Leaving behind my three co-adventures I made my way back along our trail as quick as I could whilst keeping a low profile. I was on my own this time, I didn't want to stumble into a fight that I couldn't handle.
It felt unnerving to be exposed on the surface, I felt that lack of comfort pierce me right in the confidence now that I was here without any backup. In fact, no Tiny and no Crinis alongside me for the first time in how long?! Crinis had been with me since not long after we reached the surface during the wave, but Tiny had been with me long before that, since finding the colony almost!
That big lug-head. As much as his … limited decision making capacity and hunger for a fight had been an inconvenience to say the least, it was fun having him around. He wasn't much for conversation but things tended to never be boring when he was around. He didn't exactly 'settle' for the status quo, he pushed himself, he pushed the situation forward, never allowing himself to shy from a challenge. I had to admire that.
Or he was stupid and free from the sense of self preservation. Either way, it was fun to have him with me.
I will perform core surgery on him and buff his intellect though. Every time he charges forward into nigh mortal danger, I feel myself age internally another ten years. If he keeps going at the rate he's going them I'm going to wither away to dust by the end of the year.
If they even have years here. Or rather, how long is each year in this world? It could be one of those places that orbits its star once every six thousand days. Presuming people grow at the same speed as they did on Earth, you'd be eighteen earth years by the time your first birthday rolled around.
Running through the fields I keep my antennae twitching here and there, making use of my range of vision to try and prevent anything from sneaking up on me. I engage in the stealthy patterns of behaviour that served me so well in the first weeks of my life in this world. Obviously I can't attach myself to the ceiling up here, denying me the full experience of my youth, but I do my best to keep my profile hidden in the long grass, sticking my head up every now and again to take in the lay of the land.
I haven't seen anything yet, but that doesn't mean that I won't.
I'm still gutted that I forgot to secure that core. Just when I thought I might be getting a little smarter, a little more wise, I go ahead and do something stupid like this. That core would mean so much for the colony if I could get it to the Queen, I'm sure of it. If she can evolve in an awesome way, who knows what she might be able to become?
Perhaps it's my ant instincts in me, but I deeply want the Queen to be safe and secure in the colony. The thought of any harm coming to her just makes my little ant heart hurt. Personally, I don't think it has much to do with my new body. Having a family, having a parent who cared and valued me, that's something I've never had before. I don't like to dwell on the negative much but my human life had been … less than ideal.
Even something simple like being accepted without question by my siblings, the trust and care the Queen, my mother, had shown without expecting anything in return. It's nice. I was desperate for this sense of belonging, I can see that now. Perhaps that was why I was so quick to accept my place within the colony. Now that I've invested so much into my new family, I want to ensure only the best for them.
Which is why I want this damn core!
It's quite the journey to make it back to where we had defeated the Croca-Commander. I focus during my travel time exposed under the open sky, crouching low when I can, moving swiftly and carefully.
Even so, I get a chance to check my status and take in a few of the skill level ups that I missed during the fight against the commander. Mana transformation levelled up to 8, which is nice. Splintering chomp made it to 10 and Advanced mind magic affinity jumped twice to reach 4. Battling against tough foes can really net levels at a quick pace. I took a moment to run my eye over my status:
Level: 30 (Special core)
Skills: Expert Excavation (III) Level 3; Improved Acid Shot (II) Level 9; Advanced Grip (II) Level 4; Shattering Bite (IV) Level 14; Advanced Stealth (II) Level 5; Splintering Chomp (III) Level 10; Tunnel Map (II) Level 6; Mana Transformation (III) Level 8; Condensed Mana (III) Level 1; External Mana Manipulation (I) Level 2; Empowered Mana Sensing (II) Level 1; Core Surgery (III) Level 6; Expert Exo-Skeleton Defence (III) level 3; Pet Communication (I) Level 4; Rapid Dash (II) Level 4; Expert Water Magic Affinity (III) Level 1; Advanced Stamina (II) Level 7; Pet Growth Speed (I) Level 1; Mana Scrooge (II) Level 5; Advanced Cerebral Endurance (II) Level 9; Profound Mediation (II) Level 2; Advanced Precise Shooting (II) Level 2; Tearing Bite (II) Level 9; Enhanced Mind Magic Affinity (II) level 4;
Mutations: Omni Focused Eyes +10, Precognitive Infrared Antennae +10, Mana Eating Restrictive Acid +10, Rapid Absorption Legs +15, Empowered Mandibles +15, True Diamond Carapace +15, Rapid Limb Regeneration Gland +10, Persuasive Pheromone Language Gland +10, Bottomless Gravity Magic Gland +15, Adaptable Coordination Cortex +15, Dispersive Regenerating Inner Carapace Plating +10;
Species: Dispersed Mind Ant (Formica)
Skill points: 19
I have a lot of Biomass to spend at the moment, I'll need to take care of that soon. The other thing I need to think about is that I'll be able to evolve again in ten levels. My strategy of absorbing a portion of the rare core and hoping my body would adapt seems to have worked. The pain and discomfort is still there, but it's diminished over time. There may be a shot that I'll be able to take the rest of the core before I evolve. Claws crossed.
Speaking of levelling skills, I need to ensure I'm taking the time to grind up a few points whilst I'm up here on the surface. I have two sub-brains who are doing nothing but picking their noses right now, may as well set them a task!
I can almost feel the begrudging acceptance as my force my sub minds to begin reaching out and manipulating the thin mana in the air. The lowest skill that I have regarding magic is my external mana manipulation, so I may as well grind it up to the second rank at least.
My two brains grab hold of the mana and begin to try and move it outside of my body. It's a difficult task, much more difficult that grabbing hold of the pliable mana within my core. I need to save that mana as much as possible so forget about using it to practice!
When I allow the two brains to cooperate, they demonstrate much better progress, utilising their resources together they are able to grab hold of more mana and shift it around in lazy patterns in the air.
Ten minutes later I was rewarded with the first level up.
[External mana manipulation has reached level 2]
Nice! Keep at it sub minds! I'm counting on you!
It was a strange sensation, having my sub brains working on something as my main mind dithered. It was me working hard to control to the mana outside of my body but at the same time it wasn't. As if my left hand were busy as hell with a task and my right hand was idle but each hand had its own brain?
I continued on my way under the open sky and after my external mana manipulation skill reached level three I finally found the place where we had battled the Croca-Commander. There were still signs of our fight to be found, the disturbed grass, the hemisphere of soil that had been consumed by my gravity bomb. The mana here felt … odd. My two sub minds were still actively reaching out to the mana in the air, but it felt, almost thin. As if there was just less of it to take hold of in this place.
The body of the Croca-Commander was gone without a trace. In the soft earth near where we had left it was a reptilian footprint, large enough that I could stand in it, my entire body encompassed within.
Thatsa big Croc.