The expanse before me is truly deserving of that name. It's impossibly vast. How the heck can such a space exist underground? Is this planet even stable? I start to become nervous about the ground beneath my feet. All of this is possible with mana, be cool Anthony. Magic planet is magically stable despite being hollow like a piece of Swiss cheese.
My eyes aren't able to penetrate the dense Shadow mana before me, visibility is only twenty metres at best. But to my mana sense, I can trace the veins that line the walls as they rise, and rise, and rise above my head, and fall the same way below my feet. The space in between just feels… empty.
[Well. We found our first expanse guys. Let's head on down and see what we can see. Surely there's more to it than this.]
With Crinis riding on my back and Tiny climbing beside me we begin to make our way down the wall. It's steep and my increased size doesn't make life easy. I really need to continue to level up my grip skill if I want to be able to climb like this. I firm my resolve. It's time to go back to climbing on the ceiling, or at least the wall, as much as I can. The skill seems to level up faster now that I'm heavier, so I'll hopefully see some progress pretty quick.
Down we climb. The stone and rock is ice cold beneath my claws, much like the air around us. Insects don't like the cold much, ants are known to hibernate in winter, entire colonies going dormant and hanging out in their nests, waiting for warm weather to return. I have to admit that I feel a sluggishness that creeps into my limbs. But my Will is strong and I fight it off. It's going to take more than cold to slow this ant down.
Holy shadow mackerel! What is this I can sense? Out in the open space, above my head I can sense a gigantic lifeform twisting through the air. No wait, not twisting. It's swimming? Seriously? The monsters' mana is dense and powerful, a strong core is definitely found in the heart of this beast. Not that I'm super tempted to fight it or anything, I can't even see it! It turns back on itself like an enormous snake, or elongated whale before it speeds away, vanishing at the edge of my perception.
If I had lungs I'd let out a tense breath. Yikes! That is one heck of a monster! Well, there must be more stuff here, since there's no way a creature could evolve to that kind of size without feeding on something. A heap of something! Hopefully we can avoid whatever the heck it was until we learn a little more.
[Crinis, did you get a good look at that creature?]
[Yes, Master. It looked strong.]
Tiny immediately turns his head towards us before snapping it up to the air. He peers into the dark but quickly becomes frustrated, his ears twitch as his irritation builds.
[You can't fight it anyway you moron! It basically flies, you can't reach it!]
He growls, his ears drooping in disappointment.
[I'm going to 'forget' to heal you one of these days,] I threaten him.
A wide grin splits his face and he flexes his arms impressively at me, disregarding my anger. I can't help but chuckle at his antics. It's hard to stay mad at him.
[The monster was very large, and strong. But that isn't all, I sensed strong magic in it.]
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[What is shadow? Or poison?]
[No, it was Death.]
Death aligned creatures are just … no. The rabbit was bad enough, I don't want to deal with some undead sea leviathan of darkness! No part of that sounds good! But I'm not willing to turn back. Whatever challenges we face, we'll smash through directly. What sort of ant shirks hard work?
Ignoring the fact that I am avoiding my work at the colony right this moment, we continue to descend and after thirty more minutes of claw cramping wall climbing, I notice the wall is starting to curve toward level. What's more I can sense, rather than see, large obstructions rising from below. As we get closer I can see that they are massive versions of the tiny corals and vegetation that we were able to see in the tunnels outside. More climbing reveals that these corals climb almost a hundred metres into the open air above, rising from the dark soil of the expanse floor that finally comes into view.
The scale of this place is really hurting my head. I think it might be as much as a kilometre high, maybe even more. It's difficult to say, I can neither see nor sense that far, but if we assume that we entered the expanse at roughly the vertical halfway mark, then a kilometre sounds about right. Which feels insane, but I'm going to suppress my Earth logic. This is Pangera, there's magic for goodness' sake. What's a giant evolving ant monster to say this would be impossible?
When we reach the bottom, it's a surprising scene that we see before us. Thick and tall fronds wave to the movement of a wind or current that only they can feel. Enormous corals tower taller than trees and form an elaborate maze of tangled stone that looks impossible to navigate. It feels like a reef for titans, but instead of a riot of bright colours the palette is flat and grey. The leaves are dark, almost black and the corals are muted whites, as if bleached. Here and there I can detect life, monsters, flicking in the gaps, feasting on the plants or on each other. And somewhere above the leviathan swims, perhaps with other creatures that treat this world of shadow as a vast ocean.
Alright Anthony, time to get your game face on. Let's shake it out. I flex each of my six legs and rattle my body to try and loosen any kinks in the system. Brain check. All of the brains appear to be on task and working hard. Central sub-brain is in control of the healing construct, left sub-brain is healing Tiny up, right sub-brain is practicing external mana manipulation. Main mind is checking on the others. Nice. Stamina feels good, Skills are locked and loaded, core is full and mana gland is topped off. We're ready, we're pumped up.
Finally, we're going to be let loose in a hunting ground that's close to our level. No more pesky experience penalties or Biomass reductions! When I think of the Skill level ups and mutations that await us my mouth starts gnashing at the air uncontrollable. My thirst for adventure is unquenchable! My appetite for levels can never be sated!
[Tiny? Crinis? You ready to head in?]
In response, Tiny just nods and grins. Crinis lifts herself from my back and begins to crawl forward, supported by her tentacles.
[Master, I suggest you allow me to go first. I'm better suited to the scouting role here.]
[Well, I have to admit that you're right. Lead the way Crinis. Just make sure you don't take all the prey for yourself!]
[I wouldn't dream of it, Master!]