Joshua put the corpse of the large ant general into his inventory before the group proceeded to make their way into the cave it came out of. It was the only path forward and all of them could sense the pressure coming from up ahead. The waves of power leaking from the cave were clearly greater than the amount given off by the ant general they had just killed and that alone was enough to let them know that what they would be facing next would be far more powerful than the last fight. It was as if they had just taken on an appetizer and a full blown buffet was coming up next.
As they made their way through the cave Joshua took notice of the fact that the area was growing bigger and bigger as they moved further in. That was a sign that whatever they were going to face would be on the larger side and would need the extra space to move around effectively. After a while the path way got big enough that both Tank and Cinder would be able to move forward easily at their full sizes. That was saying a lot since Tank was getting larger with each level he gained. Apparently he was gaining back his aura and was slowly growing back to his previous max size. It wasn't all that noticeable over one level, but over the eight he had gained since they had been working together Joshua could see that Tank had grown a little. Maybe by the time he reached level one hundred he'd be twice his current size.
One thing Joshua had noticed while fighting was that size mattered a lot in a fight. It had its pros and its cons. The larger you were the more you would get out of your strength and vitality stats. Its why even if Joshua had the same strength stat as some of the larger ants like the ant general. If he went head to head without any technique in his attack he would be the one that ended up being thrown back from the collision. In that sense physics held up just fine in this new world. For someone Joshua's size to hold off a giant like Tank's attacks easily, his strength stat would have to be fifty percent higher. It was how he held of the beetles so easily back in the forest. He was straight up stronger than them.
On the other hand if you were on the larger side your dexterity would be less beneficial. Smaller creatures thrived on their speed and dexterity. There were very few situations where a large creature could use a high dexterity stat well and Cinder was an example of one of those cases. She wasn't blindingly fast when she was at her full size, but her attacks were. The structure of her body allows her to use her reflexes and legs extremely well. Then the fact that she can travel along her web at a far faster rate also increases her speed even though she's in her larger form. That's why Tank and Cinder were both lucky to have the resize ability do to their control over aura. It allowed them to get the most out of any situation.
If Joshua had to guess whatever they were going to face would be either the same size as Tank or bigger, which meant there was no way he was going to be able to fight it head on. Joshua was brought out of his musing as he noticed the plain walls of the cave were now changing as a web like structure of glowing cracks spread out ahead of them. The stone was still sturdy so they didn't have to worry about it collapsing on them or something along those lines. The main change that the sudden light had on the surroundings was the difference in atmosphere. It truly started to feel like he was heading into the lair of some ancient beast or something similar. It took a while before they finally came up to an enormous towering door with a large skull on it that resembled an ant. The moment they stepped close enough to it the door started open on its own and they were all met with a bright light.
They slowly walked into the bright room that dimmed down as their eyes adjusted after having walked down the dark cave for so long. The first thing Joshua noticed was how blue everything was. It felt like they were walking into a dome like stadium do to how large the room was. It was so big that even if Tank had grown to three times his largest size he still wouldn't have much trouble moving around. The blue glow came from crystal that were all over the room and the large one that was engraved into the ceiling. Their glow brightened and dimmed off and on like a slow heartbeat. It was rhythmic and a bit calming do to the blue color, but after having taken in all of their surroundings they all looked towards the center of the room and took notice of what they were going to be up against.
There were three creatures at the center of the room for the moment. Two of them looked rather familiar since they were identical to the sub-boss they had just killed. They were both four star ant generals with a level of thirty-five. They glared over at them viciously as if they were daring them to come over and step fully into the room. It wasn't these two creatures that grabbed Joshua attention though, instead it was the enormous ant that dwarfed them. This large metallic ant stood over six stories tall and its body took up a third of the room on its own. It clearly wasn't very mobile just from looking at its heavily armored body, but he foresaw them having the same problem they had with the ant general from before. All of these ants were heavily armored and it would be impossible for them to do any real damage to them without overheating their bodies beforehand.
When Joshua observed the gigantic beast he noticed that it went by the name Ant Queen and was level thirty-five with five stars by its name. It was the pinnacle opponent they could come across in the dungeon and it carried itself like it knew that fact. Its larger pincers seemed far more powerful than any of the other ants and Joshua was seriously starting to doubt whether Tanks shell could actually hold up against them. Luckily it seemed to be on the slow side so Joshua knew he could avoid them if it came down to it, and Tank was smart enough not to let those things grip onto him. The Ant Queen let out a loud shriek warning them before they could approach, but Joshua and his group weren't deterred.
"It looks like we're going to have to go with the same strategy we used in the last fight. Their bodies are too heavily armored for any of our attacks to actually do anything to them. We'll have to heat their metallic exoskeletons up enough to actually be able to hurt them. It'll probably take even longer for the Ant Queen." Joshua explained.
"The problem is the fact that Cinder and I have to keep using our abilities to create the steam, if we're busy fighting the two ant generals while dancing around the queen then when are we going to have the time to create the steam?" Tank asked getting a frown from Joshua.
Joshua thought over the dilemma for a moment before an idea started to come to mind. "I think there's a combination that you and Cinder haven't quite tried to use yet. In fact I think it will do even better than the flat out steam attack and we can prepare it beforehand." Joshua said before explain his strategy to the group. The idea brought out a chuckle from Tank and got Cinder to jump with excitement. Lilly of course was smiling like usual but her eyes seemed to brighten up a little bit at Joshua's plan.
"For that plan to work you have to hold them off yourself for a little while." Lilly asked with a little concern.
"Don't worry they may be dangerous, but they are extremely slow in comparison to me. I'll keep their attention for a while, but for the most part I'll just be avoiding their attacks and seeing what they can do. You guys stick to the plan." Joshua said with a grin before turning towards the group of three enormous ants. His face settled back into his usual calm and he took one deep breath as his aura shroud covered his body. He lunged forward at top speed right towards the Ant Queen before letting out a heroic shout to get the attention of all three opponents directed right towards him. He didn't plan on attacking the Ant Queen since that would be pointless at the moment. He might be able to put little scratches on its body, but that would be nothing more than a finger nail scratch when compared to its giant body.
The moment he used his heroic shout all three ants shrieked back at him with the two ant generals charging towards him. Their speed wasn't all that fast, but once he got close their swipes came out at a speed far faster than you would expect. He leaped over the first one and ran along its back before leaping onto the other. Just from how the ants body didn't seem to even creek from the pressure of his harsh footsteps he knew attacking from his position would be useless. When he landed back on the ground the Ant Queen was right in front of him and was glaring fiercely towards him.
The large ant shot its head forward with its pincers preparing to smash him into paste, but Joshua used an aura blast from his feet to jump out of the way at the last moment. He leapt high into the air and looked at the destruction caused by the giant ant and was shocked by the huge crater formed from its one attack. Now he was certain if that ant used its pincers on Tank it would crack his shell after a few attacks. That also meant even though Lilly was synchronized with Tank she couldn't just take a hit from this ant. Tank had his shell to hold up, Joshua had his aura shield in a pinch, but Lilly and Cinder would be in grave danger.
While falling back down to the ground Joshua could see the large bubbles being formed by Tank start to feel the room and he could tell there was something incredibly different about these bubbles from the normal ones. Tanks bubbles usually were filled with a bit of water on the inside so that when they exploded they did some real damage to his opponents, but these weren't filled with water, but were instead filled with steam. If they were to explode a large area of the room would suddenly be filled with steam and that would start to heat up the metal of these ants, but more importantly would keep them from being able to cool down their bodies. Cinder was constantly helping create the steam with her flame magic while Lilly created smaller bubbles to mix in with Tanks larger ones.
They still needed a little time to create enough to cover the entire area, but things were going well and Joshua only needed to hold up for a little while. After landing he dodged out of the way of another ant general's swipe while smashing his scale blade into the face of the other one. He used the impact of the collision to push himself off and out of the way of the Ant Queen that had just stomped one of its massive legs in his previous position. With aura Joshua had gotten into an entirely new level of awareness while fighting. He could feel what his opponents were going to do and that allowed him to manipulate the battlefield in a way that no other fighters could. Something that took age and experience he could do with a subtle feel of his surroundings and his aura was to thank for that.
That was the main reason he wasn't having any trouble flowing in out of combat with his current opponents. He wasn't able to hurt them at the moment, but they weren't able to get to him either. Joshua held the stalemate for a few minutes as his team prepared their plan and just when they were ready to begin a loud crashing sound came from another door at the opposite end of the room. Another group had arrived.