Doctor Prophylaxis has gone missing.
Well. 'Missing.' He has been absent from camp for several days, but everyone has known more or less where he was. There is a fog-shrouded temple a distance north of Seeker's Landing, nestled in the mountains at the fountainhead of a mighty river. For whatever reason, the doctor has been spending an inordinate amount of time in the region, and it's... Probably a good idea for people to go check on him.
He's got a campfire, at least. Its embers glow brightly against the all-consuming, colorless fog. Crouched near the bonfire is a familiar behatted Cait Sith, albeit one who looks considerably more haggard than he was a few days ago.
Though given what lurks here, it's hard to blame the guy.
This is about when Akatsuki appears, opposite the fire from Propylaxis. She wasn't there one second ago. The next second, she is; casually stoking the embers with a stick.
"Doctor." The Assassin greets, tone clipped and efficient as she normally is.
Yeowang returns to the Temple site from a few days ago, to check on the ol' Country Doctor, or at least the ol' Cait Sith soctor. She makes her way to his camp, calling out a greeting, "Hello, the camp." Because she's not sure what the doctor is up to, out here in secret, and she's not sure she'd like to surprise him. It might be -too- surprising.
Surprise, surprise, she moves through the jungle cover more or less ably, approaching his campfire as she takes in his current haggard appearance. "You should have brought Uta along, Doc. She's got a meal plan that even you can afford. You woudn't have to skip meals," she explains.
Did she just emerge from a puff of smoke?
Nah, that's just an effect of the fire.
Ninja-like as she might be, Kotono (and Miyako) haven't quite mastered the art of appearing in a puff of smoke... or vanishing in one either.
Kotono says little, just looking around at the general area and giving a slight look of concern and determination. A strange combination but it's an expression Kotono makes all the same.
Miyako has heard about the temple, but was engrossed in studying one of the texts she'd borrowed from Akatsuki after their discussions on the way over. So the chance to catch up with Prophylaxis and see the place has her ready to take a break from it. She arrives just after Kotono, guitar slung over her back, walking up instead of ninja-un-vanishing.
"Hello," she offers. "I see you've been busy." She shrugs and settles into a seat by the fire, bringing her guitar back into her lap to pluck out a tune.
There are people here. Dimly, Prophylaxis recognizes this fact. It still doesn't keep him from jumping when Akatsuki appears out of the fog. There are too many of these dang ninjas, and Prophylaxis nearabout sets the camp afreeze in his surprise. Thankfully, he recognizes who these people are, and that they are definitely /not/ monkeys. "Oh, it's you guys," Prophylaxis says with a tired sigh. "Sorry, sorry. Things were a little... worse up here than expected. Took me a bit longer than I would have liked. Someone put out the fire, if you're all here, then maybe we can take care of some particularly awful business."
The doctor rises stiffly and shoves a syringe full of /something/ into his arm. It looks to be a stamina potion, based on how his statuses update. "Come on, this way," the doctor says, leading the party away from the campfire. There's a well-hidden path that winds through the mist, by a ruined dragon statue, and down along the lip of a ridge, from which seem to be growing a set of thick, winding roots. They droop down into the fog far below. From this vantage, the smell of rot is obvious-- and foul. "These waterways merge with several of the ones near camp, and the monsters infesting the temple have... Well," Prophylaxis grimaces, "...You guys will see when we get down there. I warn you now, it's... /gross./"
...But the only way down is to clamber down those roots and hope that they hold fast. Some earthy magic might be able to reinforce the handholds, and a skilled herbologist might be able to identify the strongest ones to grab hold of-- but absent of those skills, pure hand-to-hand ability will have to do.
Scuffing sand over the embers, Akatsuki douses the fire.
"Gross in what way?" She asks as the group begins to work their way down the roots.
On the plus side no one sees Akatsuki fall.
On the not so plus side, she's probably the first to the bottom and has mysteriously suffered fall damage.
Though, like a cat, she acts like absolutely nothing has happened, in the least.
She meant to do that.
It is indeed Yeowang. She was here just the other day, when the Doc chose to hang out here. Which made her curious. "Have you learned anything interesting?" she wonders as the others arrive. She can't help but nod at things being worse than expected, that explains his appearance.
But then we are led off, and clambers down the way, gathering her long hair up into a loose bun and trying it with a leather cord. When the stink grows bad, she comes up with a rag across her face to keep the worst of the stench out, and looks down. "That'll take some pathfinding," she observes, but she stacks the deck, using hunter's senses to find the right places to hold and the places that will and won't take her weight. She's not up to where she'd like to be, but her skill is acceptable, at least, in identifying places she can perch safely and the way to slide down without hurting herself.
Somewhat reluctantly sliding her instrument back into inventory, Miyako rises to go on with the group. "Gross, huh?" She hmms softly and produces a little jar of strong-smelling paste, that she smears under her nose, and offers it to Kotono next. "A little mint helps block that, if it's smell that's the problem."
And with that, she clambers gingerly over the edge and starts her way downward, -almost- uninterrupted. Only one problem with a loose root almost letting her drop... or one breaking under her weight.... or maybe two or three...
Taking a whiff of the mint, Kotono smiles a little. "Just like blocking out a bad taste, hmm?" Kotono says with a slight smile before proceeding onward.
The girl would've had a nasty fall had it not been for her descending skills as well as the fact she can use her daggers as mountain climbing tools to keep herself from falling if need be.
Honestly, though, this is not your typical duty.
"I'm afraid a bit of mint won't be enough to do the job," Prophylaxis says ominously as the party clambers down the cliffside. What they find at the bottom... Well, if she wasn't careful, Akatsuki might very well have ended up waist-deep in what was down there.
This was a river, once. Now it's as if someone had dumped the contents of a sewer into it and stoppered it so that the muck could build and accumulate and fester. It's a blighted, diseased swamp, fetid with the scent of rot and decay. Many-legged creatures slither and slurp through the thick muck, as a slow trickle of water struggles to press through the filth. "We need to head upstream," the doctor says, pulling a cloth veil up over his nose and mouth. "I suspect that we'll encounter the cause of this corruption up that way."
Yeowang winces at the fetid mess of yuck. The smell up above had this as a source, she realizes, but there's nothing she can do about it now. Climbing up will never happen, not without climbing gear she would have had to pre-position back where we started. So, the choices are downstream or upstream. Well, the river's flowing downstream (by definition), so upsteeam is the more likely way to get out of the stick, if we can get past whatever's contaminating the water.
So, she makes her way upstream, nodding at what Proph says, unhappy with the way she's forced to wade through the water, which is higher than the tops of her boots, and so then pours in, which means she's going to be walking through this nasty river until she can get the boots cleaned.
The mint doesn't help at all. This stinks like hell and now she's stuck in this water... which is apparently not suitable for drinking or swimming in.
"Yuk! I didn't plan on taking a bath today!" Kotono says with a scowl as she brings up her spell runes and proceeds to select a spell for this situation.
"Let there be light!" Kotono says as she casts a spell of light which makes things a bit easier for her.
Ends up waist deep in muck.
Much like a cat, she does not let it show on her face as she wades through the mire.
She meant to do that.
Some places are there to frustrate and annoy players, apparently. Like this one.
Miyako moves slowly and gingerly through the swamp, picking her feet up from the muck and barely managing to keep her balance by strategic flicks of her wings with each step. "Should've brought snowshoes," she says at one point, and then produces a scarf, soaks it with water from a canteen, and wraps it around her head, in a less-than-successful attempt to further block the stench from her senses.
"Well now we're both going to have one, Ko-chan," she answers her friend. "A nice long hot soak will be perfect after this."
The party more or less manages to make it through the thick, vile muck intact, which is a damn good thing for their status effect bar. "I'm running low on medicine," the doctor says, apologetically. "So I'm going to have to reserve my stock until we really need it. Take care not to get yourself poisoned, okay?"
At least they seem to be making progress. The swamp soon gives way to a thick mangrove forest. Even the trees here look sickly, their boughs covered in a creeping mold, fruits nearly rotting on their branches. Up above, a cavorting celebration of monkeys can be heard hooting and hollering and having the time of their lives... But they're also keeping close watch on the swamp below for anyone who might be intruding on their homes.
"Careful, now. We don't want to piss off the whole lot of them if we can avoid it," the doctor advises, "Try to pick them off one at a time if you can manage it. Thin their numbers so we can get by."
Once she's managed to extricate herself from the muck and the group progresses into the forest, the sound of the monkeys ahead gives rise for the need to be cautious.
In a puff of smoke.
Yeowang looks up as the monkeys and considers them tactically. She's recently developed a much higher level of tactical insight than she used to possess she's been working on that as part of her general bid for self improvement. She will gesture the various party members to particular vantage points, which will enable us to ambush them piecemeal. She seems to be familiar with the sort of hand signals soldiers use to direct people around, but it's not that hard to guess. Go there. Two enemies, that close, take cover, that sort of thing. She doesn't spare herself, slipping up a tree behind one monkey who's watching for intruders from the other direction. That's the last thing he does.
Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race, and Kotono uses her stealth skills to sneak through and win the race. Sure she takes longer than she should, but at least she makes it through, right?
Miyako takes her time as well, sticking with Kotono. Normally she'd chitchat, glad to be out of the muck, but this is no time for that. She just uses the scarf to wipe the mud from her boots and discards it. Onwards she goes.
For once, Prophylaxis brings a party into a situation that they are keenly prepared to handle. In this case, it's a stealth mission, and he has brought ninjas! While he's not exactly in a position to handle picking off those apes on his own, the combined stealthy skill of the rest of his party members, and Yeowang's martial ability, are more than enough to see them through safely to the root of this particular river.
It's a beautiful clearing that they find themselves in. The water seems cleaner here, less polluted than what they'd been dealing with downstream. A vast waterfall pours down from on high, barely disguising an altar to the Dragon King himself, hidden in an alcove behind the cascade. But there's a terrible eyesore ruining this otherwise picturesque place.
There, in the tide pool right underneath the falls is what looks to be an enormous corpse. A giant, beheaded ape lay there, filth and poison seeping from its stump of a neck before seeming to multiply and spread as it flows downstream. The doctor grimaces, "There it is. Be careful, I suspect it's not as dead as it looks."
He fixes the others with a glance, "I can try to purify the water, but we'll need to get the corpse out of there first."
'I suspect it's nt as dead as it looks.' The doctor says.
Akatsuki looks at the headless giant monkey.
Akatsuki pulls out her blade and...
Gives it a few pokes just to be sure.
So very helpful.
Yeowang kicks the last of the monkeys out of their swamp with a spinning back kick and moves on with the party, frowning at what she sees. The clearing is picturesque, but the giant ape corpse takes away from the tone of the place, she feels. She nods to Proph, and squares off on the corpse, but it does not spring to life. But she popped her cooldown and everything. "Well," she says, and grabs it in a fireman's carry, dragging it off. She's got the buff, may as well use it.
A little physical work never hurt anyone. In fact, it's easier than doing knuckle push-ups in a handstand for Kotono. She barely breaks a sweat as she helps move things out of the way.
Miyako nods. "I think I can freeze the water around it. That'll cut off the flow of poison until you guys can get it out." She adds her own magic to the Doctor's, forming a rime of frost about the monstrous corpse that quickly thickens and hardens into ice.
Moving the monkey out of the pool is a simple matter for the well-trained brawlers of the group, and from there cleansing the pool is just a matter of magic, alchemy, and the application of a particular Doctor's elemental blessing. The lakewater turns abruptly frigid as the tidepool flash-freezes, but when the ice breaks, the corruption is gone.
...And then Akatsuki pokes the monkey's corpse.
It twitches in response, giving Yeowang and Kotono ample time to drop the thing and get to a safe distance. The ape's corpse twitches and spasms like a puppet on strings. It grasps its severed head in one hand, and an enormous sword in the other...
But Yeowang knows what's next, and it's truly, /truly/ awful.
An enormous centipede erupts from its ruined stump of a neck, giant legs and bright red jaw snapping and chittering. More, smaller bugs skitter and squirm from the eyesockets and mouth of the monkey's severed head. It strikes, unleashing massive cleaving blows with its mighty blade. With each wild movement, it scatters globules of filth and venom that corrode and corrupt by mere touch.
"Kill it. Kill it /properly/ so it can't get back up," Prophylaxis growls and stabs his staff into the now clarified waters. A wave of healing magic washes out, as the doctor calls upon the power of spring to cast a potent regenerative spell upon the party. That should counteract the poison, at least...!
Yeowang drops the corpse before it starts moving on its own, but still, yuck. "This is disturbingly familiar," she says accusingly at the Doc, and like before, she's entirely grossed out by the bugs. After a long pause of freaking out, she will try to maybe light a torch, maybe she can burn it, but the trip through the river before has left her firemaking gear dripping wet and slightly muddy. She is not happy.
Oh look at that. It got up.
Akatsuki darts back before launching into combat with the others. Though it looks like the Assassin's usually high DPS seems to be a bit lackluster today.
Miyako is quite pleased to see the water begin to clear, as the ice forces the toxins closer to the corpse as it's removed from the pool. Except apparently it's not a corpse.
"Oh crap," she mutters, jumping back to grab her daggers, as the ice shatters and the monster starts attacking. "Hey!" she shouts at it. "Dead bodies don't get up! Stay down!" It's a futile gesture, but she feels the need to say -something- as she moves in once again to do battle.
It's still going?
Sometimes you need to take extreme measures. Or something like that.
Kotono simply invokes a spell rune and casts a blast of fire at the enemy. "Burn!"
It's not an easy fight by any stretch of the imagination. By virtue of being weakened by the long slog through the swamp, the party is already well worn down, and the fight against the hive-ape is a slog as a result. But eventually, because the party has a healer and the monkey does /not/, the creature eventually succumbs to the flames. From its ashes, a chittering wave of centipedes scurry off into the wilderness to be disgusting elsewhere. The doctor just gives Yeowang an apologetic look and meekly says, "I /did/ tell you guys it'd be gross..."
But with the creature slain, it seems that this stretch of the river has begun to recover. The doctor makes his way up a barely-hidden path to the altar behind the waterfall and goes to work cleaning it of what foulness the monkeys have left behind. "Looks like we've been given a trophy, too," he says, gesturing at the crystal orbs on the altar, each of which contains a putrid globe of condensed, cursed miasma. Properly contained, the stuff should be mostly harmless, and it /does/ have a number of uses...
Retrieving one for Miyako and one for herself, Kotono looks at the orb with widened eyes. "Amazing." Is all she can say. Then she looks to Miyako. "That was something else, I'll have to admit." She gives a soft smile. "At least we did it!"
Dripping wet, still half covered in mud, and bleeding from a dozen wounds with a dozen more bruises already starting to darken, Miyako nods to Kotono. "A hard fight," she agrees as she fishes for a healing potion. "It'll be good to get back to camp and set up a hot bath." She reaches out to pull the other Spriggan close for a moment. Then she remembers that there are others there, and looks around. "Everyone made it out OK? Nobody's at critical HP?"
Yeowang frowns at Proph. Him having a valid point does not make that point any more plesaant, and she doesn't like being reminded of that particular phobia. But she dealt with it better than last time, and there are others here with more presence of mind than she had. Or else a fire source that wasn't soggy.
She will follow the Doc to see about this trophy, which she will accept reluctantly. Miasma's not a problem as long as there's no crawlies. Still, it goes very carefully into her inventory, where it won't get broken. "So can you tell us now what you're doing here?" she asks Proph? "Restoring the old monkey shrine?"
"I'll live," the doctor says to Miyako and shrugs, "I should be able to magic through the worst of it, and healing items can make up the rest."
He looks to Yeowang then, and nods. "I guess I do owe an explanation," he says, power-washing the filth-encrusted stone surrounding the altar with a jet of magically-conjured water. "Someone asked me to do them a favor. This is a shrine to Longwang, the Dragon King and one of the guardians of the Palace Lands. The monkeys are a relatively recent addition, and I was asked to deal with them. Of course, once I learned more about what the monkeys were up to, I found my own reason for wanting to do the job."
Yeowang aha's to Proph as he explains what this trip is about. Partly. Her expression shifts, "Wait, what were the monkeys up to?" she wonders. "Or just the desecrating the shrine bit?" That's bad enough, but the way he says it makes it sound like the monkeys were involved in like heroin trafficking or something besides.
She observes, "This area seems too high level for most of the residents of the Palace Lands. Is that why they don't maintain it?"
"Oh, a number of things," the doctor answers. "In Chinese Mythology, Longwang is associated with spring water and natural growth and renewal," video games made sure he was aware, at least in passing, with that particular part of the mythos. "By desecrating his shrine in this manner, the monkeys were corrupting that power. The waterway we passed through is a tributary to many others downstream, including several that adventurers from Yamato might stop by to rest. As a doctor, I couldn't very well allow such sickness to spread, now could I?"
"And besides," he says darkly, "Creatures like that... centipede ape /thing/ really need to be dealt with before they become even more of a problem. I don't want to imagine something like that traipsing around at night."
"That's part of it," he says of the lack of maintenance. "You know how encounters grow more difficult the further you get from a Root Town? That also means that adventurers and Landers both are unlikely to come all the way out to a remote shrine in the mountains. But as it's one that's very important for us adventurers coming from the East, I figure it's a good idea to do our part to maintain it."
Yeowang nods thoughtfully as Proph expains the why's and wherefore's. "I see. And yes, I agree that ape had to go." She nods about the shrines being useful, particularly for us, coming from the opposite side as the native Palace Landers. Not that she's met any, but if they exist, they'll be further west than she's been so far.
She can only shrug at Chinese Mythology, what she knows of that would fit on a very small notecard. She doesn't have Doc's great gaming history. But she nods about doing our part. "If we can maintain this shrine in an operational status, it will be good," she agrees. "But I don't think you will be camping here yourself for the rest of the game?"
Miyako nods. She has no qualms about destroying the monster, certainly. "And are we sure that even if we do clean this up, something won't come in to trash the place again? We'd probably need armed guards, maybe a specific event to permanently clear it..." She hmms softly. "I have to agree, though, you can't mean to just camp here yourself for weeks or months, do you?"
"Mmh, no, another one of those apes will probably take this one's place soon enough," the doctor admits with a tired shrug. "Unfortunately that's how things go in this place. It's hard to make a change stick without going above and beyond to make sure it sticks. There might seem like an unlimited number of those things, but each one we kill trims the herd just a little bit more, and it makes us stronger too."
"Still, you both have a point," he sighs and rolls his stiff shoulders. "My supplies are running low, and it's only a matter of time until those creatures catch me unaware. I'll have to head back soon, one way or another, but I'll probably have to come back out this way not long after that to keep at it, if the situation doesn't change."
Yeowang arches a brow as Proph laments his supplies running low limiting his on-station time. "If it's just supplies, we may be able to help with that," she says. She's a hunter, so meat supplies are fairly easy to make happen. Vegetables may be tougher. "But it sounds like we'd need to set up some sort of permanent force, and that's almost certainly out of scope for us as adventurers." Then again, she's probably more political than most players, maybe that's something she needs to work on?
"Supplies would be wonderful," Prophylaxis says gratefully. He's an herbalist, if you give any credence at all to the words on his character's skill list, but having some good old fashioned meat and potion reagents would do him worlds of good for his ability to rough it out here in the ass-end of the Palace Lands.
About dealing with the situation permanently, though...
"Well," he says, thoughtfully. "Maybe this is just because of the people I hang around with, but it seems to me that a concerted effort of extermination would do the job for quite some time, and considering this is a fresh water spring, using it as the central hub of a new settlement would be pretty advantageous, especially if we want to hold the east end of the Palace Lands for any length of time. Maybe I'll see about summoning some of my friends from Yamato and setting those damn monkeys on fire properly, sometime...? Hm."
Miyako hmms softly, nodding. "That does sound like a possible solution," she agrees. "If you can bring in some extra people, we can get a heck of a lot more done, especially if you get enough to cover guard duty here. And maybe we can poke around and see if there's a simpler route to get here? I for one don't fancy going through that swamp every time."
Yeowang nods at what Miyako says about a possible solution. "I can make it my plan to hunt for you each week," she offers. "The meat drops in this area aren't bad. It's a much lower level area than the Landing, I think." And Scale vs Monkeys sounds like a major cookout. She nods slowly. "And not bad XP, really," she agrees. "I think my new skills I've been working on are coming in useful, so that pleases me, also."
"Mmmn, I'd appreciate the meat," the doctor answers with a nod. "As for a simpler route... Well, there's the upper path through the mountain pass, but it's a damn maze. If we want a road, we're going to have to build it ourselves. Fortunately, we've experience in the area. I'd have to see how much popular will there is, though." The Scale Emblem /is/ preoccupied with that tower of theirs, after all. But...
There might be an argument for loot and bigger XP to just outright overpower the boss of the tenth. Hm.
Miyako hmms, tapping her lip. Then she notices how dirty her fingers are and wipes them on her pants. "I heard Scale Emblem have been building a railroad... how'd they get all that done? Someone blast their way through places? If we could do that with the mountains..."
Yeowang points out, "Players have built roads in Yamato, so I expect they could build them here. The road to Eas is /practically asphalt/, it's a very modern road. If you could find whoever did that, I imagine they could build a seven-lane superhighway. That ought to be enough." She smirks, nodding about the meat, she will drop extra supplies off here. She hunts for Seeker's Landing, too, so she just needs to hunt a bit more.
She hrms, "A railroad sounds like it'd be useful here also. This place is much larger than any given continent in Yamato. A train would make rapid movement and deployment of forces very effective, I think."
"There's no secret," Prophylaxis answers, "No magic to it. We carved the land with our own blood, sweat and tears. If we were to build one out here... Mmn, again, it's not my call. Ultimately, there would have to be a trade, agreements would need to be made. It would be unfair to the developers of that technology if I were to just give it out willy-nilly, but I would be open to discussing the possibility of such an endeavor."
Yeowang nods to Proph, and sighs, "Sadly, most of my Alliance foams at the mouth when Scale is even mentioned." She looks over to Miyako, smiles. "Not everyone of course. I would be pleased if we -could- come to /some kind/ of agreement. But that's my love for making deals more than an interest in the specifics. But a tri-Alliance project to improve this land -does- sound like we could make some useful things happen." She's already warming to the concept. "A highway with vehicles would get us across this huge expanse of nothing in something approaching decent time...."
Miyako nods. "Well, good to know it's at least on the table. One way or another we're not going to get people to constantly trudge back and forth through the Bog of Eternal Stench back there." She sighs and shakes her head, leaning against a stone pillar. "Sometimes I wish we'd ended up in a sci-fi world. At least then we'd have... well." She shrugs and shakes her head.
"It'd be nice, yes. I just... don't want to see this world go the way Earth did. And what happens when we actually end up in proper contact with the locals? What will they think of our roads and machines?"
"Mmmn, no doubt the fault of Gigancchi, at least in part. I can't exactly fault those who grow attached to this world, but there are many among us who have families and lives to return to as well. So it goes." The doctor considers for a moment, then continues: "Well, if improving infrastructure in the area will get us to and from Yamato rapidly enough to avoid relying on extreme measures, then I'm for it. The last thing we need is for Adventurers to die on the road because they've run out of supplies or were chased through hostile wilderness by stubborn monsters. And as far as the locals go..."
Prophylaxis shrugs! "Who knows? They might be interested in learning about what we build, too."