Two days prior:
Zhang Liu collapsed to his knees while holding onto his belly with one hand, the other was used to push himself off the cold floor as he tried not to vomit. The teleportation had twisted his insides making him feel like he had just finished riding some over the top rollercoaster. Some of his friends weren't as lucky as he could hear Zhang Hong barfing right next to him, though he was still wearing his mask.
He quickly gathered himself, moving off the floor wondering where they ended up in. He glanced about and could see the clan elders assessing the situation while the juniors were picking themselves off the ground.
"Quickly, everyone gather up, The General is missing!"
Everyone quickly jumped up to their feet, getting into formation as they all practiced. They did a headcount and everyone was there, but their Patriarch was missing. The elders used their detection skills to scan the area, but couldn't find their leaders aura signature anywhere in the vicinity.
They were in a circular cavern, the ceiling was about ten meters high and filled with stalactites. The place behind them was blocked and there were five corridors in front of them, leading to the unknown. Every corridor had a number above them and was lit by some torches and similar glowing fungus that Zhang Dong had come across.
"Everyone, check your equipment and gather with your lieutenants."
Said Zhang Zhi who was the second in command after the Patriarch, taking up the mantle in his absence. The Zhang Clan had designated a chain of command for situations where people got killed or split up. Matt didn't want to have clan members arguing on what to do, splitting up or infighting when one of the leaders was missing. The chain of command was quite rudimentary, starting with the first platoon and the twentieth was the last one going in order.
Zhang Hong had his helmet down now, rinsing it with some water that he took out of his spatial ring. No one really thought there was something wrong with that, as they didn't know that their patriarch was having problems with those at this moment. The twenty lieutenants gathered up at the five passages, they had a choice to make. Should they split up or move into one passage and hope for the best.
"The Patriarch said that we shouldn't split up, or at most split the teams in half if we had to."
Matt warned his people about the splitting up trope, which frequently weakened the whole group. Most of the time the smaller groups would encounter some overpowered monsters and get wiped out, due to having less manpower. Other times they would set off traps which ended in a similar fashion. Luckily, the Zhang clan members had their patriarch's detection skill so they decided to look into the aura around the entrances.
There were a lot of demonic and death energies around four of the corridors, with one of them having significantly less of them. This was the fourth corridor and after some deliberation, everyone agreed that they wouldn't split up and try to follow this path together. The passage was surprisingly wide and the ceiling left a lot of room to maneuver as well. The first three platoons were in the front with Zhang Zhi's team at the front, Zhang Jie's team was in the middle with the rear end guarded by the last platoon.
The sounds of their boots on the hard rocky floor could be heard, they walked for hours without anything happening the long corridor just continuing without end. Everyone was vigilant, but after trekking for so long they were wondering if this blasted corridor would ever end. Suddenly you could hear a strange crackling sound, everyone stopped in their tracks. They looked around but couldn't see anything in front or behind them, but then they looked up. There were many holes in the ceiling, those openings were giving off the strange noises.
They spotted the holes just in time as a greenish liquid was discharged from one of those openings, the people jumping to the sides as they couldn't activate their defensive formation in time. The moment the strange liquid came in contact with the floor it sizzled and started to dissolve the bedrock. The Zhang clan members then saw many centipede-like creatures slithering out from those holes. They were all about two or three meters long and started pouring out of the openings like a tide.
The cultivators managed to remain calm while getting into the defensive formation, quickly activating the water shield with about half the people in the large group. The rest that were the designated long-range attackers pulled out their weapons and trinkets. Some of them had bows, others had staff like weapons that aided with their Qi management. They started firing off their long-range attacks, blasting the creatures with pressurized water that mostly took the form of water serpents.
The insect monsters spit their venom on the shield but couldn't get through it. The creatures got whittled down quite fast by the organized defensive and offense combination, the monsters weren't that strong either just somewhere at the Qi condensation levels. There were quite a lot of them, falling down from the roof gnawing on the watery shield to no avail. The officers didn't have to act, so they just remained vigilant only acting if something stronger showed up.
The creatures kept coming for quite some time, the large hall quickly filled up with the creature carcasses which started dissipating into bubbles not so long after. In the end, a stronger version of the centipede monster arrived, it was about ten meters long and in the foundation establishment stage. It was taken out without any problems though, while the Qi condensation members did their thing Zhang Zhi pulled out his katana and bisected the creature in one go, showing off his swordsmanship in the process.
The monster attack wasn't anything dangerous, but without this shield, they might have been done in by the venom that the creatures used. They suffered no casualties this time around, showing off their teamwork in the process.
"Strange, these creatures are just vanishing... no beast cores either..."
The people were bewildered by this but they moved on, not wanting to wait here afraid that there might be more of these beasts. They continued walking for hours, getting attacked by the insect monsters on occasions. The further they went in, the more intense the fighting got, the creature's levels and numbers had also increased.
At the end everyone had their hands full, the officers had to chip in as they fought the larger monster centipedes that thrashed around, causing rocks to fall on their heads. Soon enough they could see the light at the end of the tunnel, prompting them to increase their pace. They ended in a room that looked similar to the first one, it was circular and had more tunnels leading out of it. But there was also a spring to the side, this spring had Qi recovering properties. If Matt saw this room, he would probably describe it as a safe zone.
More than half a day had passed since they set out, the juniors were feeling slightly tired so this would be a good spot to rest up. There was enough space to set up their tents, people took turns in guarding while everyone got to rest for a couple of hours. They were still in a closed-off dungeon with limited light, so they had no idea if it was day or night time.
"Where do you think Master is? Hope he is alright..."
Zhang Xue asked her brother while munching on some bread.
"I'm sure he is fine, Master is the strongest!"
The boy replied while shaking his fist at the ceiling, then just bit into his own piece of bread.
"I wonder if the other clans are also stuck in a place like this..."
Zhang Bao chimed in, as all of the 9th platoon members were sitting by a makeshift fire, eating. Everyone was in deep thought, the place looked gloomy and they wanted to get out of here as soon as possible.
"Stop overthinking things, just focus on the mission."
Zhang Tai replied as he stood up, getting ready for more marching through new corridors. The clan elders were examining them with the same method, it seemed to work out the first time as the monsters weren't overly powerful. Soon everyone packed up and they headed into the corridor that was the safest, what waited for them was more monsters. This time around it were skeletons, but the Zhang clan members made quick work of those. Without the need of keeping the defensive formation up, they could just unleash their wrath on the braindead monsters.
This pattern continued, they passed into another save zone, rested up and then moved on to fight a different type of enemy. They were lucky enough to never run into a corridor filled with traps or a dead end, probably all thanks to their detection technique which was the MVP of this expedition. After close to two days they ended up in a similar circular room, but this time around there was only one corridor leading out.
This seemed a little fishy, but not like they could turn back now as they felt that this might be the last one. Everyone got ready, with weapons drawn they all went in. The moment they entered the passageway unlit torches started lighting up, the passage went up and they all saw the large number of torches getting lit. It looked like something was inviting them to go there, this corridor was a lot shorter than the other one only taking five minutes of time to get to the end.
They didn't get attacked by anything on the way up, this was the first red flag. At the end, there was a large room, bigger than the rooms with the springs in them. There was a big closed gate right opposite where they came out, but there wasn't anything in this room. They looked up and to the sides but couldn't find anything out of the ordinary, some people stayed in the corridor while others went to check out that gate. It was quite sturdy, it didn't look like much but they could tell that damaging this thing would be impossible for them.
They decided to gather everyone in the room, trying to brainstorm the next move. But just at the moment when the last person entered the room, they heard a rumble. The passageway that they came from quickly closed itself as a giant rock wall slammed the thing shut. Everyone was at high alert as they got into their defensive formation. Quickly putting it up, not even waiting to see if it would be necessary.
They could hear strange clicking sounds and gears working as the whole room was rumbling. At first, they thought that perhaps the gate was about to open, but then some members looked up and could see that the ceiling was splitting apart.
Everyone reacted, the defensive formation running at full capacity as some kind of creature descended from above them and slammed into their shield. The monster was really ugly, looking like a fusion of man and a scorpion. The lower half was a scorpion while the top part was humanoid. It had a hideous head with many sharp teeth protruding from its mouth, its tail flailing around and slamming into the defensive formation that shook from the impact. The creature was holding a weapon in its humanoid hand, that looked like a torn off pillar, it also possessed two claw-like appendages below the human torso. The monster's size was immense, it would be able to easily hold a person in one of its claw-like hands. Though the bigger problem was, that the creature was giving early stage core formation energy fluctuations.
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"Don't falter, switch to the attacking formation!"
The lieutenants knew that the only way to defeat this monster was their large Spirit Serpent Formation, with everyone taking part. The monster kept pounding on their defensive formation, but they had trained to quickly shift between the two as well. The shield rippled, pushing the monster back for a couple of seconds before it started compressing back towards the Zhang clan cultivators. The monster flew back slightly, its large claw-like legs forming a skid mark as it got pushed back. The water-energy started taking the shape of a water serpent that towered over the boss monster.
The two large entities roared at each other, before charging out. The biggest problem for the Zhang members was that even though the room was large, there wasn't that much space to maneuver for this large battle formation of theirs. The water serpent slammed its head into the other creature's body while it tried to dig its crab-like claws into it. The formation was quite stable now and it would take more than that to take it down, also the way to get rid of battle formations was going for the cultivators inside and not for the energy construct itself. The creature was a bit too dumb for that, as it kept slashing at the watery body that just mended itself back.
It was looking good for the Zhang clan members, all their training came into fruition as the large serpent tail sent the creature flying into a wall. They slithered away, while the monster was momentarily stunned through the impact. The water serpent opened its mouth, gathering up energy as it charged its finishing move up. The boss monster didn't recover in time as when it looked at the enemy with its many eyes, it only to saw a blue beam coming its way. It raised those large claws to defend its upper body but to no avail, as the beam attack possessed an attacking power over the early stage of core formation quickly dissolving the monster into fine particles. To the Zhang member's surprise, the wall behind the monster didn't suffer any damage from their most powerful attack. The monster was slain and the cultivators rejoiced, but then they heard a strange robotic voice.
"Area 7 Girtablilu has been defeated, the first stage has been cleared. Please continue to the tower defense stage."
The members looked at the dissipating monster, the closed gate opening soon after the strange voice delivered the message. The people had no other place to go but forward, so after eating some Qi recovering pills the headed to the second stage.
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