So I'm able to consume the cores of my fellow monsters in order to reinforce my own, and this has the effect of increasing my max MP?
Fantastic! This means I'll be able to practice one extra time when I do my mana manipulation practice. It also means I've learned one more thing about the system that governs my growth in this place.
If I want to gain more and more MP then I need to consume monster cores to do so.
That feels like it would be a massive challenge though, in order for a monster to have a monster core it must have reached max level and spent an evolution on it. By definition that means the monster will be strong, not something I'll usually be able to mess with.
I was lucky this time. I can't expect I'll be able to gain more monster cores this easily in the future.
Enough thinking! Time to chase after the Titan-Croc.
Even if it isn't rushing, the sheer size of that monster means it moves fairly quickly and I really have to hustle to get back into my shadowing position behind the massive tail trailing behind the beast as it moves.
It isn't long before we finally reach the place this unstoppable beast has been heading toward this whole time.
The forest suddenly gives way and an open vista appears before me.
It's a lake.
A huge body of water, glowing with incredible light occupies a large clearing. After travelling for over an hour we have moved toward that center of this huge cavern, but something tells me we haven't even reached it yet.
This lake is easily a hundred metres across, I can even see small rivers and tributaries running off it. I suspect this lake is fed from an underground source, the water flowing up from beneath the rocky bed and then overflowing to create these small streams.
What really dazzles me is the twisting ropes of blue light that rotate slowly around each other in a slow dance within the water. Almost like a double helix pattern. These ropes appeared to be connected to the source of the lake and drifted around, pushed by some invisible current.
I had seen this phenomenon before in the rock pool above but it had been far, far weaker, the twisting ropes had been almost invisible. Even so, the water had been suffused with mana, causing it to draw monsters from all over the cavern to drink and absorb the energy, trying to condense their cores.
This water must have truly dense mana in it!
Just like before, all manner of creatures had been drawn to the water source to drink and absorb the energy. Perhaps a good chunk of these monsters had already condensed their core and were just restoring MP they had used up, I would have to test that idea!
Within my range of view I could already see a huge range of monsters, some I had seen before but others I had not.
A large tangle of the basic centipedes is here, I think I glimpsed inside a slightly different one, something about its colour or shape but it was concealed within the writhing bodies of the more basic kind and I couldn't be sure. Perhaps it was nothing.
An evolved version of the Wolf Dragon cub is here, larger and more intimidating that before, it has what looks almost like a lions mane around its neck, thick proud fur that projects pride and status.
I could swear that the creatures eyes were on fire, it's hard to make out the details but the air seems to be shimmering with heat haze right around its eyes..
There are other creatures I've never seen before. A gorilla looking thing with massive, thick arms and a bat-like face, smaller monkey like creatures swarming and screeching around its feet.
Over there I can see a few of those gargoyle like monsters I'd seen descend from the roof.
Past them is what I believe is an evolved Thorn Lizard, not much larger than the original but looked more densely muscled and its spikes more menacing than before.
Another creature had the appearance of an armoured bison of some kind. Built with its legs low to the ground and thick plates of a rock looking substance protecting its face and back.
More and more I spotted new types of monsters around the lake, the sheer variety of them was dizzying. Just how many different types of monsters were there down here?
It was going to be a real pain trying to remember all off this!
Unfortunately, most of them look too strong for me to deal with, I'll have to continue to choose my targets very carefully.
As the giant Titan-Croca approaches the waters' edge the nearby monsters wisely create space for it. I can see the area the Croca has settled in is a large, flattened muddy zone where the monster can stretch out its full length and lap up the mana charged water at leisure.
It sure looks good to be the king!
Even with all of these monster types here around the lake there isn't anything that looks like it could go one on one with this guy.
What the heck was a Garralosh that could produce such fearsome offspring?!
Since the peace of the water seems to hold here as well I move a little ways around from the Croc and approach the waters' edge to get a taste.
That tingling, burning sensation is back in full force! The difference now is that after the feeling floods through my whole body it then recedes back, like ocean water from a beach, drawing further and further in until it settled completely inside my core.
Checking my status I can see that my MP has regained two points.
I take another sip in order to refill myself to max and then sit for a moment until the intense sensation fades.
Since I'm here at this lake and can essentially refill my MP for free, this is a perfect opportunity to train my mana manipulation skill. I can grind non-stop until hunger forces me to go out for a hunt!
Excited, I start snooping around for a place soft enough for me to construct a basic hiding hole and get stuck into digging as soon as I can.
I manage to find a good spot close to where the Titan-Croc is currently flopping, I'm thinking that the presence of the dominant monster will help dissuade others from sneaking about here looking for prey.
With my small chamber excavated I start training my Mana Manipulation immediately, bringing it out of by core and directing it to my throat, letting it build up before releasing it in a small puff of magical energy.
It is still punishingly difficult, requiring fierce concentration on my part. Thankfully after my third attempt Gandalf chips in some moral support.
[Mana Manipulation has reached level two]
I've been waiting for those words!
I eagerly begin my routine again and there is a barely noticeable change in the difficulty of drawing the energy out of my core and directing it to where I want it to go.
One level was never going to make much difference I suppose
However, with the support of my improved skills I'm able to completely exhaust my mana (and my mind) with six complete sets of practice.
Completely drained, I drag myself back to the lake and start drinking to refill my MP. It takes a while to do this since I find the experience of absorbing mana from the water to be quite intense.
The only thing I'm really disappointed in right now is that even though I covered so much ground when following the Titan-Croca about, I wasn't able to find the pheromone trail lain down by the scouts from colony at all.
Not even a sniff.
I ponder this as I continue to drink from the lake.
If monsters from all over this area of the cavern have come here to drink, then there exists a possibility that members of my colony have also come to this location! I highly doubt a scout would pass such a rich mana source as this and not mark it down for the rest of the colony to come and get a taste!
This could be it!
Once my MP has been refilled I immediately start to scurry around the lake, tippity tapping the ground with my antennae as I do so (the severed one has continued to regrow and is about halfway back now, thankfully!) seeking the welcoming scent of my tribe.
Other monsters eyes me suspiciously as I make my way past but I don't pay them much mind, even accidently walking over a Wolf Dragons' tail without realising. Thankfully the monster was too shocked to react quickly and too reluctant to break the water truce to do anything as I continued on my way.
When I get halfway around the lake my antennae start to tingle with a response to the now familiar scent. It's here!