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.