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Leylin guessed that this animal was the bottom of the ecosystem’s food chain. That was the only way for this cycle to have been sustained through the ages.
After all, this was just an ecological garden, not a pocket dimension full of resources. As big as it was, it could not support the entire ecosystem on its own. The organisms here had apparently established their own ecosystem in the absence of the researchers.
*Groan!* A deep howl sounded out and Leylin instantly hid himself, watching the new creature draw near.
This creature looked somewhat similar to the Snake-Necked Dragons, but what gave him the chills was its enormous black shell, barbed with spikes. It made the thing look indestructible.
Its head stood out in a stark contrast; as opposed to its humongous body, it was tiny with two small bumps at the back of it. It also had a long nose which produce the howling previously.
Booms rang out with every step, creating a weak resonant vibration with the ground. This massive creature had to weigh more than three tonnes.
It came to a stop in front of Leylin’s hiding spot, threatening yet tiny eyes scanning around as it stretched its neck every now and then to nibble on the leaves of the giant plant.
Its bite marks were the same as on the leaves Leylin had seen previously.
‘A.I. Chip! Search the database for the image of this creature!’ Leylin ordered stealthily.
[Beep! Mission received, starting to scan image, checking database…]
Leylin’s order was carried out faithfully by the A.I. Chip and the answer seemed closer than ever.
[No matches found in database, starting search for similar creatures…] [After comparison to similar creatures in the database, this creature is suspected to be a Snake-Necked Turtle. The two are 87.9% similar!]
A detailed information on Snake-Necked Turtles was then provided by the A.I. Chip as a follow-up.
[Snake-Necked Turtle: Creature of the ancient era. Extinct as of the present. Omnivorous and even-tempered, its shell possesses an astonishing defensive ability making it the core ingredient of many defensive weapons. Can reach a strength similar to that of a rank 2 Magus upon maturation.]
Leylin studied the image—an illustration in an antique book the A.I. Chip once recorded—of the Snake-Necked Turtle in concentration
”Right! The only differences between them are the colour of their shells, the number of spikes on the shell, and their heads. It must be a mutation of some sort…”
Leylin couldn’t say he was surprised. An environment like this would be hard for ancient era creatures to survive in if they didn’t actively evolve. A little mutation was nothing. This may even have been instigated by members of Quicksand.
Either way, it’d be truly abnormal if these creatures were to retain all of their ancient characteristics.
“If that’s the case, Snake-Necked Turtle you shall be!” Leylin decided. It wasn’t like normal Snake-Necked Turtles were alive anymore to contest it.
Leylin still stayed, undetected by the Snake-Necked Turtle as it finished its meal and announced its departure with lengthy howls.
Failing to resist the temptation, Leylin tailed the Snake-Necked Turtle.
”Shadow Stealth!” Leylin’s manipulation rendered this spell, which was supposed to be rank 1, stronger than many rank 2 spells. This was especially true when used with Vapour Phase spiritual force.
Leylin climbed onto the back of the Snake-Necked Turtle as he fell into the shadows.
The solid shell gave Leylin a sense of stability and security, and he observed his surroundings. The area was covered in a thick canopy and massive trees with hanging vines resembling the Chinese Fringetree. Droplets of water exuded an enchanting radiance as they rolled over the leaves and down the vines.
The atmosphere was further amplified by the blooming of bright-coloured flowers, larger than humans, and the fragrance they gave off. They were truly roses with thorns.
Leylin sniffed, “Hallucinogenic pollen, paired with this neuro-inducting energy. A level 3 acolyte, or even an official Magus would be tricked…”
To Leylin, this place felt like a virgin tropical rainforest from his previous life where different species prospered. It painted an ambience of primitivity.
Instead of spotting Leylin, the Snake-Necked Turtle became his form of transportation, advancing continuously.
Its steady steps caused no discomfort to Leylin as he rested on its back. Approximately half an hour later, the Snake-Necked Turtle brought Leylin to a lake.
Beside the lake was a piece of vacant land. The water came from a river, white as jade, that filled the lake with fresh water bit by bit.
*Moou!* A crowd of Snake-Necked Turtles started gathering around. Many of them swam around without care in the lake, diving in every now and then before raising their heads above the water suddenly, resulting in huge splashes everywhere. Some also shot columns of water from their nostrils that resembled fountains.
The Snake-Necked Turtle that Leylin rode was similarly excited and went straight for the lake.
‘There should be about 75 of them here!’ Leylin’s eyes lit up.
Snake-Necked Turtles weren’t well-known after the ancient era; not only were they lacking in strength, their bloodlines were weak too. They were of no use to Leylin.
However, there was something that stood out about them: they bred like rabbits!
The breeding period of a regular Snake-Necked Turtle was very long. They laid almost a hundred eggs every other month, and the survival rate of their clutches were high as well. Barring predators, at least half the eggs would hatch successfully. As long as there was sufficient food, they would mature in the next few years and continue the cycle.
‘This is how nature balances itself. The strong cannot multiply as fast, and even when they do it’s hard to provide for them. On the other hand, the weak have an insane rate of reproduction and activity…’ Leylin remembered the mice of his previous life. There was only one word to describe their adaptability and rate of reproduction: perverse. They had a very high possibility of surviving even nuclear winter.
‘As for the mutated Snake-Necked Turtles here, their inner bodies seem to work even faster. It probably takes them under a year to mature from the ovum.’ Leylin touched his chin in thought. Evidently, the reproductive capabilities of these mutated Snake-Necked Turtles were intensified to prevent the extinction of their species. Of course, it came as an acquired evolution.
It can be seen, then, from these selective evolutions that the Snake-Necked Turtles definitely did not possess any form of superiority and were actually at the bottom of the food chain, waiting to be preyed on.
*Hoot!* Just as Leylin was preparing to bring back samples of Snake-Necked Turtle blood for further study, he heard a high-spirited, piercing screech.
It caused an uproar in the community of Snake-Necked Turtles and all of them starting speeding towards the lake. Those that were already in the lake dived deep in and never surfaced.
The screech got increasingly louder and Leylin could see a streak of crimson on the horizon due to the several-fold increased senses of his body.
The creature was a type of giant hawk-like being. Glossed with the colour of blood, its feathers were smooth yet solid, its head accessorised by stalks of golden feathers giving the illusion of a crown.
[Blood Vulture detected! Creature of the ancient era. They attack with sound waves and can manipulate the blood of their target. They possess a strong interest in bloodline-related treasures and are communal creatures. Evaluation: Extremely dangerous!]
The A.I. Chip pushed into his sight.
“Blood Vulture!?” Leylin’s expression quickly grew from shock to joy.
‘They have extraordinary sensory ability towards idiosyncratic bloodlines on top of their superb vision. A strand of hair on the ground could be detected easily even from an altitude of 10,000 feet. Mostly kept as pets by ancient warlocks to seek bloodline treasures!’
‘But…’ Leylin hesitated as he read the danger evaluation of it.
Just the strength of this particular Blood Vulture was enough to caution Leylin. It could equate to a human rank 3.
Moreover, the A.I. Chip stated that they were communal creatures, there were definitely more rank 3 members back in its nest or even a King Blood Vulture! The king would, no doubt, be a rank 3 Crystal Phase being, and may even have reached the Morning Star realm!
*Hoot!* The Blood Vulture sounded out occasionally as it sailed in the air causing fear within the community of Snake-Necked Turtles, something which seemed to encourage the vulture even more.
*Bang!* A single Snake-Necked Turtle, with a wounded leg, stood out as it trailed behind the mass of them, and fell to the ground under the stampede.
Deciding that it was time to stop the fun, the Blood Vulture flapped its wings and plunged straight to the ground.
The strong winds that followed its action already had Leylin stunned. The remarkable size of the vulture, much bigger than the Snake-Necked Turtle, slowly came into view as it drew closer to the ground.
The contrast between their forms was not obvious when the Blood Vulture flew in the sky, but compared when closer by, the huge Snake-Necked Turtles were like mice to the Blood Vulture.
*Hoot!* The Blood Vulture stretched its huge claw and punched a hole in the head of the Snake-Necked Turtle. The thing fell, blood splattering everywhere…
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