The nice thing about having this flame is that it illuminates our surrounding, giving the sweet light of light, into this dark world of shadow. That's great. I'm a huge fan. The bad part about it is that we essentially light a signal fire to all of the monsters with the eyes to see it. Perhaps they can even feel the flickering heat my orb of flame emits. It seems unlikely, but it's the only source of heat I've found down here, maybe they can.
After we leave the crab cavern, it quickly becomes apparent that whatever creatures have been flicking about on the edge of our awareness have continued to track us. Crinis was the first to notice, with her highly sensitive ability to track mana sources. Whatever they are, these monsters are slick, able to sneak away anytime we try to get an eye on them. They're also smart. Perhaps a pack monster. There's quite a few of them out there, enough to keep tabs on us from all directions at once. Organised, numerous and cunning. I don't like it. At least I can assume they're weak, otherwise they would have come for us already. They know where we are, they know we're alone, it's perfect. Clearly, they think they still cannot take us. Which means they're waiting for an opportunity or for juicier prey to come along.
It's frustrating, but since I can't seem to hunt these creatures down and fight them on my own terms, I'll just have to keep moving forward with the expectation that whenever we get into a fight, we might also have to deal with a pack of slippery somethings. I wonder if they didn't jump into the crab fight so they could watch us fight? If so they might be smarter than I thought. Or perhaps they were busy feasting on the little crabs that escaped.
Whatever, it's time to move on!
Our business done, Tiny, Crinis and I get mobile once more and hit the road. Except in this case it's less of a road and more of a horrific, dark, stone coral jungle of death. With the flame burning bright, we're able to navigate a little more carefully, which helps a great deal. The atmosphere down here is oppressive. Despite being an ant, I find the coral jungle kind of claustrophobic. There's no order, no pattern. Instead of neat tunnels and friendly scent trails, there's just a tangled mass of pain the backside.
[I've had it! Let's see if we can get a little height!]
[We saw that the stone corals and plants reached up to a point and then stop right? We could climb up to the top of the corals and then walk along that. We don't have to struggle to push our way through the this mess. If we sense anything below us, we can crawl down and fight it, right? So we should cover way more ground this way!]
Crinis is happy enough to agree. So we start to choose paths that take us a little higher in this mess and I immediately notice that the higher up you go, the more free space we see. It makes sense that things would free up I suppose. The other thing I notice is that with more space comes more monsters! Whoo!
After squeezing our way up we run into some more spiders, a lower tier than that nasty bug we fought up in the tunnels but assuredly the same base species. The moment he sees them, skittering along the stone and baring their fangs at us, Tiny goes nuts. Lightning crackles and flashes across his hands, so bright I can barely see and he blasts every spider he can see with both barrels. A dozen of the eight-legged pests are exterminated in moments before he then decides he's not satisfied blasting them from a distance and runs in to get his fists dirty.
I think he's holding a grudge against these spiders. I suppose it can't be too comfortable having this mana ripping up his body constantly. He doesn't seem to react much to what I'm sure must be a quite painful ailment, but clearly he's mad about it!
[Let's go and support, Crinis!]
These spiders appear to be only tier two or three and we make short work of them. I crunch any that come close with my mandibles and flare my fireball every now and again to scare them which makes them easy pickings for Crinis. In short order, thirty of the hideous beasts have been destroyed and it's time to feast once more.
[Make sure to gather up any cores that you find guys!] I remind my pets as we munch on the Biomass.
Our income of cores has been fantastic down here. The spherical mana stones seem much more common in the Second Strata, as opposed to the first. Up there maybe one in five monsters had a core unless they were close to a source of mana they could absorb, down here where the ambient mana is so many times thicker the ratio is closer to one in two. For monsters tier three and over, it's more like ninety percent. It seems that creatures who don't form a core run into a wall pretty quickly, outclassed by their kin who are able to absorb more mana and gain more from each evolution.
I made the right call, all that time ago! I knew I was right! Forming the core immediately was absolutely the right choice. It's nice to have ones' choices reinforced in such a direct manner.
I gain a few Skill levels from the fight and another thirty Biomass, which is a nice haul. Tiny did most of the damage, so I didn't manage to level, but crucially, my Fire Magic Affinity reached level five so I can rank that skill up. The knowledge of new, totally sweet fire magic starts to seep into my brain the moment I confirm the upgrade, dropping my available skill points down to nine. To make matter worse, I pick up the Earth Magic Affinity, putting them down to eight. They seemed to plentiful at one point, now I'm starting to run dry! Ah well. Hopefully I'll start to level faster once we get into some more fights.
It shouldn't take long before we find a few, maybe up on top of the corals there'll be more action.