With the ghouls' remains burned to a crisp the party packs up and starts backtracking along their trail (with a mix of grumbling and enthusiasm). The trail is not particularly hard to follow, at least for a while, but after several hours traipsing generally northwest, the signs grow thin and faint as the dense undergrowth and tall trees give way to more open woodlands. Enthusiasm wanes and grumbling increases. By mid-afternoon, only Maro seems intent on continuing along the possibly-lost trail.
Finally Raúguey stops dead. "Enough! This is accomplishing nothing."
"I agree, Raúguey," pants Ohwatoo, leaning on Jonquil's shoulder to knock a stone out of his shoe. "There's no telling how far those creatures traveled before we encountered them. We could be marching for days out here, and we don't have time for that."
"We must find whoever or whatever was responsible for creating those ghouls and put an end to it!" Maro shouts.
"Maro, be reasonable. Those things were old, maybe years old," says Locky. "We could search for weeks and not find where they came from."
Rawon swigs from a flask and says, "Besides, there's no guarantee we can keep on their trail. Since we saw that dead deer there's been only the faintest signs. Even Mordikarr is having a hard time tracking, and he grew up out here."
Mordikarr nods. "Sun burns away smelly thing trail. Soon we will have nothing to follow."
It takes more convincing, but finally Maro concedes and the party turns about and starts backtracking. It's early evening when they finally reach the ruined tower. Rawon and Mordikarr take a careful look around before the others approach, looking for any signs of recent occupation, but the site seems undisturbed. While some set up camp, the others poke around for a good spot to cache supplies. By the time dinner is ready, the group has identified two spots, the back corner of the tower cellar, and a partial wall with a lot of loose rock around it, that could be used to cache gear. After dinner the group settles in to extra-alert watches and the nightly routine. It's a quiet night, the only disturbance marked by the return of Ava from her nightly scouting trip. "She no see dead things," reports Mordikarr.
The next morning dawns bright and clear, and the group is quick to pack up and move out. Rather than backtracking along the road, the group takes Mordikarr's advice and strikes out to the southeast, headed directly for Needle Spire. It's a bit rough to start, but once the group reaches the prairie-like plain, travel is swift, and they reach the tower by mid-morning. Leaving the hirelings and mules at some distance (mules contentedly grazing, hirelings nervously watching), the party approaches the black door set into the tower's southeast face. Ingvild examines the lock again, sliding aside the cover-plates and peering inside, then peering at the rod/cylinder/cap assembly. "I think it'll fit." He looks back at the rest of the group, spread out a dozen feet back. "Ready?" There are various nods in answer, so he slides the key-thing into the slot. It fits perfectly. "Here goes," he mutters, and turns the protruding handle.
"No go!" Ingvild frowns then pulls out the key. "Just a minute." He removes the cap, pulls off the tube, reverses it, then reassembles the device. "Let's try this again." Slide. Thunk. Twist.
The black door vanishes, revealing a circular room with glowing golden walls. Raúguey moves forward, but Ingvild holds up a warning hand. "Just a minute." He fiddles with the key, twisting it back to vertical. The door remains open. Twist to the left. Door reappears. Twist right. Door vanishes. "Door goes up. Door goes down," mutters the thief, then he pulls the key out, leaving the door gaping wide. "OK!" he calls, and the rest of the group presses forward and peers inside.
The chamber is circular, but like the vault, the golden glow provides light but also obscures vision, you can only see about 30 feet in. It's Ohwatoo that notices the oddity. "Gentlemen, I hate to mention this, but that room... it's bigger than the tower itself!"
Party members take turns peering at the interior and exterior walls, and eventually everyone agrees that the room shouldn't fit inside the tower, which is only about 20 feet across at the base. Ohwatoo guesses that the room is about 60 feet in diameter, assuming it's circular.
"There's something in the center," says Maro. "Hang on. He steps down [recall that the spire is partially buried] and a few paces in. "There's a pillar or something, about 30 feet in. Looks to be three or four feet tall." He turns back to the door and points to the wall. "There's another lock mechanism here too."
"OK, we tried the key, it works. Now can we keep moving back to town?" asks Durego.
Though the party had set a quasi-plan for if they were able to open the tower, I wanted to allow them a chance to revise things, thus the pause.