The Marsh Expanse is still teeming with monstrous life. I can see monsters creeping out of connected tunnels, making their way deeper into the recesses in order to meet up with whatever is compelling their behaviour. Even without the steady trickle of captive beasts, there is plenty of stuff to fight around us.
The ever-present, ever hungry flora dots the mounds and rises out of the waters regularly. The plants don't seem to want to eat each other much but they are always waiting for a juicy meal to wander past, ready to fall into their clutches.
Then there are the crocs.
Lounging there and there, yawning mightily with their enormous jaws, the Croca-Beasts Titan Crocs and beyond can be seen almost everywhere. Never too many in one place, but little posse's of three or four, wading through the waters or lying on the raised earth.
I think there's more of them here than the last time we came. Or maybe they are gathering on this side since we raised a ruckus last time.
At any rate, they haven't seemed to have spotted us.
I think the best course of action is two lure them into the tunnel group by group, keep the combat out of sight so we don't draw the lot of them down on our heads at once. Nice and steady, that's the play.
So why is Tiny over there punching a Titan Croc in the face?
["Let's go! Move quickly to support Tiny! Crinis! Don't let him get surrounded and try not to get flame throwered!"] I cry as I rush forward.
This stupid ape! How could I forget his habits so quickly?! Last time we were here I was pleased by his self-control and ability to control his seemingly endless hunger for battle. The reality is he was unsettled, even a little intimidated, by the oppressive aura that hangs over this Expanse.
How did I expect a maniacal, famously thick battle addict to react to his first taste of fear? An emotion that he probably hadn't felt in his entire life? After taking out his frustration on smaller and weaker, unsatisfying foes and getting a power buff from taking the time to actually increase the level of his skills, not to mention the massive boost he received from finally mutating to over +5.
Now he's back, large and in charge and he couldn't wait to punch some face in.
So he didn't!
The second he laid eyes on a Croca the urge to redeem himself in a battle of old fashioned fisty cuffs must have been irresistible!
He didn't get far. The closest group of Croca beasts was within a hundred metres. When they saw the giant ape eagerly flinging himself forward, swinging from tree branches like a demented, overweight Tarzan, they roused themselves to fight. Claws out and jaws agape they met Tiny's charge with all the fury they could muster.
Fists ablaze with light, Tiny smashed their faces in within ten seconds and then stood pounding his chest as he roared out a challenge to the Expanse as a whole.
Because of course he would.
When we rush up to his side Tiny is still bellowing his challenge and it's safe to say he has drawn a fair bit of attention.
All around us small gangs of Crocs are staring with undisguised hostility at my pets and I. I'm quietly confident even the plants are giving us a full dose of the stink eye, even though they don't have eyes.
I think I'm feeling a headache coming on…
Actually. You know what? Who cares!? Instead of chipping away at the enemy tactically over an extended period of time, THIS stratagem has little more chest hair! I'm with you Tiny! Bring it on!
I immediately kick my sub brains into gear and get them weaving up a water transformation construct. It shouldn't take long for them to get it set up and pumping out water attributed mana. If any of these monsters decides to start spitting flame at us, I want to be ready.
["Get ready folks, they're coming in!"] I cry.
Four small groups of Croca's begin to advance towards us, curiously untouched by local plant monsters. Counting rapidly I size up our opponents. Ten Croca-Beasts and two Titan-Crocs. Not even a warmup!
These low tiered monsters can't hope to hold a candle to us. It's what will come next that worries me.
Come on brains! Get kicking!
The monsters swagger towards us, their toothy grins and grasping claws screaming confidence. It's almost strange. I'm starting to think these guys haven't been challenged, in this marsh for some time. Have they become the local bully boys? Leathery skinned, super ugly Mafioso?
Gonna get a rude awakening now!
[Of course Master!]
With her tremor sense, Crinis is able to detect the subtle vibrations of movement through the ground and air. As the Crocs flex their way towards us, eagerly anticipating the meal to come, Crinis slowly lifts herself from my back on thin tendrils and drifts forwards.
Such an innocent looking little ball of endless despair. Who could possibly imagine that this tennis ball sized black orb would contain so much terror?
Certainly not the crocs.
[Tiny, Leave it to Crinis, you've had some fun already]
In response to my order Tiny frowns sadly and kicks the dirt. He hasn't had nearly enough fighting yet, but I know his games. It isn't possible for him to get enough fighting in the first place!
[There'll be more soon bud, keep that engine warmed up]
The big ape nods his head, still looking sad but the fire in his eyes is burning bright.
Some of the Crocs approach through the water, their long tails sinuously trailing behind as they adeptly swim, whilst others move from island to island, gradually closing the distance at a slow walk. The smaller Croca-Beasts lead from the font whilst the two Titan Crocs follow from behind, dwarfing their lesser evolved allies as they move.
As soon as one scaly foot lands close enough to Crinis, she acts.
Unfurling herself with blinding speed, tentacles begin to lash out in all directions, peeling out of her body endlessly until there are dozens of them grasping towards the closest foes. By the time the Croca-Beast realises what is happening it's already too late, once the first tentacle latches onto its leg its fate is sealed.
More tentacles lash out, slashing through the air like whips and striking the beast, coiling tightly around it. Snarling viciously the monster tries to resist, pulling and slashing at the inky black shadow flesh with its claws but it is to no avail. Razor sharp barbs emerge from the tentacles and begin their dark work.
Knowing what Crinis' upgrades can do, I'm not entirely sure I'm prepared to watch what's about to happen….
[Stay away from Master you vile beast!] Crinis roars.
Then she engages her 'ripping barbs'.
Where once her barbs would dig and tear into her victim, now they can move, shifting back and forth at high speeds over a distance of a few inches.
In effect… I guess you could say it's like a chainsaw.
Slack-jawed with fear, the other Croca beasts watch as their struggling compatriot undergoes what will only describe as the 'Crinis Experience'. She'll probably get a few more levels of dismember from this.
When it's all said and done her main body inflates and unfolds again to reveal her cavernous maw. The no longer struggling Croca is unceremoniously dropped within and as a ghastly crunching sound emerges from her main body, those inky black tentacles begin reaching out once more.