My glittering prizes are spread across the tunnel floor, a collection of precious gems ready for my mental ministrations.
Pushing away the fatigue I feel, I shake myself a little, slap my antennae on my face and begin to work.
My antennae stretch forward and touch the first core as I activate my Core Mechanic skill. My mind is immediately flooded with information regarding the creature from which this core came. All of their basic stats and skills are laid out before me in a dazzling mental map. Rather than a solid menu the values and ideas are communicated in pictures or colours.
It's pretty disorienting but I feel I'm gradually starting to get the hang of it.
I prepare myself mentally for a moment and then push with my mind, catching hold of one of the stats and shifting some of its value to another stat. Doing so requires an immense effort, my mandibles are tightly clenched as I feel a pounding headache coming on.
With that done I then wrap my thoughts around the change I made like concrete, holding the values down as it tries to slip away and change back, squirming like an eel in my mental hands.
Stay put dammit!
Eventually the change that I'd made settles and grows still, no longer fighting against me and I can slowly release my grip. My mind feels stiff and in pain, like hands that had been holding something down too tightly for too long.
That was just one small change!
It's insane how difficult this is!
I can only comfort myself with the idea that as I level up the Core Mechanic skill the burden might lessen, allowing me to progress more rapidly.
By the gnarled staff of Gandalf I'm so tired…
Bah! A worker knows no such weariness! Push through Anthony!
I slump forward and bring my antennae to the same core once again, throwing my mind into the strange swirl of information contained inside. Gathering my will I try again to exact the same change I made before, shifting a piece of toughness into might. This time it's even more difficult! The core resists my efforts to change it with even more vigour, stretching my mental resources to their limits!
This would simply be impossible if I weren't a mind ant!
I refuse to fail!
You will be conquered by me you stupid inanimate gemstone!
By supreme effort of will I enforce the change I desire on the core and hold it in place as it writhes against my mental barriers. Eventually, finally, it stops resisting and I collapse to the floor in exhaustion.
[Core Mechanic has reached level 2]
Ah…. Ah ha!
Slowly I pick myself up from the floor and collect the core in my mandibles before placing it to one side, next to Tiny.
I select another small sample from my collection of spherical gemstones and place it on the floor before me where it sparkles innocently, totally belying the pain and suffering this innocuous thing will soon inflict on me.
No whining Anthony! The colony needs your skills! Suffer like you love it dammit!
Stretching forward once more I activate the Core Mechanic skill and bring the strength of my will to bare.
[Core Mechanic has reached level 4]
BAH! I'm awake!
I snap out of torpor with a vigorous shake of my body, startled by my unexpected snooze. I managed to get through six more cores, making two adjustments to each before my Core Mechanic reached level four and I effectively passed out from exhaustion.
… That could have been dangerous! How long was out of it?
Glancing around the tunnel I can see that Tiny is still sleeping soundly, a small pile of seven cores placed in the dirt next to him. Relieved to see my ape is still sleeping I turn to the tunnel walls and attempt to judge how much time I've missed based on the change in brightness from the mana veins that have even managed to push their way into this tunnel network.
The light radiating from those veins is probably half what it was before. Does that mean we are halfway to the start of the wave? Will the mana rush back immediately once the walls are completely dim or will there be some time spend in darkness before the wave breaks?
I'm frustrated, I just don't know enough! If I had just ten more minutes with Formo I could have learned so much more!
No time to cry about spilt Biomass!
Even if I hadn't wanted to rest my mind is feeling much refreshed! I still have a heap of unmodified cores here I need to push through to level 5 and advance the skill!
Determinedly I grasp another core in my mandibles and bring it to a clear patch of tunnel floor before activating the skill and continuing my work.
1st core done!
2nd core done!
3rd core done!
…. Hoo boy! Need a breather…..
4th Core done!
[Core Mechanic has reached level 5, upgrade available]
Thank Gandalf! Holy moly that is tiring! The improving skill level has surely helped but the task of modifying the cores is still intensely draining. It's like trying to hold a cube of water in shape with your hands.
Eagerly I jump into the menu to check out the new skill.
[Core Mechanic -> Core Engineer. This skill allows the user to exercise finer control when making adjustments and reveals a deeper layer of information with the core to be manipulated. Cores may also be fused].
This is the first step on the long road that the Sophos have walked, manipulating monster cores to create invincible monsters!
Eagerly I grasp another core and activate the Core Engineer skill.
Once again that dizzying rush of information invades my mind, but the knowledge is even more dense this time. Beneath the surface details there is now a deeper layer. As soon as I identify it I let my mind sink down to it, ready to flex my new skills.
Even more details are now accessible here, behaviour, evolution paths and advancement choices, all can be adjusted!
The Core Engineer skill not only allows the user to adjust the stats and skills of a monster but also its evolutionary path!
This must be the secret to how Formo and his kind are able to custom design such fearsome beasts to meet their needs! They can take a base monster and then customise it for the present, as well as shape its evolution well into the future! This helps explain how it takes so long for them to grow their monsters. The Sophos probably begin with a low level monster, possibly one that hasn't evolved in the first place, then begin to shape and direct it over multiple evolutions. They probably have directions and paths that they have worked out over hundreds of years of trial and error, like recipes, allowing them to produce exactly the monster to suit their needs.
I'm still a long way from that level!
The other side of this skill is just as important. Core fusion? Allowing me to combine cores…
In order to test my thoughts and exercise the hidden instincts the skill has implanted in my mind I take two small cores that I have yet to tamper with and place on antennae on each before activating the skill.
Immediately the dazzling information of two cores is slammed into my mind at the same time, nearly stunning me insensible with the sheer volume of data. Pushing the mental strain to one side I follow the half realised pathways that were forged in my brain as I learnt the skill and begin to draw the two cores together.
They resist each other. Furiously.
Like magnets of opposite poles the two cores fiercely resist my efforts, pushing at each other, trying to shove each other away. In the implacable grip of my will they have no choice however.
In times like this I'm thankful that ants don't sweat because I would dripping buckets! Through sheer force of mental effort I push the energy contained in each core together and hold it there against the powerful resistive forces.
And hold it.
And hold it!
Gradually the two cores begin to fuse. Slowly at first and then with increasing speed the physical gems grow softer and begin to emit a blinding light as they gradually melt together.
Eventually it is done! The two small cores no longer exist and in their place is a slightly larger one! Tiredly I activate the Core Engineer skill on the new core and shudder at the tangled mess of data I find with their now.
[Core Engineer has reached level 2]
It appears that my fusion lacked a bit of elegance and control. The result of combining the two monster cores is not a functional new monster species but a tangled mess of data that contains more energy than either of the two cores held separately but is a horrible mess of a monster!
If I were to actually reconstitute this core then the monster created may not even be able to functionally live and immediately pass away!
Not a pleasant fate….