A week passes; a week full of sorrow and grief at the devastation that the Redscale Guild suffered at the hands of the Withered Aegis. Though the city was saved, the victory feels an empty one: too many rooms lie empty, and too many graves filled. The guild leader in particular seems to have taken the disaster harshly and has refused to emerge from his forge since returning to Bristugo; none can say what he works on, and a pile of food and tokens from concerned friends and family alike lay unacknowledged outside of the Guild master’s personal foundry.
The Squad makes light of it all, continuing with their routine as a mask for the deep grief they all feel, settling into their new ranks and status and renown for the actions they had taken. Barely a squad in the guild has been left unmarked, and theirs is amongst them… technically. Alva seems to have adjusted well to her new status as Gifted. Their period of rest and recovery is interrupted however by the arrival of a certain Ted Killingham, who presents the newly Gifted half-breed with a proposition; a contract for the recovery of artefacts of artistic importance and other items from a ruined temple on Scorpion Isle. Recalling that he still owes the guild artefacts from their previous assignment, he offers payment of 1500gp per squad member, after guild tax of course. Offering assurances that the ruin is unoccupied aside from the usual wilderness denizens, he leaves Alva and Melanth in the Guildhall cafeteria where they quickly bring the contract to Corporal Soleas, who is relieving whatever personal stress she might be feeling in the practice yard. Though Melanth attempts to needle her she remains impassive- authorising the mission and ordering the assembly of the team tomorrow. During the conversation it transpires that their commanding officer Hrsag has been sent to the Harro front; an assignment that is only slightly short of a death sentence.
The pair leaves to convey the news to Nathanew, strolling through the trade town’s bustling market district and exploring his more well known haunts before finally happening upon him in a bar, finding the Fiend regaling a crowd of awestruck women with exaggerated tales of his exploits. Alva takes the opportunity to throw a wrench in his scheming, flamboyantly settling herself in his lap much to the envy of the crowd, before dragging him away by the buttonhole to discuss the upcoming mission. Unexpectedly, Hathril also meets them there; for his conduct he was granted membership of the guild and the rank of Private… something that Ted was evidently less than pleased with, but accepted as his personal choice. It occurs to them that this mission could have been Ted’s way of making sure that his nephew gets a less risky assignment in the now uncertain future of the Living Races, though the squad as a whole agrees that an easy and potentially very profitable mission is a pleasant change from their usual high-risk assignments. They spend the night shopping, drinking, dancing and carousing, mentally steeling themselves for a return to work. Alva manages to acquire a selection of potions for herself, whereas Melanth opts to swap out his buckler for a more sturdy shield.
Their assignment turns out to be somewhat more arduous than anticipated, though not in the way expected. The remote site is hard to get to and necessitates a long trek through thick jungle- the sight of which they’re mostly sick of after the costly battle just a week previous. Happy to be away from the gloomy and tense atmosphere of the guildhall they make good time, arriving at their intended destination within a day. They are not alone however; as they break through the thick undergrowth before the shining temple they are greeted with the sight a tent bearing the bright red and blue livery of Cherri’s Delvers. Lamenting that they have been beaten to the prize, the Squad makes their way into the temple, encountering the Delvers contingent there. After Nathanew makes an ill advised attempt at deceiving the Redscale’s long-time allies, the two parties exchange their missions. Luckily for the Squad, the Delvers had not been able to figure out the puzzle that locked shut the temple’s antechamber and instead had satisfied themselves taking notes of the intricate murals and arrangement of the temple’s architecture.
(Break, session continued next day)
Despite a wealth of adventuring experience and their diverse walks of life, the party is somewhat perplexed at how to proceed; none of them can make sense of the room in any meaningful way, and no one wants to simply start poking runes to see what effect it will have. Instead they opt to seek outside assistance; the Delvers contingent describes another pair of researchers who were also in the area, and had retired from the temple to explore the beach. Leaving behind Sol to set up camp, Hathril, Nath, Alva and Melanth head off to the cliff to try and find the pair.
…And find them they do. Cresting the lip of the cliff, Alva and Mel are confronted by the sight of a man sliding down the cliff, and a nude lady bathing in the shallow waves- something that draws many wry grins from Alva and Melanth in light of their recent bathing expedition. An ogling Nathanew is immediately challenged by the man for his lecherous staring, forcing Melanth to interpose himself between the two before blows are struck. Making more formal greetings the party allows the somewhat flustered young woman to make herself decent whilst chatting with the man now dubbed Cliff; he claims the pair to be explorers sent to the temple on a mission by the Imperial Administration to retrieve artefacts, drawing much lamenting from the Squad who are now keenly aware that they have two rivals to compete with for possession of whatever treasures the tomb might hold. His student, now dubbed Wave, corroborates this. Though they negotiate Cliff seems wary to assist the Squad, or the rival Delvers who are already ensconced. Melanth detects that the man is either lying or concealing information from them, but nevertheless it is decided that all three parties shall explore the temple together to ensure fairness and equality of distribution. Now if only they could get the bloody door open.
The puzzle is not a simple one. Taking over from the Delvers contingent at nightfall, the squad makes attempts to decode the meaning of the runes and meets with no success; they seem to be quite out of the experience of anyone present, with implied elements from Dwarven, Satyr and Dragon architecture. Left with no choice but to try and manipulate the runes, it is found that using each in turn will cause a body-part of a figure to illuminate upon the floor of the chamber in a manner similar to a sliding block puzzle. Though they quickly come to realise that each rune corresponds to a body-part, the order in which they need to be arranged is seemingly random and leaves them somewhat perplexed. Agitating this is the fact that with each failed attempt, some form of magical response is forthcoming- be it sprays of acid, electrical sparks or simply irritating effects that necessitate the evacuation of the Temple after each attempt is made.
Finally, through trial and error they solve the puzzle- getting the order of rune activation correct to make the body parts appear in their correct alignments on the marbled floor, revealing a caricature of a figure; broad and squat with a stern face and expression. The marble door slides back to reveal a spiral staircase leading down; the Squad pauses to make arrangements with the rest of their groups; Cliff and Wave will accompany them into the depths, as well as a member of the Delver’s contingent, whilst the rest remain outside to guard the entrance. They advance cautiously, ever wary for traps and other devices that might impede their progress, but find the way mercifully clear; too clear, in fact. Too many years of adventuring have left them paranoid of such a lack of resistance and the tension in the atmosphere quickly builds as they wait for the expected attack.
Moving further into the tunnel however they find something most peculiar; a huge body encased in pristine glass, enshrined in a small chamber into which vents pour a sulphurous smoke. It is surrounded by enough riches to make the Dragon salivate and fill all their coffers for years; precious silks, gold, a shield and mace that are obviously magical in nature and gems the size of fists- and of it all the corpse remains the most intriguing: pierced as if by a blade, and preserved as perfectly entombed in what looks like a solid block of glass, as if it had died not a moment ago. It is not of any race that the Squad knows of. Though it is of the proportions of a Dwarf, it is the size of a half-giant, and appears to be at least partially mechanical or ceramic, though of a workmanship unknown in the living world. Cliff and Wave take a keen interest too- the two babble excitedly, describing the corpse as a ‘Titan’, apparently un phased by the small fortune of treasure that lays around. They mention their master, a ‘Gorret’…
Did not the founder of that line himself say that no Gorrets remained?
Before angry explanations can be demanded however the sulphurous stench in the room grows thick and livid; flames burst from vents in the sides to scald the Delver soldier’s pet bat, the fiery cloud swirling and coalescing into a Fire Elemental. Actions are immediate; Sol and Alva attack with haste whilst Hathril uses a Quench spell upon the planar monstrosity, which still reeling from the unexpected arrival cannot seem to hit the nimble soldiers around it. Alva unleashed a fierce volley from her newly acquired stopgap bow, demonstrating that she can handle the weapon just as well as any magical equipment whilst Soleas with her typical dedication to duty immediately runs forward and tries to punch the incorporeal fire beast into submission. Melanth interposes himself between the vulnerable Sorcerer and the elemental- a mistake it transpires, as Nathanew has no qualms about his safety as the Dragon does for the Fiend’s. The Delver’s member also demonstrates poor decision making skills by throwing a grenade into the erupting melee, very nearly causing a disaster before the fuse fizzles out as a dud.
The combat does not remain one-sided for long though. An unarmed Soleas is scorched whenever she stands close enough to strike with her fists, and Nathanew neglects to move in favour of showering the thing with spells before tying to run for cover, which results them both catching two very nasty hits leaving Sol injured and Nathanew near death. Melanth curses the Fiend for his recklessness as the Squad draw in closer together, steeling themselves for a battle to save their friend…. again.