At the same time Barrett resisted the woman’s attack, Nilima moved in for her own attack. Against a magic-using opponent, shortening the range of combat was optimal. While magic generally didn’t fall off as quickly in range as energy, it was also weaker in a direct confrontation. Nilima’s body dashed forward and her whip struck out, but it was kept away from the grandmistress’ body by a barrier of magic. Barrett felt Nilima’s energy try to worm its way through the barrier, but it was gingerly deflected. Gentle energy was much akin to a fluid, and seventh tier cultivators would mostly be experienced with resisting different types of energy. That didn’t mean they were safe from Nilima’s attacks- one slip-up on their part and she could take them out like anyone else.
Before Barrett could charge forward, part of the metal sea was pulled down through the barrier above. He sensed a slight resistance, but certainly nothing that would stop the grandmistress they were facing. Though it was only a small part of the sea, it was still much more mass than any cultivator would bring with them to a battle. Even Barrett couldn’t say he carried around more.
Two rivers of mercury flowed their way towards the two sixth tier cultivators. While they might easily resist the pressure of the metal sea as it passively pressed down on them, magical control changed the equation significantly. Barrett tried to cut through the tide rushing towards him, but of course that wasn’t possible. Fluids could not be cut… but that didn’t stop his efforts from almost succeeding. There was a momentary split in the river that he dashed through, but it collapsed on him as he was moving through. The liquid metal covered him and sought out gaps in his armor to squeeze through, actively trying to seek his death.
Nilima was unable to dodge or cut through the river focused on her, but as it washed over her she was pushed back with it. Barrett had seen Nilima jump off of blades before, allowing herself to be pushed back by the flow of a liquid was nothing complicated, even if it was magically controlled.
Just as he was launching an attack with his stone pits that he’d scattered about, Barrett found that the river caught up all of them. The grandmistress was clearly aware of her surroundings, and reacted quickly. Barrett let the stone pits be pulled away. That wasn’t too much of an issue. Of course, his extra arms and legs were important to a fight… but they couldn’t constantly remain under control. Once that lapsed and they were free, he could use them again. If not… the grandmistress would have to focus on three areas at all times. While that wasn’t necessarily an issue, anything that made life harder for her improved Barrett and Nilima’s chances of winning the battle.
Winning was the goal. If they didn’t want to fight, they would have just left. If they fought, then they should win. They weren’t stalling for time waiting for someone to save them. Barrett felt the aura of the woman, heavy and cold like the ocean. However, it was nothing compared to the passive effects of the metal sea.
The mercury that had attached itself to Barrett earlier wouldn’t let go. It worked its way inside his armor, trying to reach his head and infiltrate his body through his mouth and nose. It slowed his movements, pushing against him as he moved and attempting to let more of the river directed at him catch him. It was annoying… but it couldn’t crush him. The small amounts that seeped into his pores couldn’t damage him. Maybe if his lungs were full of mercury he might have an issue, but so far it hadn’t been a problem. Barrett squeezed his armor around his neck to prevent it from climbing higher, trying to cut off its movements. At the same time, he prepared a shape for his spear to shift into when he needed it. Then he once more charged towards the grandmistress.
Of course, she could easily send a wave of her magic to try to push him back- but Barrett dodged half of it and pushed through the rest of the effects. He was only a dozen meters away which would be covered in an instant… but a new river of mercury was pulled from above to block his way. There was nothing that said she had to keep control on the same parts of the metal sea, nor that she could only control two or three strands of it. That was why Barrett had prepared his weapon to transform into a wider shape, sort of like a spade that stretched the whole way down the shaft of the spear. It was slightly shorter since he needed the extra material, even making it thinner than the spear shaft.
He swung his strange weapon, pushing away a wider swath of mercury as he accelerated his steps through. Tendrils of mercury latched onto him as he passed, but most of it was left behind. His weapon returned to more of a spear shape as he reached his target, and then suddenly the mercury surrounding his body fell limp. It wasn’t at the will of the grandmistress, but Barrett’s own will. It was one thing to control mercury outside his body… but inside Barrett’s body was his own domain. Though he had prevented it from reaching into his mouth or nose… it was already inside his armor. That was part of himself, and therefore it was simple to cut off the connection.
Clearly not expecting the sudden change in his effectiveness, the grandmistress was slow in deflecting Barrett’s attack. However, her experience couldn’t be underestimated- though her timing was slightly different than what she expected, Barrett’s spear was still deflected around her- but it took her more magic to do so, Barrett’s spear reaching millimeters from her skin at its closest approach.
Nilima’s attack came at the same time, her having avoided the allotment of power attempting to restrain her own movements. Her whip struck directly at the back of the grandmistress, the energy behind it causing the grandmistress’ defenses to tremor greatly. Then what felt like the whole metal sea crashed down on their heads, though clearly that wasn’t the case.
There was no finesse in the move, merely power. The entire middle of the chamber was suddenly covered in mercury, and Barrett felt himself entrapped. He could feel Nilima was in the same position, forced to be only on the defensive to protect her body. Barrett hardened his armor, closing off any openings and cutting off the control of the mercury that had found its way inside.
He could feel the crushing pressure of the metal, stronger than even the pressure of the true sea at four or five kilometers of depth. It constantly moved about, redirecting its force to new locations, and Barrett had to shift his own defenses with it, predicting the movements while trying not to leave himself open anywhere. He was able to keep up, but he wasn’t sure how long he could last. The stores of magic possessed by the grandmistress were significant.
Then Barrett felt something coil around his wrist and pull. Instead of just letting it pull him along, he jumped towards it- recognizing the other source of living metal in the area. He arrived next to Nilima and instantly grasped her hand. Suddenly, the pressure on him changed. It certainly didn’t diminish, but Nilima’s energy spread it evenly across him, negating his need to do more than resist an equal pressure all around. In that way, it was actually less than the metal sea. No matter how strong a cultivator was, there was no way they could lift the entire weight of a metal sea kilometers deep, nor create the same true strength- it was just more concentrated in small points.
With the pressure distributed, Barrett had time to think. He could continue as things were indefinitely. He technically had a finite amount of air in his lungs, but at the very least he could go an hour or two. Nilima seemed to have trapped some of her own air as well. Her efforts would be more difficult in their current situation, since she was the one who had to distribute the pressure going to Barrett. However, there hadn’t yet been more attacks from the grandmistress, which seemed to indicate she was near her limits with keeping them constrained.
Barrett wasn’t going to count on her having no more moves, however. Directly comparing in an endurance contest with a grandmistress might be good for him, but Nilima just wasn’t that type of cultivator.
Stone pits moved around the chamber. Barrett could tell that there was only a few meters deep of mercury pressed around the two of them- more than enough to prevent them from getting out before it could move with them, but not enough to fill the chamber. From what he could tell, all the uncontrolled mercury had returned to the sea above- courtesy of the Metal Core, or whatever barrier kept it out in the first place, he presumed. He wondered if the mercury around them was constantly being pulled away. It didn’t seem to be a particularly strong force, but it was something more that might hinder the grandmistress.
There was no chance that Barrett could launch a secret attack against the grandmistress. She had to have some focus left to deal with the stone pits that she knew were still there, some awareness of her surroundings. However, just because the attack couldn’t be secret didn’t mean it couldn’t have a surprise. While he couldn’t say his talisman crafting was up to the same level as his Pure Body Tempering, if all he needed was a single instant… he was prepared enough.
He carefully squeezed Nilima’s hand, removing one finger from the grasp at a time to indicate timing. Five, four, three, two… Barrett felt Nilima’s energy tense up and prepare for whatever she needed to do, though on the outside she remained calm and focused on defense. One… Barrett let go.
At the same time, his stone pits finished arranging in a formation. He didn’t have anything to specifically stop fluid control, but a general anti-magical formation could last for at least an instant with the magical power Barrett had spent a long time storing in his stone pits. The mercury around them lost weight, and the pair moved to the attack.