So far the upper reef farming strategy has proven to be successful, if stressful. Some monsters seem too reluctant to approach the bright flame, but others are clearly maddened by it, charging down to extinguish me, and it with extreme prejudice. After we started to see less monsters swarming out original spot, we had to pick up and move to another location, clearing out the riff raff along the way before recommencing our farming practices. So far we've been at it for four days and both of my pets are enjoying the benefits of the near constant fighting. Both of their levels have been steadily climbing and their combat skills have been getting some serious boosts. Most of the monsters they fight have been tier two and above, which really helps in terms of XP gain. The influx of Biomass has also been most welcome.

For my part, I've been grinding away at a number of Skills. Non-combat related ones for the most part, since I'm making sure that Tiny and Crinis do most of the fighting in order to hasten their evolution to the fifth tier. The skill I'm most interested in raising right now is my Core Surgery Skill. I need to unlock the mysteries of the advanced techniques employed by the Sophos so that I can teach them to the colony when I return but so far they've proven to be difficult to master.

Grinding away at manipulating cores in order to increase my skill level and bring me closer to increasing the rank of the Skill is one thing. I can do that, no problems, and I have been. But mastering the ability to fuse two cores together so neatly that they slide into each other like laser-cut metal is a freakin' nightmare! For starters, I need to get Core Surgery to the next rank before I can even unlock the skill, but I've been practicing the techniques required in order to ensure I can get my hands on the skill as quickly as possible. I've been straining my poor head as much as possible but so far all I've gotten is a headache and some not quite as horribly scrambled as before fused cores.

Once I'm done with them I've been handing the cores over to Crinis and Tiny to make sure that they are as close to maxed out as we can get them. It shouldn't be much longer now and they'll be almost ready to accept the final core to tip them over the edge. I'm keeping an eye out for a rare core but so far we haven't come across one. Special cores seem much more common down here and we've come into possession of a few of those, but rare cores are proving elusive.

The issue I had with my core is that I pushed it to max size, then absorbed a special core immediately after I evolved. My hope had been that with time and patience I would have been able to absorb two special cores beyond the limit and gain a more powerful evolution that way. My gambit ended up being taken to an entirely new level when I obtained the rare core and tried to push the experiment even further. So not only did I absorb a special core past the normal maximum, I went ahead and absorbed a rare core as well! The end result was excruciating pain and a very high risk of damage to my core. That I only escaped such a fate could only be put down to dumb luck. By the blessings of Gandalf's ever bristling, bushy beard and brows was I able to survive!

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For Crinis and Tiny, if I only feed them the rare core, they should go through a truly painful and uncomfortable experience, but not have to experience the risk of permanent damage. Even now I still worry that something went wrong and I just haven't been able to notice. A hidden flaw in my core, a fault line or hairline fracture that might flare up and bite me right in the profit margins when I least expect it. It's anxiety inducing!

My magic skills have been the other focus. Healing Magic is getting a constant workout due to Tiny's affliction, so level gains have been steady there and I've made a point of playing with fire magic during the downtime when we hide away to rest in order to keep pushing that Skill higher. I went ahead and bought the air magic affinity, just to round out my basic avatar elements. I've not had a chance to try and level Earth or Air magic yet, my brains are already pushed to the straining point maintaining the healing and fire mana constructs. I'm starting to think I'm going to need a lot more brains down the line. To utilise one type of magic effectively, without a gland to produce that mana for you, it really requires you to perform two tasks simultaneously. You have to create and maintain the construct, which takes an effort of Will on its own. Then you had to operate the construct, feed it raw mana to produce the desired affinity. THEN you had to take the new mana of the desired affinity and shape it into a mind bending, intricate shape to produce the desired spell!

In an ideal world, you would have two brains to perform these tasks. One to hold onto and operate the construct, and one to shape the spells. For the time being, I'm using my weaker sub brains to maintain the constructs and the stronger one takes turns operating them and shaping the spells. This means I have to pitch in with my main mind every now and again, which is frankly a pain. I'd much rather all this petty grinding be done by the sub-brains so I can focus on other things. Perhaps my sub-minds will come to resent me for that, but they'll just have to deal with it! They know who's in charge!

The other thing I need to consider is how far I want to push the elemental magic Skills before I attempt to fuse them. The further you push them before fusion, the more potent the fused skill will be, that's a fundamental truth of the System that Beyn imparted to me. Certainly it's been true with my bite skill. The result of the fusion has proven to be very strong after I pushed each bite Skill to the fourth tier. Right now, I think my goal is go for the fourth tier Since I have multiple minds to grind away at these Skills, I should aim high. Who knows how humans and Kaarmodo manage to train their Skills to the heights that they do? With only a single brain? Crazy.

Right now, the three of us are resting. After an extended fishing expedition, we retreated down to roughly halfway to the bottom of the coral reef where we found a nice and cosy little alcove. Crinis and Tiny are sleeping presently whilst I keep watch. It'll be Tiny's turn to watch when I slip into a little torpor to get some rest. Naturally I have to explicitly order him not to sleep when I do so, otherwise he slacks off.

In front of me is a small pile of cores, our harvest from the last hunt. I say small, but thirty cores is quite respectable when I think about it. The abundance of cores down here is starting to change my view of normal. A haul like this in the first strata would be considered incredible wealth.

With a sigh I bring my antennae forward and touch them to the next core. I need to keep pushing and force myself to adapt these stupid things to the extreme level that I can, then try to fit them together with another core from a different species. It gruelling, headache inducing work, but someone's gotta do it!



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