As the fish swirl around us, biting and tearing at us from a dozen angles at once, from below comes a new threat. Almost like dogs, wolves or hounds, they run and leap, agile as monkeys across the stone as they come snapping our heels. Slippery as eels and mouths frothing they ran around us, circling at speed as the fish keep snapping at us. Although some of dogs look larger than the others, some of the fish more powerful, I'm fairly certain these are lower tier monsters, only threatening in their numbers, not their strength. They are all rather irritating though.

[Crinis, try to deal with fish, I'll take of the dog situation!]

[Okay, Master!] Crinis declares, sounding determined.
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When she decides to go all out, Crinis can be quite intimidating, to say the least. More than three dozen tentacles explode out of her rapidly inflating body, creating an instant web of barbed death for the fish that nibble and rip at her. With her little tentacle brains steering them without her having to think about it, a large number of the limbs are mobile at once, making complex manoeuvres that chase and whip toward the fish with deadly precision. The fish are small and are able to twist past her grasping tentacles more often than not, but she starts to take hold of them and gradually whittle down her numbers.

For my part, I need to help Tiny. The dogs are circling him, nipping at his feet as he bellows as takes wild swings at them. Whenever he tries to zap them they duck away into crevices and gaps where he can't see them, only to emerge again when he turns away.

The big guy's getting pretty frustrated, his eyes have gone red with rage. Any longer and he's going to start smashing the terrain into pieces and we might just fall into a den of vipers beneath our feet! My claws grip the coral hard and I dash forward, my bulk scatters the dogs in front of me as I catch one in my mandibles.

CHOMP!

[Chill out, Tiny! I'm here to support!]

The moment I show up on the scene the dogs scatter away, not willing to stand in front of me. Instead that loop around to my sides and start to prowl, nipping at my legs and business district. It's low! These damn dogs are so sneaky and their tactics are so dirty! Where's the eager, upfront battle of monsters?! The clash of strength, the contest of will? All of this sneaking and backstabbing is diminishing our dignity as monsters isn't it?! Even if I used to do it!


Fortunately, I have just the thing to deal with enemies who want to stay behind me!

POW! POW! POW!

Acid flies out to strike with precision against the unsuspecting dogs. In moments the liquid hardens, weighing them down even as it burns them. A moment later the dogs abandon their strategy of remaining behind me and start to stick to my sides. So persistent!

With my attention elsewhere, I barely notice one of the dogs sneaking up from below until my antennae tingle a warning. From a gap between the layers of coral a monster leaps forth, larger than the others. With its mouth open wide its tongue lashes out, a pointed barb on the tip, stretching over two metres to stab towards me from beneath! Dodge! My reflexes fire and I twist my body to one side.

CLANG!

The pointed barb shears off after my carapace deflects it, the diamond coating saving me once more. The tongue gets reeled back in and the creature vanishes back into the darkness below me.

"Rooaaar!"

When Tiny roars I turn to see him collapse on his side, one his legs impaled by a spear like tongue. The moment he goes down the dogs scatter and retreat, at least, those not covered in my acid do, but I can sense their lurking presence below us.

Now they want to poison and run?! The cheek of these mutts! It's almost enough to make me wish I was a spider so I could wrap them up in webs and torture them at my leisure! No, Anthony, don't think such dark thoughts. If you were hunting as an ant should, you'd have hundreds of your siblings by your side right now, cutting off their retreat and swarming them at every opportunity. The ant way is still the superior way.

Since Crinis has the fish under control I move closer to Tiny, working my Healing Mana construct with my main mind to shape together the poison removal spell. As I work, the flesh around the puncture wound is necrotising rapidly, it must hurt like hell. What sort of poison is this?! It works damn fast…

In the minute it takes me to piece the spell together, Tiny is already starting to appear faded, his breath becoming shallow and his bat features going pale. When I finally cast the spell, I can sense the poison being drained out of him, the spell purifying and cleansing it from his body. In such a short time it had done a ton of damage and I move quickly to heal him back up.

Hmmm. The poor ape. His offensive power is still able to cut it, but he's beginning to show some weaknesses here on this level. As a creature with skin, his defence isn't able to ward off these insidious poison attacks as effectively as I can, and Crinis, with her amorphous shadow flesh, is much more capable of removing poisoned limbs before they become a problem. There's a lot of gaps that his next evolution needs to cover, I'm going to have to work hard to make sure it can happen.

When Tiny stands up ready to fight once more, I can sense the dogs slink out of range, not wanting to continue the fight. Yeah, you better run you mangy mutts! At least I have three of them I can eat! And eat them I do.

[New source of Biomass consumed Umbra Venandi (I), One Biomass awarded.]

[Umbra Vanandi, Shadow Creeper (I). This creature is weak by itself, but if able to will form packs under the leadership of a higher tiered creeper. They are quite intelligent, able to utilise tactics to corner prey, striking when at its most vulnerable point, injecting their venom before retreating to await the victim to weaken.]

Well that squares away with what we saw from them.

[The fish are defeated, Master!]

[Oh! Well done Crinis! I wonder why those fish decided to chase after us?]

[They didn't seem to like the fire much…]

[Yeah, but are they afraid of it, or do they want to attack it?]

[Both, maybe?]

[Both, huh.]

Certainly, when we stuck our heads up, the monsters seemed to pay a lot of attention to the flame. More accurately, it really seemed to tick them off. Perhaps Crinis is right and they are afraid of the flame, so they hate it? Want to extinguish it? Perhaps we can make use of that…

[Crinis, have you ever gone fishing before?]

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