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!