It's been nice, visiting the Sophos. Despite their somewhat decrepit and ghastly appearance, they were fine hosts. Every day they'd bring Biomass to Tiny, Crinis and I and we'd feast together with Formo and his favourite pets. They even took time to show me how they worked with cores and put together some of their most powerful pets. I have to say, their means and methods were far beyond what I was capable of. Even after the first session I was happy to bow down to their superior skill and capability.

Particularly in the area of core melding. Which is apparently a skill I've yet to unlock. Many of the Sophos best monsters were formed by fusing multiple cores together. This is an advantage in a number of areas. Firstly, by making changes to multiple cores, it was possible to effect more changes than if you focused on a single core. The resistance barrier they called it, the wall you pushed up against every time you made a change to a core. More changes, more resistance. If you could only make ten changes to one core, then by forming a monster out of two cores, you could make twenty changes!

Of course, it sounded far simpler than it was. That was just the theory. The art, as Formo was at great pains to point out, was in making the changes in such a way that not only did you push toward your desired outcome, you simultaneously shaped the cores so they would fit more snugly together. Doing that, was a massive pain in the commercial zone. The Sophos could spend days, even weeks, plotting a single change to ensure that the final outcome was closer to what they wanted, whilst also enabling the fusion process. I myself had seen multiple Sophos standing over a pair of cores arguing and slapping each other over the head as they discussed what changes to make to a pair of cores.

Then there were the three core constructions. Holy moly, that was a whole new level. Only the best and brightest of the Sophos dared to attempt it. Those with the best stats and highest Skill levels. Apparently the worms were such a pet. Crafted for each Sophos either by themselves, if they were capable enough, or by an expert. Each core had to moulded with the final product in mind, which involved two fusions. So the first two cores had to be shaped in such a way that they would fit together snugly and accept a third once that process was done. It sounded like completing a puzzle that then had to fit inside another puzzle. HARD! COMPLEX!

I was keen to give it a go and take my findings back to the colony. The core shapers had already proved their worth and this was just more evidence that they would be able to make a powerful contribution to the family.

[I can see it in your face you BLIGHTER, you're thinking of trying this, aren't you?] Formo burst into my thoughts.

[… maybe]

[Well don't be a COLOSSAL, BLITHERING INGRATE. These techniques are incredibly stressful to the mind and require high level Skills. You're only up to Core Surgery and don't even have the core fusion skill. That becomes available once you rank up Core Surgery. Don't even think of trying this until that's done.]


[What's the harm?" I protest. "Even if it doesn't work out, it's not like the core is wasted. I can just give it to a pet to absorb it, right?]

[NOT RIGHT, YOU DONKEY!]

[Donkey?!]

[Every core is precious! And some are vanishingly rare. Besides, more experience towards the next Skill level is granted from utilising that Skill correctly, as opposed to stuffing around! You could fudge your way to the next rank over hundreds of failures or you could achieve it with dozens of successes. If your colony is trying to raise many core shapers, do you truly believe you have cores to waste?]

[Ah. No. No we do not.]

[PRECISELY, OLD BOY! Do as we do and take your time to ensure each core you work on is a SMASHING success. That'll maximise your gains.]

[Good advice… Should we go help your worm?]

[Barry? BAH! With Garralosh gone, there's nothing around here that can hold a candle to him! Worry not!]

[I suppose so…]

It truly didn't appear as 'Barry' needed much help. The worm is gleefully smashing everything we came across, either using its tremendous bulk or simply swallowing everything in front of it.

[I do want to point out though, we came out here to get experience for Crinis.]

[Ah! So we did!] Formo exclaims as he smacks himself in his bulbous noggin. [Barry! Heel you lovable noodle!]

It was a little strange to hear Formo call his pet as if it were a dog, especially when he could have kept that conversation private, it was even stranger to see the massive worm turn and slither back, full of excitement and practically wriggling in delight.

[Okay Crinis. Your time to shine. Go in there and smash some monsters! We'll get you fully mutated and ready to evolve in no time!]

[Alright, Master!]

The abominable ball of death sitting on my back raised two tentacles like clenched fists in front of her face in a somewhat adorable pose before she inflated in size to open her mouth and reveal the nightmare void barred behind her razer teeth.

[You too Tiny, get in there and practice your Skills. Just don't steal too much, these kills are worth way more XP to Crinis than they are to you.]
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[HRN!] Tiny grunts in acknowledgement.

It's amazing how much he communicates with a grunt. I can tell from that grunt that he's not happy to be restricted in his fighting, but nonetheless happy to be able to cut loose.

[What about yourself?] Formo asks.

[Ah, no. Not for me, thanks. I've recently hit tier five, these monsters won't do a lot for me.]

[Right you are! Won't be long till you'll need to descend!]

[Wassat?]

[Well the mana here is too thin! It's already too thin! You've been fine in our commune because the mana is thicker there!]

As Crinis and Tiny move forward and begin to hunt I check my core and notice that he's right! I've started losing MP! This is a big deal since I've been using my sub-brains to draw in mana using external mana manipulation in order to train the skill and it's still not enough! Yikes! I could work a bit harder and maybe be fine, but still, this isn't a good sign.

[You're a second strata creature now, NO MISTAKE MY LAD. I recommend you head there immediately when you've finished your holiday with us! The mana here in the first strata is weak! WEAK I SAY! Every time you go down a strata, there's a qualitative change. You'll see.]

[I guess you're right.]

[Besides, there's a good chance you might be able to find more people such as yourself down there. With a bit of luck they're more sane than Garralosh was!]

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