The group moves down the passage to the east, toward the glowing red light. They see the fallen bookshelf, and books and papers scattered everywhere. Perry examines the three pools and decides he's going to test their effects, so he grabs three random books off the shelves and drops one book into each pool. I ask him to make a Luck roll, to see if he accidentally grabs one of the six things you can find if you search this room, and he rolls a 20. Rolling a 20 on a luck check has to be really bad luck, right?
Finmunni searches the room and discovers Sigbert's discarded, acid-eaten shirt amongst the debris on the floor. Their friend came this far! There is hope that he still lives.
Meanwhile, Durwen and Wilfred find the alcove, and notice that the two curtains meant to conceal it are drawn back. They speculate as to the presence of some sort of secret door. Perry takes the cue and begins pulling things off the shelves, thinking one of them might be a hidden trigger for the door. I have him make a Luck roll again to see if he finds one of the five remaining special items. He rolls another 20. I tell him that he goes to pull out a book and tugs on a piece of vellum next to a book instead, with such force that he tears it in half. It's a translucent sheet covered with translucent, inscrutable writing. Perry shrugs and drops the pieces to the floor. Unbeknownst to him, it was a scroll of Eel's Grasp, a custom wizard spell.
Durwen and Wilfred locate the stone that triggers the secret door, and it slides back to reveal a dusty stairwell, running up to the west and down to the south. Before they step out, however, Oswald gives the room one last once-over, wondering if there is anything that has escaped Perry's inadvertent destruction.
He rolls a 16, and I tell him that, under a heap of miscellanea, he finds a massive square book, about 16" x 16" and 6" thick. It is bound on front back, and sides by heavy pewter plates, hinged on one side, and secured with an intimidating lock. It's icy cold to the touch, coated in a thin layer of frost, and engraved with an intricate ice crystal pattern. Hm.
Durwen happens to have a set of thieves' tools (random starting equipment), and tries to use them. I grant that in his work as a tanner he uses fine tools to scrape and clean animal carcasses, so I allow a skill check against the lock's DC of 20. He rolls a 19, +1 for his AGI, and opens the lock. Oswald tells him to set the book on the floor, and everyone stands back as Perry uses his spear to flip open the cover.
The sound of howling wind issues from the open "book," and a few scraps of loose paper on the floor are immediately sucked into it. The pull is strong, but not irresistible, and a few of the PCs take a step closer to peek inside. It's like a window into a dark night, through which flurries of snow whip with great speed. They feel the freezing cold and howling winds of another, distant world. Perry levers the book shut, and everyone ponders this unusual discovery.
"Might come in handy some time," says Oswald. He cuts a couple of strips of cloth from Sigbert's old shirt, uses one to pad the lock (in order to keep it from locking inadvertently), and wraps and ties the other around the outside to hold it shut. Then, he carefully places the book into his chest (inherited from Colby the Butcher), and places the chest back in his burlap sack.
Durwen steps out into the stairwell and inspects the floor for signs of anyone's passing. He picks out three sets of footprints heading up. The consensus is to follow them, since that's clearly the way their friends went, but Finmunni wants to investigate the chamber she sees down the stairs first. So she, Durwen, and Oswald cautiously descend.
They step into a chamber that seems to have been untouched for ages. In the wall directly opposite is a closed wooden door set with an iron ring, but what captures their attention are the two humanoid skeletons, one dangling in each of the near corners of the room. They are wearing armor and holding swords, and appear to be suspended from the ceiling by wires. Closer inspection reveals that their bones, armor, and weapons are completely fabricated from papier-mâché; they're oversized puppets. The wires holding them up run to a central pulley mounted on the ceiling, and then into the wall above the door.
Oswald ties the end of the rope to the iron ring, and returns to the side of the room opposite the door. The three companions take hold and pull. The door pops open, and as it does so the puppets leap forward in a clatter of limbs, weapons flailing, toward the open doorway, before reassuming to their limp attitude. Finmunni crosses to look through the door, and sees a set of very stairs descending away into the darkness. They surmise correctly that this bizarre puppet trap was designed to startle intruders into falling down the stairs. They count themselves lucky to have found their way in through the back door of this dungeon.
Despite the protestations of her comrades, Finmunni decides to take advantage of her dark vision and explore a little further on her own. She creeps down the steep stairs to a corner, and peers around. 10' ahead, the stairs reach a level floor, which gives way to a dark chasm before continuing on the far side. The chasm is thick with webs, enough to discourage her from proceeding further. She turns back.
Finmunni, Durwen, and Oswald reset the the skeleton puppets by pulling them back into their original positions, figuring that if the dog men ever decide to come after them, they'll get a nice surprise. The skeletons click into place, and the three return to the rest of the group.
At the top of the stairs, they find the iron rungs that ascend into the chimney. Everyone packs up their belongings, and Finmunni leads the way up.