Longwang's ancient shrine is a remote, foreboding place. Even when it was not overrun, it was rarely frequented by any but the bravest or most pious of pilgrims. The entire area seems swaddled in a veil of impenetrable fog, which rarely disperses and even then, not for very long. Forgotten stories would have claimed this mist to be the breath of the enshrined divinity itself, eternally swirling around their favorite resting place. Whatever the case, as you approach the shrine, you find yourself surrounded by the stuff, swallowing your party up in a cool, colorless haze. It is peaceful, but it may not be for long. Use this time to prepare for what is to come.
Haru is still in the Palace Lands after 'meeting' with the 'war consultants'. He isn't happy. However, when /is/ Haru happy anyway? The man has a smile like a thin line that gives him a wounded soul look at all times. There is a chance to look into a shrine before returning to Yamato, so he checks if anyone wants to explore it. Blow off some steam. Brood a little less. Cool, colorless haze? Sure. Enhance the zen. "Thanks for coming," he says in a monotone voice. Almost like he doesnt mean it. Its all the battery he has for people right now.
Hifumi has been out and about more, hunting for new ingreedients and ideas. Still he traveled out to explore the emperors tomb so might as well do what he can while he's still in the Palace Lands hunting for things. When hhe joins up he holds out bento because of course he does.
Gwen had heard about the shrine before the war, she'd been unable to check it out before the way was shut. So when she heard that Haru had needed some help. She'd come without a second thought and she was in good spirits as she saw Haru.
"Heard you needed a hand how could I say no to you, Haru." She seems to be in good spirit she's bonding and in her HEAVY BLADE armor again.
She also took a look over to Hifumi and also smiles.
"It's good to see you Hifumi! I really need to go to your place more to eat."
She looks at the bento and will happily accept it.
The mists part, revealing an ancient mountain path that winds down into the valley. The only indication that this is at all where you want to be is the broken remains of an old dragon statue, crumbled to rubble at the side of the footpath. Not long after you set off, though, you detect a foreign scent in the air-- the odor of rotting fruit. One such overripe treat comes splattering down at your feet, and when you look to see where it came from, you see a trio of monkeys high overhead, cavorting gleefully atop a cliff overlooking the path. Soon, one rotting fruit is joined by another and another! It isn't long until they begin hurling progressively grosser projectiles, rocks, and worse! You need to hurry ahead and out of the monkeys' range before you're covered in filth and afflicted with all manner of awful status effects! But this path is narrow and treacherous and, if you're not careful, a single misstep could send you tumbling into the valley below...!
Haru accepts the bento. It is rude not to accept food, drink, or a kindness. "Thank you. I'll snack on this when there is a break." A break. When was the last time he took 'a break'? And if people are all this way, what was even the point? "I'll need to trouble you further, Gwen. I still have a bitter taste in my mouth from earlier." He wishes it could burn off his tongue. He is not in sync at all right now. Or maybe he wants to be hit? Plenty of the darts hit him on the advance. Looks like he will need that bento sooner than later just for the healing buffs.
Hifumi nods to Haru and then as things start flying he starts dodging, bob weave jink... it seems someone might be working out... that or his kitchen gets more unruely than people think. He's good at it, or is that a shimmering cloak of magic that the flower drake on his shoulder is using to deflect things at the last moment... six of one half dozen of the other most likely.
Gwen will enjoy the bento later she puts it in her inventory to save for after they are finihed here. She looks to Haru for a moment, with a look of concern on her face. "You are never a trouble Haru, I hope understand that..." Sounds like something went really bad for Haru with the recent goings on. She will look over to Hifumi for a moment. While not a primary healer Gwen can heal and it looks like it will be needed as thing go badly for here. She's not looking too hot by the time the party presses all the way through this part of the trial.
"Well we're alive at least right?!"
Your footing gives out underneath you! Perhaps you just had a spell of bad luck, or maybe just a bad dodge. One way or another, you're falling. The cliff face next to you is sheer and jagged, but with great effort or some quick earth magic, you might be able to catch a break by grabbing hold of a lucky outcropping, ropy root or mountain tree... But there's no climbing up from here. There's simply no good grips leading back to where you came. The only choice is to descend down into the mists below? ...Which, you notice, are growing increasingly foul-smelling as you continue your descent.
"Maybe so," Haru replies to Gwen about the idea of being a burden is only in his head. He picks the darts out of his arm with the little red lines fading away. "But," and before the drama prince can continue on how how the woe-is-him, the whole ground giving out happens. One of his four ioun stones floats down ahead of him, causing a platform sand first and then a solid rock. Then another. Another. Humans lack the wings to glide down. "It doesn't stop the floor from being taken out from under us," he relates to his earlier statement. Also. Literal in this case.
Gwen does still seem concerned but does not push it they have a quest to deal with. The ground gives out. Gwen cries out attempingh to use her sword to grab the wall and slow her on the way down. This does not go well and she has to rely on her shitty slowfall, this may be the first time Hifumi and Haru has seen Gwen use her wings. They work well enough to save her life but the impact is still pretty bad.
Hifumi slips a time or three and then finaly calls out "Snakeroot." the serpent made of roots and leaves slithering out of the sparkling summon and starts widening the path, the temporary earth of magic jutting out enough to keep the path from dropping out completely. He waves his hand at the smell rising up as they go lower. "Gah... it's like my natto closet got out of control."
Finally, you reach the bottom of the ravine... And discover, to your horror, what has become of it. This used to be a pure river, kept clean and pristine by Longwang's influence. Now there's nothing but a gross, fetid marsh. A thick canopy and even thicker fog swallow up all light, casting the swamp into deep shadow. Many-legged insects skitter across the surface of the befouled wetland. Every step forward is a terrible struggle, the sticky, stinking mud coming up to mid-shin and resisting every attempt to wade through. Worse, each step risks releasing a bubble of toxic gas from deep under the mud, and the longer you spend in it, the more poison your body accumulates. If not carefully monitored and properly treated, the building toxins will quickly overwhelm even the staunchest constitution. You need to get out of this, and quickly. Perhaps if you follow the slow flow of water upstream...?
"Hypothetical question for you, Gwen, Hifumi," he starts as he treds through the muck, "imagine for a moment that there was a way back from the way we came from. That it could only be done if we were in a bad place. Like this bog, clearly suffering." Trudge trudge. "And someone returned us to save us from this suffering." Sounds straightforward so far. A good deed. "But only so they could use us in the Old World to be grateful, indebted, or manipulated by these saviors. Would you still want to be saved? Would the saviors be in the right there, owed this gratitude?"
Hifumi smiles a bit wryly "My man, they would have to drag me screaming from this world." he says "I'd say kicking but if they're dragging me out that's not an option anymore." he says with a bit of dark humor. "People can head back to the old world if they want... just leave me out of it. I have a life here, love, and my dreams are slowly coming true." he takes a toxic cloud to the face that starts to overpower the regen buff from his Triffid Salad. "Fuck.. well... lets just say I'll use my good hand to stab the first person I see when my arm vanishes." he snaps his right fingers. His health getting fairly low as he struggles through the poison debuff.
Gwen is moving along with Haru and Hifumi as they head deeper the muck is not very fun the effect are not fun but Gwen is one of the most durable people in Yamato when you get down to it and she's quick to trigger a spell to help her friends.
the healing power is let loose around them hopefully patching them back up. The question seems almost loaded to Gwen and she grows even more concerned. At first, it seems like a normal thing she nods listening for a moment. Then the twist hits.
"So saving us only so they could use us as a pawn or a plaything. With motivation like that...to be a god damn puppet... gods I ... be separated from so many people ... I care for. My parents... I have never seen them so happy. The wonderful people who fill my life now and make it worth living...I'd be separated from if sent back to earth...there'd be such a social gap between us Haru that...I think my heart might shatter." She's also lost everything she's built here. She trails off then realises what she's just said...
The water begins to quicken around your legs as the mud grows somewhat shallower. Centipede-infested mangrove roots form arches overhead and help to hold the mud underfoot solid. It's finally easier to move, but? In the trees, you can hear them. Large, long-limbed apes swing from branch to branch overhead. Each one is merely a challenging fight, but there are so many of them. Too many to fight without stealthily sniping them out of the trees one-by-one, at least, and it'd be far too dangerous to simply leave this many of them around while you've still got swamp to trudge through. Careful, though; if you don't kill them quickly, or fail to notice one of the sentries before it notices you, you'll soon find yourself buried under a mountain of angry monkeys.
Attempting to sneak around is a reminder of why Haru is a crafter first and an Adventurer second. At some point the tactical skills like searching, sneaking, and hunting become a requirement. He compensates with Dark magic, but nothing truly compares to the need to use raw physical stealth techniques. "Don't worry about that, Gwen," as Haru goes in complete guy-mode of 'solve problems' instead of 'listen to problem'. "My bodyguard could track you down and we would be able to find each other quickly. Unless I am still in here." He takes a deep breath and exhales, "It wasnt a question about leaving this place, though," he clarifies for both of them, "but rather something that happened with the Mac Anu Kunie I Uncrowned. Every time I think learning this technique would bring nothing but salvation, I find the world finds its way to turn it into something cruel and ugly." He puts a hand on Gwen's shoulder, probably before the whole monkeys are like 'Yo, this is a stealth check, stop talking' and attack.
Gwen has never climed to be the smartest person but Haru's words made her brighten up a little bit at this. "Ah I see...I not always been the best at metaphores." She listens for a moment and she thinks for a moment. "So their response to your uncrowning them was much like your first questio..." She gets the hand on shoulder and the heads up she'll have to talk more about this later as she's got to sneak. A miracle happens somehow Gwen does not make any noises and does not draw notice to herself.
Hifumi notes the apes, and well... he has an answer. "Dandylion, Tigerlilly." he calls the two feline flower creatures appearing and climbinging to stay just ahead of the team, leaping from branch to branch and savaging some of the sentries to help keep things nice and quiet.
Finally, the water seems clearer. You can see the tops of your boots as you push through to the river's head. A vast waterfall pours down from somewhere high above, plunging into a deep pool and spilling out into a wide, picturesque clearing. A stone walkway weaves up into a cave hidden behind the falls. Following the path up, you notice the gleam of jade peeking out around the cascading water. Perhaps the altar you're looking for is up there! And then you see it. There, hunched over in the water right under the falls is an enormous... corpse. It looks like some kind of gigantic ape, its head severed from its body, its neck cut clean through by a great blade that still sticks out of the ground nearby. Its head is still sitting there, too. In fact, the entire thing is far too... intact for your tastes. It's also obstructing the only path to progress. Foulness oozes from its severed neck, infecting the surrounding water with so much poison that it's almost impossible to approach. There?s no way to the path up the mountainside that isn?t positively putrid with toxin. You're going to have to deal with this before you can proceed; leaving the body here can?t be good for anyone. Move the body out of the way, purify the water, and clear a path.
"Similar," Haru picks up for Gwen, "the Kunie was greatful, but I felt awful about it. They had been mentally tortured, forced to do things that brought them to tears and our first demand of the Mac Anu Kunie was to free the city. We didnt put a Crown on them, but we were using them for our own agenda all the same." He takes a moment to assess the corpse, pulling out his alchemical kit and working on neutralization of the toxins. "Shirin may have gone back but at least he had a choice of his own. Its fucked up when Im more proud of that than the other major Uncrowning. People aren't even asking, they are trying to use me and that technique. Makes me sick." Like these toxins! Focus time.
Hifumi puts his right hand on Haru's shoulder and gives a squeeze "Sucks man, look what I was talking about was going back to the world we came from... I'm... well I'm better off here. Back there, I'm a shutin cripple who hides from the world." he smiles a bit "Here, I'm building the life I lost. Try to keep in mind that while the world can break you down, other people can't steal from you any power you don't let them. Uncrown people because it's the right thing to do, and let the ones you free know that they do not owe you anything, must less owe anything to other people who should be doing this work because it's the right damn thing to do."
He activates the strength buff that comes with eating a tasty rat bento and starts on dragging the ape away. Someone does enough of his own butchery that dragging away a corpse is something he can just put on his game face for.
Gwen does have an understandingf og water magic and she'll pu that to use here hoiping to help them get though this whole adventure in oine pice it seem to work anbd she'll help to dilute thins enough the other efforts are hopefully successful.
"Freeing people and giving them the chance to choose is what imporant and make sure they understand they owe you nothing."
Finally, with the corpse out of the way, the natural flow of water can slowly clear the pollution from the area. You prepare to move on to your destination? And then the thing... twitches. The decapitated corpse pushes itself upright, grasping its head in one hand and that massive blade in the other. Centipedes burst from the stump of its neck and swarm out of the orifices of its severed head in vast numbers. The simian corpse was not a corpse at all, it was a Centimonkey Hivelord! A horrible mishmash of monkey and centipede that spreads poison and corruption with its very presence! Screeching in a hundred cacophonous voices, the monstrous monkey attacks with deceptively swift, sweeping sword strikes and wields its severed head like a powerful flail. Every so often, it vomits a jet of poison or clumps of venomous, aggressive insects. Keeping the poison under control is of utmost importance, as is dealing with the teeming multitudes of centipedes. Fire will probably help, as will a skilled tank to keep the insect swarms at bay.
"The act is bad enough," Haru says as there is a glint in his blue eye, "but saying it is a 'good' idea. Saying that 'it is the right thing to do' even though its pandemount to manipulating a victim for personal gain?" The air around him begins to sizzle as the boss screeches. "Because 'we are at war'? There is always a conflict going on. Market dominance. Culture. And even this stupid monkey insect." Excuse me, Haru, its a hive mind of insects. "Unacceptable." He clenches his fist, the arena erupting into flame in the way that a man bonded with the Divine Beast of Frickin Fire can do. A phoenix is summoned out of the flames, fighting in Haru's sted as a high end summoned elemental.
Fire glints off of his purple monocle. He doesnt look much like a hero in this light. "You are both right. They should be free. And. I shouldn't let others use the act of emancipation as leverage any more. We didn't come here to be slaves. We shouldn't cast aside our keys because others wish to use them in malice."
Hifumi sighs... he just MOVED that body, and of course now the body is moving around and trying to murder him. "See... this this is the crap..." he and Snapdragon go for flaming strikes and straifing runs. Only it doesn't take long to show that Hifumi is a back line fighter and support class... as he's lost in a pile of giant centipedes.
Gwen knows what to do while Haru is busting out some top level Magic. She will get her shield out and will plant it into the ground crying out as she trigger's it's powier causing a massive golden barrier with a Lion's head as she calls out.
"FOR STORM WIND!" She just had to as she keeps the hostiles back from her two companions.
Finally, the fetid beast falls. This time, it seems, for good. A handful of centipedes skitter from its dissolving body, leaving your party to make the trek up to the altar behind the waterfall. More streams pour down through the mountain and flank the jade, dragon-inscribed altar, babbling across tables of long-deposited minerals. It's beautiful but also... a bit of a mess. The monkeys have not been particularly respectful to Longwang. But after cleaning it up, the place seems good as new. Looking upon your work, you feel as though some modicum of holiness has been restored to this place? And upon the altar is something that wasn't there before. An orb of fetid, poisoned mud suspended and contained by a swirling layer of crystal-clear water. It seems that the Dragon King has given you a gift, and disposed of some of the corruption afflicting their domain all in one fell swoop. This will be safe to take, as long as you're careful with it.
It is over. Haru opens and closes his hand, letting the tension out of it. "I hate this war," he says, letting it back down to his side. "But it isnt going anywhere anytime soon," he looks to Gwen and Hifumi, "Thanks for letting me blow off some steam. I shouldn't let other people's bullshit get me down." He picks up the fresh loot. "This will work." All the elements he is partial to.
Gwen Says "I don't like it either I rather help clear out monster nest and make things for people myself." She frowns at this thought but hey the battle is over they have own and she scoops up her loot. At worse she could use this to somehow torment Morri for a change but she will have to see. "Oh got ideas for the loot already Haru? Sounds like you have an idea of how to handle this in the future?"
Hifumi sits and dumps a few healing potions down his throat as he did fair baddly in the battle. "Well, glad to have cleaned some of this crap up." he says "But seriously... what the hell is with this land? All the half and half animals are funny and some are cute but... centipede hive giant ape?"