It's true that shadow monsters seem to be stronger than the creatures of the first strata at a lower level of evolution. Most of the monsters we encounter are tier two or three, but they are significantly stronger than monsters of that same tier we encountered above. It's keeping life interesting, but the experience and Biomass penalties are still applied. Frustrating! With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I'm coming to realise this means I'll be permanently gimped for being born as a first strata monster.
It makes sense, Dungeon wise. Down here the mana is thicker and attributed. This means the Dungeon is able to produce different kinds of body parts, the shadow flesh, for example. Who knows what the lower strata monsters are capable of, or what they're made of? Perhaps there are ants born below who are diamond from the moment they come out of their pupal stage….
Jealous! That better not be true!
The only way we can keep up is to push our mutations and Skills to the limit. Although, I wonder if it's possible to recreate certain body parts as more powerful versions, made from more mana intensive materials, is what I'm driving at. I've not seen the option so far, but that doesn't mean it won't ever exist. Perhaps just arriving in the second strata was enough to unlock the option. I'll have to wait until I evolve again to confirm this, but that's a long way in the future. Tier five creatures are thin on the ground so far, but to be fair we're only creeping through smaller side tunnels right now. Other than the strong monsters who've created their own little kingdoms like that spider, there are mostly small fry here now.
Must have been crazy down here during the wave though. Thank goodness I never had to see it.
[Master, I sense something strange.]
Mana sense levelled up a little while ago and I was able to rank it up to Expanded mana sensing, which improved my range, but not my finesse. Crinis still has me dead to rights when it comes to detecting our foes.
[I'm not finding anything though?]
I concentrate harder but to no avail.
[It's weird,] Crinis mutters, [it's like dust? The moment I find it, it's gone again.]
I can feel the orb on my back writhing its tentacles back and forth as she tries to find whatever has triggered her eye.
[Tiny, you hearing anything?]
One thing we've learned is that Tiny's ears, even without mutations, are really good. I shouldn't be surprised, considering he has the large, triangular ears of a bat. I think when he evolves again, he should make them mutable. When I ask what he hears, he cocks his head to one side and listens for a moment before shaking his heavy head.
[Think you can give us some light?]
The big ape nods and concentrates for a moment before he begins to spark, electricity roaming over his fur and illuminating the tunnel oh so slightly. The flickering light throws the objects in the tunnel into relief, ironically filling the tunnel with shadows. Because that's what we need more of.
It's enough light that my fancy compound eyeballs are able to be put to use and I scan the tunnel to try and find what it is that we're sensing. But there's nothing there.
[Are you sure, Crinis?]
[Positive. It's fast, and small. I think there's more of them.]
[Eh? More? Like, how many?]
I look around nervously, but I don't even know what I'm looking for! Gently swaying fronds of various poisonous or stabby plants wave through the air, along with dotted stone formations that extend mouths, or barbs, or barbed mouths out in order to feast on monsters that pass by. Along with general outcroppings of rock, the tunnels are starting to get quite busy, making it harder to spot… whatever it is I'm looking for.
Wait! I sense something!
To my mana sense it looks as if dust that had been floating through the air, suddenly comes together and darts behind a stone.
[I've seen it! It's like some dust that moves!]
[Small particles. It was floating in the air and then came together into a ball and hid. Tiny, spark up a little more, we might be able to see it.]
Tiny grunts in response and the electricity becomes more intense, sizzling and cracking dangerously in the air. The heat in the tunnel begins to rise as the light glitters through the shadow strata. At first, I can't see anything.
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[It's hard to detect. I feel as if it's everywhere and nowhere.]
[That doesn't sound good…]
I stare hard, using my mental faculties as well as my physical ones. I don't want to be taken by surprise down here in this sea of shadows. Who knows what might happen? More poisons, or death mana, or teeth from the shadows, or dodgy fast food. Who knows what horrors lurk in the darkness?
I flick an antenna to the right, pointing to the slight movement I saw. Tiny and Crinis both turn quickly, just in time to watch a patch of dirt on the wall crawl together into a blob.
[What is it?] I wonder.
A small sound reaches my ears then, as if a tiny vibration were rocking the tunnel. The small hairs that cover my antennae stand on end and I turn to look at the tunnel walls on the other side. All around us, the walls are shaking as what had appeared to be a layer of dark dirt comes to life and starts to gather together.
[It's all around us!] I holler at the others.
[Master! I can sense it now. It's huge!]
I can too. For dozens of metres in front of us as well as dozens behind, my mana sense is flaring as whatever this is begins to literally pull itself together from its disparate parts.
"ROOOOAAR!" Tiny bellows, smashing his chest with his mighty fists, his eyes burning with rage.
Finally, a decent fight, he seems to be saying as he snarls, his fangs on display. Lightning surges even thicker across his body and begins to accumulate on his fists as all around the walls continue to crawl and shift. The dust gathers together into small blobs that then begin to seek each other out and merge. Rapidly, bodies are forming all over the place but my mana sense is telling me that this is one creature. All the mana I sense from it is exactly the same.
Not willing to wait, Tiny leaps forward and smashes his charged fist into one of the blobs, scattering it with explosive force. The disparate pieces splat into a nearby wall before they quiver and begin to move once more. Tiny shakes his fist, unsatisfied, and turns to another blob to blast it with lightning. Twin streaks of blue energy shatter the air and the blob is vaporised in a moment. To my mana sense, I can see that not all of the dust was destroyed, but at least some of it was. As if sensing that it can be harmed, the dust surrounding us begins to amalgamate more quickly.
You hurt it Tiny, keep going!]
The ape grins.