After finishing loading and skinning the wolves, Tom and company were ready to move on and head towards insect gorge.

They tried to pick up the pace a bit but it was still around 4.30pm that they finally arrived at insect gorge. This was because, on the way, they made two brief stops. Once when they were attacked by several ferocious jackal rats and again when they were attacked by a couple of particularly territorial black furred bears that had decided to settle down near the road that Tom and the others were travelling along.

The jackal rats each stood at 3ft tall, with long and sharp teeth and long brown hair sticking up on their heads and along their bodies. They were also very much like the red eyed wolves in that they were a particularly aggressive and ferocious. However, they were comparatively tame compared to their cousins, the spiked back rats; a truly vicious and bloodthirsty animal that would take any opportunity to attack others.

Similar to the wolves, they weren’t that strong and they could only bring to bear a strength equivalent to the 6th level of body strengthening. Individually, they would only really pose a threat to Tom and if they wanted to take down any of the others, they would have to work in concert with each other, ganging up on their opponent and overwhelming them. Unfortunately for the jackal rats, there were only seven of them and after the first four were quickly dispatched, the rest ran away, screeching with their high pitched voices.

The black furred bears however, were not as easy or quick to deal with. The two beasts were both mature and stood at 5ft tall. Furthermore, they each had a strength equivalent to 9,500 jin, making them slightly stronger than humans at the 9th level of body strengthening.

The two beasts, when they had perceived Tom’s group coming close to their territory, had moved over to the road to confront them. In doing so, they had actually blocked the group’s path forward, making the conflict inevitable.

Once again, it was vital that Tom and company dismounted in order to fight. If they fought while still on top of the horses, the bears would easily be able to take swipes at them and kill them.

Since Tom, with his strength at only the 5th level of body strengthening, wouldn’t have been very useful in this fight, it was his responsibility to hold the horses and stop them from running off. Meanwhile, Rowan and Harrison, the two strongest of the group, with Rowan being at the 1st level of qi expansion and Harrison being at the peak of body strengthening, were standing at the forefront, ready to challenge the beasts while the others supported them.

The two beasts had stuck quite close to each other when they had approached, increasing the difficulty in taking them down. If they were not so close to each, Rowan and the others would have been able to challenge them separately without havening to worry about attacks from the side.

To deal with the two bears, Pike, with his glaive, Lance, with his spear, and Avery, with his longsword, rushed at one of the bears, forcing it back and keeping it away from the other one. Although they were all physically weaker than the bear, with the long reach of Pike and Lance’s polearms, they were able to stay out of its reach while making consecutive thrusts towards its head. Using this tactic, they were also able to allow Avery to move closer and aim some sword strikes at the beast. Since the bear wasn’t as mindless and recklessly violent as the red eyed wolves or the jackal rats, it retreated from the pressure of the three’s fierce onslaught, widening the gap between it and its companion.

The actions of Avery, Pike and Lance gave the others a chance to encircle the remaining bear, though they had to be careful in doing so because aside from Rowan and Harrison who could directly contend with the beast’s physical power, the polearm guard and the battle-axe user were both weaker than it. They had to stick close to each other and use the advantage of the polearm, like Pike and Lance were doing, so the bear couldn’t break through the encirclement where they were.

Taking the first opportunity they had, Rowan and Harrison rushed at the bear at the same time. Sensing the danger, it tried to escape through a gap in the encirclement, but, Rowan moved in front of it and then the other two guards also closed in on it. Finding itself trapped, it desperately attacked towards the two guards that were weaker than it.

The guard with the polearm managed to stab into it as it charged forward but it was only a minor wound and didn’t impede the beast’s ability. Since the guard was only at the 7th level of body strengthening, he wasn’t able to hold the beast back and was knocked over backwards as it tried to run forward. The bear would have trampled over him and possibly even killed him with the claws on its feet, had it not been for Harrison who was able to rush in and slice the back of the beast’s leg open, maiming it.

With its back leg crippled, its forward momentum was killed and it howled in pain. Rowan was able to approach from the side and stab into its body and while it was distracted from the pain, the battle-axe user at the front was able to land a solid hit on its head, thus landing the killing blow.

With the first beast dead, the second became angry and more aggressive in biting towards and swiping its claws at Avery, Pike and Lance. However, the three of them were able to fend it off until the others encircled it and closed in for the kill.

Unlike the jackal rats, which were not much more valuable than the red eyed wolves and were just left on the side of the road, the bears had a markedly higher value. Because of this, the group decided to unload a couple of the wolf bodies and then load the bears onto the wagon instead. Not wanting to lose out on part of their profit without need, the two wolf bodies they took down were quickly skinned by Harrison and Lance. Harrison was the oldest and also most experienced in this group. He had participated in many qi beast hunts and was adept at skinning them. Lance on the other hand, although he hadn’t participated in any hunts before, he used to be a farmhand when he was young and had gotten quite proficient at this skill.

After the fight with the bears and subsequent reorganising of their goods, Tom and the others were able to continue on without incident to their destination, insect gorge.

Arriving there, Tom found himself standing at the top of what looked like an elongated pit in the ground.

The insect gorge in front of him was about 50m wide and 100m deep. He couldn’t see how long it was because aside from the 200m stretch of it directly in his vision, the rest was obscured by turns in the gorge and large overhangs of rock. Although he couldn’t see how long it was, in the reading materials he had been forced to study while still in the clan, it stated that its total length was just over 2 miles and Rowan had reaffirmed this when she had been talking about it earlier.

Looking to the other side of the gorge, Tom could see that it had steep, uneven rock walls extending all the way down to the bottom, however, there were also many outcroppings, some large and some small, that would allow people to make their way down. As well as the choice outcroppings though, there were also overhangs of rock that would make scaling back up it more difficult.

Tom could see that the walls of the gorge were slick with water and covered in many places by vines and mosses. He surmised that it would be easy to get down but difficult to climb back up, but still possible by jumping and climbing up the outcroppings or using the vines. Actually, using the vines, it was also possible to make it to the other side of the gorge since some of them extended from one wall to other. However, since none of them connected at the top of both walls and they would be difficult to easily travel along, perhaps only a qi expansionist being able to do so with relative ease, they were wholly impractical for such a task. Besides, even if someone could walk or climb along them, they would be at risk of the vine breaking and falling down into the gorge below, which was something you didn’t want to happen.

Another thing that he noted about the walls was that there appeared to be holes in them, either the burrows of qi beasts or part of some kind of subterranean system he couldn’t see, perhaps both. In fact, as he was thinking this, he saw a couple of people scrambling up the opposite wall. They were in a rush and trying to make their way to the top of the gorge as quickly as possible, but, as one was climbing up the vines, suddenly, a claw reached out from a hole hidden behind them, grabbing him and pulling him inside. Tom could hear a loud scream ring out when this happened but it quickly died down. It seemed that whatever had grabbed the man had already killed him.

“Well that’s not disconcerting” said Lance nervously. Of course, he actually meant the opposite; he found what he saw very disconcerting.

This was when Tom noticed all the other things in the gorge.

[Wow, it certainly isn’t called insect gorge for nothing]

Tom didn’t notice them at first because they blended in a bit with their background but the gorge was actually filled with all sorts of giant insect creatures that were moving around. There were giant spiders, beetles, isopods, centipedes, earwigs, pseudoscorpians and more, ranging from 20cm to several meters. They were all qi beasts.

[It seems that the people trying to climb up just now had entered the gorge but had been too weak and were overcome by these creatures] he contemplated.

Avery and Harrison both sighed seeing the scene in front of them.

“Novices. It looks like they went down there when their strongest was only at the 6th level of body strengthening” said Avery.

“Mmn. It would have been fine if they had stayed at the top and lured or dragged some up, but, going down when they were only at that level of strength and with so few of them too was just suicide” said Harrison, weighing in on the situation.

It wasn’t that Avery and Harrison were scorning the group of people that had gone down into the gorge, but, it was clear that they had bitten off more than they could chew. Most of the insects in insect gorge weren’t that strong, only around the 5th level of body strengthening for humans, but, there were quite a number of them and they also had a clear terrain advantage. It would only be safe for Tom and the others to go down because aside from Tom, the rest were all in the late stage of body strengthening and above. Plus, there were eight of them and even excluding one guy to watch the horses, they would be able to sufficiently support each other were they to go down there.

Tom stared on expressionlessly at the other side of the gorge, while several of the others had queer looks on their faces. The one remaining man who was scrambling up the other side of the gorge was nearing the top, but, Tom and the group could see a giant centipede making its way along the top of the wall, moving to intercept him.

It was a race against time. The man jumped from one outcropping of rock to another, making his way towards the top. As he was standing on one small outcropping of rock and using his hands to hold onto the gorge wall in front of him, an earwig qi beast about 30cm long crawled onto his shoulder and bit into him. He gave a shout of pain and then grabbed it in one hand and crushed it in his vice like grip, forcing its gooey innards outwards.

With renewed effort, he started climbing up the wall in front of him. Since there were no more large outcroppings ahead of him, he was forced into a scrambling climb. The giant centipede was drawing closer but he was approaching the very top and it looked like he was about to reach safety.

With the centipede just 4m away from him, his hands found the top of the gorge wall and he raised his head up. With just one good push, he would be out of the gorge. Unfortunately, just as he raised his head to look above the gorge wall, a green forest troll that had been meandering at the top, grabbed his head in its hands, lowered itself and then bit into his head.

The troll’s teeth punctured cleanly into the man’s skull, killing him. It started raising the man’s body up, planning to carry him away to eat him. However, the giant centipede had finally reached the man’s body and closed its jaws around his waist. The troll and centipede then engaged in a tug of war in which the man’s body was torn in half, the troll getting the upper half and the centipede getting the lower.

Rowan and the Cardinal guards stood there, disgusted by what they saw. They all had a sour feeling in their heart, but, even if they wanted to help, there was nothing they could do. The man was on the other side of the gorge and even if they had charged down and made their way over, they wouldn’t have made it to him in time. All of a sudden, Tom clapped his hands, startling them all and causing them to flinch.

“Right then, where do we find a blue devil beetle?” he asked.

A note from jmj1011995

The bears used to be wolverines but then i actually looked up what wolverines were and decided to change it.

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