In the next moment, Aldrich and his undead found themselves in a sudden free fall. Aldrich immediately gathered his bearings and looked around to see any surfaces to hold on to.
He could see they were surrounded by large walls of rock, but the walls were far away and the tops of the walls too high up to grab, at the very least needing a fifty meter jump up.
Good thing two of Aldrich's undead could fly.
Fler'Gan grasped Aldrich while Stella held both Valera and the bloodspitter lizard to stop them from falling any further.
"Head back up there. And what was that, Stella?" said Aldrich, remaining calm.
"This thing's a Chrysalis!" said Stella as she made her way up with short bursts of explosions trailing down from her feet.
"…" Aldrich had no idea what that was. It seemed to be a Variant whose existence was too hidden for him to know from Net surfing.
"Most of the time, the planet kinda just coughs out nests at random. It's a real passive and random process," explained Stella. "But there are special variants out there that can make entire nests themselves.
A variant that can make a nest is called a Chrysalis, and they're real fuckin' dangerous because once they register you a threat, they'll use everything in the nest to kill you. That includes tossin' out waves of variants at you on top of warping you away here and there to death traps."
"So it tries to defeat us by dropping us from great height? Is that all it can do?" said Valera.
As if to challenge her words, a sudden pulling pressure stopped everyone from moving upwards.
Instead, it overpowered any form of flight and drew them down, into the bottom of the deep chasm. It was a pull akin to magnetism that ignored the effects of gravity and resisting force. No matter how much Stella or Fler'Gan struggled to move up, they just kept falling down at a steady pace.
A pace slower than falling, but going downwards nonetheless.
"You had to say somethin', huh?" said Stella to Valera with a shake of her head.
"A living nest, is it?" said Fler'Gan as he took in his surroundings and started to think. "Then is it not possible to defeat it by creating mass amounts of environmental destruction? If these walls and rock are part of the creature, then I believe it most prudent to simply drill an escape through its body."
"Nah." Stella shook her head. "It ain't like that. Only a few parts of the nest are legit parts of its body. Plus the nest is its own dimensional space. Bigger in the inside than on the outside. Who knows how much rock you gotta blast through to get out?
And the Chrysalis can keep warpin' us to different areas, stoppin' us from ever leavin' if it got really serious.
Normal AA protocol says to clear a Chrysalis Nest out, you need a team with warp powers to get out in case things get bad, location trackin' to get a hold of its brain, and then enough firepower to bore through the layers of rock and walls probably guardin' the brain."
"Brain? Like a monster core," said Aldrich.
"Yeah. It's real similar."
"The only issue is we don't have scanning as good as that, especially not for Alters," said Aldrich. He opened up his inventory and put a lingering gaze on the Sign Stone he had from clearing the first Trial Quest.
That was his get out of jail free card to teleport away when something went wrong. But would he use it now?
Did he have to?
"We wait this out for now. We aren't in immediate danger. The speed of a fall like this shouldn't do any damage to us." Aldrich said this but kept himself wary, ready at a moment's notice to warp out to the Nexus using his Sign Stone. He could also choose all of his undead to come with him remotely, so it did not matter too much if they were separated either.
"Look. It would appear that a mere leisurely fall such as this was not our intended method of demise," stated Fler'Gan as he gestured down.
Below, the fall ended into a large pit of whirling sand. Aldrich could spy several ants and lizards within it, but they were not guards. No, they were struggling for their lives. They tried to move out of the sand pool with desperate struggles, but the sand was soft, breaking apart under any amount of weight and sucking them in.
On top of this, the sand pool created strong spiraling currents towards the center that sunk those unfortunate enough to be in it even deeper. When an the ants and lizards fell down to the center of the spiral, a large stake of sand solidified into rock skewered them all, impaling them before sucking them in.
"Antlion," said Stella. "Creates these sand traps. Usually has an anti-flight ability of some sorts. Then guts whatever reaches the center of their trap with sand spikes."
"What rank of variant is this?" said Aldrich.
"D+ rank," noted Stella. "It ain't that impressive on its own. Its just hard to reach it through the sand because it creates a natural sort of insulatin' barrier. Most likely, this variant's what the Chrysalis chose as its dedicated method of killin'.
Chrysales, once they get woken up, don't like usin' their warpin' or changin' their insides too much.
Costs too much energy.
So, usually, they'll warp intruders into a trap they've set up. Usually with variants that they keep nice and fat and happy to do their biddin.'
"A symbiotic relationship," said Aldrich. He looked down at the sand pool drawing ever nearer. They were now thirty meters above it. "But this isn't much of an issue, is it? You have the firepower. Just go down and use your Bunker Buster on it."
"Yeah, but then I gotta drop Valera and this lizard, and then they'll get caught up in the blast-," began Stella.
"Throw them to me. Fler'Gan will carry us all," said Aldrich.
"I am afraid my back will give out from such strenuous physical activity," said Fler'Gan. "My elderly form simply lacks the muscular strength to hold all of you together."
"Don't worry about that." Aldrich casted [Negative Surge] on Fler'Gan, boosting his physical stats for ten seconds.
[Mana: 183/183 ] 168/183]
"Oh? I have not had such strength in fifty years!" Fler'Gan's mouth tendrils quivered in delight. "I feel as light as the day I was birthed from the Elder Brain!"
"Give them to me. And go," said Aldrich. "Show me as much destruction as you can. Blow this thing up."
Stella's eyes alighted with a glint of pure excitement. Her body started to shine, her veins becoming visible through her skin as they gleamed orange.
"Off you go to your boyfriend." Stella tossed Valera to Aldrich, and he grabbed her by the waist under the crook of his arm. Then Stella tossed the lizard, which Aldrich too grabbed the same way.
"B-b-boyfriend!?" Valera looked up at Aldrich with a blush and then looked at how she was being carried. It looked like she was being carried unceremoniously like a sack of potatoes.
"Sorry, but I have to carry both of you. If it was just you, I could have done better," said Aldrich. This was just the easiest way to carry her since his other hand was occupied with the lizard.
Valera glared at the headless lizard. "I will remember this…," she said under her breath.
Stella went straight down, a comet tail of light trailing behind her as she neared the whirling sand pool. She thrust her hands out in front of her.
"Bunker Buster!" she shouted, her whole body turning blindingly bright before she detonated right above the sand.
There was first a burst of incredibly blinding light, then the deafening sound of an explosion followed by a mighty shockwave that sent everyone hurtling upwards.
The chasm shook and trembled from the blast. The explosion blasted away all of the sand below, scattering it against the walls like Moses had parted the red sea. And in the middle of this uncovered sea of sand was simply a gaping, smoking crater.
Standing in the middle of the crater was Stella triumphantly holding up the charred remnants of the antlion's head. The head was as large has her upper body with one remaining mandible that could easily have chopped a man in two.
Aldrich had Fler'Gan drop everyone down where it was now safe.
"Excellent work." Aldrich nodded to Stella and had her put the antlion head down. A grave marker floated over it. "Serve."
[Mana: 168/183 ] 163/183]
[Zombie Antlion Level 15 raised]
[Units Controlled: 19/22 ] 20/22]
Aldrich took the reanimated, twitching head of the Antlion and then used its mandible to hook it into an exposed part of the lizard's back, locking them together so that it was easier to carry them both.
"All in a day's work," said Stella as her light died down and she flipped her hair, resetting her manic, explosion loving grin into something more calm.
"I must agree with the master. Your capacity to enact destruction is formidable. I like it," said Valera.
"Least there's one thing we agree on," said Stella.
"Indeed. Such power coming from not a trace of mana. Unfathomable," said Fler'Gan. "Are you certain you do not wish to undergo any experimentation?
Once I have my laboratory set, I can even ensure that the process is utterly painless. You will be unconscious even, if needs be."
"Sorry, but I'll pass again," said Stella. "The idea of bein' unconscious with you just made the whole, uh, 'experience' seem a lot worse."
"The fight's not over," said Aldrich. "Stay focused, all of you. Stella, you're the most experienced at dealing with variants out of all of us, and I'm giving you full reign over your memories to remember anything related to this chrysalis thing.
How would you suggest dealing with this? Or getting out?"
"We could try to blast our way out of here, but the issue is we got no way to tell where to direct our firepower to get us out. Plus, like I said, the inside of a Chrysalis Nest is way bigger than the outside.
Granted, a Chrysalis that can only host D rank variants is probably not gonna be that big, but it isn't a certainty either." Stella paused. "Or we could wait it out. It's tryin' to get rid of us cause' it thinks we're a threat to it. But if it knows we aren't, it might decide to go dormant again and let us leave.
This whole warpin' and changin' its insides thing costs a hell of a lot of juice. I doubt this thing can do it much more."
As if in response to Stella, the surroundings warped into a blur again.
"You just had to say something, hm?" said Valera, mimicking what Stella said to her before.
Stella sighed. "Guess we're even now."
They were warped into a much tighter space. A spherical cavern of strange red and pink rock that looked strangely organic. The cavern's walls were grooved and ridged, and when they undulated like a living organ, that was when Aldrich realized - this was not rock, this was flesh.
The cavern's walls contracted and started to slowly squeeze inwards, attempting to crush everyone.
"It's tryin' to eat us whole!" said Stella. She started to glow. "I'm gonna blast a hole right through this damned thing!"
"Wait, young one," said Fler'Gan. "Our powers are far too destructive and this space far too confined. The Elder and the knight will be caught in the crossfire."
"He's right," said Aldrich. But without firepower to drill out of here, what could he do? He again hovered his attention over the Sign Stone in his inventory.
But he held off on using it even now.
"ORAA!" Valera dropped her shield and slammed a massive punch against a stomach wall. Her fist caved in a great crater in the rocky flesh, but it healed immediately.
"Unless you get the Chrysalis brain itself, its core, punches ain't gonna' do anything," said Stella. "This thing's committed completely to killin' us, no matter how much energy it takes."
"Tell me, Stella, are these stomach walls connected to the Chrysalis?" said Aldrich, his mind racing.
"No, don't think so. Chrysales tend to hide their core out in brain chambers separated from their stomachs," said Stella.
"But say that the Chrysalis was a human being. Would you say that this stomach chamber is connected to its brain in the same way that a human's stomach is in the same body as their brain? That they're both part of the same body?" said Aldrich.
"Yeah. I'd say so. I've heard tell of some heroes poisonin' the stomach chambers to get the brains to freeze up, so seems like it," said Stella.
"Good." Aldrich held up his lantern and cast the light towards the stomach walls.
This Chrysalis was too big and healed too quickly for conventional damage to deal with it.
But what countered regeneration better than instant death?