Branca 9th, 331
Having emerged from the stone bowels of the earth, the Singing Mercenaries took stock of their situation. They were much closer to the slopes of the Dawnforge Mountains, meaning they had been dragged from southern tip of the swamps to the eastern borders, but other than that they were completely lost. Elrias admitted that without any sort of bearings he could not guide them through the treacherous domain.
The other problem was Shikou’s condition: although he had remained calm during their trek up through the ground, he had become increasingly agitated, and as they finally reached the sunlight, they realized his condition would not improve: he lashed out at his allies, blind with rage. Tattered’s solution was simple. “We should put him out of his misery,” was his gruff response to the situation, and Winward agreed. Elrias didn’t seem interested either way, he only wanted to continue his trek through the swamp. Only the optimistic words of Jett stayed the weapons of the others.
Jett’s optimism was rewarded shortly afterward. Dropping from the trees, a lithe, wild-looking elf spring amidst them. Sidling up quickly to Elrias, she addressed them with piercing, hunter’s eyes. “Trespassers! You can do no good here!” Gesturing towards Elrias, she continued “You have no power here, warrior of the high tribe. The corruption is too strong even for the spirits to control. And you have brought this…untamed…creature with you? Your pollution here is unacceptable! The evil here gives me much work, or you would have been cast out long ago!”
The Singers were cautious, but she made no overt attempts to attack them, and they were wary that if she snuck up on them unseen, then there might be others of her kind (it wouldn’t have been the first time). The elf simply shook her head. She laid a hand on Shikou, who seemed to calm down. “There is no time for me to waste on you interlopers. I shall take this one, he is…perhaps…not beyond saving. As for you, if you truly wish to help this forest, go where your powers are appreciated. The ruins to the north is your destination. Follow the ancient road and you shall not be lost. Stray from this task and the swamp itself will consume you!”
Puzzled, but seemingly with no other options, the Singers began the trek on an ancient, barely exposed cobblestone road.
Branca 12th, 331
After a few days of traveling, the adventurers approached a crumbling ruin. It was located on higher ground than the rest of the swamp, and the corruption in the swamp did not seem to fully affect it. The decrepit, fallen walls of four towers surrounded the central structure, which had one corner still standing. Standing in what used to be the courtyard were several mechanical, humanoid constructs. One was much bigger than the rest. They all stood on a dais of stone, and in the center was a large tablet. As they approached, they were warmly greeted by one of the construct. “Greetins!” it said, “How fare you this fine day?”
Winward and the others were puzzled, but the construct did not seem hostile. “What is this place? And who are you?” Jett inquired.
“I am Mark 9” was the response. “It is my duty to aid passing travelers that wish to seek the aid of my masters within these ruins. Might I, perhaps, aid you? I have limited knowledge of this place but would be happy to render what assistance I can. If you seek to proceed, you must solve the test on the stone tablet.”
The Singers examined the tablet, only to discover a riddle:
Forged from arcane fire & steel,
The guardians here, strong and true.
Three to serve the greater, three to serve the rest.
Five elements here, one to serve the crest.
Four offered in towers strong,
Amidst the silent, stony throng.
One the colour of demon’s blood,
One the colour of driven snow,
One the colour of untamed land,
On these your path expand.
Two the colours of arcane fire.
Two the colours of ice.
Two the colours of midnight’s eye,
Two the colours of life.
Only the purest must remain,
The rest removed, and sent away.
Resting within the tablet were five orbs: red, black, white, green and blue. After several hours of pondering, the Singers were able to solve the riddle by placing the corresponding magical orbs in the ruins of the four different towers. Upon solving the riddle, the ruins were bathed in magic, arcane circles igniting on the ground. When the magic dissipated, the other constructs in the courtyard lurched to life!
“Greetings my brethren! I am glad the ritual has returned you to function!” Mark 9 said. Upon seeing the others in the ruins, the other constructs became hostile, and moved to attack the Singing Mercenaries. Confused, Mark 9 attempted to reason with them. “These travelers have passed the test! You have no right to attack them!” The other constructs brushed him off, saying that they had to be destroyed, and that if Mark 9 got in their way he would be destroyed as well.
Saddened by his comraders bloodlust, Mark 9 used his magical orb to fire off blasts of frost at his compatriots, rooting them in place. The large construct, a metal hulk wielding a huge chain, bellowed at his fellows that they would destroy Mark 9 as well as the other intruders.
The fight was a brutal one. Mark 9’s powers over frost and flame were a welcome addition, as even the weaker constructs proved to be resilient opponents. Shalazar and Winward had an especially tough time, as the larger construct pinned them against one of the courtyard’s crumbling walls and was a ferocious opponent. Despite their foes’ robust constitution’s, the party eventually managed to overcome them.
As the last construct fell, magic again swept through the ruins, arcane circles pulsing again as the great stone dais cracked open, revealing a stone staircase cut deep into the earth. Winward, concerned over the dangers that lay within, voiced that the party were better off to leave and find another way to aid the forest. Mark 9 pleaded with them to stay, relating he could not leave the ruins, and asked for their help in solving the mysteries of the ruins. Feeling indebted, the party made the descent into the ancient ruins, wondering what awaited them.