The monster thrashes this way and that as I pursue it with my flame thrower. Ha! This feels awesome! I didn't realise how cold I was until I had an enormous fire exploding from right next to my face. Whoops! Need to be careful not to singe the antenna! I snatch my two sense organs back before they dip dangerously low into the jet of flame. Mana flows out of my core at a fast pace, but I'm absorbing plenty of energy through my feet. Interestingly the dark attributed mana of the strata is what's sucked through my legs, but when it arrives at my core it's changed back to pure, unattributed mana. My suspicion is that the core is unable to accept any type of mana other than clean, untainted energy.

Luckily, my reserves are being replenished just as fast as they are being expended, which means, thanks to the hard work of my two sub-brains, I can keep this flame thrower going forever! Gweheheheh!

Burn baby, burn!

I leap left and right, blasting the monster all around with the jet of flame as its shrieks and cries pierce our ears. All around us the creature shudders as the fire incinerates its strange body. Roast you uppity monster! Be burned by the flames of your own gumption! Also by me. I don't want you to think that I'm not part of this situation, I absolutely am. And I'm taking a great deal of joy in it.

Fire does appear to be the creatures Achilles heel. The body that we struggled to damage effectively before has now become kindling, quite literally ash in the wind. Everywhere the fire touches the monster melts away, the air filling with the scent of burning flesh.

After ten more seconds, the monster has had enough. The blobs are all shifting away from us, revealing the stone and soil of the tunnel that had been concealed beneath. Far more sprightly than it was when it had first awoken, the creature still isn't very quick. Luckily for us.

[Don't let it go, guys! We need to destroy it, seize its core and feast on its Biomass!]

[Agreed!]

[Harrr!]

Still fired up (heh), my pets are eager to chase down the creature as it attempts to flee. Gleefully keeping my flamethrower active, we chase one half of the monster down the tunnel in the direction we came from. After roasting it all to pieces, we turn around and race to catch up with the other half, still busily glooping its way down the tunnel. Burn sucka!

[You have slain level 41 Venator Atramento.]

[You have gained experience.]

[You have reached level 15. One skill point awarded.]

Take that! You want to ambush us? Want to feast on this incredible diamond hide? No chance! MUAHAHAHAA!

There isn't much left of the monster after I'm done burning it to a crisp. What's left doesn't look particularly appetizing either. What had originally appeared to be tiny specks of dust are actually little bloblets, more fluid than dirt. Each individual piece is a tiny drop of shadow flesh that somehow the creature is able to spread out and control even if there is no connection to its main body. This is something I've not seen before, it was certainly creepy as heck. All that remains is gloopy, wet looking mess of Biomass that we reluctantly chow down on.


[Venator Atremento, Ink Hunter (V). This monster uses its ability to disperse its body to prey upon unsuspecting victims. Extremely difficult to defeat through physical violence, the creature has a fearsome ability to prey on those weaker than itself.]

Oh, I'm sure. When it picks on someone stronger it gets cooked and eaten! The Biomass proves to be quite rich as well. There isn't as much as we'd like but we share it out. The final surprise comes when we get to the end of our meal.

[Compatible rare core detected. Would you like to absorb it, or reconstitute the monster?]

Hmm. I think we can hold onto this for later. I let Tiny keep the core. He stashes it somewhere in his fur, I'm not sure exactly how, one moment it's in his giant hand, then he reaches up to an armpit and the core is gone. Whatever, I'll take it. The creature was actually tier five? Interesting. I guess that explains how weird it was. If it had been tier two or three, I'd be terrified of what it would look like after a few more evolutions.

After resting briefly, we continue our journey through this branch tunnel. Funnily enough there aren't many other monsters around this section of tunnel, probably preyed upon by our friend the hunter. In short order we make our way back to the main tunnel and I decide that we'll stick to one side and follow it. The tunnel continues to shift downward but at the same time we are descending, we are trending in the direction of the colony. Once we get back to underneath it, I plan to rise up the tunnels, scout out the lay of the land and reconnect with my family. This way I can hunt out any threats and do the heavy lifting for the colony as they start to take on the second strata.

After a few tough fights and a whole heap of easy ones. I think we're ready to see what this Strata really has to offer. I want to get into an expanse, see what we can see. We continue our journey for another day. We had to shift off to a side tunnel and carve out a space in order to rest. The sweet embrace of torpor was most welcome to me, and I rested secure in the knowledge that Crinis was watching over me.

Naturally I had to top Tiny off before I could rest, and then again the moment I awoke. The invasive mana is still rampaging through his body, causing damage constantly. My healing skills have improved thanks to the constant exertion but not yet enough to increase the rank of the skill, the only thing I can think might help me remove it. Regardless, refreshed and ready we continue our travels, fighting when we need to and carefully avoiding the many forms of venomous plants that are becoming more and more common.

After another six hours of delving there's a notable change to the feel of the mana in the air. Our tunnel has curved this way and that but always sloping downward. I've noticed a few tunnels coming together, merging and I suspect that I know why. Carefully, with all senses attuned, we advance and it isn't long before the tunnel floor drops away, the ceiling rises impossibly high and a vast, open space of incredibly dense dark mana yawns before us like an underwater ocean.

This… is not what I expected.
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