Duty Session 455: The Deadly Caves Of Toxic Death!
The discovery: a long-forgotten system of caves packed with venomous monsters. The mission: the Hunters' Guild rewards killing or capturing the deadly creatures which lurk within. The rumor: it is said that the place is home to unusual monsters, and where there are unusual monsters, there are unusual drops?
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate (depending on branch)
Rec Party: 3+
World Rewards: Reduce venomous monster activity in Westelande.
Shenmi is already here, alone, listening to a Lander delivering a cookie-cutter welcome speech: "I, Mister DesertGuide, welcome you to The Gorge of Death", announces the Salamander Lander from the Hunter's Guild as he points to a number of openings at the bottom of the ravine. "You will find the entrances to the caves down there." He gestures towards some pickets close to his feet, to which bits of rope are tied; the rope disappears past the edge of the cliff. "This rope ladder will get you to the bottom of the ravine. Go there, and rid this place of its worst vermin. Good luck!"
Shenmi just nods, a lot, keeping up a polite expression, but other Adventurers familiar with game mechanics (as opposed to Landers) would probably be able to guess that he'd gladly hit the 'skip' button, if there were one. Alas, there probably is no such thing anymore since the Apocalypse (was there even one before?).
Ready enough, right?
She's totally not just here to attempt this armor forging challenge, is she? Goldenblade's eyes burn with determination ....
"Let's do this," she says, realizing she's arrived last. "Sorry, had to pack a bunch of extra stuff."
"No worries, Miss Goldenblade," Shenmi offers to the other arriving Adventurer. "I know very well the importance of preparation."
After descending the rope ladder, the Adventurers take stock of the caves. Greenish wisps of vapor waft out of some of the caves, and pool for a moment before a gust of hot desert wind dissipates them. Those are the caves with the more dangerous creatures, but the better rewards.
"...right," she says, "Jazuhanzu. Call me Jazz, please."
She can be polite when she has to be, but then she's on her way, dashing through.
"Shenmi Jinreng, Conjurer. You can call me Shenmi, Miss Jazz," the human replies at the Undine with a tip of his top hat.
It's time to go spelunking, and Shenmi taps his chin. "I suppose I can try and hold my breath. Even if nowhere ready for that, have been toying a bit with underwater escapism numbers. A while ago. I wonder if I still have it..." He performs a few breathing exercises, attempts holding his breath, and, there we go.
The Adventurers venture into one of the more challenging caves. The the air swirls around in a vague greenish hue, its flavor carries hints of wasabi with an aftertaste of bitter almonds. The first thing that faces the adventurers is far too steep an upwards incline. The wall is crawling with critters: scorpions scuttle up and down, snakes slither in and out of cracks in the rock, and spiders the size of rats compete to destroy each other's webs when one of them builds too close to the other. No big deal for the creatures, but the party will need to build some reasonably sturdy structure to climb forward: attempts at using simple grappling hooks or basic rope structures will result in the spiders mistaking the rope for a rival's web, and swiftly melting it with acid. Luckily, it seems that there is some sort of previous structure in place, which indicates that someone has been using these caves in the past. Perhaps the Gnomes? One can also help by circulating the air towards the entrance, still relatively close.
Her air magic is enough to keep her safe from the worst of the trouble between the fumes and the -- worse -- spiders, but she does lose from fractions of her hit points, not unlike Goldenblade.
Or something to that effect.
Much like Jazzuhanzu's failed attempts at manipulating currents, Shenmi's own at holding his breath and circulating air at the same time do not work well, either, and he ends up having to cough and lose HP.
It is only after more HP than desirable has been spent in the first cave that Goldenblade's structure is fit for climbing, and our heroes can proceed.
As the party ventures inwards, the gas gets thicker, and the air takes on a yellowish tint and the aroma of rotten lemon. The whole cave consists of smooth, black rock organized in opaque cubes of crystal. It's like a warehouse stacked with obsidian crates. A relatively uncommon monster is leaping about, one which experienced players of Elder Tale Online will recognize: dark purple, spherical body, about the size of a small Adventurer; short legs with long feet, huge, malevolent eyes that take up most of its face, and instead of a nose, a long tube which keeps pumping out yellowish gas at every leap. Its name upon inspection is << Toxic Jumper >>', but the playerbase has always jokingly referred to it as 'Dire Q*Bert', especially given how it moves by hopping about, and covers the patches of rock where it lands in colorful poison.
"I reiterate," cough cough. even her coughs are cute. They're dainty and adorable as she is. *Kuff! Kuff!*.
"...that the developers must be punished. We'll find a way . Some time." Her eyes track the jumper's movements and she quickly fires a gesyer of water at it from her finger tips, calling the waves such as they are, to knock it off balance and give the others a chance to strike. Ideally.
To that end, she dashes out, and making good use of the eyes in the back of her head, metaphorical eyes, but it's clearer now as time progresses that she can really see things behind her, she slips past it, in one case jinking left, then when it goes left also, she jinks back right almost faster than thinking. She bareley slips by, but slip by, she does.
So, what he does, instead, is taking advantage of Jazz's openings to magically extrude rocks and keep diverting the monster's path away from the adventurers. There's enough poison in the air, not an appropriate battlefield. There are only two viable options now: one, run away, like Goldenblade. Two, go d'aaaaaw at Jazz's adorable little coughs.
Shenmi does both.
The party pushes on. The air is now an intense orange with a piercing reek of sulphur. The malodorous vapors thicken faster than expected, eyes start to water, and a feeling of nausea begins to overcome the Adventurers; the nature of the fumes this deep in the cave hadn't been anticipated at the beginning of the journey, so the the potions and antidotes prepared back then are of little help. People are starting to feel seriously ill, so they have to pause for a healing session, as well as for preparing new antidotes and breathing potions. All of this while suffering the oppressive atmosphere. This is not going to be trivial.
Would've been a tragic error, honestly, had the others not stopped her.
Still, while she's feeling a little green around her literal gils, she is able to keep up with the others with a bit of panting. "Erf," she says, before once again drawing in to hold her breath and move on her way. Oppressive atmosphere? No problem.
She can deal with that.
The next section happens to be a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. When the Adventurers reach it, the source of the unusual gas becomes apparent: a bull-like creature with metal scales. A Gorgon, whose appearance is glitchy and unstable, keeps puffing out reddish-orange clouds of petrifying breath at every snort and grunt; if adventurers fail to get out quickly enough, they could end up with one or more limbs turned into stone, with a matching << Petrified >> status effect for the relevant body part. The composition of the monsteru2019s halitus is not the standard one for its species, as if its strange condition also altered its chemical properties.
Every now and then, the monster glitches through walls, which adds an extra layer of difficulty to the escape. Too dangerous to fight directly, people will need quick thinking to avoid the creature through the complex pattern of stone corridors -- or who knows, maybe a Tailor has some thread in their inventory, and can pull an Ariadne.
There's a silence for a moment, then a ruffling wind and a taste of sea air before a spray of water erupts, and within it, a ... cat.
No, wait. Not a cat. A fish that is *also* a cat. "MEW," it says, spinning adorably around Jazz's head and a hat before perching atop it.
The undine's eyes roll up to3wards it and then she lets out a sigh.
"..right, then. It'll echo-locate our way through. I've got the map. Let's go."
With the cat-fish feeding her directions, pushing beyond and out of this maze is easy enough for her.
"Don't breathe the Gorgon's fumes!", Shenmi urges, "Don't even -walk- into them! Mere skin contact can turn body parts to stone!"
"Oh, hey, isn't that a Catfish?", Shenmi calls out in recognition of Jazz's summon. "That is the most adorable thing I've ever seen," he declares. Is he speaking about the cat-fish alone, or the whole picture including Jazz? He doesn't specify.
There is coughing, there is dodging, and all Shenmi can do is follow Goldenblade and Jazz, who seem to have this whole 'orienteering' things down pat far better.
The atmosphere, deep red by now, is so saturated with miasmic fumes Adventurers might be wondering if there is any air left in it. The nature of the poison changes again so, as expected, the previous potions and antidotes start to fail; supplies are running low, and there just is no time to prepare more. The Adventurers won't survive for long if they don't get out soon.
Queasy and exhausted, they finally stumble upon the final room: a tall, wide cave, where a most impressive monster lurks: body of a large lion, with clawed feet, face of a monstrous humanoid with sharp fangs, and the tail of a scorpion. It is rumored that it is such a powerful monster that it can swallow lower-tier Adventurers with one gulp. As the group steps into its domain, the chimeric creature hisses, rears its tail, and launches towards the party. The fight will be tough and lopsided, and not in favor of the Adventurers.
She'll want to talk to him later, that's for sure.
But then there's a manticore, and exhausted as they are, she has no idea if they can handle it. She kneels down for a moment to catch her breath and then knocks on the ground once.
"Deepest waters, strength of the darkest seas, I bid you rise up and bless my companions with your strength!"
The ground cracks around her (don't worry, it seals right back up afterwards becasue we're talking about MMO visual effects here) and in a misty form gesyers of dark water erupt from the earth. This mist suffuses into each of the adventurers, leaving them a black nimbus of power around them. They definitely feel... stronger. The odds, evener.
"Fuckin' manticores," remarks Jazz.
And then she keeps hitting it. Whatever physical attacks it has, they are not fast enough to catch up with her, and the beatings continue, as they say, until morale improves. But since it's Goldenblade's morale improving that triggers the end of the beatings, this does not happen until the monster is reduced to pixels.
Shenmi, as a Palace Lander who is most ardently trying not to die, thank you very much, steps back into a support position, to mostly cast healing spells on the rest of the team (hey, with all the poison being thrown around, it's a necessity!).
At first it appears that the fight might be too much for the Adventurers. Those claws rend flesh, the stinger inflicts excruciating burns which only worsen with time as the poison enters the bloodstream, and more than once someone comes this close to being gulped down in one go by the creature -- and even with missing, just being grazed still docks a massive chunk off the victim's HP bar. It is only through sheer determination, teamwork, and wanton violence that our heroes succeed in taking down the monster. It shatters into polygons and drops its large stinger, which goes to join a few others strewn around the cave. As, exhausted on the verge of collapse, the party collects its spoils, it notices a small draft of fresh air in the cave. It might point to an abandoned emergency exit.
... purple feather duster. Hey, it summons energy blasts!