Chapter 674 Secret Battle Underground
In a hidden tunnel a hundred meters under the ground, a new bug's nest was slowly coming to life.
Billis had sent out the remaining twenty-three thousand insects of the insect army in waves to scavenge and hunt for food, even at the risk of being exterminated by the elves. Though they did bring back plenty of woodland creatures, their casualties were no small number either. As many as one to two thousand insects were killed on a daily basis.
At the rate this was going, Billis would be in a desperate position with no insects at his command within ten days!
The remaining six magical mantises were made to stay by his side at all times, leaving him with a base of some high-grade combat insects. Far, far away at the edge of the west coast some of the insects and magical mantises that had been separated from the main army had managed to survive. They wandered into various corners of Fantasy Forest and hid themselves.
If Billis' current location was compromised and his actual body was to be destroyed by the elves, he could still rely on the insect kings hiding in the other insect armies to revive himself. However, the price of such a revival was too immense. It was very likely to cause his power to decrease to the level of a beginner First Grade.
That was why Billis would never willingly use such a method to escape the enemy's siege unless necessary!
After the attempts on the first few days, Billis had given up on the fantasy of requesting help from Lady Mary. It was his reckless act of seeking help that had allowed the Spear of Vengeance to track him down through the weak elementium flux he emitted.
He had been forced to abandon a ten thousand strong insect army during that battle to bait the enemy and draw them away.
Sadly, Fantasy Forest was the home of the forest elves.
Here, the elves would note any bit of movement in the grass or wind immediately. That was why Billis' journey of escaping was fated to be so difficult and arduous. In fact, there were several times where the Third Grade elf almost trapped him in his temporary dwellings.
It had been over three thousand kilometers of cat and mouse between him and Spear of Vengeance Eijae. Up until now, Billis had never met her face to face. Even so, his insect army had fallen from its peak of one hundred and seventy thousand to its now pathetic state of twenty thousand. The number of intermedate First Grade magical mantises had also been reduced from twenty-seven to six.
The blood and tears behind this were hard to understand unless you were in Billis' shoes!
Here, beneath the strange Aerie Peak, Bug Adept Billis was able to figure out the situation above through hidden eye bugs, even though he didn't take a step above ground.
It was clear that his reckless and rampant actions had utterly angered the elves. The elven sky patrol circling Aerie Peak didn't cease throughout the day. The woods were also being tightly guarded by the flying scouts of the elves and druids that had transformed into critters, practically turning the place into a fortified stockade of its own.
Without sufficient meat, it was hard to hatch an endless army of insects. Without flesh of high quality, it was hard to breed powerful combat insects. At this moment, Billis' enemies completely surrounded him. Any swarms he sent to the surface would never return. Still, the bug adept had not given up hope of escaping.
Billis took advantage of the slight gap before the elven encirclement was complete, sent out large amounts of insects, and fortunately succeeded in obtaining some flesh. With these blood treats and the sacrifice of some of the ordinary insects, Billis finally succeeded at breeding some odd worms with a unique ability- Burrowers.
They were a type of strange creature that resembled massive earthworms. Their bodies were twelve meters long, and at their fronts were many sharp teeth arranged in a dense concentric formation. These saw-like teeth that resembled an array of blades extended all the way into their deep black insides and were the tools with which they devoured and shredded everything.
Burrowers were not picky eaters. Their fearsome stomachs would shred and digest anything as long as it was an organic substance that they could absorb.
The swarm might have some ability to burrow and tunnel while under Billis' command, but the structure that they had developed was still primarily meant for rending and tearing flesh for food. Burrowing through the ground with them not only created tremendous commotion, but was also an incredibly slow process in and of itself.
To dig his way to survival, Billis had no choice but to make some sacrifices and use the flesh and shells of part of the swarm to raise these special Burrowers.
When the first Burrower broke through its nest and appeared before Billis, the excitement within his heart was no less than that of the very moment he had advanced to a bug adept. Yet, before he could take a closer look at this Burrower, a dozen insects in a tunnel two hundred and fifty meters away were exterminated in a single strike.
Billis sighed helplessly then gritted his teeth and revealed a wicked smile.
These druids had become more and more daring over the past few days. Again and again, they entered the underground labyrinth, navigating the winding bug tunnels and cracks to search for Billis.
Some of the searching druids were combat squads composed of First Grade druids. If Billis were to send out his only remaining six magical mantises, he would be able to teach these druids an unforgettable lesson, especially in such narrow and small spaces.
However, some Second Grade druids were hidden within many of these druids squads.
If the magical mantises were to run into them, their chances of escaping alive were no more than thirty percent.
Thus, every time Billis' lookout insects were killed, he would hesitate, unsure of whether to send his mantises to retaliate.
This torment tortured him day and night, consistently and continuously!
In the previous battles, Billis had no choice but to resentfully relinquish the idea of a counter attack due to his lack of information. The most important reason for that was his multitude of priorities; he needed a group of soldiers that could protect him at his side constantly.
Now that he had the Burrowers, escape was a very real possibility. Consequently, Billis' thoughts and attitude shifted drastically. The desperate and deadly flight had now turned into a situation of tremendous flexibility. As such, Billis had the idea of holding a fun game with his enemies.
The insect army that had been on the defensive over the past few days once again swarmed into the ditches and tunnels en masse, charging and assaulting these druids squads from every direction.
As the intensity of the battles increased, some previously unclear information started to gather in Billis' brain like a downpour of raindrops. As the conditions of the fight in the entire labyrinth appeared before him without reserve, Bills quickly decided upon his opponents.
It was a combat squad formed of three First Grade druids.
One of them had transformed into a massive serpent a dozen meters long and was responsible for exploring and being the group's vanguard. The two druids behind him had turned into different animals. One was a massive gopher, sniffling with his long and slender snout for smells in the tunnel, while the other was a rough and bumpy toad that stood upon the serpent and looked around with its bulbous eyes.
The stench of rot in the tunnel frustrated the three druids to no end during their trip in the labyrinth. They might have turned into magical beasts and possessed the might of magical beasts, but their minds were still those of humans.
That was why they could tolerate such a dirty and filthy environment, instead of actually taking a liking to it!
The three of them formed a group. The Giant Serpent was good at picking up tremors in the ground, the Flashing Gopher was good at smelling odd scents, and the Poison Arrow Toad had great dynamic perception. They complemented each other and possessed fairly synergistic teamwork.
They were silently exploring the tunnels and forks before them while using nature magic to leave special marks along the way. It was their slow and gradual progress that had lit up a large half of this underground labyrinth.
Perhaps they would have been able to fully explore this complicated and winding labyrinth if they'd had another two more days. By then, the maze would be littered with magical marks, and the insects would have a much harder time scampering about under cover of darkness and chaos.
As long as they could find the bug adept, the few Second Grade druid masters would ensure that the wicked fellow would never escape again!
The dark and narrow tunnel sprawled out before them.
It was pitch-black. Surface creatures would not be able to see anything here without darkvision.
The tunnels here were no more than one meter tall or wide. If those elven archers were to come down here, they would probably have to crawl forward uncomfortabely. If it were those elven soldiers with their blades, they probably wouldn't even be able to draw their sabers, much less fight.
That was why a jack-of-all-trades profession like a druid was the most suited for battlefields that required adaptation.
"This isn't right; we seemed to have been surrounded by the enemy!"
The serpent leading in front stopped slithering. He used his sensitive feel for physical movement to pick up on the familiar chattering and vibrations in all tunnels around them.
It was possible, perhaps, that large numbers of insects were swarming toward them through winding tunnels all around them. Insect assaults of this scale were sporadic since the swarm had been severely crippled.
"Why don't we retreat first and report this abnormality to the higher-ups?" The gopher raised its body and betrayed a humanoid expression of hesitation upon its furry face.
There were, at this moment, eleven druid squads searching for that bug adept. Only five of those squads had Second Grade druid masters within their ranks. Sadly, they weren't one of those squads!
That was why the gopher immediately cowered in fear upon sensing the movement of the swarm in the distance.
After all, their strength was limited in this narrow and enclosed space. They couldn't cast their powerful nature magic at all. Otherwise, the resulting collapse of dirt and stone would be enough to kill them.
"Those insects would definitely destroy the marks we left behind if we were to retreat just like that. Our whole day's worth of work would have been for nothing. Let's not retreat or advance. Tor, take the fork to the right; there should be a stone hall thirty meters away from us. It's not much room, but it should allow us to fight inside it. I have already sent a signal for help. We only need to hold our own for a while, and the surrounding groups will come and reinforce us." In the end, the most senior Poison Arrow Toad croaked and decided on the strategy.
The three-person team didn't hesitate at all.
The gopher and the toad leaped onto the serpent's back and quickly pushed into the pitch-black tunnel. They then dove straight into the right tunnel at the three-way fork that appeared in front of them.
Mere moments after they left, the chattering sound closed in as a swarm of insects charged out of the tunnels and passages. They also unhesitatingly followed the serpent down the right path.
For a moment, the sounds of shells rubbing against each other filled the underground tunnel!
Chapter 675 Before the Escape
A terrifying and bloody slaughter was still ongoing in the dark and narrow tunnel!
The druid that had transformed into a serpent opened his fanged mouth, biting and spitting poison at the swarm and dealing decent damage with every attack. The long tail dragging behind him was also frantically sweeping and waving about, slapping and smashing the pursuing horde into patches of meat paste.
Sadly, these insects didn't seem to understand death and continued to surge recklessly toward the druids from both sides of the tunnel. Even if they were crushed to death by the serpent the very next second, their only thought in the present was to lunge at the serpent and tear a piece of flesh out of its body.
Under the fearless assault of the swarm, the snake was soon covered in wounds, despite its sturdy body and fine scales. Countless fine cuts had appeared on its body.
The Flashing Gopher and Poison Arrow Toad sitting upon the serpent's body were also trying their best to exterminate the swarm assaulting them. Burning Fire spells and poison arrows caused countless casualties among the black beetles, burning the insects into charcoal and melting them into pungent slime.
An indescribably pungent odor filled the entire tunnel!
Finally, after cutting his way through the swarm and knocking down a wall of insects, the serpent succeeded in bringing its companions into that wide stone hall.
It was called a stone hall, but it was no more than a ten-meter-wide cave formed by erosion by underground water.
The changing of the underground stream's path left behind this damp and sinister stone hall.
This place was just as narrow as everywhere else underground, but it was much taller than the one-meter-tall worm tunnels.
The three druids quickly transformed into their human forms after rushing into the stone hall. They then raised their oaken staves and hurriedly cast Rejuvenation and Rapid Regeneration upon their bodies. Sadly, before they could treat the wounds on their bodies, the pursuing swarm dig their way into the cave through the tunnels and the cracks in the wall, once again throwing their insect bodies at the druids.
After a massive roar shook the entire underground labyrinth, one of the druids quickly transformed into a gigantic Earth Mauler. He unhesitatingly charged at the dense and terrifying swarm.
Of the two other druids, one transformed into a mighty Giant Raging Ape and turned to attack the swarm as well. The other quickly turned into a treant form and used a large area of thorns to trap the incoming insects. He then unleashed several green halos and enhanced his companions with all sorts of support nature magic.
Barkskin allowed the target's skin to become as tough as hundred-year-old bark and resisted weak piercing and slashing attacks.
Bramblethorn Armor formed a magical shield layer over the target's body composed of green vines and thorns. The shield could not only resist physical and elementium damage but could even reflect parts of the melee damage it took.
Nature's Blessing was a type of support nature magic that was most commonly used by the elves. It could raise all aspects of the target's attributes- Strength, Agility, Physique, and elementium resistance.
Revitalization provided the target with Stamina and Spirit regeneration, lasting for approximately one hundred and twenty seconds.
One couldn't look down upon the elves because of their slender and weak build, nor because their Strength and Physique were inferior to tough and muscular magical beasts. Even an ordinarily harmless rabbit could instantly become a ferocious lion when reinforced with all these layers of magic spells.
Thus, the three druids started a bloody battle to the death with the invading swarm in this crude stone hall that was no more than ten square meters.
The excessively narrow terrain gave neither side too much room to dodge or move. The only thing they could do was use their bodies of flesh and blood to endure the enemies' assault and retaliate with their most wicked attacks. Battle techniques and means of murder were inconsequential in such a scenario. The only useful things were strong physical defenses and ferocious offenses.
At first, the two tanking druids could still hold off against the wild strikes of the swarm with the protection of Barkskin and Bramblethorn Armor. However, when the green shield was scratched into shattered sparks by the hive, the Earth Mauler had no choice but to roar and cover himself with a layer of stone armor. The Giant Raging Ape also did something similar and covered his body with a yellow armor.
They had both chosen to transform into earth magical beasts that were known for their toughness. As such, they could still hold off the enemy for a bit longer through their abilities, even after losing their elementium protections.
The treant being protected by them in the middle was also now surrounded by hordes of beetles. He could only lift his wooden legs and stomp about as much as he could. His thick arms had also turned into long tree whips, violently lashing at the dense swarm.
Insect blood splashed everywhere as shells cracked and splintered.
The entire hall tremored and shook.
Hoarse battlecries filled the air, along with the sound of pounding fists and the deafening chittering and chattering.
The black tide of insects gradually covered the three towering silhouettes in the stone hall; it was difficult even to see them now. One only knew that they were still alive and stubbornly fighting by the occasional insect corpse that got flung across the room.
Just as the three druids were slipping up against the ferocious swarm, a few black silhouettes climbed up above them along the walls. The next second, an order was given as the six magical mantises split into three groups. They all lunged down from above and stabbed or slashed with their exceedingly sharp limbs at the bodies of the druids.
A pained, loud cry reverberated throughout the stone hall, spreading in every direction through the tunnels and the cracks between the rock layers.
A group of three druids was fighting its way forward in another underground tunnel.
Suddenly, they heard that low, gravelly roar of agony from the depths of the underground. A druid that had transformed into a jaguar lifted his head and betrayed an expression of immense shock and fury.
"It's Tor! Something's happened to his squad."
This druid had an extremely close relationship with Tor. His heart felt like it was boiling in oil when he heard the agonized cry of his friend, and tremendous anxiety and anger overtook him.
Despite how much he increased the speed at which he struck with his Shadow Claw, he was incapable of finishing off this group of several hundreds of insects. He was helpless in the face of this emergency.
The druid in the group that had transformed into a woodpecker calmly arranging its feathers had a sudden shift in expression. A dangerous and murderous light gleamed in the woodpecker's eyes. The bird leaped forward as its body rapidly started to swell and distort.
In the blink of an eye, he had transformed from a harmless woodpecker into a Firelion shrouded in magical flames.
His lithe and powerful body had just formed, and the surging fires had already burned the remaining beetles in the tunnel to a crisp. His intimidating lion's head turned back and shouted out, "Follow closely!" He then turned and charged into the distant darkness without looking back.
Along the way, the raging fires on his body occasionally stretched and shrunk, scorching the beetles that were continuously squeezing out of the cracks in the walls. The druid quickly leaped into the depths underground.
These scattered swarms of insects could not possibly stop the advance of such a powerful Second Grade firelion!
The two First Grade druids immediately followed after that scorching path of flame in joyful surprise, closely following behind the Second Grade druid master.
Just as the druid master quickly entered a new tunnel after a fork, the path he was previously in mysteriously collapsed.
The two First Grade druids stopped their feet in shock!
Before they could even figure out what it was that had happened, the chattering sound in the tunnel grew louder and louder. The dark, black swarm emerged from various tunnels, ditches, and cracks, trapping the druids in here. Behind the squirming swarm, four black shapes were also silently approaching.
A dozen seconds later, the death throes of two druids also rang out of this place- sorrowful and tragic cries!
Bug Adept Billis had to send out two intermediate First Grade magical mantises with every group as insurance for dealing with those beginner First Grade druids. Moreover, with the tide-like swarm, the druids that had their escape path cut off had no chance of fleeing!
Billis, who had found his ticket out of this sticky entrapment, would have trouble bringing such a tremendous number of insects with him.
To thoroughly squeeze every bit of utility out of the remaining twenty thousand insects, Billis didn't mind committing to such an extravagant and wild strategy!
The bug adept utilized his familiarity with the labyrinth and his comprehensive grasp of the battlefield at all times to toy with the enemy, working expertly with strategies such as isolating, cutting reinforcements, interventions, and fixed ambushes. Billis trapped all the druids in a sea of insects at the price of exhausting his swarm, then proceeded to lay traps and bait as he liked.
Once a First Grade druid was isolated, Billis would unhesitatingly strike out, even if he had to lose thousands of insects to accomplish his goal of killing the druid. He would either collapse the tunnel and separate the enemy or simply send out the swarm to stall the Second Grade druid. At any rate, those trapped First Grade druids couldn't dream of escaping unscathed once Billis found an opportunity to strike!
With the masterful use of the labyrinth's advantage and the rapid exhaustion of the swarm, the casualties to the druids underground started to rise exponentially.
The hidden Second Grade druids didn't seem to realize the severity of the issue at first. By the time they started to sense life auras vanishing quickly in succession, they could no longer hold back. All of them burst out with their full force!
At this point, the number of insects had also been drastically reduced from its initial twenty-one thousand to its currently meager four thousand.
Billis sensed the constant explosions of energy flux in the labyrinth and finally gave the order to retreat.
All surviving insects seemed to have gone mad at that instant, wildly throwing themselves at what remained of the druids. Bug Adept Billis used a secret tunnel to gather with five of his magical mantises as well as a thousand insects carefully picked out from the swarm in a spot underground.
The Burrower that had just hatched was laying here, taking large bites out of the druid corpses sent over by the insect army. It had only been half an hour, but its powers had improved tremendously. It had evolved from a young worm to a grown worm!
Billis hissed under his breath while cloaked in his black robes.
The Burrower-now thicker-started to crawl toward one side of the wall like a massive snail. The speed at which it moved was almost infuriatingly slow.
However, the moment its fat intestinal body touched the stone wall, its concentric formation of sharp teeth pierced the earth, and the Burrower started to suck. The rock layer that was meant to be even tougher than steel had a one and a half meter long tunnel dug out of it.
Don't judge the Burrower based solely on the fact that its entire body was made of flesh and fiber. It was important to note that Burrowers were the best option when dealing with earth and rock layers.
Much like a swimming fish tossed into the water, the initially fat and slow body of the Burrower suddenly turned agile. A smooth and wide tunnel appeared before Billis' eyes at a rate visible to the naked eye. The shaft was still quickly spreading forward.
Billis nodded in satisfaction as he lifted his leg and jumped onto a magical mantis. The mantis then dove into the tunnel with him upon it.
The other magical mantises quickly followed after, as the one thousand insects following at the very rear marched forward along with him while also trying their best to destroy the tunnels behind them.
As large clouds of dirt and sand collapsed from above, this tunnel that had just appeared was quickly covered and buried under thick sand and dirt.