Several of the guardsmen that had been assisting the adventurers in their efforts to hold back the ant attacks have gone missing, including an adventurer that hasn't returned to their church and is not responding to any attempts to speak to them over chimlink.
The Fourland Dukedom has put out a request for assistance in finding out the fate of those that seem to have disappeared but not been killed. They fear for what could have happened to them, and what the ants could be doing that didn't kill that adventurer.
The remains of the defensive fort at the edge of the chasm have been modestly reinforced, with earth mages being regularly escorted to the edges of the chasm to help reinforce the edges by the fort and ward off any more attempts to destroy it by the builder ants. Largely the ants have been somewhat docile since the last encounter with them, oddly enough. Though the earthquakes in the area have not really slowed in the slightest, there have been less active attacks from the ants. Not that that has made the people guarding the chasm rest easy, since there were still missing people that they were needing to investigate the whereabouts of, in particular that adventurer that is not able to respond to chims but also has not been returned to the church for a prolonged period of time.
Is it possible that the insect menace has developed something akin to the crowns? Hopefully not, as that would be a dangerous threat. But more importantly, there is a rescue party being gathered in the remains of that defensive fort. To reduce the risk of other people going missing, they have opted to only rely on the experienced adventurers, rather than sending more of the People of the Land down into the chasm to search for them, though a few Hunter's Guild members have done some scouting to give a vague idea of where to begin searching. Which was, oddly, not in the direction of the underground castle the ants seemed to have been building.
"So anything we should know?"
She looks over to Nyanta for a moment sizing the cat man up along with Shiroibara as well.
"Humm Don't think I have run with either of you. Miho Mithrilscale!"
Something is up.
Especially considering how... overt this particular ant colony is being about its interest in establishing local hegemony.
Prophylaxis has been in the area as a result, and has been spending quite some time providing medical care where needed. Every day, he's been at work on the fortifications, literally singing new land into existence to shore up the crumbling foundations. But now...
Now people are /missing./ It's no longer time to just sit around.
...He glances askance over at Natsume. Specifically, at her name.
There are gears in his brain. They're turning.
"Not much. The scouts were hesitant to delve too deep into the area with all the ants crawling around. There are some signs in the looser dirt that something was dragged towards a side tunnel. The scouts encountered some moderately high level insect monsters down in the tunnel, such as Hone Worms and Centipeedles." Magic-casting earth worms and a horrifying cross between a giant centipede and a rolly polly, that has poisonous barbs all over it and has a penchant for rolling around entire parties and poisoning them.
Nyanta's arrival is acknowledged by the guard, who gives him a polite nod, though as he seemed intent to stay back for now, he doesn't engage him too particularly much beyond that. Meanwhile, Natsume's efforts haven't gone unnoticed, her assistance had been something that many of those working in the damaged fort were thankful for, especially when coming back tired and injured from a patrol around the area to try to keep the ant menace at bay.
A story to tell indeed. The guard responds to Miho, "If you have poison resistance or acid resistance gear or spells, I'd have them at the ready, a lot of the insects in that area seem to have a lot of both of those elements and status effects."
Did they migrate, or have they been here the entire time, is the other question! ... Okay yeah no they probably migrated. But how they did it by so much surprise is likely the bigger question than anything. Regardless, there is now a hole to explore and learn about the depths within the widely-spreading chasm, which likely will give more insight into the extent of the situation.
"What you say is worrying," he murmurs, stroking his chin. "High level insect monsters... Where did they all come from, I wonder? Well, we'll find out I suppose. But first--"
First, he looks Natsume in the eye. And he--
Strikes a pose!?"You... The light that reflects the dark. You, sworn guardian of this land--"
Oh. Oh no.
"--Whose heart nurtures countless blessings, and whose petals blossom like shining snowfall! Your tenebrous counterpart sends her regards and wishes you well." The doctor is sick, too!? He's contracted... Chuunibyou!? No wait, he's back to normal. "That is to say, it's nice to meet Honami's sister. She's been quite helpful in our efforts. Please let me know if you need anything in particular during our little sojourn together."
(This is the guy Schneider relies on to be his external brain. They're all doomed.)
"Oh gosh she didn't have to hype me up THAT much.. I just asked her for advice on what to say to everyone and be cool like her..." She mumbles in intone, immediately going silent when the guard starts to speak about the incident so that she can take in the details. "Hone Worms.. Centipedes.. Poison..and Acid.. Resist... Got it. I am so going to need several baths after this.." Still she lifts up both hands to slap her own cheeks. "I think I'm ready if everyone else is!"
Annnd then Prophylaxis calls her out so dramatically, and the look on her face slowly turns from red to redder, not even sure at first how to remotely respond to that in any way that would make her seem familiar to her sister, which is exactly where the illusion breaks that she's anything like her sister at all becuase her floppy ears straighten in a panic and she flails her arms wildly in an attempt to fly away like a hummingbird
"Oh gosh no please don't do that! It's hard enough trying to be cool as it is and I really don't know how to act the way my sister does, I'm really just an innocent bun-bun that likes to fangirl over how cool SHE is. Aaaaaaa..."
"Thank you for the information sir, I'll do my best to be careful of that."
She looks to Nyanta, the cat jokes are everywhere. She looks to Prophylaxis for a moment and humms. She does not like where this is going as both Western and Japanese horror stories pop into her head.
"Oh your Honami's sister? Cool! We should get moving now Though..."
Really, Prophylaxis is probably a good source of information all things considered. Also making things into piles of warm ash is a fairly effective tactic. Such as against the ants. Or other insects, since most of them tend to burn quite merrily when lit on fire. "Unfortunately, we've not had much success ourselves, though luckily the ants seem to mostly just do their own thing unless we attack them at the moment." The guard responds to Prophylaxis. "Unless they're with the soldier ants, the workers even tend to just ignore us if we're walking around, though we've noted that attacking any of them seems to draw attention of the whole group nearby." Pause. The guard quietly just. Does their best to ignore the chuuni. Because. Just. Yeah. Oh gosh. What on earth was happening? Adventurers are weird.
"Centipeedles. They're nastier than just normal centipedes." The guard gently corrects Natsume. Because Centipedes weren't bad enough. They had to be some horrible centipede-beetle combo instead. Yep. Definitely fine. Miho makes a suggestion to move on, which the guard nods towards. "We'll be up here guarding the chasm to stop whatever response this might draw from the ants should they be disturbed by your expedition. We'll be ready in case you get overwhelmed, though if you're overwhelmed I'm not sure what'll happen to us." The guard says, an ever so slight joking tone to their voice, though also somewhat serious.
Once they decide to go down into the chasm, they'll find that Prophylaxis' efforts have made a fairly stable, if slightly slippery slope of fairly loose dirt that leads down into the chasm. It's a long walk down with holes all around them that might make the hair raise on the back of their neck. The ground almost looked like honeycomb in places, no wonder there were earthquakes happening. Likely from the extensive tunnels collapsing or the digging of the massive ants that have to be the ones digging those giant tunnels. The tracks lead them towards a particular hole off to the side, one that has less signs of ant tracks than the others. Almost as if the ants avoided this tunnel for one reason or another.
Following the party down, he looks around at the ground level and the various holes, ant-delved and otherwise. That ant place in Westelande was pretty hard to navigate also," he comments.
"Is it so much RP as we accept who and what we are now?"
With that she heads on forward tail swishing as she goes.
(Chuunibyou. Honami stands for Chuunibyou.)
"I too am a bun-bun," Prophylaxis says matter-of-factly. His ears (floopy though they may be) twitch slightly at the assertion. Though his expression is still utterly as pokerfaced as ever, there's a sense that he's chuckling knowingly on the inside. "I'm glad that Honami has someone like you to care about her. She is quite adoring of you too, you know? You're both lucky. Ohohoho~"
"I'm quite alright, Schneider. Just greeting Honami's sister in the language of their people," Prophylaxis explains, then-- turns towards the hole and unceremoniously begins his own descent. Of course, he is no tracker, but the path is at least... /logical/ enough to follow. Though...
"I can't help but feel like we might be walking into a trap," Prophylaxis mutters, keeping his staff at the ready. "Keep heads on a swivel, friends. If you see an ant, shout."
The mention of 'accept who and what we are now' and Nyanta calling her a 'friend' makes Natsume's ears perk up once again before she nods her head in affirmation... There's more to it than that but it's enough to hear that for now. As they descend, Natsume quietly glances at the tunnels, making note of which ones seem more used than the others.
Very few ant hills really are particularly easy to navigate for the non-ants, really. Unless the ants are your friends, of course, somehow. A trap? No, it couldn't be a trap at all! Nevermind the occasional insects that can be seen wandering the tunnels above. Also drag marks. Because, you know. Monsters normally do that, right? Definitely not weird. At all.
In spite of the sense of danger that comes from entering a giant chasm that is infested with ants, it's oddly... peaceful in a strange way. Nevermind that it's an eerie silence more than anything, only punctuaed by the shifting sounds of the earth in the distance, or rocks that are kicked echoing through the tunnels. Looking into the tunnels there is an odd shimmer in the air, one that might be hard to tell exactly what it is in the darkness, only occasionally lit up by the light cast by torches or magical lighting.
As they continue into the tunnel, and those shimmers grow more often... and a light catches it just right -- as Schneider finds out what it is with the simplest method of discovery: Stumbling right into it. His face running into a silken, sticky thread, sending vibrations along it deep into the tunnel. And a shuffling sound can be heard much deeper into the tunnel. Ah. Spiders. Lovely.
An almost blinding light, and then... fire lit along the line of the webbing. Which spreads quickly down the line. And as the fire spreads, it becomes obvious just how much webbing there was around the party, as the air all but sparks into fire around them from the barely-visible threads of webbing. And then all at once it seems to just. Stop. Before it spreads too far down the web. Still, there might be a few burns on people simply from lighting that web on fire. On the upside, Schneider doesn't need to be cut free!
Except Prophylaxis, because his reflexes are that of an experienced gamer, and he has a handy FROST ARMOR spell on hand. Soon thoroughly thawed, the doctor emerges from his frosty cocoon and stares down the now-clear corridor.
...And nods, slowly.
"Well done, Schneider. Now we don't have to worry too much about getting stuck in a web!" And everything is on fire. It's fine!
Luckily, it seems nobody was burned. Which is good. Just the webbing was burned! The shuffling in the distance continues, but... nothing seems to come? Is that muffled voices in the distance? Or simply a trap. After all, there were no signs of a monster thus far. The biggest threat being from their own fiery attacks.
Ready for combat, but no combat thus far. The path forward is at least not blocked. Moving further is likely slower to avoid any further catches in the webbing. Everything is on fire! ... Or at least... it was. The fire had been extinguished rather quickly by something or other. Perhaps the owner of the webs? Or something else. Continuing deeper is... still strangely peaceful, the webs showing up once more, but now that they knew to look for it the party could largely avoid them beyond occasional footsteps likely being more sticky than they'd prefer, as stone gradually gives way to white silk, and eventually they come to a larger room.
That is.. full of cocoons of some sort. Several of which look like they could be lander-sized. Or adventurer-sized. Also a few that look like they might be ants. Perhaps they aren't living so peacefully together. Though, there was still no sign of any monsters in spite of warnings from the guards.
He Inspects the cocoon. And potentially, maybe, whatever might be inside...!
"Spiders... like to store their food," Prophylaxis explains. "If we're lucky, we can save them before they liquify."
They did, indeed, find what they came for! Probably! Maybe! It's definitely not normal. Nope, not at all. Especially not when Miho approaches one of the cocoons to start opening it. One of the nearby cocoons suddenly starts to squirm, writhe, and then... burst open, a massive larva spilling out of it. And hanging from webbing, webbed-over eyes staring blankly ahead of her with her body half-in the larva's mouth...
Is the missing adventurer. The larva squirms around under her, teeth biting into her, leaving red marks that rapidly fade as the adventurer's health simultaneously seems to tick up. Then down. Then up. Then down. Light suddenly erupts at the corners of the room, revealing that the webbing underneath them was an intricate mixture of webbing, insect corpses, and skeletal remains that only felt like flooring.
A chittering laugh can be heard echoing through the room, as a monster becomes visible, hanging from the roof, massive mouth drooling and arms crossed as it stares down at the adventuring party, the darkness that had kept it largely camouflaged removed by the light. It was almost... theatrical how it revealed itself. Like it wanted to be seen. The entryway they had just come from tightens up as if a drawstring in the spiderweb had been pulled, cutting off their escape. Like they thought: It's a trap. And the spider was starting to attempt to spring it by launching sticky webbing towards the party to attempt to start cocooning them like the others!
"Damn whatever dark god spawned your wretched kind!" She'll set the adventuer down. Trying to get them out now would be a bad thing, for her in the middle of a fight. She then throws herself at the horror Nagitna in hand and it bursts into flame.
So small so much anger....
The collossal fireball is something that some of the old hands have seen before, it's a blast of hellish proportions and it devours HP greedily as it impacts this spider-monater thing. Seems he means business, he usually works up to the big boom.
That is just absolutely /vile/.
The doctor's expression rapidly degenerates into one of abject horror at the adventurer's state. Riddled with all manner of status effects, stacked with a potent regeneration buff, kept in a state of slowly being consumed by larvae only to recover the damage instantly. It's-- the worst possible case scenario.
It also nearly makes him sick to his stomach.
"Ghhh, careful. Fire... could very well set our footing ablaze...!" Prophylaxis warns, channeling much of his power into a potent flash of plummetting temperatures to try to keep his prediction from becoming reality.
He doesn't achieve much in terms of 'harming the boss' as a result. But at least he's also not covered in acid-- the erection of a quick barrier ensured that.
Natsume is /definitely/ okay. Definitely not being rapidly approached by the Jorougumo which was about to start webbing her up more thoroughly. It's distracted by Miho leaping towards it though, the jorougumo recoiling with a screech from the flaming sword slashing into its flesh. Largely just to make space between itself and Miho, it swipes towards her with one of its sword-like 'arms', though it's a poorly-aimed, easily evaded attack. Maybe the Jorougumo is more of a spellcaster mob?
The Jorougumo goes from recoiling to a proper retreat when the Helloween is launched towards it, burning it and devouring its HP and burning it. It was beginning to rapidly climb the burning webbing towards the top of the giant room, turning its abdomen towards the party to unleash several sprays of sticky webbing towards the fires to put them out with the fresh still-wet webbing, seemingly trying to save its web from being destroyed. Or at least the fire from spreading.
Nyanta swoops in like the gentlecat that he is with a pair of swift slashes, cutting Natsume free from the webbing, leaving her largely unharmed beyond the uncomfortable sticky sensation of having just been wrapped up in webbing.
A burst of cold assists the jorougumo in its attempt to put out the fires, as Prophylaxis' spell comes into effect, extinguishing any fires that the horrible creature had been unable to extinguish itself. Now that the fire was gone, it turns the giant mouth on its torso towards the party, taking a deep inhale.. and exhaling out a cloud of noxious mist towards the group! Any that fail to evade or protect against it would find themselves inflicted with poison and a slowing effect!
And like that, as if he were never there, Nyanta is suddenly right on the boss, slashing like lightning, or in this case, like darkness, as he bombards the spider with a torrent of shadow blades.
The conflagration is as intense as the Helloween before it, searing the monster with savage flames and chewing through HP sabagely. This will leave a mark. And all the stuff that had been snuffed out at risk for fire again.
There's no room for mercy here. Not after what this creature is guilty of doing. "Hold her steady," the doctor directs, a globe of glowing, ichorous earth accumulating over one hand. A layer of solid stone forms around it, hardening and tightening into something that looks a good deal like a cannonball. He waits, holding the spell until just the right moment--
When Nyanta strikes and darts clear, he unleashes it. The sphere of rock-- molten and otherwise-- rockets towards the Jorogumo, bursting mere inches from its midsection into a directed blast of hot magma and razor-sharp stone flechettes!
Once Nyanta is out of the way however, that inconspicious bottle is chucked right at the spider's face as the contents become volatile. "Try this out! It's a prototype of my Holy Hand Grenade!"
The Jorougumo had thought it made space between itself and the others. And then Nyanta was suddenly in its face, slashing at it quickly with shadowy blades. Slashing over, and over, and over, leaving red slices through its flesh as its health ticks down lower and lower. Followed up by a Miho launching herself towards the horrible monster! Cutting it down with several slashes, causing it to fall right into the path of...
A massive flash of fire rocks the room once more, lighting the spider, webbing, and more on fire with the massive conflagration, the Jorougumo all but disappearing behind the fire that was incinerating it from Schneider's attack! The room was starting to light on fire, pieces of webbing falling, burning and and quickly disappearing as it falls in flashes of bright light.
Which are punctuated by the massive blast of a giant cannonball, and a spray of lava and razor sharp stone flechettes that tear into the area where the Jorougumo was last seen in the explosion, the only sign that it's even still there being the ever-visible health bar of the beast while it's attacked!
Moments before the molten rock and flechettes 'fade', there is a follow-up attack. A bottle chucked at the monster. Which then explodes into a bright explosion of holy power! And... as the bright light of holy power fades...
And nothing is left in its place. Beyond notes that they received exp and gold and such. Oh also the room is still on fire and spreading rapidly. It's probably a good idea to take care of that quickly. Also the other human-sized cocoons that were continuing to make muffled noises. This time possibly more like screaming because, well. That sounded pretty vicious outside of their cocoons, let's be honest.
"I fear I'm not a healer Doc? Anyone else?! We should get these people out of here then worry about the quakes...also we should let this place burn."
...Well. Making sure of something like that is probably beyond the scope of what they have time to do. The web is still burning, and there are still people to rescue.
"Bring them over my way," the doctor orders, before turning towards the lip of the web-covered pit. "I'll try to stabilize things. Best I can do right now is triage, until we get back to solid ground. Time's of the essence."
...But he has an /abundance/ of medicine. So that's... probably going to be useful, at least.
...Still... what were they doing to these people...?
Slashing open the cocoon reveals, in fact, people! And Schneider is able to catch them and put a small healing on them, leaving them... uncomfortable and scared, but alive right now. The place is continuing to burn at present while Natsume cuts open and reveals... an ant corpse! It... doesn't seem to be particularly hybridized. These were just a snack probably. It got hungry, after all. In fact the only experiment seemed to be on the adventurer.
Nyanta, meanwhile, also cuts one out and catches them in that gentlenyanlly way of his, carrying them over to Natsume's side for care and recovery. Meanwhile, the adventurer that was being eaten by the larvae drops from the spreading fire, the larvae starting to try to devour her more, though not having much more success than it already had been, as the larvae's health begins to tick down from fire starting to consume it. Soon the larvae is exploding into pixels, as the adventurer is recovered by Miho.
Soon the landers and adventurer are taken over to Prophylaxis, where the worst of their wounds and issues are tended to. The adventurer is probably going to take more time, but at least she's stabilized and able to be taken out.
And... behind the party as they leave, as predicted, that cavern does collapse. The crumbling of rock, dirt, and ... wood... audible as the horrible cavern is rendered nothing but rubble in their wake. Once they're on the surface, a portion of the forest nearby has evidently been pulled down into the pit, creating a smaller, though less cavernous pit in the area. Probably more fixable at least?