The Marsh Expanse is teeming with monsters and the constant roar of battle. I have a ton of Biomass that I need to collect and a whole host of skills that I need to grind. With Tiny and Crinis by my side I feel perfectly confident wading into the expanse and beginning to battle.
Monsters are fighting in every tree, on every mound of earth and inside every tepid pool of marsh water. The three of us barrel into the expanse and begin to battle everything that we can see. Tiny is in his element, smashing his fists in every direction, his massive hands thumping and grabbing monsters the moment they fall within his reach. His incredible punches hit with the force of a solid truck and smaller beasts are sent flying out, slamming into trees and splashing into the water as Tiny hoots and bellows his rage and joy.
With her new mana detection sense, Crinis is a menace. No longer reliant on the sense of touch, forced to reach out in every direction to find her foes before she can apply her damage, she know lashes out with precision. Her tentacles reach in every direction, latching onto monsters and binding them before they can blink. Once a creature is entangled by her limbs, it's over already. Inevitably, more tentacles latch on the foe, winding around arms, legs and torsos before she twists and tears, her barbs extending and rending them apart. Those monsters unfortunate enough to get too close, seeking to attack her spherical main body find an even more unfortunate fate, snatched up by tentacles that suddenly unfold from her body and then forced into her gaping maw wherein her frightening teeth gnash and disintegrate them.
For my part, I am intent on training my skills. Both of my sub brains are engaged in maintaining a mind magic transformer and casting mental spells. This involves forming a mind bridge with the foe and then utilising it to send magical constructs that essentially detonate in their mind as false stimulus. With my sub-brains and my even my main mind engaged in this activity, I keep things simple as much as possible with my physical fighting.
Bites, bites and more bites. Shattering bite is a higher level than my other two bite skills, Splintering chomp and Tearing bite, so the latter two and skills I focus on. With my mandibles infused with mana from my core, my mandibles transform into engines of destruction that these newly spawned monsters are unable to stand before.
In this manner we spend several hours battling to our hearts content until we emerged from the expanse and stumbled back into the shortcut, stopping up the entrance behind us and collapsing in a heap. Battered, bruised but satisfied, the three of us cleared out the monsters in the shortcut before taking a quick break. We have battled hard, eaten as much as we could and our relentless focus on our skills have reaped dividends.
[How'd you go Tiny?] I enquire of my ape companion.
He nodded. [I punch good!] he declared.
[Yes, but did you manage to improve your skills?] I ask, exasperated.
He nodded again. [Punch better now!] he shouted, thrusting one fist into the air.
Fair enough, I'm not going to get much more definitive information than that by asking.
[How about you, Crinis? All things on the up and up?]
[Yes Master] she responded, clearly pleased with herself, [I am quite satisfied with my skill progression. I believe I'll be more useful than ever before.]
[You don't really have to worry about how useful you are…] I tried to tell her, [it isn't like you'll ever be left behind or anything…]
[No!] she stated definitively, [as a pet we must be useful to our Master! It would be disgraceful if I wasn't able to carry my own weight. I'll work even harder to make sure that I won't be useless!]
Geez, you're far from useless. I almost feel bad that I can't defeat monsters much faster than my own pets. I suppose if I was to start dropping gravity bombs everywhere that I would be racking up experience faster, but the unintended side effects of casting that spell are what worries me. For example, getting myself caught in the blast by accident.
After a little rest, rotating the position of guard to keep the spawning monsters out of our hair, we saddle up and cut our way back into the expanse for the second round. This expanse really has some interesting monsters in it. More of those stupid hippo turtles have appeared, along with some monster types I hadn't really seen much. A few scraggly looking ape things, a plant that looked like it had been crossed with a mosquito took a chunk out of Tiny before we even realised it was there. With a long, ludicrously pointy, needle like barb emerging from the centre of the plant it looked menacing enough, but we didn't expect it would be able to extend that needle out on a supple vine, certainly not at speeds like that!
Before we could blink, Tiny had a massive needle stuck straight into his leg and judging by the look on his face he wasn't enjoying it much. Fortunately we were able to snap off the needle and destroy the plant before too much damage was done but the fact that Tiny doesn't have a decent health recovery mechanism continues to worry me. His evolutions seem pointedly driven in the direction of glass cannon. He has immense strength and some natural toughness but can't recover from damage very well.
His leg bled profusely so we decided to halt our hunt at that point and retreat up one of the larger mangroves. Nestled there in the branches we took a moment to breathe, eat a little Biomass to recover our strength and I went looking for Aphids. Just like ants had done for thousands of years, I wanted to try and exploit the smaller bugs for the syrupy sweet Biomass that they provided in exchange for not eating them. If the colony were able to control them, farm Biomass from them here in this expanse, then another reliable source of Biomass would be unlocked for the colony, fuelling our expansion and the growth of the workers.
Only now was I starting to appreciate the double natured demand of the colony for Biomass. Not only did we need it to fuel the population growth of the family, we also needed it to meet my ideal of each individual worker being as strong as they can reasonably be. I myself have spent hundreds of Biomass points to get as strong as I am. I know not every ant could hope to do the same but surely having every member of the colony reaching +10 in their mutations was an ambitious goal but not an unreachable one.
The aphids themselves are still up there, performing whatever alchemical wizardry they do to extract nutrition from these fat fleshy leaves and convert it into Biomass. The smaller aphids are roughly basketball sized whilst the larger ones are about the size of a Labrador. Round, chubby looking beetles with a long prod for a mouth with which they stab the trees to extract sap, their thin spindly legs and long antennae make them look somewhat like an overweight ant. As opposed to myself, a proud formica ant, the aphids are green, helping them blend into the leaves.
I activate my Mana Sense and carefully scan my way through the aphids. There are a couple of aphids who meet my needs, good. I was worried none of them would have cores. Let's see if I can get friendly with a few of these aphids and perform a little core surgery.