Duty Session 550: Shrine of the Dragon King
Far from any Root Town, nestled deep in the misty ravines in the southern reaches of the Palace Lands, there is rumored to sleep an ancient altar sacred to the divine spirit, Longwang. Unfortunately, without any local adventurers to cull their numbers, the shrine has been all but overrun by monstrous apes. Now running rampant, the mad monkeys need to be put down to restore some semblance of holiness to the shrine. Perhaps Longwang will award a blessing to those who fight to cleanse this sacred space? But even if he does not, the high-level monsters in the area are sure to drop some pretty substantial loot!
Rec Party: 3+
World Rewards: Reduce the danger near Seeker's Landing.
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 the party approaches the shrine, they find themselves surrounded by the stuff, swallowing the party up in a cool, colorless haze. It is peaceful, but it may not be for long. Better use this time to prepare for what is to come.
"The guide doesn't say anything about this!", Uta frowns as she looks up from the book titled 'Lonely Alba -- The Palace Lands' pocket book, whose artfully rendered blue cover depicts a gorgeous vista of Naval Monte. "...so, uh, what are we supposed to do now?", she asks her party members, as a finger reaches up to her lips.
Of course Fuka makes terrible jokes about the name Longwang when approaching the shrine. It's inevitable. Best to just ignore and move on really. Something this group is probably used to by now. That may, however, account for why Uta doesn't exactly understand what this is or what to do next.
"This does look familiar though." she muses. Fuka glances around. "I think there be filthy monkeys in this area." she says with a shudder. Damn monkeys. "Last time I was here I was lost. Shiba found us the way though." Fuka notes, then looks over at Uta. Then back at Ayame. "I hope to the Goddesses you can follow maps or at least footprints, or we're screwed." she claims. "By ... longwang." she sniggers.
"Maybe we should just take a moment and have a look around" She suggests "And monkeys. Really, YOU are bothered by monkeys?" She teases Fuka "And I can follow maps just fine. And are you five? Grow up" A tutting sound.
Not long after they set off, though, they detect a foreign scent in the air: the odor of rotting fruit. One such overripe treat comes splattering down at Fuka's feet, and were anyone to try and figure out where it came from, they'd 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 the simians begin hurling progressively grosser projectiles, rocks, and worse!
"We need to hurry"!, Uta urges, dashing ahead in an attempt to get out of the monkeys' range before everyone is covered in filth and afflicted with all manner of awful status effects! But this path is narrow and treacherous and, if one is not careful, a single misstep could send one tumbling into the valley below...!
"Why do all the stuffed-up complainers keep LOWERING my age?" demands Fuka good-naturedly. "One asks if I'm 12, another 11. Now 6? Look I know I have the heart of a child but THIS is not the body of one!" Fuka insists, slapping her armoured butt with a clank. She looks to Uta for support on the subject, which is probably a mistake.
Probably, that is, because it allows the enemy to sneak up! "Aaaaaah!" Fuka screeches. "Monkeys! More monkeys! Oh poop!" she yells. Then glances at Ayame. "Your type, you adult?" she asks, before breaking into a run. Both from the monkeys and the thrown rotten fruit, and from Ayame. Of course, trying (and mostly succeeding) to evade fruit, she's not the most focussed on exactly where they're all going...
She wrinkles her nose, and then yelps as the monkeys emerge "I'm sorry for ever doubting you!" She calls out to Fuka, unslinging her shield and trying to bat the fruit aside, shuffling along with them to try to shield them. But rotten fruit makes for unsafe footing, and the secretarial Sylph slips, landing painfully on her rump with an 'OUCH!' followed quickly by another fruit right to the face. Vision impaired (her glasses! She can't see without her glasses!) she nevertheless scrambles up to follow the sounds of the others as best she can ... and just like (presumably) her mother warned her she would, she does so into even danger
"Yes, poor Fuka. From a medical standpoint, I would estimate that her Adventurer body is of legal age. At the very least she's hit puberty and spent some time there." She scratches her head as soon as she lands after doing a flip in the air, to dodge... is that rotten cabbage? "But that is an estimate based on other factors. To be fair, we Adventurers have been around only for two years and a half, and we pretty much spawned fully grown without a family. I... I don't even know-" She ducks, and something that must have been a luscious red delicacy, now brown and festering, flies over her head, "-if the usual medical theory of aging factors does apply to us."
A wrong step, and Uta (along with the others) hits a particularly slippery passage right next to a sharp turn; their feet simply have no grip, and the tree young women end up flying off a cliff, plummeting downards towards increasing levels of stench, with a lovely vista on a a rocky outcrop.
Despite having wings, Fuka honestly does not want to plummet down into unknown depths at speeds just a little slower than what one might describe as breakneck. The wings aid her though, slowing her fall enough to allow her to free-form a quick spell to give her a support on the cliff-wall to cling to. Hopefully the others can do likewise, or plunge a weapon into the cliff to slow themselves or something.
Up... is monkeys. Down is ... an uncertain fate. Well down it is. Clinging to the cliff wall, Fuka makes her way down while clinging to roots or whatever else is there, and gliding only when she can see something supportive in the mists. "Well, this kind of sucks. On the plus side, adventure!" she claims. "And by the way, damn right I'm of legal age! Not moral age, certainly. The moral of this story is something I'm not interested in!" Fuka adds.
"It may have just been a passing brush for some of us" Ayame mutters, her brow focused in thought and her breathing heavy as she nurses the pain in her arm "I agree. This moral sucks! Don't get pelted by monkeys, what use is that?!"
Yup, there are dangerous, treacherous spikes of rock jutting out from the cliff, threatening the Spriggan even at this reduced falling speed. And her strategy seems to be: scream at them. Scream as hard as you can.
Which... oddly, pays off. Like glass, they shatter at the Air-empowered Arte, either crumbling or becoming far far more brittle and manageable.
Finally, the party reaches the bottom of the ravine and discover 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 one's body accumulates. If not carefully monitored and properly treated, the building toxins will quickly overwhelm even the staunchest constitution.
"Well done, Uta!" Fuka grins. Not exactly mocking her friend's misfortune, just happy to see that despite the crashing sounds, Uta's actually okay. More or less. This next part, after all, will tax their resources plenty. Good thing they have healers.
Trudging through the toxic swampland, Fuka draws on her natural toughness... glad she's invested so many stat points in her physical abilities. "See, if I was actually a child, I'd be up to my ass in toxic mud." she notes, and in fact is only mostly up to her ass in it. "Okay who farted?" she asks, once again proving her maturity. Fart jokes are eternal, and Fuka continues her quest to maintain morale, meanwhile using her sword to probe ahead of her to find secure footing and not something like quicksand. It would be a shame to sink into the swamp. "Huge tracts of land." she mutters, glancing back at Ayame.
Fuka gets a little glare "I prefer the term 'naturally buoyant'" She mutters, cheeks reddening
As the designated healer, she does check up on her friends. Making sure to provide as much as she can in the way of antidotes, breathing technique tips, and health potions in general. But there is so much one can store in one's inventory, so, well, the time comes to scratch the bottom of the barrel. "These should help," she says, handing each of her friends a small jar containing- mushrooms bits? "Curtana and I found these in the Palace Lands. If you start feeling drowsy, or about to lose consciousness -- they will help keep you awake." And then she urges, "But be careful! They seem to... ah... expand one's artistic inclination. So, don't take them unless necessary, or you might decide to, I don't know, sculpt the Starry Night out of giant dire centipedes or something!"
The water begins to quicken around the adventurers' legs as the mud grows somewhat shallower. Centipede-infested mangrove roots form arches overhead and help to hold the mud underfoot solid. And it's Dire centipedes. Mount sized.
And just as it was getting easier to move, there is a screech from above. And another. And another: up in the trees large, long-limbed apes swing from branch to branch. 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 there still is a swamp to trudge through.
Fuka samples the strange mushrooms, trusting Uta implicitly and ... well, not really having any fear of sampling mind-altering substances. She indulges in a lot of things, sometimes even with restraint! In this case she doesn't eat so much of the mushrooms that she stones herself, but perhaps the slight expansion of her mind will help her be more creative with the solutions in things to come.
"Definitely not a boy ant!" Fuka notes obscurely to Ayame, checking out her insect summons. Or something. Either way, they do what it takes to get clear of the toxins. Only to be set upon by more goddamn monkeys! Fuka, interestingly, doesn't resort to her normal explosive shouty reaction to such a thing. Instead she pulls out what appears to be a new weapon. A strange, jeweled, five pointed throwing star with each point long enough for her to grasp it safely. With a grim look she hurls the star, sending it spinning through the air to intercept one of the monkeys. She even seems able to send it in a curve, which does wonders for striking the beasts out of trees before they can follow the source of the attack and find Fuka or the other ladies themselves. Before long Fuka's grinning fiercely as she 'hunts' with the Glaive. It may not be the relic's true purpose, but she'll take it!
"Hah. I've been considering. Maybe I could get a war-ant of some type" She tells Fuka, with a little sniff. Though as the monkeys start to show up, she takes a slow, methodical approach - summoning shield-slivers around the tree branches as the things approach, sending them tumbling! See how they like falling!
"Very delicate and graceful!", Uta confirms to Ayame with a smile. "Truly, fingers fit for a goddess. Weed certainly knows how to drive a message home." And then Uta shakes her head. "No, I don't think Elly told me that yet. But we'r e supposed to meet soon, so, maybe, she'll have the opportunity to." On the subject of the Baroness, Uta continues, "Which reminds me, is any of you going to be at Eas soon? I have the impression that Fate will lead me to spend some time there in the near future. It would be great to meet up or something like that."
Finally, the water seems clearer. The Adventurers can see the tops of their boots (or boots-equivalents) as they 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.
And once there, they 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.
"The entire thing is far too intact for my tastes," Uta declares with a frown, as she heads to move the creature's body: it's 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," Uta reprises. "We'll have to deal with this before we can proceed." She circles the creature, looking for the best way to get a grip. "Leaving the body here cannot be good for anyone. We have to move the body out of the way, purify the water, and clear a path."
"Do these mushrooms make people unusually chatty?" Fuka asks chattily. "Not that it matters for me, I chat at the drop of a hat. Or other articles of clothing!" she notes with a smirk. "And you know, I pride myself on being good with animals, but I've never tried anything with ants. They're not very cuddly. Maybe I should stick to nieces." she says.
Perhaps surprisingly, Fuka doesn't comment over Ayame's fingers. Or other body parts, not at this time. Instead she considers the putrid toxins and filth they face. "Well..." she muses. "That sounds like we need to take care of this. Hm. I should have something here for absorbing toxins..." she muses. No telling WHY she is specifically absorbing toxins rather than cleansing them. But then, maybe Fuka just lacks Pharmacy. Rooting through her inventory, she pulls out a mass of powdered... something. A black substance that she tears open, letting loose a cloud of something vaguely charcoal-like. Hopefully it'll help!
"Little bit too intact" She agrees, warily looking at the body, before falling back as it rises; there's a little curse dropped from her lips, but it's her wand that she raises; a flick and signing in the air as she hits the body with wave after wave of icy sigils, each slicing and cold-cauterizing and cutting off the flow of foulness as she advances behind a literal Wall of Text.
"You shouldn't drop anything!" She cautions Fuka as she wanders on, still chattering away "Though I suppose it's relatively safe. It doesn't have too far to fall, anyway!"
Finally, with the corpse out of the way, the natural flow of water can slowly clear the pollution from the area.
"This is an amazing discovery!", Uta exclaims, all excited. "Corpses normally shatter into polygons within Elder Tale Online, but -this one- is intact! Well, decapitated. But unshattered! How is it possible? What events led to this preservation? Can it teach something about the nature of this world?", she rattles out, in a crescendo of enthusiasm. "All that's left to do is- wait, has it twitched?"
The decapitated corpse pushes itself upright as Uta leaps back with a squeal; the gruesome creature grasps 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.
It's hard, messy, smelly work cleaning up the pollution, but Activated Charcoal seems to help. At least until a horrible mass of insects take exception to things being cleaned up! "Something even worse than monkeys!" Fuka shrieks. She's beginning to hate this place. Fortunately she has a solution!
With an aggro-inducing screech, Fuka readies her blade, prepared to punish any critters that ignore her to go after those more capable or interested in cleaning up the pollution. Or kill critters, for that matter.
It's a long, hard, disgusting thing. Not a phrase that should be repeated in polite company, to be sure. But in any event, they get the mess cleaned up. Always a good thing when you've been playing with long hard disgusting things indeed. Sighing in relief, Fuka shoulders her blade and examines the reward. "Hmmmm.... this gives me ideas." she says, which should worry people. "I've been looking at weaponizing alchemical bottles of disgusting toxic slime and gasses..."
For a tense moment, nothing happens, as she continues to beat back the vomited poison, crushing centipedes underfoot as she moves carefully. Then the zip and murmur behind her increases, as the Legal Fleas fly, fattened on bugs, to affix themselves to the Hivelord!
And start to explode. That might not be good. Oh wait, no, that's Ayame following it with a wave of flame.
"I don't want to know what gives you ideas" She tells Fuka once the fight is done, and she's clinically cleaning off her clothing with the menu function, in between examining the miasma thoughtfully "Or what ideas they are."
And right next to it, there's Uta doodling on the wall. With the skill level of a five years old, she crafts a breathtaking circular fresco about the epic struggle between the Mighty Battle Fairy, The Lawful Legal Secretarial Sylph, and the Musical Kung-Goo Nurse on one side, and the Centimonkey Hivelord on the opposite side.
Crayon on Shrine Ruins, ca. early 5th Century (After the Princess War).
She may not have done much in the final battle, but at least this epic quest will be preserved for posterity: after she's done with the main battle, she'll move on to have little side roundels to represent all the steps that led here. All the while offering random non-sequiturs like "I like burnt sienna! It tastes like chestnuts!"
But the point is -- the battle is a success. The beast falls, centipedes skitter away from its dissolving body, and (likely afte r some convincing) the party can now move on to the alter 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, it seems like 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.