Although cold and dark in extreme ways, it'll be nice when the colony expands down to conquer this place. A new terrain, a new frontier that shall submit to the superior power of the ant. I feel a little guilty leaving the family behind, but things were a little weird there after my evolution. The whispers I was hearing, the reverence I was starting to get, it didn't quite sit right with me. It seemed like a good time for a little separation. Perhaps after some time apart the strange atmosphere that was taking over up there will dissipate. And maybe I'll be able to figure out what exactly being a colony paragon entails. I'm a 'juvenile' after all. I can suppose that when I next evolve, I'll be given the option for 'mature' colony paragon. That may be the rare evolution, or perhaps even a normal one. What'll that entail? I already have the communal will gland, weird flesh crystal that it is. Do I get another? Or something else? And the strange whispers that I heard. What the heck was that about? I don't want to think about it too much, I shy away from the implications. I'll have to face up to it at some point I suppose.
But not now! Right now, we have a new world to explore! And what a strange place it is!
It's been curiously quiet, activity-wise, as we continue to descend quite sharply into the second strata, With every second that passes my mana sense grows a little more accustomed to navigating this swirling mass of dark mana. It's almost like navigating through a storm. Instead of hail and sleet pelting down from above, it's the ebb and flow of Shadows that twirl like mist caught in a breeze. Except there's no wind down here. Spooky. I start to feel like I'm underwater, plunged into a Shadow Sea.
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And the landscape begins to change as we progress. The rocks become strange, for one. They twist and curve in strange directions. Instead of normal stalagmites and stalactites they create an eerie geometry. Sharp angles and unexpected curves create shapes that cannot be found in any nature I subscribe to. The beginnings of an ecosystem are popping up amongst the rocks.
As we skitter along, Tiny trundling next to me, the great ape's shoulders shrug uncomfortably as he eyes the tunnel with unease. On my back, Crinis still appears to be having the time of her life. Her newer 'arm' tentacles wave happily in the air, almost as if they were trailing through the thickening shadow magic, or as if she were waggling her 'fingers' in it.
At our tread, small shifts of movement amongst the rocks are the first thing that clues me into a new form of monstrous life here. I skitter a little closer and I'm stunned by what I see. It almost looks like a coral. From the stone floor, at first it appears like a small rock formation, maybe basketball size, but tiny fronds emerge from holes in the rock to trail gently in the air. It would almost be adorable, if not for the staring eyes that tip half of the stalks, and the mouths full of razor fangs that top the others. When I draw near, the gently waving fronds retract into the stone in an instant, all that remains is a seemingly innocent junk of stone with indistinct holes.
Well, provided they don't get any larger than that, I don't anticipate this thing being a problem. Wait, did I just curse myself?
As I ponder just how horrifying a massive version of this creature would be, a sudden shift in the twisting shadows around me snags my attention. To my mana sense, it looks as if small whirlpools appear spinning in mid-air. To my eyes, I don't see a thing. What a curious thing…
Then five shadow beasts leap out of the air.
[Holy moly! Enemy attack!]
I shout to my allies, uncertain if they are wise to the danger and in Tiny's case I can see I was right. The ape looks confused as his head swivels left and right, trying to see. Crinis is, of course, right in her element. More sensitive to the changes in the mana than I am, her tentacles are already in air and snaking towards these beasts as they begin to fall towards us.
I can sense the slash coming before it even occurs and my reflexes are absurdly fast, twisting my body to the side and presenting the perfect angle of carapace to the shadow claws that strike down from the lead beast. Sparks fly from the diamond carapace, unmatched under heaven for both hardness, and sparklyness.
The beast snarls, its twisted maw of rubbery shadow flesh grimaces as its surprise attack is foiled. Too late for regret, creature! Experience my mandibles of power!
Too lazy to even activate an attack skill I snap out with my mandibles, fully expecting the rending of shadow flesh between my snapping jaws, shock strikes as my jaws snap shut. Even though I saw it happen, I'm not sure I believe it! The Shadow beast absorbed it's leg inside its body and just extended it out again in a different position! They can do that?!
[Something is weird! Smash them!]
Tiny bellows in rage as one of the beasts swoops down and rakes its claws along his back, drawing blood. Unwilling to take it, his lips peel back to reveal his sharp bat fangs and his massive hands sweep through the air. One creature is unfortunate enough to land within that meaty palm and with a shout of joy Tiny clenches his fist, securing his victim. It isn't pretty. After he brings the monster up in front of his face to roar at it, Tiny rears back to smash the beast into the ground with all his strength. No coming back from that one. I don't care what type of fancy tricks they have.
The strange, slippery abilities the monsters are displaying are giving Crinis some trouble. Every time her tentacles latch onto one, they morph and reform their bodies to escape. But she learns quick. Multiple limbs start to reach for each creature, latching on in several places at once. The beasts aren't able to shift themselves fast enough before the barbs emerge and begin to rend them apart.
After that, it isn't long before we clean up the last of the beasts. The fight was instructive. It's clear that the shadow monsters will enjoy advantages here that they don't otherwise. I wonder what else will crop up?