The lizard bent its hind legs, muscles tightening as it prepared to launch itself out of cover at the prey approaching it. Its skin tone mimicking the surrounding rock walls, blending it almost perfectly against the background. It dipped its head ever slowly, eyes staring hungrily at the prey standing meters away.

A sudden loud crack and the lizard stiffened, a part of its head blown cleanly away and toppled backward with hardly a sound on to its side as it died convulsing.

"Damn, those lizards are hard to spot!" Private Tinoth of Alpha Company, Platoon 1, Section 2 muttered. He turned off the infra sensor and used his still warm M1 rifle muzzle to push his all-purpose vision goggles up,

He went up to the twitching body to ensure the creature is dead but waving an all clear to the rest of his section waiting behind. "Scratched one lizard." He reported to his Section Leader.

"Any traps or hidden stuff?" His Section Leader asked, joining him next to the dead lizard, where the section appointed 'butcher' was doing the grisly work of removing the mana stone.

"Only this here, nothing else," Tinoth replied. He used to be a forest ranger in Goldrose, working as a scout or trail breaker for adventurers or merchant caravans. He later joined the Army of Goldrose as a scout when the Empire invaded and managing to survive till now.

So far they have managed to clear two of the four doors, encountering mostly giant dino lizards and more slimes. Nitroshrooms and green moss also grew in abundance all over the tunnels. They also found a new monster, which was actually a huge greyish white fluffy ball of fur. It had a rabbit like face, and had long fur growing all over in a ball shape. It seemed to feed mostly on small insects and moss and was quite docile, allowing the men to pat and cuddle. The men took to calling them as fluff balls or cotton balls.

There was only one other casualty when an unlucky Marine got ambushed by a camouflaged lizard, getting poisoned but was saved by his mates in time. James called the lizards as dino lizards, as they looked similar to a Terran dinosaur, except it could change its color to blend in with its surroundings and its tongue could stretch out till over three meters in length. It also has a corrosive spit attack, using acid stored in a sac in its chest area. The Marines learned not to shoot in that area as the acid substance will burst out and spray all over the area. They mostly utilized the environment, hiding in every nook and crannies, laying hidden till prey comes close enough from them to leap out to attack.

The terrain was similar to the level one, mostly rock walls and open caverns but instead of ants, the dino lizards dominated the level instead. Magister Thorn overseeing the operation in the safety of the Ops room commented on the lizards saying that it is a type he has not seen nor read before, while Dr. Sharon was interested in its ability to create a highly concentrated bio-acid and clamoring for the Marines to bring her an intact specimen, if possible alive, which James kinda ignored her, sending her a dead specimen instead.

The platoon encountered a fire beetle nest in the 3rd door, where a Champion was found. The Champion fire beetle had a shiny red black armored carapace and a curved horn like a Hercules beetle and it was huge, almost the same size as a jeep. The smaller weaker fire beetles chittered in anger as the elves entered their nest cavern, and set upon them with arcane balls of fire.

The section entering the nest scrambled for cover and called for backup, which the rest of the platoon responded. They fired their Magelocks in return to the fireballs cast by the beetles from behind cover, while the beetles stood in open ground. Each lesser fire beetle was the size of a large dog, fat and roundish like a ladybird beetle except their shell is in dark crimson red instead of bright cheerily red. The lesser fire beetles were easily taken out by over 20 rifles and shotguns as they charged and stood in the open, while the Champion beetle was ignored. After the lesser fire beetles were cleared, James ordered the platoon to fall back out of the nest and using the narrow tunnel to funnel the Champion into their lines of fire.

The Champion taking the bait of the retreating Marines, charged angrily after them, entering the tunnel where the rest of the Platoon had formed up in firing lines. "FIRE!" James yelled when the retreating men were under cover and out of the firing line. The Champion beetle could only head in one direction due to the narrow tunnel and the men couldn't miss at all.

Five claymores planted beforehand also detonated as one as the Champion closed in, spewing their load of steel ball bearings directly into the charging Champion beetle. When the dust cloud settled, the once magnificent looking beetle which its glossy shell, looked pitted and worse for wear, its horn had even broken off. The combined firepower had stopped the Champion in its tracks and it died without even casting a simple spell or attack.

The Marines raided the nest next, finding eggs and larvae of fire beetles and a small mound of discarded beetle shells, which could be used to make armor or other products. A treasure chest was also found, and several more bottles of healing potions and magic potions were recovered. The men also found a small pile of gold, silver and mana stones scattered all over the nest, making the men grumble as they had to comb and collect the treasures one by one all over the nest.

Tinoth grumbled as he bent down for the twentieth time, picking up a piece of glittering gold and dropped it together with other valuables he collected into his upheld helmet. "Heavens," he moaned, "I didn't think I would rue the day I complain about collecting gold from the floor..." He stretched his aching back.

The nearby men laughed, as they also stopped and stretched their backs, as they had been collecting the valuables from the floor one by one for the past half hour. James watched the men who faced death earlier, laughing and joking as they went about their duties and smiled proudly, knowing that these men will stand facing death laughing.

Collecting the Champion beetle carcass was the worst, as a foul smelling liquid was discharged from its body, and due to its weight, the men had to make use of two Support Golems to lift it out of the dungeon. And from the Champion, it yielded a humongous fire mana stone, which made Magister Thorn watching behind the cameras mounted on the men, whooped with joy.

Once the clean up was done, the platoon returned back to the staging point to resupply and rest, while Platoon 3 did a second sweep through the areas that were cleared and also to transport all the dead creatures for processing and research.

Collins rolled the clear crystal vial with a dark red liquid sloshing inside on his gloved palms, before holding it up against the glare of the spotlights and observing the red liquid. "Strange, how something like this could heal and regenerate body cells."

James finished the dried jerky and swallowed a mouthful of cool spring water from his canteen before saying, "Yeah, but isn't our nanomachines the same?"

Collins raised an eyebrow at James chewing away at the jerky in his mouth and said, "Serious? This shit here is made using magic, while nanomachines made out of science and technology."

James gave a shrug as he swallowed the jerky in his mouth, "Well, I reckon that the elves just went down another path, while we humans went down the science path. Who knows maybe in a thousand years, the elves might have some magical construct allowing them to travel in space?"

"True," Collins nodded before returning the healing potion into a matt black foam covered shock resistance case with the rest of the potions, closing and locking the case. "Still it is amazing they can do these stuff we only see or read in movies and books."

"Yea, I always wanted a dragon," James grinned, "Hell, if we had some close in air support dragons, I think we could easily fight off the Empire early on."

"Well, If wishes were horses, beggars would ride," Collins grinned back, slapping James's back. "We do have dragons now, and I heard the Airforce had some prototypes planes up and running already. Not only that, High Command wants to project our forces outwards once the 2nd batch of recruits had completed basic."

"Hell yeah," James dusted his hands and kept his canteen. "It's about time we show those Blue Boys whose the boss here. Can't have them thinking we are their bitches, able to come and go as they please."

"Horaah! Well, its time," Collins checked his watch and said to James, who nodded and started to strap on his armor with Collins's help. "I had Platoon 3 double check all the doors again to make sure all had been cleared leaving the last room with the Boss and entrance to next level untouched for your Platoon 2 boys." The rest of the men of Platoon 2 were also getting ready, helping each other with their gear.

James nodded as he checked his gear while Collins continued his report. "We tried to scan the interior of the Boss room but there is some magical interference, making the scans wonky, we did pick up some conflicting life signs inside, but the system can't nail it down. All we can say is its a huge room, almost twice the size of this room and with contacts inside."

"Ahh, fuck," James cursed. The hall with the pillars where Platoon 2 and 3 had set up shop, was roughly 28 meters in length and 11 meters wide.

"As for what is behind the doors," Collins shrugged, "We can only guess what it could be."

"More dino lizards?" James guessed, "Or a super dino lizard or maybe a giant fluff ball?" He gestured towards a few cages holding the Fluff balls waiting to be transported up to Dr. Sharon's labs.

"Well, maybe," Collins replied seriously, "We found no other way into the room so it is not like the 1st level of this dungeon where the Ant's nest is open. Seriously we have no idea to what is inside, so, be careful."

James gave an assuring smile to Collins, "Got it! Well, if its some super lizard or heavily armored beetle, we do have a new trick up our sleeves."

Collins looked over at some of the Platoon 2 men lugging along a large tube on their backs. "Let's hope it works like it did during live fire exercises."

"We tested it and practiced with it extensively for this," James gestured his surroundings, "It will be a waste not to be able to use it in the end. Disappointing in fact."

"Then why didn't you use it in the tunnel for that?" Collins pointed to the dead Champion beetle secured on to a pallet.

"Too crowded, and despite it being a recoilless system, the backblast can still kill or wound you know?" James worked the bolt on his M2 rifle, making sure it was empty before slapping in a fresh magazine and pulled the charging handle back, chambering a round, before putting it on safe. "I wanted to see what the claymores can do to armor in an enclosed area."

"You still can joke around at this time? Haven't you thought of what if the claymores couldn't stop it?" Collins frowned, "Hey, don't forget about your girl. You need to make it home in one piece, alright?"

"Got it, dad," James grinned, "Well I did have a fallback plan for that."

"James, come on be more serious," Collins lectured, "We don't know what is behind those doors, you are to take all precautions, understand?"

"Yeah, got to go, bosses to kill and dungeons to clear."

A note from neo Koh

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