The party rests with the maidens a complete day, with Ember both tending wounds, changing dressings, and other mundane care, and curing people magically every four hours. At the end of the day of rest and recuperation, everyone but Thrud is at full health.
Besides peppering Hazrad with questions for Pandora, the party discusses their next move. The consensus is in favor of establishing a base on the second level. After rest, most of the party proceeds to ready themselves. Ember remains resting with the maidens, Thrud guarding her, and FluffyKitten playing at being a kid, but the others set out.
With the new notes to decode the revolving room symbols, it is easy to find the corridor leading to the Gorm Temple. From this side, the door is not electrified – until the party nears it! Bhelgarn tries his old trick of securing the key to the end of his pole and gets the door open. The Temple is little changed – but three bodies, wrapped in sheets, lie in front of the altar. After an initial scare, the party approaches. The bodies don’t move. The party recalls, some guiltily and some not, that although most of the slain gormites were fed to lizards, the three executed after interrogation were left locked in the bee cage. These could be those three bodies, removed and laid to rest in a more dignified manner.
Up the ladder and through the trap door, the party enters the complex of gormite rooms. The place has been disturbed – the cage is open and empty, the chain mail suits have been neatly piled, and the general mess and disorder left by the party in destroying the bunk beds for makeshift torches has been tidied. The rooms are otherwise empty, though. After some discussion, they decide to double-spike the bee-room door and one of the dorm doors, and leave the other dorm door open for access.
The team starts by having Bhelgarn and Odleif exit the bee room to spike the outside of the door. However, they are no sooner through the door when they see three giant centipedes in the room. Bhelgarn’s thrown axe cleaves one in two, but Odleif misses with an arrow. The remaining two centipedes scuttle away hurriedly and squeeze themselves under the far door. After securing the door, the pair do the same to one of the exterior dorm doors, so that only one dorm door, the one closer to the statue in the hallway, is free to open and close. They then unpack a bit and make camp.
After a brief break, they return to the central room where the ladders lead to the first level. This time they go through the items carefully, with an eye toward anything that might be useful. Leaving behind gears and other mechanisms, they come away with a sealed clay pot of thick oil, a set of tongs, two rods that are perhaps axles, and a large anvil that can only be carried by two of them at a time. All of these are returned to their base complex.
A second foray is made to a room that Iris has been in, but no one else. In it are bales of long-rotted cloth, and crates of what might have been food centuries ago. In the arid environment it has dry-rotted rather than moldered.
Continuing down the hall, Odleif cautiously opens the door to the room that had housed the pixies. They are nowhere to be seen, but the boxes and crates remain. Odleif is so intent on finding the pixies, that he fails to notice how the door scrapes the stone floor at the end of its arc, generating sparks which ignite a thin trail of powder on the floor. Bhelgarn though, just behind him, sees well enough. He pushes past the human and dashes into the room, stamping on the quickly burning powder until it is out, and then kicking the unburned trail to disperse it, a trail which led to one of the crates.
Opening all the crates, the party removes what they find from the sawdust packing and consolidates them all in one box. They carry the haul back to their base. It consists of 19 small sacks full of powder, 23 “candles” of powder wrapped in waxed paper (like the ones taken previously), 16 candles that are longer, slimmer, and have a wooden holder or support stuck in them, and 45 strings set with little clusters of cylinders, somewhat like bunches of grapes. Many of these strange items are leaking powder, have their paper rotted through, are cracked, etc., but some are intact. Bhelgarn believes that he could sort through them and separate out the good from the bad. Although they appear to be designed to be lit, he is not quite sure what would happen when a “working” one is lit.
After that they quickly check on the green slime room. The slime is still there, so they have a means of waste disposal for their base.
They again pass through the central access room and into the east corridor. They first check the room that had been abandoned, where they had stored the dead bodies. Before there had been bits and pieces of bone and flesh about, and lizard tracks in blood. Now there are just faded stains on the floor. Although they searched before, they confirm that all the furniture is empty and worthless, the sleeping pallets are dry rotted and useless, etc. For the last door on the level, they prepare to open the room that had a giant gecko lizard in it before. Two people can stand in the doorway, so Odeif presses himself against the great stone door to open it. Iris kneels and prepared her bow. Morgan stands above and behind her, with a bow borrowed from Odleif. The size difference between the two women is enough that they will both be able to shoot.
With the door open, they can clearly see the gecko behind the bed on the far side of the room, with just its head and tail sticking out. Iris’ arrow sinks deep into the mattress, raising a cloud of dust. Morgan’s arrow pierces the lizard’s tail, enraging it. It climbs over the bed and charges the door.
Iris shoots (again hitting the bed), then moves back; Morgan barely has time to set down her bow and draw her sword before the thing is on her, sinking its peg-like teeth deep into her arm and holding on. She slices at it with her sword, but it thrashes its head violantly, further opening the wound on her forearm. Blood flows freely and Morgan passes out from shock.
Pooches leaps over the scrambling Iris and bites the gecko in its flank, getting it to drop the unconscious and slumped Morgan. As the lizard turns to the dog, Pooches goes for its throat, and now it is the lizard’s turn to collapse. As Pooches savages the body, Iris binds Morgan’s wound and then listens for her breathing.
“She’s ok for now,” Iris pronounces, “but we need to get her to Ember.”
Bhelgarn volunteers to carry her, and Hazrad to guard him, since the dwarf’s hands will be occupied. Both the ladder and key for the electric door seem impractical, so they elect to go the not-yet-used route down the stairs and then look for the room of the maidens.
Meanwhile, only four of the party (not counting Pooches) remain on the second level. Odleif, Iris, and Remmy stride boldly into the gecko’s room, ready to claim its treasure. WolfBane waits outside in the hall, thank-you-very-much. They are halfway across the room to the bed when a second gecko drops from the ceiling in their midst and begins snapping at them. Although startled at first, in the room with space to maneuver, they soon have that beast slain as well, and Remmy has now learned of the power of his magical dagger.
Remmy finds a gold-inlaid mask of a bird-creature behind the bed, but nothing else of interest in the room. Besides the bed, there is a writing table, a chair, and a chest, but all are aged and worthless. The chest holds only rotting linens. “There aren’t even candles,” muses Iris. “I wonder how they wrote in the dark?” That is not something even elves with their infravision can do.
“I’m athinkin’ this room is from afore they can see in the dark, from afore they stopped writin’,” suggests Odleif.
Remmy adds, “I’ll bet someone took all the candles already.”
With the last room on the level clear, the four remaining party members retreat to rest in their base complex while they wait for Morgan. After several hours, Ember is able to use all of her healing on Morgan, restoring her to fighting readiness. Morgan tells Bhelgarn and Hazrad to return to the base via the gorm temple and ladder, rouse the others, then wait 15 minutes and set out from the west doors of the central room. She will take three maidens with her to come up the stairs, and they will meet in the middle. Thus, they will know the level is secure and will be able to show the maidens where their base is. Ember and Thrud go with Bhelgarn and Hazrad, but remain in the gorm base. FluffyKitten remains with the maidens, playing in the dark and eating as much dessert as she can beg and wheedle from them.
The timing works out well and Morgan and the maidens are halfway up the stairs when they meet the party coming down. The upper party turns around and they all make to return. As Morgan walks down the hall, she turns and asks, “Has anyone checked this door?” indicating a tracing of cracks in the stone on the north wall.
Remmy listens at the door and declares that he hears birds. Odleif opens the door a crack and sees pigeon-sized creatures with leathery bat-like wings flapping or roosting about the room. They all have a single long proboscis rather than a beak. He lets the door close as rapidly as he can: although some of the creatures were flying toward the door none make it through.
Everyone agrees that Wolfbane should come to the fore. She casts her sleep spell, but in the middle of it she grimaces and recoils. Years of apprenticeship have honed her concentration, however, and she is able to complete the spell. Remmy, ear to the door, confirms that small bodies can be heard falling to the floor.
Wolfbane explains that during her casting of the spell she felt her mind contacted, nigh-invaded, and it was all she could do to complete the spell correctly. Now, however, the malign influence seems to be gone. “Kin those things cast spells?” wonders Odleif, but Iris shakes her head.
“Based on your description, I’d say they were stirges. And no, stirges can’t cast spells.”
Still, the party carefully arranges themselves at the door before they open it, and carefully look inside before they enter. All of the stirges indeed appear asleep. Bhelgarn and Remmy are the first in. In the midst of crushing their tiny heads with his great dwarven boots, Bhelgarn spots three gems loose on the guano-strewn floor. He collects them, and makes as to tuck them away in a belt pouch when Iris, next to enter the room, interjects. “That’s party treasure, that goes to Ember.”
The dwarf harrumphs. “I’ll give this to Ember when everyone gives their treasure to Ember.” He stares hard at Remmy.
The man returns his stare coldly. “Since I joined you, I’ve split up equally among us all the coins I’ve found. The only thing I have found that can’t be divided is a mask in the lizard room. It’s true I still have that. But if I recall correctly, you have a mask of your own from that woman who was killed by snakes.”
The dwarf mumbles under his breath in dwarven, pulls out the gemstones, and thrusts them rudely at Iris. “You can give them to her, then.”
“Do anyone else smell that?” asks Odleif.
“What, bird shit?” huffs Bhelgarn. “It’s hard not to.”
“Nah, fresh desert air,” says the woodsman. “An’ I swear I feel a draft.” He raises his lantern and begins scanning the stone walls. On the west side is a small opening, tall and narrow and no larger than the one in the bee room. It slants upward and goes in deeper than can be seen. Sticking his head right up to it, Odleif says wistfully, “I kin see stars.”
After the others have had a turn at the slot, they take the maidens into the room where the dead hobgoblin was found, right up to the spiked door of the bee room. Hazrad explains that the party will be camping on the other side of this door, and that the maidens are to pound on it if they need to contact the party. They say they understand.
Once the maidens retreat down the stairs, the party goes the long way around to the open dorm door. Odleif pounds a stake on the outside, so the door can’t be pulled open from without (or pushed open from within), and then the party retires to their suite of rooms, setting up bedrolls where they wish through most choose the bee room. The recovered anvil is moved into position to block the door. In theory, the last door could be pushed open from the outside, but only by something strong enough to move the weight of the massive door plus slide the anvil across the stone floor.
The rooms, and apparently the level, secure, the party shares a meal together from the store of foods captured in the gormite ambush, sets up a watch schedule, and rests, secure in their new base. A few of them wonder out loud whether they should get FluffyKitten, but no one volunteers to go.