Middle Earth: Sunset of the Fourth Age

Hunted, But Forewarned
a tricky surgery, and laying an ambush

Our heroes find themselves recuperating in one of the hobsters’ safe houses in a seedy section of the city of Isengard. Nwalme-Anna completely heals Rene of his chest wound, briefly putting an end to the chill of it.

Nwalme manages to determine that the Nazgul’s blade left a shard in Rene, which is working its way to his heart over time. Further, it can only be properly removed by someone of royal or imperial lineage. With that in mind, he and Araphor send for a surgeon, so that between the three of them it can safely be taken from Rene’s body.

The surgery goes smoothly at first, the surgeon exposing the shard for Araphor to pluck free. He does so but, being unprepared for the unnatural feel of the shard, he quickly lets it slip from his grasp. The sliver lands in the surgeon’s hand, digging in a bit. The physician maintains his composure, however, and Araphor pulls the shard free. Bringing it into direct sunlight, it bursts into cold green flame in his hand, disappearing quickly.

During the surgery, Thaliondor watches the PalaceCam scroll, along with Guthwyn. They note the Usurper and the obviously wounded Ring-wraith arguing, as well as the presence of two lieutenant “Empress Guards”.

Shortly after the surgery, a pounding on the front door sends the party rushing out the back, off to another safe house while some of the hobsters stall. In the new safe house, they get a report: roughly thirty “Empress Guard” had arrived, including two particularly intimidating lieutenants.

Araphor points out that it’s probably not coincidence that the Usurper captured two rings, and that there are now two new menacing leaders of the guards. Guthwyn and the rest of the party agree, and realize they need to stop these men – not only as probable Ring-wearers, but also that they continue to dog the party even to the new safe house. The party receives word that the group that “visited” their first sanctuary is now rapidly approaching their current one.

With a mere five minutes before the cadre of guards arrive, they begin to plan an ambush. Thaliondor points out that they’ve got to bottleneck through the doors, so that the guards’ numbers are not a great advantage; plans begin to evolve around that. Nwalme suggests hiding the back door via illusion, and Araphor points out that we might be better served by hiding the upper front windows, for hobbit snipers. Araphor also suggests laying down an Ice Slick just inside the door, to make anyone coming in particularly vulnerable.

A rough plan hammered out, they prepare to put it into practice.

The Cavalry Arrives
...although not even on ponies.

We find our heroes embroiled in battle between the Usurper’s Nazgul (for lack of a better identifier) and his henchmen, while unusually bright flames continue to ravage the “Seeker safe house” and spread to surrounding buildings.

Guthwyn suddenly finds herself floating several feet above the ground as the Ring- wraith’s incantation is completed. She continues to swing valiantly at the creature, however. Seeing her rather untenable position, the still-sighted henchman takes a swing at her, slashing her in the leg, crippling it – even as Thaliondor fells him with a mighty blow. Nwalme-Anna, also noting Guthwyn’s predicament, begins weaving an illusory support for her, trusting in her ability to believe to make it effective. Rene de Lumbule manages to get in a decent swing at the Nazgul at this time, too, which catches the Ring-wraith’s attention.

Behind the buildings, Araphor stands ready, arrow nocked, aiming at one of the two approaching henchmen sidling along the back alley walls. The hobbit at his side informs him that a group of diminutive reinforcements are coming up behind them quickly.

Nwalme’s spell creates a stable support platform for Guthwyn, which her supreme confidence in his abilities allows her to believe in. She braces herself against it, and bravely (if less than perfectly) continues to swing at the Nazgul. The Nazgul proves to be an excellent swordsman, feinting and delivering Rene a chilling stab to his chest. Staggering a bit but undaunted, he and Thaliondor continue to attack, the former slightly more effectively than the latter.

The henchmen approach the rear door. The hobbits approach the rear door. Araphor waits, aiming.

The Nazgul begins another spell, whispering and gesturing at Rene. Rene, fortified by a healing spell from Nwalme, continues to strike, doing some moderate damage. Guthwyn
and Thaliondor strike, too, but to less effect. As the Ring-wraith’s incantation is about to complete, however, a heretofore unnoticed hobbit delivers a solid blow to him with a sword! The Nazgul instantly shifts targets, and the hobbit finds himself engulfed in flame, immolating nearly instantly.

The henchmen get within a few yards of the rear door. Araphor fires, striking
one and causing him to drop his sword. They turn and flee as the hobbit
reinforcements reach the area.

With a masterful feint, Rene forces the Nazgul to open his defense, and he thrusts, his blade biting deep into the creature. At the pain, the Ring-wraith decides to fight another day, and suddenly disappears. The group looks around, unable in the heat of combat to discern who among them carries the Ring of See Invisible. Nwalme attempts his Mage Sight, but the foul thing appears to have truly gone. Even its evil aura is no longer
perceptible to Nwalme.

As Araphor and the hobbits race around the building and join the rest of the party, the blinded henchman is captured for questioning – and survives to do so, despite Rene’s attempts to execute him. Araphor attempts to Lend Strength to Nwalme, failing, and instead hands over his Powerstones as Nwalme continues to heal members of the party. As this goes on, and we wait for Guthwyn to return to solid ground. Thaliondor
pulls her down briefly, only to have her float back up again. Frightened residents of the nearby burning buildings begin trickling, then flooding into the streets, as the threat outside is no longer greater than the threat within.

The hobsters urge the party to move on to safety, and are escort them across the city to another safe house.

The Roof, the Roof, the Roof is...
...you know.

We continue with the buzz wars, adding a few new rumors, and hearing a few more.

Of note: the rumor that the Empress is under the control of the Usurper (ours, and somewhat true to boot) – caught on fairly well. Also, the rumor that the brutal quashing of demonstrations in the streets by “Empress Guards” are by the Empress’ orders. This idea is not ours… but then, if the Empress is under control, then this could be true without being damaging to our cause…

We find out that the Empress has safely reached Beren’s army, and hear that they are now doing well. They’re expecting to reach Isengard – by the Empress’ very optimistic estimation – in a couple of weeks.

After some debate, we decide that we need to present our own competing “Empress” within the city before the Usurper’s scheduled court appearance. We plan the appearance. The hobsters get involved, finding an actress to portray the Empress when Nwalme’s illusion goes away. There is some discussion over where to present it, and what exactly to present.

It is decided to give a speech about her escaping the Usurper’s control and fleeing the city to avoid being recaptured. Several of the more well-known party members (Guthwyn, Rene, Thaliondor and Nwalme) make sure they are seen with the “Empress” to lend credence to the illusion.

Araphor persuades the group to stage the appearance in more Empress-inclined areas, to best give it a chance to be believed, and for the seed of rebellion to best be planted firmly. He also manages to persuade Thaliandor not to wear his winged helm, to make sure he can be clearly recognized. The latter is perhaps the harder of the two persuasions…

The appearance goes over quite well, but not amazingly so. A lot of people appear to be convinced, and her appearance and words do catch on. An attempt by a hobster to drum up enthusiasm by chanting her name seems to work somewhat, but Nwalme’s attempt at a quip by the Empress falls a bit flat. Something about lacking a sense of humor, perhaps.

The appearance seems to have its intended effect. Keeping an eye on the “Empress” holding court in the Palace via the PalaceCam (and other news sources), we learn that the turnout is well below what the Usurper was hoping for, and the following days show even less turnout.

A day or so later, the Nazgul returns to town, along with some of the soldiers he rode off with. Guthwyn is the first to realize that he has returned due to his failure to capture the Empress before she could reach Beren’s army. The Ring-wraith proceeds to search through the city for the party, seeming to get closer and closer. The party braces, still fairly certain of their hideout and its security, but wary.

Their vigilance is not in vain, and may even have been inadequate. Within days, the Nazgul finds the safe house in which they are esconced, along with a handful of soldiers. He sends two of them around to the back of the building after sending one off briefly, obviously to call in reinforcements. Guthwyn sends Araphor off to guard the rear entrance while she prepares near the front door.

Knowing they can no longer hide, the hobsters, Thaliandor, and Nwalme throw open the windows, launching missile attacks: crossbows & Strike Blind. Thaliandor takes a few shots at the Nazgul, only one of which seems to have any effect whatsoever. Nwalme strikes blind one of the two soldiers at the Ring-wraith’s side.

Somewhere in this, the Nazgul gestures, and the building’s facade and roof burst into unusually bright flame. Araphor notices the light, but remains there to guard the rear door, keeping an arrow nocked, awaiting the coming soldiers. Guthwyn leaps through the flame-ringed door, entering into melee with the Nazgul, while Thaliandor finally gives up on attacking the Nazgul and instead focuses on the still-sighted soldier. Dropping his crossbow after one more round, he wields his mace joins the fray in the street.

Araphor continues to take note of the bright light of the flames on the building, and hears the calls of “fire”, but stands his ground, as two soldiers have rounded the corner of the block and are in view. (He figures to keep the rear exit free so that people can escape the burning building, as the color of the fire makes him suspect his water spells will be of little use.)

Gossip Is Shameful
...unless it's for a good cause

We find our heroes ensconced in the hobstersSeeker-proof safehouse in the “new” part of Isengard. The Empress has been smuggled out of the city, and the party is left to watch and wait for the right moment to act.

Details are sketchy…

We discussed the possibility of some hobbit assistance if it comes to confrontation with the Nazgul.

As for other events:
  • sized up the forces within the city ( Empress & City guards)
  • the Nazgul and 20-30 “Empress Guard” disappeared
  • the Usurper seen (via the PalaceCam scroll) hanging out in the Empress’ Solarium; Thaliondor suggesting we go in, Guthwyn suggesting that it’s likely to be trap
  • Nwalme unsuccessfully attempting to contact the Empress with news of the Nazgul and other forces’ movement
  • Araphor suggesting a whisper campaign to undermine the Usurper’s authority in the city
  • Nwalme missing contact with the Empress at the usual time the first day, but succeeding the second – finding her safe in Fangorn Forest
  • Starting the whisper campaign, something vague about the Usurper not having the Empress’ true authority; is catches on a bit
  • Two men organizing a “trade guild” meeting, discussing the situation with several plainclothes Empress Guard present, and Rene watching. The first man is about half right, but the gist of his arguments are right along the lines we’ve been promoting; the second one is subtly different, and with the urging of several Guardsmen, leads the crowd into marching against the Palace. The march is swiftly and brutally put down; several protesters are killed. The second speaker is seen being paid off by the formerly-dead lieutenant Guard, and is only perfunctorily imprisoned, unlike his counterpart.
  • A “buzz war” starting, different versions of what happened at this massacre – some believing it was the Empress’ forces, some believing it was the Usurper’s… two factions of believers, each with a good orator. The two groups end up gathering more and more frequently, guards just watching them, until a time when they congregate at the same time, near each other… and the Usurper-supporting group thrashes the other group, being better armed.
  • Usurper dispensing justice in the throne room more often, but fewer people showing up
  • Finding out that the Empress has reached Moria
Other rumors we’ve promoted:
  • The Usurper will be raising taxes still higher (Rene’s idea, to affect the conservatives more);
  • The Empress is completely under the Usurper’s control, testified to by her well-known hobbit servant

We hear of a skirmish with the army of “evil” Arnor, to the north (King Beren’s men) at one point…

As the buzz escalates, the Usurper calls for a public audience with the Empress in a couple of days in response to pressures to see her. To explain her absence from the public eye, he claims she’s been deathly ill.

We leave the party with some measure of success in promoting its rumors/truths, but preparing for the imminent audience. There are two approaches under consideration: debunking the Usurper’s “Empress” directly, and creating our own illusory one elsewhere in the city to cast doubt over both…

We've Almost Escaped!
Well, not quite all of us...

We find our heroes, the Empress, and two hobbitses standing at a stone secret door in the passage from the imperial apartments. We also find Rene and the Empress unconscious, Nwalme nearly exhausted, and Thaliondor hurting quite a bit.

Araphor asks Nwalme to look over the door for traps and magical wards; he finds none. One of the hobbit servants opens the door, and we find what seems to be an endless darkness on the other side. Thaliondor leads the way in, and the party discovers it to be a very large room, some of the far walls barely visible in the torchlight. The party also notices low, muffled noises within the chamber, of indeterminate nature or origin. Araphor, Thaliondur and Guthwyn explore along the walls, looking for a way out, while the rest of the party settles into the room, closing the door behind them. They find that they’re in a large crypt, containing the remains of numerous imperial personages. They also find an extremely large dead tree, one of those descended from the original light-bearing trees from the days before the sun and moon, which are closely linked to the line of human emperors. They fail to find any obvious exits.

Returning to the rest of the party to apprise them of the situation, it is discovered that the chatty hobbit is missing. Araphor, Guthwyn, and Rene set to tracking him through the dust on the chamber floor. Araphor discovers tracks – but not footprints. Rather, a swath of cleared space in the dust leads off into the darkness, as if something had been dragged off. Araphor asks Thaliondor for his Ring of See Invisible, and wears it as he, Guthwyn, Nwalme, and the now-awake Rene quickly head off along the swath, most drawing their swords as they go.

The trail leads to a point on the wall where there’s a fair amount of disturbed dust on the floor. Three panels are immediately in front of the group, in a vertical line up the crypt wall. Rene begins opening them. The bottom one contains a dead body, long undisturbed. The second contains a skeleton, which has been shattered and scattered throughout the niche. Rene uses his sword to poke against the niche’s back, but it seems solid. The last panel is out of reach, so Araphor suggests that Rene step on the second niche to get to it. Sheathing his sword, Rene climbs up onto the second niche, standing on tiptoe to reach the third. As his hand nears it, he calls out that it’s intensely cold. This doesn’t provide Nwalme or anyone else with a real idea of what might be behind it, but Guthwyn and Araphor stand ready to either side of Rene for whatever happens next.

As Rene reaches up to open the panel, it flies violently open; he manages to duck in time to avoid it. He sees nothing, however. Araphor (with the Ring of See Invisible) and Nwalme (with his MageSight) are able to see it, though, as unpleasant as it looks, all wasted and cadaverous. Nwalme recognizes it: a barrow-wight. He tells the group that swords can kill it, reassuring them, as they seem to have some doubts about this. Araphor quickly lends Nwalme some strength to light it up with an illusion for the rest of the party, while Rene jumps back to the ground. Nwalme calls out to Guthwyn, gesturing, “There, hit it!” and she does, managing to give it a nasty gash as it climbs exceedingly quickly down and begins to run for the rest of the party. Nwalme manages to create an illusion around it so it can be attacked, and Rene (torch abandoned, sword in hand) bolts after it, along with Guthwyn and Araphor, racing to defend the helpless (bound, gagged, & unconscious) Empress.

Thaliondor manages to see it coming in time to brace himself, and he connects a mighty blow, breaking the creature’s arm with his mace. This doesn’t prevent the thing from touching the Empress, however. She starts awake, her eyes widening as she notes her situation. He fights valiantly, managing to keep the creature’s attention long enough for the rest of the group to reach it, but finally is paralyzed by its chill touch, and he falls to the ground. Rene, Guthwyn, and Araphor surround the thing, Nwalme enhancing his illusion around it so that the party can see the effects of their blows. Rene manages to skewer the barrow-wight, which aside from making movement awkward, doesn’t seem to have much effect on it. As the thing writhes to escape the sword, Rene and Araphor realize that their thrusting attacks aren’t effective, whereas Guthwyn’s swinging is; she manages to sever an arm. They switch to slashing attacks, aiming for various body parts. Meanwhile, Rene calls out to the other hobbit to pull the Empress out of reach, promising him monetary reward (from the Empress) if he does.

The hobbit complies, dragging the bound (and struggling to escape) Empress off a ways, and unbinds her while the group continues attacking the barrow-wight. Guthwyn manages to decapitate it in a couple blows, but this does not slow it down. Rene severs one of its legs, but this only makes it slightly more awkward. The barrow-wight, meanwhile, manages to strike both Rene and Guthwyn, the intense cold of its grasp slowing them both down a bit, while continuing to dodge a fair number of attacks. Rene takes off its other leg, and Araphor severs its remaining (broken) arm, finally disabling it. He and Araphor put torches to the wight’s body, which burns readily with a green flame.

The Empress, now herself again, comes forward, first warning Rene not to take any of the imperial jewelry from the barrow-wight’s body. She then thanks the party for her release from the Palace, and goes about healing those she can, including the hobbit which was recovered from up in the barrow-wight’s niche, nearly frozen to death.

The party quickly gathers together, mindful of the Nazgul and Usurper behind them. The Empress leads them to the exit, a rather non-obvious door on the opposite side of the crypt. Araphor takes the point on the way up the stairs through that door, asking where it ends up before they emerge. The Empress explains how it comes out in or near the stable of an inn in a rather disreputable area of the city, and how she’s not entirely sure about the ownership of the inn these days.

Araphor and Rene sneak up to acquire some clothing for her, quickly, since she’s too recognizable. As they do, they note that the city guards are on full alert. They return to the passage with various outfits, and the Empress dresses in the mens’ clothing they bring. Araphor offers her some of his camouflage skin paint, which she uses on her face to help suggest a slight growth of facial hair.

While she paints herself, Araphor checks the PalaceCam scroll. The images are not very reassuring. In the throne room, the Usurper and the Nazgul stand together with a badly-beaten Smial. On top of that, the Usurper has Smial’s magic bag in his hand, open.

You're Coming With Us!
Do As I Say!

When we left our heroes, they were about to enter the Empress’ bedchambers, with many of the false Empress Guard — and a Nazgul — outside. Araphor and Rene had opened the door to the antechamber, pinning a guard behind it, with the Empress confronting them. She commanded them to stand down. Nwalme started casting Sleep.

Thaliondor, still in the grip of a frightful panic due to the Nazgul, pushes Rene through the door, knocking him down as he runs into the antechamber and away from where we know the secret door to be. Guthwyn bars the door to the outer room as Araphor steps into the antechamber and Nwalme takes a step forward, still casting.

A pair of hobbits appear, wearing livery of the Empress’ personal servants. The group assumes they are enemies, but they seem unarmed, so everyone ignores them for the moment. As Araphor pushes the door on the guard pinned behind it, one of the hobbits moves to begin kicking the guard — giving Araphor a different idea of the hobbits’ loyalties.

Nwalme takes a last step, standing just in front of the Empress in the final second of his spell-casting, and she touches him. Fear grips him, and he loses his own spell, too afraid to cast it on the Lady.

Thaliondor snaps out of his fright and turns around to help Rene stand. He then steps forward and picks up the Empress, taking her into the bedchamber. Rene moves into the chamber to begin looking for the secret door.

Araphor steps back into the outer room to use his Shape Plant spell, which is still on, to more effectively bar the outer door. It feels hot to the touch, so he abandons it to bar the inner door instead, now that everyone is inside. Just as he closes the inner door, the outer door explodes inward.

Nwalme has moved into the bedchamber and away from the Lady, and one of the hobbits recognizes him. The hobbit greets him warmly, reminding Nwalme how much he dislikes this particular hobbit.

Guthwyn moves to help Rene look for the secret door.

Nwalme asks the hobbit to find and save Smial; the hobbit says that then the guards will know they helped, and that they should go with us instead. Not willing to take the time to argue, Nwalme tells the little fellow to go find the secret door.

Thaliondor doesn’t get far with the Empress; she commands him to put her down, and he does so, apologizing frantically. Guthwyn immediately picks her back up, and asks for someone to clock the Empressr so she can’t continue to give commands. After a moment, the Empress commands Guthwyn to put her down, and Guthwyn complies.

Araphor and the kicking hobbit now enter the bedchamber, and Araphor begins barring that door, still using the Shape Plant spell. Rene tries to clock the Empresss, and succeeds in hitting her but not in knocking her out.

Nwalme asks Thaliondor to give him the Giant Strength potion, which he immediately drinks, thinking he’ll have the best chance to resist the Empress’ commands. The Empress tells Rene to defend his Empress – and he obeys. As Thaliondor moves to grab the Empress, Rene lunges at him, trying to stab him in the eye. Thankfully, Rene fails by the smallest of margins, his blade singing past Thaliondor’s ear.

Thaliondor grabs the Empress, and Guthwyn knocks Rene out. Nwalme takes the Empress from Thaliondor and moves into the secret passage. Thaliondor takes Rene. Nwalme manages to get a little way into the passage before the Empress commands him to put her down, which he does, apologizing.

Just as the Empress is telling Nwalme to take down Guthwyn, the latter steps forward and clocks her, knocking her out. Nwalme grabs Guthwyn and tries to throw her, but screws up badly and wrenches his arm and hand. Guthwyn breaks from him, as he begins to come back to himself.

The group — with Thaliondor carrying Rene, and Guthwyn carrying the Empress — move slowly down the corridor. Nwalme is low on fatigue, and slightly injured, so he’s moving as slowly as the laden party members.

They reach an area where there is sewage seeping down the walls, leaving a little bit on the floor. There in one of the the stone walls, the hobbits find the secret door.

Racing Through The Imperial Palace
To the Empress!

We find our heroes in the middle of the imperial apartments, racing to reach the Empress as intruder alarms sound throughout the Palace. Thaliondor is racing up the stairs to the second floor, toward the four guards looking on from there. Rene, leveraging his Empress Guard uniform, convinces the four guards at the main apartment doors to stand fast and prevent intrusion. Araphor and Guthwyn emerge from the corridor into the rotunda, running hard for the stairs, swords at the ready. Nwalme follows, after pausing briefly in the corridor to cast Mage Sight upon himself and draw his own sword.

One of the second-floor guards disappears into the Empress’ chambers, while two continue to guard the doors, and one begins moving across the rotunda to the top of the staircase. The guard lieutenant stands at the entrance to the Empress’ chambers, shouting orders to the guards —including the party, whom he takes for reinforcements. Thaliondor races across the second level, cocking his crossbow, passing the guard and taking up position next to the lieutenant, as ordered. Rene follows him, passing to ostensibly guard the staircase on the far end of the level, as per the lieutenant’s order. Araphor and Guthwyn reach the stairtop as the guard does, and, ignoring orders for one of them to stay there and help, pass him by as he sets himself. They reach the second guard, who is standing by the fake door (a closet), Guthwyn passing him as Nwalme reaches the top of the stairs and stops to be the “reinforcement” for the stairs. As the guard at the top of the stairs looks at Nwalme inquisitively, asking, “Do I know you?”, Nwalme begins to cast Daze upon him.

Meanwhile, the lieutenant turns to enter the antechamber to the Empress’ apartment. Thaliondor takes this opportunity to shoot him square in the back with his crossbow, felling him. Araphor points to this, saying, “What’s happening to the lieutenant?”, causing the guard next to him to turn away and see. Araphor all-out attacks him, sinking his broadsword deeply into the man’s leg, crippling it and sending him to his knees. Guthwyn and Rene turn around, ready to assist Araphor and Thaliondor, respectively. Failing his Daze spell, Nwalme pushes the guard, sending him tumbling down the stairs, and runs to join the rest of the party.

Araphor and Guthwyn attack the crippled guard, who valiantly defends himself from Guthwyn, even counterattacking. His skill with a sword keeps her from hitting him, but in the meantime he leaves Araphor free to attack him from behind. Araphor manages to cripple his sword arm, and he yields just before he slumps to the floor, unconscious. Meanwhile, Thaliondor and Rene enter the antechamber, where they find another guard at the ready, somewhat shocked to see the lieutenant on the floor with a bolt in his back. The two of them have at him, Thaliondor abandoning his crossbow in favor of his mace. They slam him against the wall and finally disable him, although not quite knocking him out. As they start to take him down, another guard appears from the apartments, along with the Empress herself! She calls out commandingly, ordering Rene and Thaliondor to put down their weapons. Knowing she is not acting of her own will, they ignore her. She commands a second time and Thaliondor hesitates, lowering his weapon a bit as the first guard falls to the floor. As the guard sees this, he and the Empress retreat back into the apartments, a solid thunk of a bar sounding behind the closed door.

Rene and Thaliondor call for Araphor to take care of the door, and he enters the antechamber, beginning to cast Shape Plant. While he casts it, Thaliondor grabs the not-quite-unconscious guard and manhandles him from the room, intending to toss him atop the body of the crippled guard, blocking the passage once Nwalme joins him and Guthwyn near the doors. However, the weight’s a little too much and he puts the guard down on the other side, away from the oncoming guards (the one Nwalme pushed, as well as three from the first floor). The three of them take up positions around the door, ready for the oncoming guards.

Thaliondor recovers his crossbow, loading it up. Nwalme begins creating a one-way illusion of a brick wall between the doors and the oncoming guards. Guthwyn yells to the lead guard, confusing him, at first getting him to believe that she’s on his side. As Guthwyn continues to confuse the guards, Nwalme leaves his illusion at the floor (intending to make it “grow” up when they advance), Thaliondor notes the sound of a door opening and closing somewhere along the hall behind him. Turning and seeing nothing, he calls out for the party to watch behind him. Nwalme turns to look but his Mage Sight shows him nothing. The guards, meanwhile, have noted Thaliondor and his cocked crossbow, and have huddled up together behind the rail that runs along this level of the rotunda. After a few more rounds of Guthwyn’s no-longer-effective attempts at confusion, Thaliondor loses patience and charges the guards, running up to them with his crossbow, hoping to make them break and run. The rear two look uncertain, but the front pair stand fast, bracing themselves. Thaliondor fires into them, taking one of them full in the chest, but not taking him down. He begins backing up, nearly tripping over the two disabled guards. The two leading guards charge Thaliondor, barreling into him full-on, knocking him to the floor. Thaliondor scrambles to his feet, and Nwalme moves up his illusion to ready it for when there’s a break between Thaliondor and the guards. Guthwyn steps up alongside Thaliondor to help fend off the guards. After a brief exchange of blows, none landing, they separate, and Nwalme puts the “wall” up.

At about the same time, the attention of everyone on the second floor of the rotunda is suddenly drawn to the appearance of… a Nazgul! (and, on a lesser note, a group of nearly a dozen guards down on the first floor, crossing to the base of the stairs). Nwalme and Guthwyn manage to maintain their composure enough to note that this Nazgul is not The Usurper. Thaliondor, however, becomes terrified and decides to run like hell. Just around this time, Araphor completes his Shape Plant spell, and puts his hands to the door, causing the bar holding it to become like putty and fall with a thump to the floor on the other side. He backs from the door, and Rene slams it open impressively — breaking the nose of the guard on the other side. Between his surprise at the barred door suddenly opening and the damage inflicted on him, he is stunned, leaving Rene to face the Empress. Araphor calls out, “We’re through”, as Thaliondor, Guthwyn, and Nwalme dash for the antechamber entrance,

Sneaking Through The Imperial Palace
A surreptitous "talk" with The Empress

Having left Smial behind to keep watch, the rest of the group has made their way into the royal apartments. The tunnel in put them inside a wall on the north side. A small window in the hall shows their only exit is through a bedroom, where six ladies-in-waiting are asleep.

After much debate, Nwalme uses one of the two Telereceive potions to infiltrate the Empress’s mind. He hopes to discover what her feelings are of the situation and, hopefully, some specific memories of the past year. He manages to get in deep enough to read memories of the last week. She is frustrated at her situation, including: the fake heir and that she has to keep up a charade about him; the fact that she is being lightly drugged to keep her from using her magicks; something that has been with her a long time (so Nwalme can get only a vague sense of what it is) that is impeding her ability to take control of her situation. She clearly is in control of her mind, and clearly does not agree with the outward appearances the group saw through the “Palace-cam” scroll.

Nwalme decides to use Mind-Sending to contact her. The very second he does, before he can even announce himself to her, she contacts him through a Mind-Sending spell of her own. (When relaying all this to the group, Nwalme informs them that Mind-Sending usually takes 4 seconds to cast; apparently she had some sort of contingency spell in place to make it take effect immediately.) During their very brief conversation, the Telereceive connection allows Nwalme to read much more than would normally have been available through the two Mind-Sending spells.

There is some sort of compulsion on the Empress that controls much of her actions. (Nwalme believes this is the “something” that’s been frustrating her.) It appears to affect the area — and seems weakest near the northern part of the palace. The Empress believes some sort of magical artifact is causing this. One thing is very clear: If the Empress sees or hears us — or even if she had not been alone when Nwalme first contacted her — she would betray us against her will.

The Usurper is keeping his quarters in the tower, but the most disturbing thing is he has one of the Rings. He has not yet become a full ring-wraith.

There are six or seven guards on the Empress’s chambers. Furthermore, NONE of the original Empress Guard are still around; they have been replaced by Riders of Rohan loyal to the Usurper. Except for us, anyone wearing Empress Guard uniforms is to be considered the enemy.

The Empress’s spell only lasted a few seconds before she had to sleep; it should have lasted a minute before it needed to be maintained.

After relaying this to the group, it was decided to contact Smial (via Mind-Sending) and have him sneak his way to join us. Alone, he has a good chance to do so. Then we can fight our way to the Empress’s chambers and leave via the secret door from her chambers into the wall. (There is no way to get from the wall we first entered through to the wall connected to her chambers.) On the northwest corner of the palace (which this wall will lead to) is a tunnel away from the area. Nwalme is expected to Sleep the Empress to keep her from betraying us.

Smial began making his way to us, but made two mistakes and the palace alarm went up. The group decide to take advantage of the disorder and begin making their way to the Empress’s chambers now.

Entering the women’s bedchambers, the group walked through to the hall, ignoring the women — except Nwalme realized one of them was keeping another from screaming. He vaguely recognized the woman doing the silencing, and she winked at him. He used his powerstone to fuel a nother Sleep spell.

While he did that, Thaliandor and Rene entered the hall. A guard in the hall asked what they were doing; Thaliondor stated that there are intruders, and the two began walking down the hall toward the main room, where the stairs to the second floor are. (Empress’s chambers are on the second floor.) The guard pulled his sword as Araphor emerged from the room, and he began moving forward to close. Guthwyn also stepped from the room and moved to back up Araphor.

Araphor attacked the guard, striking a solid blow.. Guthwyn took an all-out attack, aiming for the guard’s head. She hit easily (he flubbed his dodge) for a massive amount of damage, and the guard slumped to the floor. Guthwyn pulled the dead guard into the women’s bedchamber, while Araphor went to bar the door to the outside just as Nwalme emerged. Nwalme headed down to catch up with Rene and Thaliandor as Guthwyn and Araphor completed their tasks.

Pausing briefly on the threshold of the Great Hall, Thaliondor saw a few guards near the main entrance (far from where they were entering) with their attention on the main entrance — and their backs to him and the stairs. He started up the stairs with Rene close behind.

As he climbed the stairs, a guard on the second floor on the other end of the open area over the Great Hall called to Thaliandor for news of what was going on. “Guard the Empress!” “Well, duh.” Rene made his way up and started barking out orders, making it sound like they are looking for an intruder.

Orthanc You Very Much
Through the old tower and into the Imperial Palace

When Rene , Thaliondor , and Guthwyn rejoin the rest of the party after their visit into Orthanc, our heroes set about hatching a plan to gain entrance to the tower that night. We decide that having Nwalme create an illusion around us so that we can enter unseen is the best bet, even though it requires four separate illusions to do so, and will require very slow and somewhat frustrating movement.

We wait in the fringes of Fangorn, watching the guards take up their positions and patrols for the evening. Araphor sends up Stormdancer for a quick peek to see if any guards are in the tower. There are none visible, but the patrols on the ground are doing an excellent job, covering the area at varying rates so that the timing is always shifting. Still, we manage to get a handle on the important timing — that of crossing the causeway to the island. To be safe, however, Araphor suggests a ‘plan B’ to use in case of emergency: having Arod lead the other horses into the area, acting as a group of wild creatures, as a diversion. After some debate on the proper signal for Arod to create the diversion, Thaliondor points out that simply sending Stormdancer out of the illusion and flying about will suffice. Arod is instructed on the signal (and to keep an eye out for Stormdancer several hours hence), and Araphor sets about stripping down the horses and concealing the equipment we leave behind, camouflaging it to the best of his ability. The party then sets off to the tower, inside Nwalme’s illusion, a couple of hours after sunset.

The group reaches the base of the causeway slowly but without incident. They wait there for a few minutes to allow a patrol to head off the causeway toward the city (in their city road – tower gate circuit) and head for the tower. The patrol pauses near the party, looking around as if something were amiss, but then continues on its usual path. Silently letting out their collective breath, the party moves to the tower doors. They arrive, and Smial immediately sets to picking the lock. It takes a while, but the group manages to get in and get inside, and Nwalme dispels his illusion. Smial discovers that he is unable to lock the door again from the inside, but thinking quickly, uses a hatchet to wedge the door shut. Less than a minute later, the guard patrol reaches the door, and tests it, finding it apparently still locked. Thaliondor requests another hatchet from Araphor and further wedges the door, to be safe. We move on.

The door to the lower level of the tower provides a bit more of an obstacle. Despite it being a much simpler lock, Smial unfortunately happens to break off the tip of his lockpick in it, making it impossible to open. So we set about removing the door hinges, opening it that way, replacing it on the hinges, and locking it behind us as we descend.

Finding our way to the brick wall discovered during the reconnaissance foray, Thaliondor proceeds to smash it. (Araphor advises him not to swing his mace, to avoid breaking it, and Thaliondor still manages to smash mightily, opening a respectable hole in the wall on his first attempt.) The party enters the dark(er), wet(ter) passage, Guthwyn with sword unsheathed and at the ready for a guard. Finding nothing but still deeper (three to four inches of) standing water, the party moves on.

After some slogging, the passage begins to slope upward slightly, to where the floor is only damp. In short order the party finds themselves at the end of the secret tunnel, at a door hidden in the sub-sub-basement of the Palace’s storerooms. They quickly switch to another hidden passage, one that Smial and Rene know fairly well, which runs around the outer palace wall.

The party moves down the passage to spy on the kitchens, reasoning that even at this late hour someone will be stirring there. They are not disappointed; a young female drudge and a somewhat older female cook are there, and they don’t look happy. In fact, Rene points out that they look downright afraid. This strikes Nwalme as odd, as he recognizes the cook, remembering her as being perennially, annoyingly happy. Further watching shows that they never leave their backs to a door. The drudge carries a tray of food into the next room, but leaves it hurriedly, returning quickly to the safety of the kitchen. Nwalme reads their minds, finding that they’re terribly afraid of some devil which is apparently haunting the palace — and that their fear is widespread here.

Shortly, a group of three guards — dressed in full Empress Guard work uniform — arrive and quickly, perfunctorily devour the victuals in the next room. They are there long enough for Guthwyn to notice that they’re all Rohirrim, although nobody in the party recognizes them.

Guthwyn reminds the party that the hatchets wedging the door at Orthanc will be discovered come daybreak. Thaliondor suggests running back with someone to fetch the hatchets, but the consensus is that there’s no way to disguise our entry once it comes time to open the tower for the day. Instead, seeing that we can walk about openly in our Guard uniforms (especially easily at night), we decide to get to the passages that lead to the Imperial apartments.

Moving back to the storerooms, the party avoids someone fetching supplies and prepares to head over to the door at the base of the palace tower, where the next secret passage entrance lies. Thaliondor is a lert (and a good one at that), and spots a guard standing in the open, darkened doorway. He offers to dispatch the guard the easy way (blow to the head), but we decide to have Nwalme Daze him instead.

We walk across the compound, and and are challenged by the guard as we get within six or seven paces of the door. Nwalme immediately casts his spell, incapacitating the guard before we even need answer.

With the help of the map and Nwalme’s See Secrets, we locate the hidden passage beneath one of the marble sections of floor, and quickly descend the stairway there. Thaliondor makes sure the flooring is securely restored, and we move on, Nwalme, letting his spell lapse after a minute. points out that he is extremely tired, unable to walk very fast at this point, his numerous recent magicks having taken their toll. Araphor lends him a couple points of fatigue, giving him enough energy to move on. Before they do, though, Araphor thinks to check the PalaceCam scroll; it shows the Empress sleeping in her bed, and some guards in the throne room, but nothing else of note.

Moving to the end of this passage, we peer in through a pair of eye-holes to see that it opens into the rooms of the Empress’ ladies-in-waiting, four of whom are sleeping soundly here. We pause to rest and let Nwalme further gather his strength in preparation for making our way through the apartments.

A Sojourn With Dwarves, And Encounters With History
From Khazad-Dum to Isengard

We find our heroes in the under-mountain realm of Khazad-Dum, briefly guests of the king of the dwarves who live there. As we are about to take our leave and continue onward to Isengard, Araphor reminds Nwalme that there are certain items in the party’s possession that we should ask the dwarves
to dispose of. After finding an excuse to send away Thaliondor, Nwalme discusses the destruction of the two Rings of Power we carry, as well as the black EVIL knives salvaged from the Witch-Queen’s lair in Carn Dum. The dwarves accept the knives, confident that they can destroy them. They suggest that while they might be able to lose the Rings down a pit for a few hundred years, they don’t have anything permanent they feel they can do to them. So the party continues onward, keeping the Rings with them.

Stepping out into the sunlight, the party discusses which path to best take in approaching Isengard: through Fangorn Forest, or around. Araphor is informed by several party members of the assistance given to the others by the Ents during their last passage through the forest. There is doubt that we can count on such aid again, and feel that we shouldn’t ask it, so we consider going around. Guthwyn points out that while going around is faster, it will also make it much more likely we’ll be seen by patrols while traveling over open ground. So we enter the woods, taking the stealthy (not necessarily speedy) approach to Isengard.

A day or so into the forest, the party is greeted by an ancient Ent. He (protractedly) introduces himself as Treebeard, otherwise known as Fangorn, noting that he is often confused with the forest itself. It dawns on the party that this is the oldest creature in all of Middle Earth, and they treat him with the utmost respect, leaving Nwalme to act as the party’s spokesperson. As he recognizes the party, Treebeard offers to guide us through the forest, although not expedite our journey in the same fashion as they had previously enjoyed.

Over the next nine days of travel through the woods, Treebeard entertains the party, regaling us with first-person accounts of some of the most significant events in history. The time passes quickly. When we approach the end of our journey, Nwalme spends five minutes thanking Treebeard for his graciousness. (Treebeard is suitably pleased by his efforts, extending an invitation to Nwalme to visit any time.) The rest of the party thanks him (more briefly), and continue on to where the forest ends, at the heights above Isengard.

We then spend several minutes discussing how to enter the city. Rene mentions several bolt-holes with which to get through the outer walls. We consider using this to get in, and discuss gaining access to the outer city, pass the guards (or river portcullis), etc. Smial points out that we can probably just walk into town, as long as we don’t wear our uniforms. Some of us may still be recognized (especially Nwalme), but it seems a reasonable course. The party also consults the map of the Palace we obtained in the Witch-Queen’s lair. We note a secret access tunnel that runs directly from the Palace to beneath the tower of Orthanc, which lies in the middle of a lake in the heights above Isengard, right near where we have emerged from Fangorn. At urging from Thaliondor and Guthwyn, we decide to check out Orthanc for this tunnel, as it holds the best chance of getting into the Palace itself. Araphor sends up Stormdancer to see how the tower is guarded, using Rider Within to watch through the bird’s eyes. He notes where the guards are, and that people are entering and leaving the tower in a more or less regular stream, obviously families touring the building. Several more families picnic on the lake shore nearby.

After taking an inventory of who can swim (everyone but Rene) and considering how to enter the tower that night, Guthwyn points out that we can send in a group to investigate the tower by posing as tourists. Thaliondor and Rene quickly volunteer for this duty, and Guthwyn joins them.

The three of them make their way into the tower with the other tourists. They manage to find a moment with a locked door. Guthwyn fails to pick its lock, but Rene manages to open it. The three of them enter the darkened door. After making their way in the dark through the damp hall for a bit, Rene lights up his bullseye lantern. They find two doors. One is sealed tightly, but leaking water slightly; they avoid that one. The other opens into another hallway, with several doors and rooms off of it. Making their way in the direction of the city, they finally come across a walled-off dead end, which booms hollowly when Guthwyn pounds on it. Convinced they’ve found the passage, they head back to the surface, just in time to catch their tour group leaving the tower. Shutting off their lantern and making sure they don’t disturb anyone as they sneak out of the door, they make their way out of the tower.

Thaliondor makes a comment about the views from the tower as they pass the guards, and Guthwyn provides a counterpoint. Rene notices that one of the tourists is talking to a guard, gesturing toward the three of them and the top of the tower, and shaking his head. The party continues on down the causeway to the mainland, not looking back. When they reach the end, they look back to note that one of the two guards is missing. Watching a while longer, they note the guard emerging from the tower. He gestures downward to the other guard, and they chuckle; apparently this unofficial tour stop isn’t uncommon. The trio, relieved, make their way back to the rest of the party.


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