Episode 50

Silent beams of afternoon light cast through the thick canopy upon the rough incline. Crumbling chunks of ancient pavement collapse beneath Dretphi's heavy boots. Pausing to pat the ground under the thick soles, Dretphi feels the mix of materials in the loose layer of forest cover. "There used to be a walkway a... Very... long ago."

Cideeda nods, points a claw tip towards worn, rocky blocks framing a crumbling ramp, and gestures to the rusty ring indentations. "This place must of have been pretty significant and established. They even had concrete anchored metal handrails in place."

Sebastian drifts back down, floats along side of the group, and crosses his arms in thought. "Yeah. From what I've seen above, the width of the path is really consistent. Even with the twists and turns, you can see they regraded some sections."

Bach glances over to Sebastian and curiously quirks his brow. "Did you see the entrance, yet?"

Sebastian shakes his head and stares forward with a squint. "Not yet. Between all the small valleys, outcroppings, and leaves on these trees, I haven't gotten a clear view up there from here."

Reviewing paragraphs of notes upon a tablet, Aristespha ponders while idly tapping the screen bezel. She lifts stare from the screen and surveys the area. "I think we are getting close. From what Faelatelia described, we've passed the last major landmark she remembered seeing."

She slowly scans the trees and focuses her glowing violet eyes at different features in the surrounding scenery. "There's still no recent signs of spirits in the area and the ambient magic feels..."

With hands on her belt of pouches, Sotalia picks at the cover flap for a container and grimaces uneasily. "Weird. It's just off. Gods, I can't say why... Damn, it just feels odd. Just enough in the background I can't quite pick it out."

She looks over her shoulder at the downwards path behind the group, and stares in surprise at the distant difference in altitude. She grits her teeth and sighs. "Anyway, I hope the entrance is nearby. Because, it's not going to be a fun hike back in the dark from this high already."

Dretphi briefly turns her helmeted head back, twists her lips in deliberation, and nods uneasily to Sotalia. "In this situation. Yes. This forest is strange. It will be trying to travel at night."

The team climbs up the ruins of another set of ancient concrete stairs and follows the scattered remnants of a trail around an obscuring curve between two ridges. Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia navigate a collapsed brick walled gorge, and exit out into a large, cracked pavement covered clearing. A set of partially opened, massive security doors reside opposite across the ruined courtyard from the team. Throughout the purposely engineered field, piles of debris lay in disarray. Mixed in with years of overgrowth, glimmers of shattered crystal bound by broken stone reflect the sun light. A breeze blows old leaves around the many incomplete, articulate, mechanical limbs with faded magical inscriptions. The wind shifts the vegetation and reveals broken stone and metal masses resembling midsections, upper bodies, heads, and hips. Aristespha gawks in awe at the scene and blinks back to awareness. "Oh my gods... These are all golem parts. Extremely old golem parts."

Bach slowly scans the area, releases an uneasy breath, and grits his teeth. "Yeah. Oh yeah. There's no doubt there. It's a practical junkyard here."

Cideeda squats down and focuses her investigative, emerald gaze upon a nearby fractured golem hand. "While I can't comment on the magic side of things... yet... None of these parts look like they're in that great of shape. These look worse than half the stuff my dad would turn away from his scrapyard."

She stands back up and points over to a bulky, rusted out golem torso. "I mean, that thing looks like it'd fall apart if you gave it a dirty look."

An uncomfortable grimace rises upon Bach's face and he narrows his stare out into the vicinity. "Still have to be careful. There could be some residual magic despite appearances. And at this point, it'd probably be completely unpredictable."

Aristespha slowly closes her eyes and opens them to a glowing violet. Bach blinks to a blue illumination. Sotalia glances at Bach and Aristespha, contorts her face in concentration, and squints out a golden light from her eyes. The three mages cautiously step forth and watch parts of the open courtyard in a slow scan. After a few tense minutes, Bach relaxes his posture with a relieved sigh. "Well, good news. I'm at least not seeing anything obviously active."

Aristespha nods, draws in a long breath, and rolls the tension out of her shoulders. "I can confirm. I do not see any leftover magical traces. Well... At the very least in anything out here."

Sotalia blinks her eyes a number of times as the golden glow flickers out. She flexes the facial muscles around her eyes and rubs her temples. "Oh good. I was worried I wasn't doing it right. Anyway, I haven't felt anything new. Just the same weird, eerie ambient feeling as before."

Dretphi leans towards the front of the group, cranes her helmeted head around towards mage trio in front, and quirks a curious brow under her full face visor. "Safe for exploration?"

Bach glances over, weighs the situation in his mind, and nods slowly. "It should be. I wouldn't poke anything too intact without checking it over first."

Sebastian drifts out in front of the team and glances to Aristespha with a reserved grin. "So, nothing I might accidentally set off, dear? Just want to be sure since this all looks like it used to be A LOT of magically reactive stuff."

With a calming tone, Aristespha presents a smile to Sebastian. "I don't believe there's anything out here that would react to you, Sebastian."

Mustering back his confidence, Sebastian floats out towards the middle of the decayed plaza. "Okay. So, let's keep to this area for now and see if we can find anything that can tell us what the actual hell went on here."

The group carefully spreads out across the area. Cideeda's intrigue leads her to a half assembled humanoid golem laid out upon the paved ground. She cautiously kneels down, cranes her gaze over into an opened compartment door, and focuses inside. After a few moments, she straightens her back in thought and waves Bach over. "Hey, Bach! Could you magically double-check this for me?"

Bach quickly steps over, aims his glowing stare at the partial golem, and shakes his head as his eyes dim back to normal. "Nothing active and nothing residual. So, no magic to worry about right now."

Cideeda flips up a pocket cover on her vest, pulls out a flashlight with a click, and shines it inside the construct. "Okay... This is really weird here."

Exploring the space within, she points a claw tip to a collection of strange anomalies and odd details. "It looks like parts scraped against each other... Those are definitely the work of someone who was having a hard time prying pieces out with a screwdriver there... And, there's not a lot weathering inside here."

Rapping her claws upon the mechanical hull of the golem, she turns her head towards Bach with wary smirk. "I think someone parted this thing out in the last few months."

Bach angles his head around the opening with Cideeda highlighting via flashlight. "Holy shit, you're right. That definitely seems like what happened. I don't know that much about golems... But... I don't think it should be this empty inside."

Cideeda sits down on the old pavement. She stretches her legs out, flicks her ears in thought, and uses her clawed fingers to comb through her short, multicolored hair. "Okay, I've been meaning to ask this. What's the exact purpose of binding a spirit to a golem? Because, these things look mechanically similar to some robots I've seen. Really, it looks like they could work on their own."

Scratching the back of his head of long brown hair, Bach twists his mouth unsure and ponders out loud. "Well, by default most golems operate very simply and follow really simple instructions. They need a fair amount of adjustments to keep in working order. And are really limited in what they can do magically."

He glances around the area, spots Aristespha, and waves her over. "You know, let's ask Aristespha. She'd know more."

Aristespha walks quickly over and curiously gazes at Bach and Cideeda. "Yes?"

Bach shrugs and asks. "You'd know this better than me. What are the reasons you'd bind a spirit to a golem. I know they do a lot, but I've forgotten the exact details."

Crossing her arms, Aristespha searches the top of her head and counts off with fingers on a gloved hand. "Okay... First, you get an intelligence of some kind controlling the major functions of the golem, this replaces the typical simplistic control spells and other devices people use. Second, the spirit typically learns to maintain the structure of the golem and some can enact repairs upon the physical components and magical constructs by themselves. Third, an advanced spirit can greatly improve what the golem is capable of magically. Unoccupied golems have very limited magical effects that are simple enchanted modules with limited power. As with magic, without a will or mind, no new magical flows can be manipulated."

She rests her hands on her hips and smiles at Cideeda. "That's the major reasons. There's a few other minor details, but it depends on the purpose of the golem."

Cideeda nods with interest sated and stretches her arms out behind her. "I see. So without a spirit, the golem is just a dumb, one trick drone that's prone falling apart."

Aristespha grins amusedly and snickers. "That's been my experience. Hence, why golems see limited use today when you have access to robotics and artificial intelligence."

Cideeda carefully examines the craftsmanship of the parted out golem's humanoid arm and her emerald green eyes spark with fascination. "That make sense. But, still there's a certain quality to this..."

Bach glances over to Aristespha with a smile and both watch Cideeda inspect the golem thoroughly.

Across the way, Dretphi steps slowly towards the tall, massive security doors, and carefully examines the opposing door edges. As she stares through the doorway into the darkness, her attention shifts down to the concrete floor around the door tracks. Her steely gray eyes trace many long scratches and deep gouges into the surface. She follows the trails through a path of cleared debris and disturbed forest refuse, and walks towards a thin section of overgrowth. With a firm grip upon draping ivy, she draws back the tattered, natural curtain, and reveals a worn path leading north. She pivots in place, waves with her free hand, and calls out. "I have found recent activity!"

Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Sebastian and Sotalia gather around Dretphi's discovery and collectively investigate it. Dretphi ponders a moment. "This is recent. Purposeful. Many people have used. Transporting significant cargo."

Sebastian bites his lip contemplatively, crosses his arms, and ethereally sighs. "That's not a good a sign."

Bach briefly grits his teeth as regretfully informs Sebastian. "That's not the only thing. Cideeda found a golem that looks like it's been parted out."

Cideeda nods and rests her hands on her hips. "Pretty thoroughly, too. From all the tool marks I saw, they took their time and struggled to get everything they could out of it."

Aristespha sidesteps to see the fresher trail and visually plots the route. She cocks her head to the side as her memory prompts her to retrieve a tablet from her backpack. "Where does this lead..."

After a few seconds of locating their position on the map, she orientates herself and notices the rough direction the path goes with a unamused sigh. "Oh gods dammit. It looks like it's going towards the commune."

Flexing her fingers and staring annoyed into the dark void between the entry doors, Sotalia groans. "Great. Looks like they found an easier route for hauling off whatever they were looting. I bet that Meredosia bitch decided to change up plans once Faelatelia tried to escape."

Aristespha shakes her head slowly and agrees in tone. "If she couldn't convince someone to bring spirits here, she'd bring what's here to the spirits. I'm not really happy about the possibilities. Gods, I just hope they're incompetent enough to only be unsuccessful at anything they're trying."

Sebastian's ghostly visage assumes a stern stance and he lays out the situation. "Okay. As much as I'd hope we would find the place and save the rest for tomorrow, I really think we need to delve a little deeper on this one today. We HAVE to at least find out what was taken, so we know what to be on the lookout for."

Dretphi firmly nods. "Agreed. We may need to inform authorities."

Bach sighs to an uneasy grin. "Yeah. I'd like to know what a splinter group of a bunch of crazy extremists got from here."

Sotalia rolls her eyes and shakes her head with a grumble. "Oh, I'm certain it's nothing they should have their hands on. Nothing worse than crazy with crazy things."

Aristespha and Cideeda indicate similar sentiments with uncomfortable frowns. Sebastian floats over towards the large security doors, stands confidently, and glances back over to the team with a grin. "Okay. Let's form up and explore this place a bit more. I'm sure we'll find some answers..."

He deflates to an awkward smile and shrug of his shoulders. "Whether we like it or not."

The group shares sardonically tinged chuckles and snickers, before forming up and entering into the dark void between the massive sliding doors.

Daedrican walks along an old, mossy cobblestone road, aims his fully helmeted head to his left, and waves at a pair of lightly armored Chrome Crusader troopers along another parallel walkway. As he resumes facing ahead, Tassilda slinks up in pace next to him. She smiles confidently and perks a sly brow. "It is certainly a nice change of pace to clear out this rest area. Nice, pleasant walks through lovely scenery."

A calm chuckle leaves Daedrican and he glances over to Tassilda. "I agree, my lady. But, I recommend being careful still. The main areas of the rest stop receive some maintenance, but the outer park leaves quite a bit to be desired."

Tassilda grins with a slow shrug of her shoulders and gazes out into the tall grasses of the nearby fields. "Yes. I suppose. But, I'm certain there's not much out here that would cause a problem for..."

She flashes a suggestive smirk at Daedrican and punctuates it with a sway. "You."

A long, amused sigh escapes Daedrican and he shakes his head. "Oh, you might be surprised. I've had a few troubling moments with the most unlikely enemies."

Intrigue piques Tassilda's attention and she focuses an inquisitive, light blue on black gaze upon Daedrican. "Oh? Really? Tell me one."

With a laugh, Daedrican rocks his head momentarily back and relates a bit of embarrassment. "Zone Parrots."

Tassilda nearly missteps and blinks in confusion at Daedrican. She guides a raven lock of hair over her swirling horns and bites her lip. She hooks a finger and tugs uncertainly upon a horn. "Zone Parrots? Those wonderfully colorful birds that have beautiful songs?"

Daedrican sighs and shakes his head. "Yes. I'm afraid so. They have an annoying habit of sneaking into tents and vehicles when it is cold at night. Once comfortable, they get VERY territorial. Which leads to rude awakenings by claws and bites. I've had the misfortune of being forced out of my tent to escape the wrath of one."

Tilting his head, his obscuring visor faces Tassilda and a competitive hint tints his voice. "So, what has been the most troublesome combatant for you so far, my lady?"

Tassilda blinks and averts her gaze away momentarily as a flush reddens her gray cheeks. She bites her lower lip and eventually mumbles out a coy response. "Slimes."

She holds a finger up to Daedrican and dons a more affirmative tone. "Because... They are absolutely frustrating things. They are resilient to anything short of the right amount of force. After which, they are annoyingly... splatter prone."

Tassilda searches her mind and proposes another question to Daedrican with a happy smile. "I'm a bit curious, why did you ever join up with the Chrome Crusaders?"

Daedrican ponders a while, gently rocking his head side to side contemplatively. "After school, I decided I wanted to travel and experience the world for a bit. While I don't come from a small town, I had never left the area. The Chrome Crusaders seemed to be a well established group with principles I could agree with. And... They happened to be in the area when I was running out of money."

He cranes his head at Tassilda and asks with genuine curiosity. "So, my lady, why did you sign up with the Next Adventurers of Nexus?"

A wide eyed stare overtakes Tassilda's expression and she fights to regain her composure. She resettles her confidence and eventually approaches an answer. "Well, similar reasons to you. I would like to make a name for myself. Either join a good organization, or maybe form my own group. But, that requires you to have a great deal of experience and recognition. And..."

Embarrassed pink colors her face and she briefly grits her teeth. "One of the audition events just happened to be nearby when my finances were not the best. I was facing the possibility of having to move back in with my mother."

As Daedrican warmly chuckles with an understanding nod, a sly smirk graces Tassilda's lips and she narrows an inquiring stare at him. "Another question. You're not some kind of heroic orphan are you?"

Daedrican laughs and shakes his head. "Oh, no. I have a lovely mother and proud father still together after many renewals of their marriage contract. And, I have a younger brother and sister."

He tilts his head to side and watches Tassilda as the two continue their walk along the cobblestone path. "So, what family do you have, my lady?"

A faint wave of unease passes through Tassilda's body and she suppresses an overall cringe. Seconds later, she sighs and speaks with a staid tone. "I have a wonderful mother and a father. They did not choose to renew their marriage contract when I was six. I lived with my mother, while my father remarried. As for siblings, I have a younger... half... sister."

With slight shift of his stance, Daedrican inquires with a bright tone. "I'm certain she's quite the lady, if she's of relation to you."

Tassilda stares ahead distantly as her attention drifts elsewhere. Gradually, a warm smile lightens her expression and she states happily. "That she is."

Daedrican nods and cocks his helmeted head curiously. "Pardon for jumping order, but who got you interested in the study of magic?"

Tassilda blinks back to awareness and resumes her confident exterior. "Oh! My mother. She's an amazing mage and she wasn't about to have a daughter who strayed from that path. Thankfully, I thoroughly enjoyed the practice after she pushed me to learn the basics. Admittedly, I hate to think what would have become of me if I hadn't."

A commiserating sigh escapes Daedrican and he nods. "I know how that can be. It took my own mother a few attempts to get me on a good path. Well, at least one that'd result in a career that paid well."

He elequently speaks an emin colloquialism in his dialect. Tassilda relays nearly the same exact pharse in her dialect. Daedrican laughs. "Of course that saying always stays the same."

Tassilda smiles contentedly at Daedrican.

Wind blows small flecks of debris across the rough path through the passage of trees, and smooths the loose layer of dirt. Walking by himself, a figure nonchalantly travels down the trail. After securing his backpack, Isaac grabs hold of his blue scarf waving wildly in the wind and loops the slack around his neck. As the breeze settles, he gazes up into the green canopy and guides wisps of white hair out of his gray eyes. An intrigued smile appears on his face and he lifts up the old camera hanging by a strap around his neck towards the treetops. Pressing a button, a mechanical click sounds out and Isaac ratchets a small crank to a stopping point.

While distracted, his heavy leather boot steps into a deep depression in the road and Isaac stumbles awkwardly. Recovering his balance, he glances down at the ground, pauses, cocks his head to the side, and squints in surprise. Inside the worn pot hole, a clear impression of a large, tire track contrasts the weathered soil bordering. Isaac kneels down, carefully feels out the impression with his leather gloved fingers, and slowly raises his direly inquisitive stare ahead. His eyes dart between other signs of recent travel and he gradually stands back up. He sidesteps swiftly off the road and out of sight.

Continuing forward, he moves slowly through the thicker undergrowth and quickly through open patches. With each minute, unease tenses his body and sharpens his caution. Minutes later, Isaac arrives at the perimeter of the rectangular clearing and stealthily peers through the vegetation. His suspicion piques the moment his stare locks onto the parked humvee. A flit of shock washes over Isaac's face. Processing the situation, Isaac firmly slides his blue scarf over his face and wraps another loop of slack around.

Noxian stands up, steps out into the strange clearing, and postures sternly. With an assertive demeanor, he moves close to the humvee and glares upon the area. His search for recent activity finds two sets of heavy tracks, two sets of lighter boot prints, and the faintest outline of feet with toe claw marks. Noxian traces the tracks and settles his stare upon an ancient set of stairs through the disturbed vegetation. He walks over slowly and visually follows the rough trail up the tall incline leading up the mountain. Standing silently, Noxian crosses his arms and lowers his head in thought.

The eerie silence of the forest looms over. He blinks to attention and notices the sensory absence. He lifts his head back up and examines the surrounding scenery. A dim glow emits from his gray eyes and he squints out into the distance around him. With each pause to focus upon a section of the woods, Noxian's discomfort grows more visible in his body language. After a few passes, the illumination from his eyes dims to normal and he stares resolutely up the incline. He cinches up the strap of his camera, tightens the harness of his backpack, and moves up the stairs. Noxian thoughtfully gazes ahead, draws in a long, determined breath, and sighs with hints of irritation and regret. The blue scarf waves in the wind during the hike up the mountain.

A bright, illuminating orb glides up towards the high, rocky ceiling above stone and metal walkways. Spots from flashlights dart around the dome of the cavernous area. Natural and carved sections blend together and reinforcement structures divide the grand space. Down upon the floor, Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia search out into the dark chamber. Sotalia holds up a brightly glowing orb above her head and flexes her fingers as threads of magical flow condense upwards from her palm. The light beams out further and the visible perimeter expands. Cideeda and Dretphi direct flashlights to a number of curious, shady outlines and cautiously watch the still objects. Bach flicks out blue orbs of light and tags distance objects and walls in the murky shade. As Sebastian drifts up above the group and squints out into the dim details, Aristespha rests the beam of a flashlight upon a nearby control console surrounded by protective metal tube cage. "What would that go to?"

Cideeda glances over, judges the purpose of the device, and aims her attention above. After a few moments of searching, she finds a large hook hanging from a crane assembly. "It probably controls that overhead crane system. That seems really heavy duty."

The collection of light sources highlight the outlines of partially constructed golems and parts. Each new shape seizes the attention of the group until the next freshly illuminated artifact. Cideeda's trepidation gives way to awe and she studies a nearby bay of support structures, tools, and parts. "They must have made golems here. Well, they at least assembled them. You have parts, tools, and assembly bays. I would guess this is a full shop here."

Aristespha nods in full agreement and focuses her curiosity to small building in the middle of the large open area. "You are absolutely correct. This had to have been a secret assembly plant. Though, I still have some serious questions about the location and construction."

Dretphi glances over to Aristespha, directs a light upon the rocky ceiling above, and gestures an armored gauntlet towards the ceiling. "Natural cavern. Signs of excavation. Some reinforcement. Some work. Convenient to build upon."

Her mouth twists in partial dissatisfaction behind her face visor. "Still a strange choice for such a purpose. Space, yes. Hidden, indeed."

Cideeda gradually nods and gazes wide eyed at a large arm of hybridized mechanics and magic secured upon a stout platform. "Yeah. Thinking about that... How the hell do you even get something this large up the path we took? Especially without someone figuring out what you are doing up here?"

Sotalia smirks and sighs with a grumble. "You would think something like this would have gotten a bit more attention than a few off hand mentions. Too be fair, with a little bit of magic, you could hide moving a few big things."

She slowly pivots and incredulously waves her hands out at the surrounding masses of parts and constructs. "But all THIS?"

Bach glances over in agreement and sends another light orb to another dark spot at the edge of view. "Yeah. I mean working golems move on their own. So you'd just need visual transparency spells and the cover of night to move one out of here."

Pausing in thought, he shrugs as a distant memory rises to the surface. "And honestly, you don't even need nightfall. A good fog, some heavy rain, or a good snow would be plenty to make it really hard to spot anything clearly from a distance with even little obfuscation magic."

A sly grin graces Sebastian's ghostly visage as he float down next to Bach. He lightly chuckles and softly directs his voice to Bach. "Funny the useful things we learned from our... past exploits..."

Bach suppresses a grin, rolls his eyes at himself, and whispers. "Yeah..."

The two brothers reminisce momentarily before inquisitive and scrutinizing looks focus upon them. Sebastian coughs with an ethereal echo and musters up his composure. Bach rotates his glance through the stares, stiffens his posture, and resumes his previous thought. "Uh... But... Hauling all these parts up here, that'd be really rough even with magic."

Sebastian dons a more serious expression and surveys the illuminated area. "That is a good point. This is a nightmare of logistics."

Cideeda nods, crosses her arms, and taps her toe claws on a foot as she thinks. "There's not just truck loads of materials up here. We're talking multiple convoys. You might be able to pull something like that off NOW if you are really, really careful. But, not if you had any civilization paying attention to this place when it was active."

Aristespha rests a hand on her hip and draws a long breath in as she puzzles. "Yes. That is the confusing part of all this. This is a large scale operation in a logistically problematic place. That doesn't make sense."

Sebastian quirks a brow with a comforting smile to Aristespha. "Probably something more to this place, dear?"

With a bit of comfort, Aristespha smirks in amusement and sighs. "Yes, Sebastian."

She focuses ahead to a small building in the middle of the large open area and narrows a stare upon it. "Sebastian, could you scout that building out? I think we need to investigate it."

Sotalia gestures her hand to the light orb above, and focuses some of the light ahead. "Now that you mention it, that is weird. Why would have an enclosed building in an already enclosed space? I haven't seen anything other buildings around."

Dretphi furrows her brow with a slight frown. "Containment."

A silent, wary acceptance of the possibilities spreads throughout the group. Moments later, Sebastian sighs, dons a brave stance, and grins back to the group. "Well, can't leave it alone now. I'll go ahead and see if I find anything... Or, something tries to find me."

He flies ahead and coasts his ghostly visage near the small building. As he circles around the exterior, he glides close to the occasional window and peers in. Flying around the to side opposite of the group, he spots a scattered mess of debris and broken containers piled around a compromised sliding metal door. He peeks in through the doorway, and assesses the entry. Even in the very dim ambient light, the flickers of gouges and reflections of bent metal around the lock highlight the demise of the door. Sebastian hums ethereally, jets off into view of the team, and waves them on over. As the group moves up, Dretphi's eyes catch more scratches upon the floor and points out the developing trail. "Something was moved."

Illuminating the ground with a flashlight, she notices the disruptions of the dust upon the floor, impressions of shoes, and hand prints. "These are recent. Similar to outside."

The team gathers around Sebastian and collectively survey the hastily created piles of refuse. Cideeda snarls her upper lip and rolls her eyes at the defeated metal door. "Fucking amateurs. They were so lucky no one bothered to trap that thing or there wasn't anything inside there they needed to seal back in."

Bach and Aristespha's eyes glow blue and violet, respectively, and examine the mounds of broken equipment. Sotalia leans closer to get a better view of an item in a pile and cocks her head in surprise. "Wait, those are alchemical containers and... magical isolation chambers?"

She taps Aristespha's shoulder and points a long-nailed finger to the end of an elaborate device sticking out of a haphazard stack. "Is THAT a recrystallizer? It looks like one."

Aristespha glowing violet eyes widen and she slowly nods in bewilderment. "Yes. It is... That's interesting. Why would they have such a thing here? It would make sense if you were creating magical energy cells, but that would require raw materials."

Cideeda shifts her attention, and shines a light onto a nearby collection of shadowy outlines. Her furry ears perk in surprise as the illumination reveals rows of industrial lathes, presses, mills, hammers, and other equipment. She blinks in astonishment as her mind pieces together the information and forms a conclusion. "They weren't just assembling golems... They MADE the parts here."

Bach crosses his arms, blinks his eyes to normal, and verbally ponders. "But, if I remember correctly, most golems require specific materials with certain magical conductivity and capacitance properties that aren't easy to find. Unless..."

Dretphi stoically peers down the main walkway, to a massive tunnel archway, and into the dark void obscuring the full depth of the passage. "That is why they choose this place."

Exchanging a confirming glance with Dretphi, Bach stares ahead, forms a glowing blue orb in his hand, and releases it down the tunnel. Gliding down the hall, it casts a light upon the floor and reveals sets of light boot prints in the dust. The group attentively watch the trail continue towards the tunnel archway. At the mouth of the entry, sets of huge, exact paw prints litter the tunnel floor and calmly mix with the light boot prints. Despite the very distant detail, Cideeda stares warily and nervously at the floor beneath the floating, glowing orb until it sticks to a distant doorway. "O-o-okay... Something REALLY big has been here."

Sebastian drifts ahead of the group and locates where the light boot prints branch from more recent activity. Dretphi steps carefully next to Sebastian, kneels down, and inspects the tracks. "These are not as recent. One person. A set going ahead. Another returning."

Aristespha draws a sharp breath in and growls out. "Meredosia. It was probably her when she first found this place."

Sotalia grimaces with a bit of fear and contorts her face warily. "Okay, so what the fuck do those other tracks belong to?"

Uncertainly and worry grip Aristespha, and she sighs out her nerves to regain some composure. "I don't know exactly. Faelatelia never got this far in. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a golem given everything we have seen. But, I don't know for sure."

Sebastian stares off at the distant blue orb upon the doors at the end of the tunnel and breathes out his worry. "Okay. I think we've explored enough today. We don't need to take any unneeded risks at this point. It looks like the big whatever hasn't gone past the archway and Meredosia's tracks are old. And, we've got a decent idea what the Terra Priests have taken."

He glides away and coasts back towards the distant, dimming glow of sunlight leaking through the gap between the heavy entry doors. "Let's call it a day. We'll hike down, secure the camp, and rest for the night. And... Try to figure out how to proceed tomorrow."

He pauses and pivots with his arms out towards the group. "Any questions? Objections?"

The group does not contest, agrees, and follows up behind Sebastian. As the team heads out, a powerful force presses against the heavy double doors at the end of the tunnel. Air jets out through every crack and the pressure pushes open a gap between the join of the two doors. An eerie, faint light seeps out into the tunnel way. The wave of air rushes out and blows over the team. Sotalia immediately freezes in place as her entire body tenses sharply. "What the fuck..."

Cideeda shudders reflexively. Dretphi visibly feels a chill down her spine. Aristespha stiffens her posture. Sebastian's forms wavers briefly as he startles. Bach halts in place and slowly turns around. The group exchanges awkwardness and shift their collective focus to the new strange light. Sebastian sighs, bows his head down, and grumbles. "Well... Change of plans everyone..."

Sebastian's ghostly form phases through one of the two large doors. He pauses in awe and gawks. Eventually, he regains his senses and directs his astonished voice through the wide gap between the doors. "You HAVE to see this."

Dretphi and Cideeda slip in first and instinctively take cover positions behind nearby crates and rock structures. As they search the immediate area for threats, the scenery captures their full amazement. Aristespha, Bach, and Sotalia slink through and stop as they behold the area with glowing eyes. Bach's jaw hangs open and he blinks in bewilderment. "What is this place?"

In front of the team resides a deep, dark hole beneath a natural cavern dome. An ambient light paints the space in a dim blend of hued sources from a starry field of crystalline formations above. Surrounding the over hundred meter wide mouth of the pit, aged flood lamps flicker light upon the huge, carved outer perimeter of rock floor. Massive girders of synthetic materials jutting from anchor points support a twenty meter wide platform structure above the center of the hole. A single arching bridge connects the structure to the outer rim. Disappearing into the dark, deep depths, a series of thick, metallic cables sway almost imperceptibly as a breezes rises up the pit. As the air pressure escapes through the gap between the doors, Sotalia shudders and briefly cringes. "Okay, so I think we've found the source of that weird feeling. Now, what the hell is it?"

Aristespha scans her gaze upwards and shakes her head in disbelief. "I... I don't know. It could be many things at this point..."

She focuses her analyzing, violet glowing stare at the hole and center structure, and sorts through the possibilities. Sotalia aims her gold illuminated squint down, spots a small blue tinted crystal, and kneels down. She carefully cranes her head to examine it, thinks about it, and reaches a cautious hand out. With a bit of concentration, a gentle flow of magical energy swirls around her forearm and eases to the crystal. The artifact lights up softly and slides under the control of Sotalia's finger movements. Recognition dawns upon her face and she glances up to the rest of the team. "Gods... They DID get their raw materials here. This feels like it has the right properties."

Bach cranes his head over Sotalia's shoulder and nods as his blue lighted gaze garners the same information. "Yeah..."

He pans his stare to the ancient, heavy machinery parked around the perimeter and the industrial safety railing encircling the hole. "I'm guessing this whole place was some kind of mining, refinement, and production operation for golems."

Cideeda steps out from behind a rusty container box, and cautiously approaches the lip of the pit. She stops at the guard rail, reaches into a vest pocket, and retrieves a small device. With a click of button, a red dot appears faintly upon the distant, opposite side of the hole with faint shimmers of red outlining a laser beam path. Cideeda moves the dot downwards until she aims well into the black void below. After another click, she steps away from the pit's edge, and inspects the reading on the laser range finder. She pivots around and returns to the group with wide emerald green eyes. "That pit is OVER three hundred meters deep. I can't get an exact number as the range finder only goes TO three hundred."

Dretphi blinks in surprise at the number and surveys the route around the perimeter. "There must have been valuable deposits. It is not trivial to go that deep."

Sebastian hovers in place, strokes his hand over his chin, and sorts through a theory. "This actually makes sense when you put all this together. Having a mine out here is useless if you want to keep a low profile. Having a refinement plant is pointless if you don't want to be found out. And, having a golem assembly plant out here would a lot of attract attention. But..."

He slowly spins around to the team and waves his arms out with a facetious smirk. "If you have the entire production chain in one spot, then... The whole system is FAR easier to conceal."

Sotalia picks up the crystal chunk, places it in a pouch, and stands back up with a wry grin. "Also, if anyone did figure out what you were doing, I doubt they'd really want to cause you too much trouble."

Aristespha rests her hands on her hips, tosses back her silvery blue hair, and groans. "A golem army tends to have that effect."

Rising concern colors Sebastian's expression and he looks to Dretphi. "Before we do anything more here... Dretphi, is there any sign of those big tracks here?"

Dretphi searches the area, steps out to signs of wear on the perimeter pathway, and drops to a knee. She thoroughly investigates the spot, visually traces routes clockwise and counterclockwise around the pit, and twists her face in frustration. After a few seconds of deliberation, she glances back to the group. "Something large has been here. I can not tell when. The air flow. The environment. Traces disturbed recently. Repeatedly in the past. Hard to discern."

Sebastian nods understandingly and presents an appreciative smile to Dretphi. "Thank you. I was afraid of that."

He floats towards the edge of the pit and glances over to Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, and Sotalia. "Okay. Gods... I think we're pushing our luck enough as it is."

Bach perks his brow, points towards the center structure, and shrugs his shoulders. "You know, I think that platform is about the only thing worth checking out here. Maybe you can do a quick flyover to see if it's worth the fuss?"

Cideeda nods in agreement, and frowns uneasily. "That sounds good to me. I don't see anything that really sticks out on the perimeter. It just seems like typical mining equipment. So, if there's nothing up on the platform, I'm good with going home."

Dretphi gestures towards a number of shady tunnels splintering off from a few points along the perimeter. "Days could be spent here. Many possible routes to explore. Significant chances for danger. May not be worth it."

Sotalia crosses her arms with a humored grin. "Well, if I was self-righteous bitch looking for the most important thing in this place, I'd cross the bridge and see what's over there."

Aristespha smiles to Sebastian and dons a lighter tone. "That works for me. If there's anything, we'll literally and figuratively cross that bridge. I'll be content with compiling this report from comfort of the living room couch."

Gliding away from the group, Sebastian shines a happy grin and gives a thumbs up. He spins himself around and jets across the deep, dark pit. Seconds later, his ethereal form flies above the central platform and drops swiftly out of sight from the low perspective. The rest of the team waits patiently. A minute later, Sebastian's visage reforms next to Aristespha. He sighs reluctantly to the team, slowly nods his head, and grits his teeth. "Yeah. We need to check it out. There's a circular, rune covered dais that looks just like the others we've been finding. And, there's other strange artifacts and documents."

A silent, determined agreement passes through the team. Sebastian musters an appreciative smile and leads the way. Minutes later, the team quickly crosses the bridge to the platform structure. They gather around a circular dais of hybrid materials with uniquely familiar rune carvings. Nearby, a divided wooden box of decayed, broken amulets catches the attention of Sotalia as she notices an empty spot in the packaging. "I bet this is where Meredosia got her amulet that Faelatelia mentioned."

Aristespha irritably taps her foot and balls her fists frustration. "Gods damn that woman. This explains a lot about Faelatelia's and Chelindia's stories about Meredosia. She's gotten something she has no idea about."

Sebastian hovers nearby and slowly shakes his head. "Well, that's DEFINITELY not a good sign. I hate to think what she's planning. Oh well, we'll have to contend with that another time. Let's grab up what we can and get out of here."

The group splits up quickly. Dretphi packs up documents and items. Aristespha and Bach quickly scan the area with mage sight. Sotalia walks around and takes photos with her aetherphone. Sebastian hovers around the structure and investigates the heavy equipment below. Cideeda starts to the examine a control console when her ears perk towards a single source. She freezes, slowly turns her head to face the direction of a low, thumping noise. "Hold up! I hear something."

The team stops their activities and watch as mechanical beast of stone, metal, and magic stomps out from a branch tunnel onto the perimeter. Walking on all fours, a dire wolf shaped golem slowly travels the outer rim walkway, the green glow from its magical energies illuminate the immediate vicinity. As Aristespha, Bach, Cideeda, Dretphi, Sebastian, and Sotalia settle into hiding behind equipment, structures, and containers, the dire wolf golem pauses. It lifts its head, stares towards the center platform, and stops. A bright white light erupts in its eyes and thin streams of white energy scatter across surface channels in its body and condense to particular parts. Bach tremors in wide eyed fear as he witnesses the magical activity with his mage sight. The sword at Aristespha's side vibrates and Sebastian's visage warps.