Editor: Dhael Ligerkeys
The Crimson Blood Sect assault force progressed deeper into the nest cavern’s depths, mowing down insectoids as they moved.
Lu Ye skirted around, keeping just behind the forefront to provide backup whenever needed. His job now was to prevent any unnecessary losses on his side.
It took another few hours before the lion’s share of the colony had been exterminated. The nest never stopped churning out new life and new hatchlings kept popping out of the egg sacs hanging from the ceiling, but most if not all of them were swiftly dealt with before they could even get their first glimpse of the world.
On the other hand, Lu Ye was studying a particularly large meat sac. Unlike the others, this bulbous bud of flesh and liquid inside looked unusually large—the height of a man—and it had tiny capillary-like vessels reaching up to the ceiling of flesh before spreading off everywhere else.
But that was not the point. What really perturbed Lu Ye were the three Eighth-Order insectoids guarding this insectoid nexus.
These three were unlike the rest of the Eighth-Order insectoids Lu Ye had slain earlier. They had forelegs armed with sharper and deadlier serrated edges, stronger and thicker jet-black exoskeletons that looked more like real armor than just biological constructs for defense and support, as well as girth and height much bigger than that of the usual Eighth-Order insectoids.
The aura they emanated was telling enough that they might not be Ninth-Orders, but they were definitely far more dangerous than their ordinary Eighth-Order counterparts.
These were the Praetorian types that Li Baxian had warned him about, one of the special classes of insectoids in a colony.
Most insectoids would be driven by the impulse to venture away from the nest to explore and consume whatever sustenance they could find.
But not these Praetorian types. Their duty and calling were the well-being of the nexus, which they would watch and protect at all times, even with their own lives.
That was why none of them were attracted to Lu Ye despite him flying around with Glyph: Radiance shining so brightly like a beacon. That was why none of them came to aid their kind when Lu Ye and the rest of the Crimson Blood Sect assault force slaughtered them.
For nothing mattered more to them than the safety of the nexus. So long as nothing came within reach of the nexus, the Praetorian types would remain steadfastly immobile.
The only way to defeat such enemies would be to overrun them with superior numbers.
A group of Cultivators skilled in using spells and talismans was handpicked for this task. They stood almost seventy meters around the insectoid nexus, surrounding the Praetorian insectoids in a ring of steel.
Lu Ye would have preferred more people, but a hundred men were the best he could do for now.
Everyone channeled their powers.
With his Telekinesis, the hiltless knife left Lu Ye’s fingers, shooting into the air with a sharp whistle. Like a blazing meteor, it jetted straight for one of the Praetorian insectoids at the same time as Chen Yu launched another Telekinesis attack of his own.
On cue, more than a hundred spells and talismans hurtled for the three surviving insectoids as well.
A cascade of explosions, plus the chaotic pulses of Spiritual Power, rocked the entire subterranean stone chamber, threatening to bring the whole ceiling down.
The insectoids’ unique screeches slashed across the bedlam. Goaded, the three Praetorians finally marched forth to meet their human foes.
They might refuse to stray far from the nexus, but that did not mean that they were going to take any attacks lying down. For this reason, Lu Ye had expressly forbidden everyone from hitting the three at all to avoid any unwanted consequences.
The red sparkle of light soared back and forth, spearing through the first Praetorian insectoid that came Lu Ye’s way again and again until it toppled to the ground in a crash before a swarm of spells and talismans rained down on it. It would have got up to its feet if not for the hail of death and destruction blasting off its exoskeleton, penetrating its flesh and ripping it apart.
Its other two brothers suffered similar fates. Individually, they could have defeated most of the Cultivators present, but none of them could ever withstand the sheer intensity of the volleys of spells battering down their defenses.
It did not take long for them too to crash to the ground, joining their brother in death.
One did manage to weather through the crippling salvos of attacks, but before it could get any nearer to threatening any of the Cultivators, it was pinned down by a group of Body-tempering Cultivators led by He Xiyin until the rest mobbed and slew it.
Who it was who had dealt the killing blow, no one could tell in that pandemonium.
But everything had gone well with a properly thought-out plan. All three Praetorian insectoids were easily disposed of and the battle was finally won. This would have not been possible without Li Baxian’s advice—knowledge and wisdom amassed by the many Cultivators of the past who had given their lives to thwarting the insectoid threat.
Cheers erupted from all around the nest cavern, and everyone was jubilant.
They had almost a dozen men in this battle against the insectoids, but everyone nevertheless remained happy and delighted at surviving their first insectoid attack.
Most of them were gripped by fear, apprehension, and dread when they first heard about the insectoids attacking where many had lost their lives in the past. But this year, this time—for the first time—they prevailed. They survived.
And those who managed to pull through all reaped rich rewards.
But the battle was not yet over. Technically. The nest had not yet fully withered and so long as it endured, the nest would never stop churning out new hatchlings.
Lu Ye strode to the centermost meat sac where the Praetorian insectoids had been standing guard. He recognized it for what it was: the insectoid nexus.
He carefully ran Inviolable by its side, slicing open the meat sac gently. The membrane burst open with an unbearable and putrid stench surging out, but no one could miss how much life was pulsing inside.
Lu Ye thrust an arm into the flesh and rummaged around as if he was looking for something.
The sickening squishes were graphic enough to make several female Cultivators so disgusted that they scurried away with their hands clasped on their faces to prevent them from throwing up.
Lu Ye did not have to dig long. He retracted his arm moments later with a grotesquely misshapen mass of flesh and blood vessels barely the size of his fist still beating in his grasp.
One look at it and anyone knew what the thing was: the heart of the insectoid nexus was still full of life.
“So it’s true.”
Lu Ye murmured to himself. This was what was absorbing the sustenance whenever an insectoid consumed something—the very instrument of the colony’s continuity—the heart that would pump more life into the nest to reproduce more hatchlings. This was why the Praetorian insectoids stood guard here so that they could protect the heart and keep it safe from all harm.
In his hands, Lu Ye held the amalgamation of life and energy, which, in the real world of Jiu Zhou, was known as the Nucleus of Life. But the rich vitality and energy stored inside this thing were of no use to Lu Ye—or any other Cultivator for that matter. The sole purpose of this biological instrument was the continuity of an insectoid colony and nothing else.
An insectoid nexus like this usually had more than one Nucleus of Life. Lu Ye could count more than a handful of them when he was digging through the fleshy fold of the nexus’s insides. He would need to slice open the whole thing if he wanted to know exactly how many Nuclei were inside.
And doing that would fully extinguish all life and energy inside the nexus. Without the sustenance from it, the nest would wither and die, and the battle would finally be over.
But Lu Ye wasn’t going to do that. Lacking proper ways to farm Contribution Points, the members of the Crimson Blood Sect—its acolytes, initiates, and associates—could use this chance to earn as much as they could while the chance was still presenting itself. With all seven hundred Cultivators camping here in the nest cavern, all they needed to do was to just slay any insectoids that the nest produced, and they could easily gain points.
Therefore, Lu Ye only gave the Nucleus another brief look before he stuffed it back inside the nexus.
As soon as he retracted his arm, the incision he made immediately healed with noticeable speed, portending to the nexus’s incredible vitality and energy.
That was what they did next: everyone just loitered around the nest cavern and once the nest reproduced another hatchling, the Cultivators would be upon it before it ever saw the light of day, sending it straight on its way to its maker.
There was nothing else for Lu Ye to do. He divided the squads, assigning them to every egg sac hanging from the meat ceiling of the nest so that they could farm all the Contribution Points they wanted before he left them to it…
He went back to check on Hua Ci and made sure that she was fine. Only then was he relieved.
Although reminiscing how she looked earlier really was funny and gratifying at the same time.
[Well, I suppose as a woman, it’s understandable for her to have some form of vulnerability,] Lu Ye mused.
“Lu Ye! Lu Ye!” Yi Yi was calling him all of a sudden.
“There’s a tunnel there that leads to somewhere else.”
“What do you mean ‘somewhere else’?”
“Like what I said: a tunnel. Just come and you’ll find out what I mean,” Yi Yi pulled at his arm to get him to come with her.
Now that the situation in the nest cavern was fully under control, Yi Yi had taken the time for a leisurely walk around where she discovered a tunnel that no one had explored before.
Yi Yi led Lu Ye to the tunnel in question. He stood there and tried to remember all the underground routes that everyone had mapped. That was when he realized that this particular tunnel was the one tunnel that no one had noticed. A dark underground passageway which was not one of the nine tunnels that they had discovered, and no one knew where it would lead.
Lu Ye scoured around, and he bent down, finding a patch of viscous liquid that was still slick and wet.
The same type of secretion that insectoid hatchlings were born with the moment they broke out of their egg sacs.
That meant that some of the insectoids had left the nest and come this way. That the patch was still wet indicated that the insectoids did not leave too long ago—a day at most.
That reminded Lu Ye of a possible scenario that Li Baxian had warned him about. A sense of foreboding hung over him.
“Go in and have a look?” Yi Yi suggested.
“I’m heading in.”
“I’m coming along,” Yi Yi added briskly.
“Take Amber with us.”
Yi Yi pranced off and went to fetch Amber.
Meanwhile, Lu Ye called Chen Yu to him before leaving Chen Yu instructions to watch over the others in his absence and to raise him over anything urgent.
Riding on Amber, Lu Ye and Yi Yi explored the unknown tunnel, plunging deeper into the darkness.
He had Inviolable drawn in case of any surprises while he held aloft its scabbard with Glyph: Radiance activated like a flaming torch. Yi Yi sat in front of him, and Amber bounded forward as quickly as it could.
That brought back some form of nostalgia like how all three of them used to travel together in the past, carefree and happy. Yi Yi loved those days and being reminded of that left her in such a jovial mood that she began humming a tune.
Lu Ye propped his chin on her head and the strands of her hair flailed in the passing wind, pricking his face gently enough to feel itchy.
“Your head’s so heavy!” Yi Yi protested.
Lu Ye deliberately applied more force.
“I’m telling Sister Hua Ci about this!” wailed Yi Yi angrily, “I’ll have her deal with you!”
“Hua Ci, eh?” Lu Ye smirked. He might be concerned with her before, but now that he knew her weakness and with the tiny spider golem still in his possession, the tables had been turned!
“You’ve grown bold enough to not fear Sister Hua Ci anymore, eh, Lu Ye?”
“And you seem to have forgotten whose surname you now carry,” Lu Ye clenched his fist and noogied her head with it.
“WAA! I’m a Lu! All right!” Yi Yi tried to push him away to no avail, “I’m Lu Yi Yi, all right, all right!”
The banter went on as the trio pressed forward through the tunnel.
It took almost an hour before they finally reached somewhere they could sense the pulsing discharge of Spiritual Power up ahead, notwithstanding a loud, continuous buzzing.
Lu Ye quickly shut down Glyph: Radiance and fell quiet immediately, so did Yi Yi as well as Amber who padded forward quietly to maintain stealth.
Lu Ye patted the tiger’s back to motion for it to stop. Next, he and Yi Yi clambered off its back and they sneaked forward themselves. They reached a corner and peeked. An incredible sight filled their visions.