Reasoning that the treasure has gone undiscovered centuries, the party makes camp in the secret room. First they roll up the tapestry creature and carry it outside to the kitchen area. Morgan donates her robe as a drop cloth to catch the ooze still seeping from its wounds. Once free of the creature, there is just enough room for them to sit side by side in the small chamber.
Four hours pass. There is little to do but sit in the darkness and try not to think of their hunger. It has been more than a day since anyone has eaten, and they have fought in several desperate combats, and marched up stairs and down halls in armor. At one point a snuffling and shuffling step is heard outside. Hours later, a heavy step, and a sound of tearing flesh. Finally Ember says that she is ready to pray. Her usually serene demeanor has become snappish.
After eight orisons Remmy is conscious and the party is in much better shape. He is given the dagger that Hazrad was holding in trust. Remmy notes that the coins in the chest are more than they can carry, but are worth more than the silver that many of them are currently weighed down with. As a party, they decide that this treasure will not be divided up – anyone is free to take as many coins as they want, and it will become their personal treasure. If they wish to leave silver behind in order to carry more, it is with the understanding that whatever they leave behind is no longer theirs, and is subject to division later as if newly found.
Ember tells them that evn though Remmy is now mobile, she will be resting again. Hungry voices object. Ember insists that they are not yet in a good condition to traverse the tombs. After a few brief objections, people settle in to wait. Ember tries to clear her mind and rest despite the gnawing in her stomach. When she last prayed, Glöð revealed to her a new spell, useful for turning spoiled food into healthful nourishment. She feels loved and supported. She tries to focus on that feeling, despite the grumblings around her.
After four more hours she allows the group to emerge. The carcass of the tapestry creature is gone, but pieces of its flesh are scattered in a sticky pool. Ember had thought to use her new spell on it to make it edible, but so much the better to get everyone moving. “There will likely be food for us at the Maidens,” she says in a voice that is meant to be encouraging but sounds chiding.
It is just a short walk to the ladder that will take them to the level of the tombs, but already an argument is brewing about who will haul up the dog. Fortunately Bhelgarn was able to find the mechanism that opens the stone trapdoor from below. A number of them feel dizzy or feint after the ladder climb. Back through the long stone corridors, and the room of bone. A curious thing – someone has cleared a path through the room, from door to door, so that it is not necessary to walk on the bones.
More hallways, the room with the jester coffin, activating the ramp. The party is halfway up the ramp when shouts sound out and they are pelted with rocks. Fist-sized pieces of rubble, taken from the broken altar above, rain down on them – one strikes Odleif, two Pooches. Morgan gets her sleep spell off, centering it on the room above, and the attack ceases. A few seconds later, WolfBane completes her spell and a body or two more hit the ground. The lead party members rush up the ramp.
By the time Ember makes it to the ruined temple above, most of the men are dead, throats slit by Morgan and others following her example. Only a few are left. Some of the party members are searching the bodies, a few are arguing about whether to kill or tie up the leader. The group appears nearly identical to the Gormites from the level above – same chainmail, blue tunics, gold masks. Eleven of them. As Hazrad mounts the ramp and attains the room, he seems shocked by the carnage. “In a Temple,” he mutters darkly, “Desecration! Doom!”
Ember shakes her throbbing head and calls Bhelgarn over to bind the men left alive, but in so doing catches Thrud’s eye. His face is ashen, his eyes wide in fear. “Blod…så mye blod…” he whispers, then turns and flees out the door. Ember, Odleif, and Morgan sprint after him. As Odleif pushes open the stone pivot door, Ember and Morgan simultaneously turn to the remainder of the party, “Stay here!” they both command, then dash out.
Thrud is far down the hall ahead of them, but they do see him turn the corridor toward the revolving passage, and not the yellow mold room, thank Glöð. He is ahead of them through the door as well, and by the time they reach it the door will not budge and they hear the grinding of stone against stone. “Go after him?” says Morgan.
“No,” says Ember, though her voice is choked with emotion, “we are in no condition to pursue and we have no idea which way he went. It could take us hours to search and the rest of the party needs us.” They return to the vandalized temple with heavy steps.
By the time they get back all of the gormites have been slain. Apparently they were camped out here – there are a few days worth of food and water, and a few bedrolls. The food has been gathered up into a pile and the others are clustered around it greedily, with no watch set on either the ramp or the door. Hazrad is arguing that the mushrooms have to be separated, but few are listening. “That’s alright,” says Ember soothingly, “Glöð has seen our need and has granted me a spell to protect us.” She begins her benediction, waving her hands generously over the assembled food. Later, as everyone is eating lustily, Hazrad is still picking mushrooms out of his share and throwing them bitterly on to the floor.
Having eaten, drunk, and rested, the party is in much better order. Morgan takes a gold mask from one of the men and encourages anyone without one to do the same. Iris relieves the apparent leader of his sword.
They move out and down the hall. Odleif studies his notes and with a push of a button is able to summon the revolving passageway, but Thrud is not inside. Odlief thinks he is pressing the button to the room of the Magi but the party finds themselves opening the door to the entryway of the Maidens. The males, less Hazrad, wait in the hall while the women enter.
Pandora is pleased to see the party, and overjoyed when they show her the dented Zargonite helmet. She congratulates them all and, through Hazrad, invites them to formally join the Warrior Maidens. “What do we have to do, and what’s in it for us?” demands Morgan, leaving it to Hazrad to translate more diplomatically.
With much back and forth, Hazrad explains that there would be a religious ceremony wherein the female warriors of the party would pledge their loyalty to the Goddess Madarua. Those of the party who are not female, or who are not warriors (WolfBane), or who are not of age (FluffyKitty) would be allowed to become lesser members. Once the party has been accepted into the sisterhood, the Maidens will supply them with food and drink, and will guide them anywhere in the pyramid they wish to go, provided it does not compromise their mission of guarding the upper level against the Gormites and the Magi.
Speaking of Gormites, Pandora relates that the Maidens who accompanied the party to the fifth level returned just before the Gormites did, and were able to warn their sister Maidens. Only because they knew the usual way was blocked, and that they would have to go around, before the Gormites realized it. The Gormites returned to their dormitories on the second level and found all of their comrades slain. They sent parleys to the Maidens and the Magi demanding to know who did it and the Maidens told them that it was the party. The Gormites demanded the return of the helmet and the Maidens told them that the party did not have it. They were very angry and vowed revenge upon the entire party, and threatened to attack the Maidens if they helped the party again. The Maidens sent them on their way. Pandora regrets that she was not able to warn the party, but the Gormites took to walking the halls and camping in rooms in large numbers, so that she did not think it was wise to send out Maidens in small numbers. She was worried that the Gormites might try assaulting the Maidens in revenge and she needed all her people together.
FluffyKitty interrupts the long and complicated narratives with “Cookie? I can have cookie?” pleadingly. Pandora waves her hand and maidens carry the “child” to the table to feed her, and offer the others food and drink as well.
At the end of the discourse, Pandora again offers membership in the maidens to Morgan, Iris, and Ember, and lesser membership to the others. Remmy shakes his head, Ember, WolfBane, and Odleif politely decline, but the others agree. Once they understand that Morgan and Iris are to join, there is much excited talking among the maidens, and Pandora sends three of them out. She explains that they must retrieve supplies from the Undercity for the ceremony, and that it will take half a sleep or so for them to go there and back.
While everyone waits, Hazrad continues to field people’s questions for Pandora. Many people want to know where the food comes from, and Pandora explains that it is all grown in the undercity. Because it needs to be brought up by maidens in small groups, Pandora can feed the party while they are here, but can’t really turn over a large amount at a time. She can request that the next time a relief group is sent up, and the next time and so forth, that they each carry some extra food, so that the party could build up a supply over time. In perhaps four tens’ worth of sleeps you could have enough for a week without re-supply. Water is available in the undercity, but it is too heavy for such a long journey, so it is fetched from the fountains on the fifth level to supply the maidens here.
Many people ask about the masks. This is harder, and it is unclear how much Hazrad is translating directly and how much he is filling in as best he can. Concrete items like food and weapons seem to have good correspondencies between the Alaysian he speaks and these people’s language. Theology and spiritual matters are not as obvious. He believes that the masks are totemic – that people wear the masks hoping to attain the powers of the thing depicted on them, though whether these powers are real, spiritual, or psychological is not clear. The maidens wear the face of the Goddess to become like the goddess. Other people have animal totems, and Hazrad says there is something in her tone for these people – something between pity and derision. Pressed about the rat-men, Pandora does not seem to indicate that wearing a mask can make you actually turn in to the creature, though her language is frustratingly vague. The masks are worn during all waking hours, except for eating.
Asked about Thrud, they say they have not seen him. Odleif asks whether he can keep the Zargonite helmet, and Pandora agrees.
The maidens who were sent for the ceremonial items have not yet returned. The party organizes a search for Thrud, delayed by Iris vacillating about whether she will or will not come with. This time, they do ask for two of the maidens to accompany them. They look first in the abandoned temple, where the draco lizard was slain. Thrud is behind the altar, with a tapestry half over him. He is weak from hunger and fear, and has dark circles around his eyes, but is quite human and is not wounded any more than when he ran off.
On their way back down the hall, the party is met by a group of humans in robes. Their masks are of leering, horned, but humanoid faces. They carry, and swing, incense burners. At the sight of the party some begin to chant, others to shout aggressively. Morgan looks to the maidens. They are hard to read, since their masks betray no facial expressions, but their bodies are relaxed, not tense. Morgan holds up her hand for the party to halt. The robed men advance on them, their chanting growing more fervid. “Hazrad, what’s going on?” says Morgan.
After a brief exchange with the maidens, Hazrad says, “Too many mushrooms. They think they are powerful clerics, and we are demons. They are trying to turn us. If we react accordingly, they should leave us alone.”
The party “cowers” as they slip by the “priests”. They seem quite satisfied with themselves, having “driven out the demons” and proceed on their way to the temple. The party returns to the maidens’ dormitory.
Some time later the maidens who were dispatched to the undercity return. Morgan asks whether the males of the party may stay in the dormatory rather than the hall. Pandora replies that they are welcome to move inside, but that she would like to use party members as guards (along with the maidens) on a rotational basis. The guards mostly wait in the hall outside and listen for the rumble of the revolving corridor. Morgan agrees.
Pandora and all of the maidens, as well as the party members who will be participating in the induction ceremony, leave. Ember, the recuperating Thrud, Remmy, Odleif, Pooches, and WolfBane remain in the maidens’ living quarters. Pandora sets the revolving corridor to the northeast, goes first under the statue archway, and presumably unlocks the door, though no one in the party sees her. The maidens remove their shoes and leave them just inside the door of the temple. As the last party member enters and does the same, Pandora locks the door behind them.
As the ceremony begins in the temple, those left in the dormitory can hear chimes and smell incense. Once he is confident that the ceremony has begun, Odleif asks WolfBane to accompany him, slips out, and manages to use the revolving passageway to attain the star-filled hallway before the temple of the Magi. After knocking on the door, Odleif feels his mind contacted. The Magi leader says that the lives of everyone in the party were spared in return for their promise to rid the upper pyramid of the maidens. Odleif acknowledges this, but points out that they also were promised a week’s worth of food for destroying the Zargonites, and that they did do this. He has brought the helmet to proove it. The Magi leader says that he is appreciative of this, but it does not make up for the betrayal of their promise to evict the maidens. He is inclined to call the whole deal a draw. Odleif and WolfBane leave the helmet outside the door and return to the maiden dormitory.
Near the northeast corner of the Temple of Madarua is an altar covered with a green and white cloth. On the altar sits a 3’ tall statue of a woman holding a sword and a sheaf of wheat. To each side of the statue is a large white candle, and these are promptly lit. In front of the altar itself are three small braziers with incense, and these are next made to burn as well. White drapes hang on all the walls and the floor is covered by a green carpet. The room is dust-free and has been scrubbed clean – it is easily the cleanest and most orderly room in the pyramid, and nothing betrays that it is hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years old. Even skeptical Morgan feels a sense of ease and peace here.
Hazrad, Bhelgarn, and FluffyKitten are kept back while Morgan and Iris are led to the altar, so no translation is possible. The maidens join hands in a circle around them, with Pandora behind the altar and the others forming a complete ring. They chant in unison and then pray, each saying something in turn. They release hands and demonstrate, by gestures, that Morgan and Iris are to draw their swords. As both women do, there are low gasps from some of the maidens. In the candle-light both blades are bright and reflective, Iris’ every bit as much as Morgan’s, both blades looking newly forged and keen-edged. Again by gestures, the women are given to understand that they are to cut their finger and smear the blood along the length of their blade.
That being done, they lay their blades on the alter and face the statue of Madarua. Pandora says words, slowly and carefully, and the woman repeat them. Iris’ diction is clear, though she has no idea what she is saying. Morgan’s pronunciation is terrible – almost deliberately so. Is it any less a sacrilege to swear to a god you don’t intend to worship if you deliberately blunder the oath? Or does that just make your transgression the worse?
[Later, in response to Iris’ query, Hazrad will tell them that she said “I swear to uphold the honor of Madarua, even with my own blood if necessary.”]
From behind the altar Pandora produces a green tunic and a bronze mask, one for each of the women, and fits them carefully. A maiden leaves the circle and goes to the three others, each in turn, fastening on them each a simple bracelet with a bronze bead carved into the image of a woman’s face. Pandora produces a short length of iron with a shape at the end, and holds it over one of the candles. In a few seconds it glows red-hot as if it were in a forge. With this she brands each of the women, and they come away with a sickle and sheaf of wheat on the inside of their left wrist.
The maidens join hands again around Morgan and Iris and offer closing prayers. After that the decorum of the ceremony is over, and the maidens rush to embrace their new sisters. “Yeah, yeah, I love you too,” says Morgan snarkily, “but I need to get drunk now so let’s go home.”
Once back in the dorm, Morgan uses Hazrad to request a fermented drink, and is pleased to find they they indeed have a store of a kombucha-like fermented mushroom-water. She tilts her newly-placed bronze mask back as she drinks. “Ugh, Alfheim red that’s not.” Then later, “Okay, I’m getting used to the taste, but it’s pretty weak. I’m going to have to drink an awful lot of that to get drunk.”
Hazrad uses her running commentary as an excuse to “translate” to Pandora. He asks her what the maidens expect of them now. Pandora says that while orders might come from her superiors in the undercity, she herself has no further requests – the party has completed everything she might ask of them. He asks if the party should go to the undercity, and she answers if that is what they want. He asks about whether the party should set up their own lair, rather than imposing further on the maidens. He hints that it might be helpful to them to control some place higher up in the pyramid. Pandora agrees, that it would be strategically valuable to have more pyramid territory under the control of the maidens. Now that the party has defeated two groups of gormites, securing their old quarters would be a great idea. If between the maidens and the party they can convince the gormites to abandon the upper pyramid, then they will all be more secure and will only have to worry about the Magi.
Hazrad turns to the other party members. “If we could clear the second level, the maidens would be happy to have us use it as our base. We would have to deal with the fairy-folk and maybe some lizards, but I think we are up to that, now. Then we would be near the surface and it would be easy for us to leave. We can amass the supplies we will need and store them there. We can either wait there and have the maidens supply us a little at a time until we have enough, or we can have them guide us to the undercity and we can haul out all the food we need in one go.”
Morgan nods and pulls at her drink. “Or,” she thinks to herself, “We can just make a quick raid on the Magi’s food stores and then high-tail it out.”