I'm exhausted and my mandibles are aching something fierce after all that digging, but is it time to rest?
Those damn pupae are teasing me with their very existence. The twenty large casings are resting against the side of a chamber, taunting me with their stillness. Within them, the hope of ant kind is taking the final steps of their gestation, turning from a grub into something more, something incredible. The ant species to end all ant species.
At least that's what I'm hoping for. If they suck I'm going to be really disappointed…
It shouldn't happen though! I reinforce my own positive mindset. They are going to be great, I've put so much effort into creating them and into making sure they'll get a solid boost to start out their new lives, surely they'll be great!
The closer this project is getting to fruition the more stressed I'm getting.
Put it behind you Anthony, put all of it behind you!
Focus on yourself for a while, treat yourself. To what should I treat myself? To skill training, of course!
Not only me, Tiny and Crinis have been roped in as well.
After discussing things with Beyn and drawing on his knowledge, our knowledge of the system has greatly expanded and the weightiest nugget of wisdom to come out of that was the importance of skills.
Whereas I had been putting too much emphasis on evolution and the energy within my core, I was ignoring two aspects of the holy trinity of monster power! Evolution! Mutation! Skills!
All things must be in balance, so it is in nature, so it is within the monster. When one tree is watered over much, it does not grow properly, drowning instead of thriving, and the other trees wither. Only when the life giving succour is evenly distributed to all three trees shall the monster truly flourish in all aspects, mentally, physically, spiritually!
I've gone some way to addressing the shortcomings of my mutations but my skills are still lacking. When Beyn had found out that none of my combat skills was of the fourth rank he'd nearly slapped me out of sheer shock and in the process lost his only remaining hand. At least now with Shattering Bite advancing I have one fourth rank combat skill. Advancing skills, fusing them and taking them to their extreme ends is what the surface races spend most of their time doing in the pursuit of strength.
Therefore, the time has come to take part in that most sacred of all system related activities, grinding!
Gonna grind like there's no tomorrow!
The most important thing to grind? Of course its magic!
This was the most frustrating thing that Beyn had enlightened me of. I'd thought I'd made use of an awesome hack in using my free magical affinity gland on gravity mana, and in a way, I still had.
If I'd used it on fire, water or earth or something basic like that, it would have been a massive waste since I'm now able to produce those mana types now without too much stress. The problem is that having the gland doesn't give me access to what I really need to make use of it, which is the spell forms. I have the generic spell shapes that I've been using, but according to Beyn, every mana type has particular spells that make best of its attributes, the more advanced the mana type, the more specialised the spells will be.
Even though he'd never seen Gravity magic before, he was sure it was a particularly advanced form of mana, which means that the skill I want, Gravity Mana Affinity, will be deep in the skill tree somewhere.
In order to get access to it, I have to level up my basic affinities, which will unlock the next rank of affinities, and so on until I finally get to gravity.
According to Beyn, once I get water magic affinity to the third rank, the next wave of affinity skills will unlock. That is my most immediate goal. Apparently the exact types of mana that unlock are not necessarily set, and can vary from individual to individual. With a bit of luck I might even see Gravity Mana in the next rank but Beyn thought it was extremely unlikely.
There is apparently a powerful skill fusion available by levelling all of the basic affinities to the third rank and then fusing them to form the skill Elemental Mana Mastery, which gives powerful boosts to the basic elements. Most local mages aim for this elemental path apparently, but it seems like a waste to me. The higher ranks of magic will surely also have potent fusions available, I don't want to waste my time on the lower level stuff anymore.
Rush to the top!
So Tiny, Crinis and I settle in to grind our skills, repetitively, endlessly, mind numbingly. For me, that means forming and releasing the ice mana construct over and over again, casting water and ice spells at everything I can see. The walls, dipping into the Dungeon and launching them at monsters, at Tiny once by accident, and the odd rock.
Using skills in combat situations against monsters gives a much faster boost than just hitting the walls but being as mentally exhausted as we are, I don't want us diving into frenetic combat. Keeping to the upper tunnels and picking on some plants is as much as I'm willing to commit to at this point.
Just like this, we grind, and grind, and grind.
Crinis is focusing on her tentacle skills, grappling shredding, dismembering. After much persuasion, I eventually get a mortified Crinis to attempt to use her skills on me, thinking that as a highly evolved monster she'd get more experience using her skills on me.
She was reluctant to say the least, which resulted in one of the stranger conversations of my life as a monster.
[Dammit, Crinis! Cut me!]
[Don't you want experience? Don't you want some of these juicy levels?!]
[I do … but!]
[Then hit me dammit! Get those tentacles on this carapace. I order you to try and carve my bum off!]
[WHAT?! I… NOOOOOOO!]
Unable to deny my direct order, a screaming and weeping Crinis was forced to attack and attempt to dismember me. Her sawing limbs and intense crushing strength were powerful, to be sure, but they couldn't crack my shiny carapace.
She did get a few levels out of the experience, but I decided the trauma it caused her wasn't worth the effort.