Back in Denethix, they gave Terry over to the Scientists as vengeance for his cowardice and betrayal. Hexane Deuterium rubbed his rubber gloves together as the armsman was dragged screaming into the labs. Hexane also agreed to a 1,000 GP fee to revive Vlad, and offered to "improve him" - the party politely declined and Hexane said "we'll do our best to honor your wishes."
The scientists pumped out his entire bloodstream, removing both the poision and Vlad's hemophelia! (I asked him to roll 1d6 to pick a stat to re-roll, and lo and behold, it came up CON - his weakest stat. And the new stat was 14! The revive machine will have to break soon.)
The party spent most of the next three weeks looking for lodging, after they found that renting was much cheaper than hotels. Tuan Fen did train heavily, gaining a second level, as well as attempting to foster bravery in his wardog Fluffy. Vlad and Tuan Fen decided to split a two room apartment, finding two available on an alley off of the Street of Students - Tuan Fen feeling that he'd rather be off the beaten path. The first landlord, Tefek, wouldn't play ball and give them a discount if they paid a year up front, so they went across the street and met Crush Grimskull, a pit fighting trainer who recognized Tuan Fen from the practice yard and heartily agreed to the deal. Meanwhile Sean and Sloth, unable to convince their rich friends to let them share a room, found a cheap studio on the Street of Industrious Efforts. Vlad bought a new bow, and then they went out to look for cults to join.
Only the Church of Starry Wisdom advertised, however, and they were rude to Sloth, calling him delusional and telling him to renounce his vows and join them. He did ask what he'd need to do to demonstrate new loyalty if he did join them - but it was a tall order, as the cultists demanded he steal the God's Eye from the Grand Temple. He ended up declining, though they did find that the Church was looking for a "Shining Trapezohedron," which was prophesied to be buried beneath the western mountains.
Returning to the Scientists, the party revealed Harvinius' map (after making a copy) and got the Temple to send Ricin Dexter, two armsmen, two porters, and a big stack of water and food rations up with them to continue the deceased scientist's research. The Temple demanded half of any resulting loot, and the party surprisingly assented. Ricin was a Shadow Scientist (I haven't converted the ASE classes yet, so he's an amalgam of Rogue and Scientist) who used poisoned throwing scalpels and wore a black lab coat. The party was suitably impressed and decided they wouldn't kill him immediately. Hexane also announced that one of the scientist crew had a life monitoring device that would warn him if the man was killed, but he "didn't remember who had it."
The crew trudged up the mountain. At one point strange shadows of men flapping their arms passed them, but they couldn't see what cast them. Further up, they ran into a caravan, marked as belonging to the Hodo Brothers - six similar-looking men who said they were taking a shipment of pine liquor to Denethix. Tuan Fen decided he'd buy some, and he'd drink off an entire flask of Purple Lighting to make room.
Tuan Fen's intoxication took a strange form, however. His lips turned purple, and a strange man in a purple robe appeared, telling him that glory was to be found beneath the earth. Tuan Fen started poking at the ground with a dagger, and then the man said that his friends were dragging him down and he should kill them. He found this advice less useful, however, and he told the man to shut up, sheathed his dagger, and continued up the mountain.
The rest of the party looked concerned, but ultimately this wasn't too strange for someone who'd chugged a flask of dubious alcohol.
The hiking sobered Tuan Fen up, luckily, and the man faded away. The map guided them well, and they entered a small cave, mercilessly slaughtering the bear inside. Its flesh yielded two rations, though more were wasted as the group lacked a trained butcher. There was a section of worked stone in the rear of the cave, with a six-inch hole and sealed black metal door. They asked Ricin if he'd brought any sick rock, and Ricin pulled out a large lead flask, and had one of his porters unscrew it and dump the fist-sized lump into the hole. They heard no sound afterwards, until the door hissed open, revealing a brightly lit hall and octagonal room.
Ricin declared that he and his team would guard the entrance and inspect the party as they exited. It would be their responsibility to face the dangers below.
The room had a western door, an eastern door, and a northeast door. They were labelled, respectively, "Barracks," "Subsurface Research Facility," and "Emergency Generator Core" in ancient, but somehow still legible, stencils.
The party decided to open the eastern door, finding themselves looking down a winding staircase. The stairs turned a corner to the south, and there was a door by the landing. They asked Sloth to open the door, but instead he began waltzing down the rest of the stairs, the rest of the group following at a 20' distance.
At the bottom, Sloth hit a T intersection - nothing visible but more hallway to the south, but a bizarre and frightening sight to the north: a phalanx of fifteen strange automatons, built out of corroded metal and bits of human bone and ribcage. The two groups were equally surprised, and the party gathered around Sloth as the creatures' eyes turned blood red.
Battle was joined. The automatons were eventually all destroyed, Tuan Fen's axe scything down two and three at a time. But first Fluffy was knocked out, tossed to the ground with broken ribs. Then Waddell was killed by a metal claw to the head. And the last automaton, bloodlust lighting its LEDs, cut open Tuan Fen's femoral artery, bringing the stalwart warrior down before being destroyed itself.
The group fled to the camp to lick its wounds. Fluffy would live, but was out for at least two weeks. Sloth's spells and mundane medicine saved Tuan Fen's life, but he would be unable to fight for the next 48 hours.