Duty Session 93: Escort Quest: Artificial Stupidity

A Lander stands just at the exit of town with a familiar quest marker being offered. Apparently, they need to travel to a nearby location which requires traversing through rough terrain, filled with monsters. So, they have reached out to brave Adventurers to help guide them on their way!

It's just a simple escort mission. What could go wrong?

Difficulty:    Moderate
Rec. Party:    4+
Rewards:       2
World Rewards: None

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With that hat Mikage had given him, and multiple canteens of water with him, Cyrus pulls the ski-modified cart just a little deeper into the desert sands. Notably, the temperature is not very extreme at all. It's just a few celcius over the norm in the Yamato region. The sun isn't beating too hard, and there's clearly clouds giving cover. The youth has prepared water not because of the heat, but in case they get lost. After all, the desert region of the land here isn't too easy to tell apart once one strays too far from the sand-covered roads. There's thick wooden poles that indicate where the roads are, which are tall enough that even a dune forming would not obfuscate it.

He turns around to look at a Lander. "Are you sure that this prayer to the Goddess will help with this new wave that is coming?" He asks. The salamander Lander nods his head readily. "Of course. The Goddess will protect us." He declares boldly. "Alright. We'll keep you safe." He looks back at his companions.

Mikage and Uta. Mikage had been the obvious invitee, and they'd just come across Uta by luck just outside the gates. Cyrus had joked that Uta would not be interested in coming, because the slimes out here were all cactus-shaped. But this seems not to have dissuaded the Spriggan in her unusual uniform. Not that he minded additional people coming along for the ride.

"Let's go." The group begins to move up, with the sword wielding Lander in tow. Along the various poles that point out the roads towards the Shrine, until they meet the first split in the road. There, the Lander points to the side, and helps direct them. Into the sands, towards a series of cactii. They continue going, until the Lander starts to lag more and more behind. And before anyone in the group can ask if there's something wrong, the Lander notes;

"I think we're lost..." He pulls out this old parchment map. "It said to go... right at the cactus that looks like a man leaning forward in the middle of a run, one arm up, one down..."
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Mikage seems to have been prepared for the eventuality of a longer trek than expected, laiden down with water and a hood which keeps the worst of the sun off of her eyes. "I'm not terribly familiar with the Goddesses. That seems to be part of the lore documentation I didn't read." She explains, looking sheepish. Some people just aren't that into the deep lore of the game, at least at first, anyways.

Even under the best of circumstances, the harshness of the desert landscape can be difficult to navigate. The fact that the Lander ends up lost is no surprise, but the fact that the Adventurers seem equally lost...

"Uh..." She starts, looking around as if trying to figure out what the right direction might be. "We can always retrace our steps... right?" Except the shifting sands are making even that difficult.  
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Uta is wearing a large conical straw hat, the kind used by rice farmers. It might look out of place in a desert, but hey, it gets the job done. Up to now she had trailed along with her normal distracted expression, mostly lost in thought about how many hugs she could give a cactus slime before her HP reaches zero.

    She answers Mikage's comment with a casual "Me too. I know the basics of the lore of the goddesses, but not the details. Finding good literature on the subject is not easy in this world. I will have to speak to someone about setting up a better library system."

    "Oh, hey! The cactus that looks like this?" She positions her arms the way the lander described, standing all still. "I think I've seen it. I mean, it certainly is not like the man in the middle of a soccer game. Which is a cactus like this..." Exact same position. "...except with a second, spherical cactus at its feet." She turns to look back the way they came, hand on her chin, tapping her lips, "...now, where did I see that one..."
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Cyrus looks around, rubbing his cheek, and then takes out his own map. "I think we turned here..." He points to the map in a spot. "At this... fork. Or is it this one?" The youth looks nervous already. "It's not like cacti are indicated on the map." He looks back to the Lander. "I thought you'd gone to this shrine a few times already."

The Lander nervously rubs the back of his neck. "I used to go with dad. He led the way."

"Great." Cyrus' eyes narrow, and then sighs. "Alright. Let's try to backtrack. We're going to lose some time like this and dig into our water, but at least we should be able to find the way if we do that." He nods to Mikage as she has the same idea.

Then he looks to Uta. The fact that she indicates the same cactus twice worries him. "If you think you know where it is..." He looks nervous. "Nah, let's backtrack. I don't want to risk it on a hunch." And so they do. While they travel, the Lander actually does explain a little bit.

"There are three goddesses. We sing for them in order to pray to them, depending on what kind of blessings we'd like to receive. The Holy Empire Westelande is very big into the Burning One. Goddess of war, destruction, and wealth. Though we've not done as well on wealth as the Ninetails Dominion, we have the strongest warriors in the whole of Yamato." He proudly claims.

Eventually, they find their way around to one of the cactii Uta mentioned, in the middle of a whole forest of cactii. "Hah, it really is like a soccer pose... kinda." Cyrus declares. "Quick, stand in front of it and pose again." Uta of course being far too small to do so accurately. But as they mess around for a bit, a sandstorm suddenly hits, making things a lot harder to see. And to make things worse, Mikage spots bite marks on the cactus. The Lander tries to move on, but he gets /stuck/ on one of the big cactus thorns.

"I think there's big monsters here. And we're a bit far from the main road. Let's... try to pull our Lander friend off of the cactus and go on slowly." He whispers, as he pulls out a flask and begins to use a bit of his enchantment knowledge to /absorb/ some of the sand in front of them into the bottle, destroying it with arcane magic. Almost like a makeshift black hole, pointed forward, trying to give them a route forward. But just a bit into it, the bottle breaks! "Shit... anyone have better ideas?"
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"Is there a goddess of the lost? Because we could probably use a blessing from them right about now." Mikage comments, pulling her hood down a bit more over her features. "I think we've passed that same cactus two or three times now. I can tell because it's the one with the bite marks on it."

Bite marks.

That's when she realizes that there must be something pretty large out there to leave those kind of marks. "Uh, let me see if I can help cover our tracks a little." She summons up some of the sand around them, creating a sort of skin that allows them to blend in a bit better with their surroundings.

Unfortunately, whatever creatures are here seem to see right through it. "Maybe run? Running sounds like a good idea."
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    Uta stands in front of the cactus and does "the thing" as requested. "I wish we still had cameras. This could launch a new trend. Like holding up the leaning tower of Pisa, or touching the tip of the Eiffel tower, or making sure you're not in the middle of the photo when there's a group of sputter sputter cough GRAHHGH"

    Uta coughs out sand, brought into her mouth by the wind. "WHY DOES SAND HAVE TO TASTE LIKE SAND!", she bursts out. "CAN'T IT TASTE LIKE SOGGY CRACKERS LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE- wait. Sand is probably considered an ingredient. I should try to menu-cook it together with water to see if I can make it resemble soggy crackers and-"

    She sighs as she finally notices the lander stuck on a cactus. "Don't worry, I got this." First of all...

    She ficks her finger, navigates her menu, and rezzes her staff. After that, she intones a haunting melody in a minor tone. The staff resonates, 'glowing dark' in places, and the gem on the stick's top decoration veers obsidian. It emits something that looks like black smoke, except it's not smoke... it's wisps of sheer darkness, which start to engulf the traveling party. "This should hide us from predators, at least for a little while. Hopefully. If the wind doesn't pick up too strongly." While the wisps continue to fill the air, she approaches the lander to release him from the overly attached vegetal. "Don't move, I think I can do this..."
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Mikage's idea should be solid. But the creatures are still following them. Sand spirals forming near them... before massive horn-claws poke out and try to snap at the trio, snatching their clothing and creating red marks. "Oh no! It's Santlions! Quick, run!" Uta gets the Lander down from the Cactus just in time, before they have to go for a run. The Santlions keep coming at them, until finally they manage to make their way into a cave, hidden somewhat by a dune.

The trio take a moment to catch their breath - but some of the water canteens have gone missing - the Santlions having snagged them with their claws. "Darnit. This is not going well at all." Cyrus complains, leaning forward while touching his knees with his hands. The sandstorm raging outside blocks out most of the light. The youth pulls out a lit up bottle potion, and then throws a healing potion to catch by the others.

"Properly prepared. So it tastes like medicine instead of soggy crackers. Up to you if you think that is an improvement." Cyrus mentions, before lifting back up from the cool wall and looking deeper in. The lander seems to be pointing inwards. "We found the right cave! It's just a bit further in from here." He indicates.

"I just hope those Light bottles I made will hold up long enough." Cyrus notes.
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Some days are just cursed. It seems that for Mikage, today is one of them. As they head into the cave, she squints, her natural Were Fang senses allowing her some ability to see, but it seems darker than expected. "I can try to shed some light..."

That's when she tries to focus some magic through her sword, and as she does, it back-fires. Too much light causes a flash which all but blinds her for a moment, causing her to curse. A curse that echos in the cave for a long ways.

"Ugh. I might need you to be my eyes until this status effect wears off." She reaches out, flailing for Cyrus' shoulder for a moment, eventually finding it. "I've never had /that/ happen before." Her eyes look silvery due to the status effect, and she rubs at them, trying to clear it.
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    "Not going well? This is downright terrible!" exclaims Uta, squatting, elbows on her knees, managing to slip the words between attempts at catching her breath. "Since this whole thing started we haven't seen a single cactus slime!" After getting /that/ out of her system and putting enough oxygen into it, she straghtens up, leans against one wall of the cave, and sips from the offered bottle like a seasoned pro, making no face whatsoever at the flavour. "I personally think it is an improvement. In fact, that's exactly how I make them." She produces a bottle containing a potion of minor healing from her own inventory, and tosses it to Cyrus. "Like this. Here, have one on me!"

    "Not sure if your light bottles will hold up? Hmmm. Just a moment, maybe I can help there." She holds onto her staff, tight, breathes in, and as she sings a majestic melody, the body of her item glows different colors in different places, following her song. Mikage's attempt takes place about at this point, but the singing has begun. It cannot be interrupted.

    The final crescendo coincides with an ascending scale; the colorful lights slide up the staff, hitting its head with the final note, and making the gem there shine a blinding white...

    ...and FLASH! A beam of light is shot out of it, so powerful that the staff recoils, and despite Uta holding onto it for her dear life while anchoring herself to the ground with a steadied martial artist's pose, she gets shoved a few meters backwards, tumbling, the light possibly scorching the ceiling where it hits.

    When the metaphorical dust settles, the gem atop the staff is left glowing, making it functional as a light source.

    "...Want me to take a look at your eyes, Mikage? I'm a nurse, so... uh... I think I might be able to cure this kind of status effect? Maybe?" She doesn't sound certain. "...up to now I've mostly been mixing potions and giving them to people, to be honest, so I wouldn't know..."
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Cyrus catches the bottle thrown his way by Uta, and drinks it. He crinkles his nose. "Yes. This is exactly the same flavor." He agrees, nodding his head. "I guess healing potions do have a very specific and distinct flavor to them, based on the ingredients." He makes note of. At the extra light, he nods appreciatively. "Most of my potions are made for quick release spells, not so much for long term effects." Though he then groans a bit as he sees Uta being blasted black.

"A... laser? Isn't that a bit... much?" The youth notes, shaking his head, before noting Mikage mess with a sudden... *FLASH*

"Geez, are you okay Mikage?" Cyrus' body reacts automatically when she flails for his shoulders. He doesn't take her arms, instead choosing to dip his head so his hat protects his eyes. But he does put his hands at her sides so she can be stable while she's in the midst of being blinded. "Are you alright?" He asks again, tiling his head to check her eyes. "Here." He gives her an Eyedrop Potion to heal the temporary blindness effect.

"We still have a lot to learn about our abilities post-Apocalypse." He suggests to her and carefully begins to release one hand off of her to check out her eyes. He's no medical professional, so he treats her like a proper human as he makes sure she's okay. "Alright, I think the status effect is fading a bit. Just take it slow for a little bit, and you'll be kicking ass as usual again in just a bit."

He then glances back at Uta with a confident nod of his head. "I've got it this time." He promises, right before the Lander begins to complain about his own health situation, without them having moved much since entering the cave. "Rest... well, I'd really like to get going. Here, let me see if I've got something to help." He throws a pouch of herbs to Uta. "Think you can administer some of those to him?"
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"Between an alchemist and a nurse, I should be fine." Mikage laughs to herself, not seemingly too concerned about the momentary blindness. However, the Lander also seems to be dealing with their own issues. "Take care of them first." She advises them. Afterall Adventurers are immortal, Landers, not so much.

She takes the potion and starts administering some to her eyes, blinking and giving a small growl as she shakes her head. Foul stuff. At least they were at a point of a break anyways, so it isn't as if she has to do this while facing down monsters.

Once her vision begins to clear, Miki moves to approach the Lander. "Let's see if maybe this works better on a person than through my sword." She lays a hand on the Lander's shoulder, feeding a small bit of light energy into him by way of a tiny amount of healing. It's more of a side utility ability that her class has, but not nearly so strong as something offered by the other two.
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    "Herbs I can do!", exclaims Uta in response to Cyrus, and after a mortar and pestle are summoned from the menu, she begins gridning with surprising skill and ease. "Crescent Moon helped me a lot during my first days, and a newbie, there is little I can do to help." Pestle, pestle, pestle. "But preparing medicines and helping sick people is among this little I can do, so I did it a lot in the past weeks." That explains the practiced movements. "Recently I've also volunteered to help at the burger joint and-" She seems to get distracted here, because she flips the herbs as if they were a burger. Luckily, this does not disrupt the proceure -- it probably counts as mixing them around.

    Time passes, water is added, and between a few jokes to release tension, ("A nurse an an alchemist, hm? I wonder if we could come up with a Dentist's Stone, to turn lead into golden teeth..."), the cup is full of liqud.

    "Here, drink this!", she says, in a kind tone of voice, offering the now-liquid-filled mortar to the man, going as far as taking it to his lips if he cannot do it himself.
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"I vote no on turning peoples teeth to gold. We're not Americans. Let's try to keep some measure of pride here." Cyrus answers Uta bemusedly as the team prepares to head further down. The Lander ends up being okay after a little while, and accepts both Mikage's light spell and the medicine handed by Uta. The crew starts heading down into the depths of the cave.

Then, the call-out from the Lander. "There it is, the statue!" Only for a series of creatures to step out, wearing robes. The Lander refers to them as Hags, while Cyrus calls out; "Beast Cultists, prepare for battle!" Grabbing a series of potions. It seems he was prepared for this much.

Two potions thrown. A firewall leaving a heavy crowd control path while the monsters rush forward and cast their own spells. Fierce Fireballs blasting right into the ranks of the Adventurers. The Lander luckily hiding far enough behind them not to get scorched. Cyrus immediately begins with the healing preparations. "Mikage, I'll keep you topped up. This one's all you!" It's going to be a rough battle.
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"I think I'll keep my teeth as they are, thank you very much." Mikage lightly tongues at one fang, and then smirks, shaking her head. At least the Lander is able to continue, and her own vision is slowly clearing in the aftermath.

However, the sight of Hags has her looking more than a little daunted. "We really could have used a tank." She mutters under her breath, drawing her sword and aiming it in challenge at the monsters. She casts a look at the two othrs, "Right. I'm DPS. Let's go."

So, she charges in towards the Hags, swinging her sword and trying to draw aggro away from the other two as best as possible. However, she simply isn't built for tanking, meaning that Mikage takes more than her fair share of hits.

By the time the last of the Hags is dispersed, the Were Fang just drops to one knee, panting. "I need to invest in better armor..." Or train her fighting skills more. One of the two.
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    "Beast Cultists? What are Beast Cult-" But there is no time. Battle erupts, and one has to act quickly.

    Uta avoids the first fireball with a backflipping jump, and gets barely scorched by the second. "Ow! Ow! Ow!", she exclaims, as her already claw-marked uniform gets now the nice addition of scorch marks and a few flames catching onto it.

    She swats at them while running around in circles, just in time for a hag to attack. "No, ugh. This is too complicated!"

    What follows is a moderately confused fight where a lot of dodge-rolling takes place, except it's more like dode-stopping-dropping-and-rolling to extinguish the flames, movement which follows naturally into attempting to steamroll into the hags' legs.

    If unorthodox, at least it has some surprise factor going on for itself. "The way it's been described to me, Mikage, I'm good at support and punching. Not so good at taking damage....", mentions Uta during combat.

    At the end, Uta is downright sprawled on the ground. "...I need to invest in a second outfit... maybe I should look into armor, yes."
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"Nothing wrong with relying on a DPS-Tank. If there's no enemies, there's no health drops." Cyrus chimes in with Mikage's comment on really needing a tank, when they finally finish things off. The Hag having retreated after an exhaustive amount of quick health-ups being thrown at Mikage and Uta - and the damage two two put out having even detonated one into pixels. Cyrus at least is pretty reliable of a support - and Uta is certainly helping in the matter. But the entire battle-plan ends up like chaos thanks to all the rolling. "This isn't Dark Souls." Cyrus comments at one point.

But, eventually, the battle is over.

The snep goes down on his ass and just sits there for a bit, exhausted, groaning. He watches the Lander as he takes out a few bits of a plant, puts them at the statue, and begins to pray. "Think there's anything to this Goddesses thing?" Cyrus asks Mikage curiously - only to suddenly get a small chime. He motions his finger, opening the inventory, and takes out a strange coin.

"Huh... strange. Guess there is something about these statues after all." He remarks, while one of his ears twitches. "The sandstorm is still going. We'll be stuck here for a while. This is going to suck." He then glances at the Lander, standing there.

"I'd like to go back home." A new quest pops up.

Cyrus groans and droops his head.