After the fight had finished Joshua let out a held breath and started helping the others put away their spoils. This time around they were the ones taken by surprise and the fight did not go nearly as quick or as smooth as the previous one. If Joshua hadn't used his aura hardening state from the get go then he would be standing there with a lot of injuries. The creatures fast reflexes and precise attacks made it hard to keep up when there was just one of them, but with three it was impossible for Joshua to block all of their strikes on his own considering the fact that trying to do so would only end up leaving a more dangerous opening for them to go after. So Aura hardening was his best bet, but hopefully they'd be more prepared in future fights.
"How the hell were they able to sneak up on us like that?" Aito asked a bit surprised. With the combination of Joshua's aura sense and his enhanced vision he didn't expect for them to get surprised so easily.
"They can use the resize ability like Tank and Cinder. They were in a much smaller form hiding in the bush and preparing to attack us. If I hadn't noticed how potent their aura was with my aura pulse then the only time we would have had to react would have been after they were already in our face." Joshua explained while scanning the area once again to make sure there weren't any more shrunken down praying mantises waiting to attack.
"Do you think you can find them ahead of time now that you know they can do that?" Henry asked since Joshua looked like he was done checking out the surroundings with his aura.
"Yeah I can tell them apart. That's why I was able to warn you guys in time. Even if they are in a much smaller form I can still tell that they have a far more powerful aura than the other regular insects around. They don't blend into the aura of the plants either so it's not too hard to tell them apart." Joshua said getting relieved nods from everyone. It was one thing to enjoy fighting and exploring, but they definitely didn't want to be constantly taken by surprise every time.
"I wonder why they take the smaller form anyways. Usually beast want to portray their power and dominance from what I've seen so far." Adrian said.
"Most likely so that they can hunt for food. These creatures are clearly predatory by the way they go out of their way to stalk us." Lilly said getting everyone's attention. "That being the case their large size and powerful aura would easily give them away if they were to approach weaker creatures in an attempt to hunt them down. Instead of constantly having all of their prey run away they simply shrink down, get close enough, and then grow in size as they go on the attack."
"Seems like a good strategy, but it'll be annoying for us to have to deal with the entire time." Joshua replied. "Well let's get a move on the sun is starting to get low and we need to find a nice clearing to set up camp. With their new ability out in the open we shouldn't have as much trouble." The rest of the group agreed as they pressed forward and continued exploring the area. They did come across a few more praying mantis while looking for a nice clearing and this time around it wasn't nearly as challenging.
The first one they came across was on its own and busy eating a meal of centipede that it had clearly recently captured. It didn't really pay them any attention and since it was so focused on its meal it didn't notice the onslaught of attacks that were coming its way. It was taken down pretty quickly since it was in no position to retaliate and the group moved on after collecting its remains. The second time they ran into an enemy it was no longer just one on its own, but instead there was another group of three of them that seemed to have just finished a recent meal. They weren't shrunken down since it was clear they were no longer trying to stalk their prey and Joshua made sure to sense out the area just to make sure no others were hiding in wait.
The fight this time around went much more smoothly since they were able to get in the first strike. They were able to take out the legs of one, beak open the chest of another, and smash the skull of the last one before they were even able to retaliate. The fighting went rather quickly from there as they picked them off one by one. From the two fights Joshua was able to notice one important things about the creatures at least when it came to the ones of the weaker variety. Theses praying mantises were rather sluggish after a meal. It was as if their alert levels dropped significantly and their reactions became dulled. He wasn't sure if that would stay the same once they started taking on higher level versions of the creatures, but for now that seemed to be the pattern that was taking place in front of all of them.
One other thing they came across when exploring the forest was a group of the centipedes that the praying mantises had been tearing apart and eating. When Joshua observed the creatures he figured out that they weren't exactly push overs since they were all level sixty-six which made sense considering the territory that they were in put they also only had one star by their names. The only reason these creatures were even able to survive in the area was because of the fact that they grouped up and were able to hide inside burrows in the ground away from any danger. Of course they did have to come out to the surface if they wanted to eat some food. They survived on the leaves from the trees in the area and the time they came out to eat was also the time for their predators to try to get themselves a meal as well.
By the time the sun had gone down and the night sky was starting to appear above them, the group was able to find a small clearing to set up camp. Joshua made sure to check out their surroundings beforehand for any nearby enemies and then he set up one of those beast repellent devices. He realized that soon in the future that kind of equipment would become unbelievably useless. Level hundred plus beast completely ignore that type of stuff and in fact some of the smarter ones will just use it as a signal that enemies were in their territory. It would become nothing more than a beacon to attract more trouble.
Lilly let both Tank and Cinder out to eat their meals after their long rest for most of the afternoon. The two seemed to be in much higher spirits although Cinder always seemed to be that way. The large spider was still trying to get accustomed to all of her new abilities and that became clear when she accidentally froze her cocoon solid and had to toss it a side to make a new one for her meal. Tank on the other hand seemed more interested inspecting their surroundings and Joshua could tell that the large turtle was using his aura sense to get a good idea of what exactly was going on around him.
The rest of the group got busy setting up camp for the night so they could all get a good meal and a good rest so that they will be charged up for their next day in this new place. By the time the entire group was settled down and eating their meal everyone had relaxed and were having a pleasant conversations on the things that had happened on the expedition so far. During the back and forth Joshua took notice of the fact that Tank seemed to be a little out of it and was instead looking in the direction that they'd be heading in the morning. It was towards where they'd assume the entrance to the canyon would be according to the map and thus was also most likely the direction in which the dungeon for the territory would most likely be. The forest seem rather large so they all knew that they probably had a full day ahead of them.
The way that Tank kept glancing in that direction told Joshua that there was probably something up. So far Tank's advice hadn't been off and the large turtle was still better at using his aura sense than Joshua was at the moment. Although Joshua's aura pulse allowed him to get a better ideal of his surroundings then either his or Tank's aura sensing abilities it still didn't have the range that Tank was able to sense things from. That alone told Joshua that there was probably something in that direction that concerned the large turtle or was just out of the ordinary for it to get his attention.
"What's wrong Tank you seemed to be searching for something." Lilly asked as she had also started to notice Tank's odd behavior.
"There is something different about this territory and I think I might have figured out why that is." Tank said with a small frown. He didn't seem to like the idea of whatever he figured out.
"Well go ahead and give us a heads up. We'll probably have to deal with it tomorrow so any clues ahead of time will be a big help." Joshua said as everyone nodded along and started paying attention to Tank. It was quiet for a moment as the turtle seemed to be trying to figure out the best way to explain things. At this point even Cinder had stopped drinking her lizard cocoon juice to come over and hear what was going on.
"I think you may understand this best Joshua since you've been getting better at using your aura. Whenever you get close enough to a dungeon in a territory you can usually get a feel for where it is. The only time that isn't the case is when you're in a giant area like the prairie that is so spread out that it's hard to pinpoint the dungeon. This forest isn't nearly big enough for that to be the case yet I still can't feel a dungeon anywhere close by." Tank explained surprising the others.
"Wait so you mean there is no dungeon in this territory? Then how exactly are we supposed to claim the territory if there isn't a dungeon?" Adrian said a little confused. No one else seemed to know the answer to that question as well since they all just shook their heads at the idea.
"Even though there is no dungeon that doesn't mean there isn't another challenge in this forest." Tank said confusing everyone even more.
"How is that possible?" Henry asked as he couldn't think of any other way for a territory to be marked as its own based off of what they had come across so far. Unless the territory was considered a former heavily human populated area with a town or city nearby there was no way there wouldn't be a dungeon. Even with towns and cities there were still dungeons involved after you cleared the place of the purple haze. Up to this point they had yet to come across any purple haze in the area so that couldn't be the answer.
"Well I have told you before of creatures that are on the more powerful side and create their own territories. Creatures like me in the past before I decided to go roaming around to explore the world, or creatures like Cinders mother who clearly decided to spread her children around the world to grow the impact of her species." Tank explained and everyone was starting to get an idea of where this was going. "I can feel a fairly powerful presence in that direction and I'm sure that there is a powerful beast there that roams the area as its own claimed territory. If we keep heading in that direction then we'll run into it."
"You say it like that's a bad thing. It can't be any worse than a dungeon or haze filled town." Adrian replied what was on everyone's mind.
"They're strong enough to take over an area for a reason. If the system believes they're strong enough to rule over a territory without creating a dungeon then you know the creature must be either overwhelmingly powerful or special in some way. It'll be interesting to find out which." Tank said as everyone once again fell into silence.