What the heck is this stuff?
After venturing forth again, it wasn't long, and only one fight before we came across something curious and I halted the group for a careful inspection.
We're looking at one of the mangrove style trees that emerge straight out of the muddy waters of the marsh expanse. It's tangled knot of roots sinking beneath the water line like so many straws. Supported atop this mess of roots the tree rises, twisted and tall, opening into a grand canopy. It isn't the top of the tree that has garnered our attention at this moment; it's the bottom — specifically, the roots.
They're glowing. Not all the roots, mind you, just some of them, half perhaps, but there is a glow happening. The roots in question are shimmering with a soft browny, bluey sort light, the kind of colour that soothes and mollifies the tired mind.
Curiously I venture close enough to give them a tradition ant investigation, which consists of thwappity thwapping the offending wood with my antennae until I get a good sniff of them. To my more ordinary senses, they seem just like glowing wood.
Flipping on my mana sense skill, I get a very different picture. When I reach out with my magically attuned mind I can detect water mana, blue and clear, infused with the wood alongside another mana type, slow-moving and earthy in a way I can only imagine is earth mana.
So this wood is infused with not one, but two types of mana? Is it due to sitting in the muddy waters of the expanse, a place that is saturated with mana at the best of times and at present completely overflowing with the stuff?
Perhaps this is an example of the kind of rare materials Enid was mentioning? I wonder if the humans can make something out of this stuff? I'll have to take a sample up with us when we return, not to mention keep an eye out for any more sources.
Before leaving I give the wood one last thwappity with my antennae, the nimble sense organs flipping about rapidly as if they had a mind of their own before I feel satisfied.
["looks like some sort of mana infused wood'] I report back to my group when I join them, a few metres away from the tree.
"Oooooh" Vibrant coos, "sooooo, what does it do?"
"I'm completely certain" I reply firmly, "that I have no clue. We'll have to wait until we get to the surface and ask if the humans know what we can do with it."
"Aww. I was hoping we could do something cool with it."
Personally, I was hoping the same, but to preserve my dignity as the senior ant, I refuse to let my disappointment show.
"Nothing to get too fussed over Vibrant," I tell the soldier, "let's go find some monsters to crush."
"'kay!" she cheers, punching the air with one foreleg.
I wait a moment as Crinis lifts herself up on a few tentacles and returns to her customary place on my back. Since she has a walking skill it wouldn't hurt to have to wander about on her own. There isn't strictly any reason why she has to be on my back. Perhaps I've gotten so used to having little creatures riding around on me that I've grown too comfortable with it. Since she can fold up into a little ink black tennis ball, it doesn't do any harm to have her there.
[See anything Tiny?] I ask the ape as he pushes through the growth in front of me.
[Crocs. Big] he grunts, pointing.
Hmm? I skitter forward, mandibles clacking with curiosity. What did he see?
When I make my way around my sizable ape friend, I follow his arm with my eyes and takes a moment before I can spot exactly what he's pointing at, but once I do...
Holy Mackeral! BIG!
In the distance, perhaps only one hundred metres from us is a gigantic croc. I wasn't able to see it at first since it was resting in the water, most of its body submerged. When the water rippled, I was able to pinpoint the long snout resting just above the water level and then traced it back to see the tail resting on the shore FIFTEEN metres away.
I mean, really?
I can tell from here that this thing is a freakin' beast. Perhaps this is our first sighting of the legendary, so far mythical tier four offspring of Garralosh? I study the floating beast carefully. Yes, I'm confident that this is just too large to be a Double Croc. We have a new species here.
[Don't even think about it]
I hear a shuffle next to me.
[Don't play dumb Tiny. You plant your big ape butt right here in the dirt until I say you can fight. Got it?]
[I'm not kidding here buddy. Sit down a chill out for a second. We don't how many crocs there are out there]
Without turning my head, I can see him shift and look directly at me as if I were crazy.
[Is that meant to be the fun part?]
He nods vigorously up and down.
…. Save me from this muscle head!
With one antenna I firmly point to the ground next to me. [SIT].
[Hmph] he sulks and sits with a THUMP.
…. And of course, the Croc in the distance twitches in response to the sound before slowly turning to face our direction.
[Dammit Tiny…. Was that on purpose?]
The massive ape looks innocently at me, and wide eyed as a newly born baby giant ape.
If he didn't have the Cunning of brick forged out of smaller bricks that were themselves made of the distilled energy of pure stupid, I'd believe he might be capable of such an act of duplicity. I think he just got lucky.
["Ok gang. We have attracted the attention of a large ass croc, possibly a new variety. It looks strong, and we don't know how many others are about, so be careful!"]
[Roger!] Vibrant solutes me with one antenna before scuttling a little ways off to look for a flanking opportunity.
[Master, I will defend you with my life!] Crinis vows solemnly.
[It uh, shouldn't come to that Crinis]
This headache is coming back…
Shaking my head to dispel my extraneous thoughts I focus on what is truly worrying me. The oppressive aura that has weighed on our minds and hearts the entire time we have been in this expanse, is it coming from this beast?
To tell the truth, I'm worried. Obviously, I'd be worried! That stupid aura is pressing down on us like a weight strapped to our backs! It isn't exactly comfortable! The vague oppressive fear that permeates the entire expanse has only grown stronger the further we have progressed.
No. It isn't coming from this monster. I can tell that the source is further in, the pressure is rolling in invisible waves from quite a distance yet.
So even this creature in front of us, a Croca Beast that has undergone three evolutions, is not enough to cause that terror. Just what is waiting for us deeper in the expanse?!