Turns out that our rest doesn't last for long. When an opportunity comes along in dire circumstances such as these, I'm not going to say no! After thirty minutes of catching our breath and healing up, Crinis perks up a few seconds before I notice it also.
A strong reaction from my mana sense, below us. From the glow of the core I feel as if this monster has to be tier five, the same as me. This is a good chance to harvest some experience and gain a powerful core to play with then absorb. Should be go for it? Those hunters could still be around after all. It hasn't been long since we lost them and if they're still snooping around the area, I don't want to get their attention back on us so soon.
But, oh! This prey feels so juicy! Nice strong core, surely a ton of Biomass on offer as well. Since I was only just considering how scarce good hunting opportunities are going to be if these hunters stick around, can I really afford to turn away from a tempting target such as this?
[Let's go and check it out at least. Surely there's no harm from that?]
Reasoning this way, we emerge with caution from our resting place and start to descend toward the creature which feels as if it's leisurely picking its way through the coral undergrowth, confident in its own strength. Oh ho, we'll see how strong you are my little fish.
Something about stalking prey tickles the primitive parts of my human consciousness. It's dynamic and exciting. I climb down vertically, my claws gripping the surface tight as my antennae sweep through the air, soaking in every little particle the atmosphere has to give me.
Even Tiny seems sharpen up, his ears twitch furtively as he take in the sounds of the expanse, his eyes focused with an unusual gleam.
[Nice, Tiny. I like to see that look on your face. Stay frosty.]
He gives a confused grunt.
[I mean, stay sharp.]
He frowns, his ears droop a little.
[Just stay focused dammit!]
Ears perking back up, Tiny gives me a toothy grin as his powerful hands grip the coral, lowering himself hand over hand. For her part, Crinis is focused and intent as she concentrates her special sense on tracking the prey. It doesn't take long for us to find it. The creature resembles a mutated lobster. It's front end is raised up, two powerful, fearsome looking claws on its right side, a mass of writhing leech-like limbs on the other. Those things look particularly nasty, tentacles tipped with ringed mouths as if they seek to suck out their victims blood.
Beneath the strong looking carapace the many little lobster legs scuttled away as the creature moved with the lazy grace and confidence of a creature who feels unthreatened in its current environment. Compared to the usual crabs and leeches, this monster would surely have little trouble moving through this place, but not today Mr Lobster. I wonder if you taste as expensive as you look?
No, wait. Stay cool, Anthony. Don't rush things, you might end up in serious trouble that way. Still spying on the unhurried creature from above, I cast about with all of my senses, trying to find any hint of the hunters.
[Crinis, I want you to go and scout around, see if you can find any sign of suspicious movement. We don't want to run into those damn stone people again and get jumped when we attack.]
[Okay, Master. Will you be okay with me moving away?] Crinis fretted.
[Of course, don't worry so much!]
Reluctance was evident in every tentacle on Crinis' body as she rose from my back to extend her limbs to move away.
[Tiny, don't attack, let's just relax here and take it easy until Crinis has had a look. We need to be careful right now.]
A look of dissatisfaction crosses the face of the big ape, but faced with a direct order he doesn't have a choice but to follow my directions. The two of us hang like giant but more attractive spiders from above the monster. We control our breathing and move as little as possible to stay hidden whilst Crinis does her scouting. Beneath us, totally oblivious to the two hungry creatures watching from above, the massive lobster continues to scuttle on its way.
After five minutes Tiny and I have had to change our position twice and still Crinis hasn't back from her scouting mission. I'm starting to get a little nervous but then her voice rings in my mind.
[Master, I think I found something strange. Come to me.]
Oh no. That's not what I wanted to here. Moving carefully the two of us move toward the direction I can sense Crinis and we find her hanging from a coral branch by her tentacles, her body still in its shrunken form to minimise her profile.
[Toward the left, Master, along the ground.]
I stretch out my own mana awareness and I find them, faint ghosts of energy, creeping through the lower reef.
Dammit! Stupid hunters! They're still here, all six of them, moving in a pack!
[Now Master, toward the right.]
Uh wot? I already found them on the left? Don't tell me Heart sinking toward my core I turn my senses in the other direction and after a few short moments I find them. Another six moving in the same direction as the first lot, perhaps sixty metres apart. They're coming through the coral like a drag net! Trying to scoop me up like a fish!
No, no, no! Not like this!
[We need to get out of here. They're clearly hunting for us. But where can we go?!]
[What about up, Master? I haven't detected them above us.]
[Move slow and careful, we need to stay hidden at all costs!]
Twelve hunters on our tail. Twelve. And those are just the ones we've found so far! Was the tier five monster, so nonchalantly moving through the area they'd lost me in just bait? Is this all part of their masterful plan? Why the hell would they even want me that badly?! I don't like this Gandalf!
One leg at a time we creep toward the upper reaches of the coral branches in order to escape above the hunters. If we can get high enough and then sneak over the top of the two hunting groups, we'll be in the clear! Once we get past, we can race toward the edge of the expanse and get the heck out of dodge. With this strange behaviour from the hunters, it's just too dangerous to stay here anymore.
You win, hunters! You've managed to chase me out of here, my tail between my legs. I don't want to deal with your nonsense, so I'm out! Go and hunt each other and your mothers for all I care, just leave me out of it. The closer we get the top the more we start to angle across to loop over the hunters heads, far below us now. Desperate to get away from this net, I'm willing to take the risk.
Of course they predicted it. They saw me and my pets climbing during the last chase, they know that we can climb high in the coral with ease!
As we loop over the top of the hunters and exultation is soaring in my heart, I feel Crinis stiffen on my back and then I sense them as well. A third group, right in front of my face. They haven't seen us yet, but we only have seconds before they do.
What to do? Fight? Run? Hide?! My sub minds begin to spin at a thousand kilometres an hour, drawing on mana and preparing spells that might help as I try to think. I barely got away from six of these people, how the heck will I get away from eighteen?!