and fifth was even less certain… but various factors had worked together along with her natural talent to allow her advancement to continue. If she could get a similar amount of mercury each hour, she could produce more than the spring the Leipeka clan had… but having a clan leader perform manual labor wasn’t a good look. Besides, flooding the market with mercury wouldn’t necessarily increase their profits much, though it would allow them to make more items for personal use. The real problem was the support members- if they had to have third tier people just taking the day or so of travel from the Metal Sea to more safe areas, that might not be the best use of their time.
Kail leaned back against a shiny, metallic rock. “It’s strange to see how far things have come. It wasn’t that far from here that we first met,” Kail looked at Barrett, “And we had to run away because we were afraid of facing too many second and third tier opponents.”
“It’s not as if we could defeat an entire clan full of them now. Well, not with just the two of us.” Barrett looked at Nilima and Kaylani, “Maybe the four of us though.”
“I’m glad we don’t need to,” Kaylani shook her head, her metal hair stiffly moving with it.
“I had to do that once,” Nilima said.
“Really?” Barrett asked, “You never told me about that one.” In actuality, he very rarely heard much about her travels- he just knew that she got into a lot of fights.
She shrugged, “This was a bit before the fourth tier tournament… about seven, eight years ago? Northeast of here, in Viridian Pinewood Forest. Some hundreds of stupid bandit archers claimed the area I was going through was theirs. They kept hiding behind trees and crap, but…” she gestured to her whip, “That didn’t really do them much good. It’s pretty easy to reach around a tree, and as long as I kept moving their arrows mostly couldn’t reach me. It was exhausting though. It took like a day before they finally cut their losses and retreated with what they had left. Once I finally caught their leader and punched him through a tree.”
“Through a tree?” Barrett asked, “That’s not your usual style.”
“Yeah, but liquifying people’s brains wasn’t getting the point across. They thought I was running out of energy. Well, technically they were right. Though I would have been completely out if it wasn’t for your berserk energy.”
“I think… you’ve had it almost as long as I did, now.” It had been fourteen years since he was at the threshold of master tier… and he’d had to break through twice, once in energy and then again for Pure Body Tempering. He’d only cultivated energy for a couple years more than that.
“Is that… so…” Nilima placed a hand on her chest. “It’s so easy to lose track of the passage of time.”
Barrett laughed, partly to bring the mood up. “I’ve learned so much about Pure Body Tempering since then. I might be able to get back to fifth tier in a short time with the Sea’s assistance. I already have thoughts about breaking through to grandmaster, but I suppose I need to reach sixth tier first to know how correct I am. It’s only a couple years ‘til fifth tier tournament… we didn’t have the opportunity to do the last one, we can cause a ruckus since that will be our last opportunity.”
“Wait, really?” Nilima frowned.
“Sure, unless you’re planning to delay your cultivation for five years to be in the next one. There aren’t sixth year tournaments, but we can do something better than that.”
Nilima grinned slightly, “Right.”