I leave my pets and Vibrant working on the shortcut tunnel and slowly encroach on the marsh expanse solo. It isn't that I don't think they could fight whatever it is that we find in here it's just that I don't want to attract unwanted attention at this point. So I do something I haven't had to do for a while.
I engage stealth ant mode.
Luckily I'm still relatively small for a monster so remaining unseen is still fairly simple, the plant growth is thick here, reeds and hillocks blocking line of sight in every direction. Slowly and cautiously I creep about, all of my sensing apparatus tuned to their most fine state, twitching at every shift of a tuft of grass.
With this stupid pressure hanging over my head and flying solo for the first time in a while I'm really feeling the heat. It's also unnerving to be moving through this swampy terrain where there could be monsters under the water or indeed, every plant could also be a monster! Luckily I have my heat detection for the latter, the plant monsters register much higher on that sense due to their peculiar biology than normal plant life, thus I manage to avoid most combat as I navigate around the edges of the terrain.
I try not to stand on the top of the mounds that poke out of the waters lest I present my silhouette to prying eyes, I don't particularly want to have this magnificent form lighting up the eyes of every croc and murder flower in the expanse. So I get the best view I can whilst staying low.
This expanse is freakin' huge. Much bigger than the forest expanse and that one already pushed my understanding of what an underground space could be. The roof is easily twice as high and through the low lying mist and trees I can't quite see the walls as they widen and curve away from our entrance. From what I have seen though I would judge this place to be at least double the size of the forest.
I recall that Formo told me that the radius of Pangera was around 10,000 km, which would make it significantly bigger than Earth, as I recall the radius of earth was 6 ish thousand so that would mean the volume of Pangera would be.. Like. Way larger. By. A lot.
There is tons of space in here is what I'm trying to say. Apparently the expanses get even larger the lower you go, some are truly ridiculous from what I've heard. Perhaps they would even be a similar size to some countries on Earth if we were to compare the floor area, which is crazy to think about. Still, this marsh is easily larger than I expected to find an expanse in the first layer of the Dungeon.
This is either hitting the jackpot or a noose around my neck.
Expanses are the juicy goldmines of the Dungeon from the Queen told me. Stronger monsters, more cores, mana infused natural resources like wood and stone with properties, all of these can be found in the expanses. Great opportunity also brings with it great danger. Expanse are great points of conflict, not only between nations of the surface but between monsters down below. The big dogs all want the best territory and from I'm feeling the crocs have moved in and an extremely big dog has set up shop here.
Perhaps the Crocs want to monopolise the Biomass being generated in this area? Maybe they aren't only sending out waves of monsters to terrorise the nearby surface but are also herding the weaker monsters straight into the belly of their parent to fuel the egg laying process.
Bizarre scenes of monsters willingly marching into the open mouth of a gigantic crocodile flit through my head. Surely not The monsters seem unusually quiet and obedient but surely there's no chance that they would just walk to their deaths is there?
More investigation is needed and before more investigation can happen we need to learn more about the terrain in this expanse.
The wide pools of water everywhere are really frustrating my senses. There is enough hillocks of ground that I can hop from one to the next to move around without getting my feet wet but I can't sense any heat sources under the water and I can't see squat through the murky surface. The result is that I'm constantly on edge as I creep about, my compound eyes giving me superb vision of my surroundings but my mind is also focused in on those deceptively placid waters.
The plant type monsters seem to be right at home here. The trees are dense, standing tall on splayed roots that plunge with their thousand divided fingers into the waters and mixed between them are more tree-like monsters, their bark exteriors concealing the hungering creature within. The Branchies were a heck of a lot more friendly than these punks. I'll need to hunt down a few examples to sample the Biomass, try to get a clearer picture of what we are dealing with.
Some of the natural trees are absolutely enormous. At regular intervals, usually a few hundred metres from each other these truly massive trees rise out of the swampy water and spread their branches impossibly wide. Huge fleshy leaves the size of a lounge room spread huge amounts of shade everywhere. From below I can see strange shadows shifting about through the branches and on the foliage so I don't try to climb up at this point. I'll wait until I've managed to scope out a little more info.
Oooo here we go.
Nearby I can see a vibrant flower with several dark green pods on vines hovering around the main trunk of the plant. The flower itself is beautiful, shades of yellow and orange rippling across the petals in a strangely hypnotic pattern, almost as if the colours themselves are moving. I almost feel a lull.. Coming over me. As if... tired.
Not today! Vigorously I shake my body to caste of the lethargy that had started to wash over my due to the influence of that damn plant. This must be some kind of mind affecting ability, perhaps caused by the pattern itself or maybe some spores in the air.
Thank goodness for a high will stat!
Ok.. This flower is going to get it. To learn about the creatures of this expanse I must engage in true diplomacy, monster style. Which of course means killing and eating.
Calling on my sub brains I have them weave the water construct from the mana in my core. I've been practicing with this transformation shape whenever I get the chance, whipping it up and then letting it dissolve so I can whip it up again. Practice makes perfect as they say and my time has been going down steadily. There's still a long time to go before I reach what I would consider mastery but I'm satisfied with my current progress.
Before long a bright and shiny new construct is glimmering inside my head and my brains get to work operating it, feeding in the raw mana in one end and producing the glittering blue energy out the other side. I don't think water mana is going to be super effective against this plant but since I'm practicing it I need to keep using it in order to become familiar with its uses.
[Mana Transformation has reached level 3]
Haha! There we go. Practicing the transformation magic is definitely reaping my the benefits of experience at least. Particularly when I've been using it in combat.
Alright flower. Time to get hosed.