Middle Earth: Sunset of the Fourth Age

Anticipation
...that is, *they* have anticipated *us*...

We find our heroes in the forest, wrapping up the interrogation of a hostile Huregoth scout. It’s taken some time, as the elf views all but Nwalme as unworthy of his presence, and Nwalme as a traitor to the elven race.

The squad then considers how to proceed. It’s clear that they need to get to the artifact that affects the Huregoths’ racial magic, but it’s not clear how they can.

While Strongwülf argues for a quick strike to seize the key tents, Araphor counsels that against elves in the forest, this tactic is futile. In a similar vein, sneaking in is not an option – especially since they’re aware that we’ve found them.

After much discussion, Nwalme casts Seeker to hone in on the artifact, using the captive as the connection. It’s clearly in the Blue Wizard’s tent, but that’s about all he could get from the spell.

There is a brief discussion about the possibility of destroying the Wizard’s staff, but Nwalme doesn’t think it’s a useful thing to do at this point, especially as it may alert said Wizard.

As we talk, Nwalme notices someone – clearly another scout – watching the party, about 500 yards away. Nwalme decides to Teleport to him and take him out. He pops in right behind the elf – and immediately notices another two about a hundred yards away. He attacks the scout, Deathtouching him twice to devastating effect; the elf falls dead to the forest floor.

Nwalme teleports back to the group to report. As we scramble to leave, everyone can see five scouts in a semicircle around us (with a gap where the sixth should be). The way back to the castle, fortunately, is relatively open.

Araphor lends strength to Nwalme so that he won’t be dragging from fatigue as the party mounts up to return to the castle. At the first mention of leaving, Strongwülf quickly slits the throat of our captive, dropping him dead to the ground. Surprised (to say the least), the rest of the party holds their tongues as they’ve no time to lose.

They ride. The elves run, three staying parallel to our heroes, but never engaging. Bo shoots one of the elves, who goes down and doesn’t get back up. The other elves slow, and we pull ahead. The party easily reaches the safety of the castle.

At the castle, the Araphor and Guthwyn give Strongwülf a stern dressing-down for his behavior. Executing prisoners of war – at least, the non-spellcasting kind – is not how the Empress Guard operates. We discuss possible punishments for Strongwülf. Nwalme wants to be posted by his side while he sleeps, but Guthwyn argues against disrupting his sleep, because it would make him even dumber. Nwalme eventually concedes.

Through Stormdancer, Araphor sees that the Huregoth camp is now abandoned, with only some of the tents and equipment remaining.

As a nearly-exhausted Stormdancer returns to Araphor, she sees two groups of Huregoth. One group is south of the path we took, and includes three mages and five light fighters or scouts. The other was taking the path away from us, toward where the four other clans are encamped. Neither group seem to be carrying the camp equipment.

Nwalme casts another Seeker using the assassin’s knife to find the Prince, seeing him in the Huregoth’s southern main camp. Clearly a good portion of the northern camp came with him, as this camp is teeming with Huregoth.

Araphor suggests that since the four clans greatly outnumber the Huregoth, we should try to enlist their help in fighting those eerie elves. It’s not clear whether we can convince them that the assassin who killed their clan leader was sent by the Huregoth, but if we can we stand a good chance of gaining their alliance at least temporarily.

Nwalme retrieves the Blue Wizard’s staff, and the group heads toward the four clans’ camp on horseback, using the main east-west road rather than the forest trails. On the way, a group of elves —with the Blue Wizard— suddenly rise up to ambush them! Four mages stand beside the maia in the road, flanking him in twos, while archers rise from the grasses along either side of the highway.

Guthwyn, as the leading horse, lowers her lance and charges. Araphor and the bodyguards follow right behind, brandishing their weapons. (Araphor has no lance, but fast-draws his broadsword.) Nwalme also rides forward, Bo close alongside him. Nwalme attempts to Toss the Blue Wizard, but it doesn’t work. Still, the Blue Wizard seems a bit unsteady and annoyed.

The archers shoot. Three hit Guthwyn, but only one arrow gets a scratch through her armor. Guthwyn’s female bodyguard takes an arrow solidly and painfully to the side. Bo and Nwalme each shrug off an arrow harmlessly, and Araphor is surprised that fate is kind, not a single arrow touching him.

Nwalme again unsuccessfully attempts to Toss the maia, as the galloping party closes the distance to him and his mages.

As the leading horses approach the wizard in the road, a river begins to form across it, separating them from the maia and his cohorts. Luckily, they all notice and jump over it, barely breaking stride. Guthwyn lances one mage with a beautiful hit, killing him immediately as she follows through and past the maia. Strongwülf goes berserk, and also attacks the maia with his axe, pulling up alongside the wizard as the maia dodges his swing. Sans Nomenclature (Guthwyn’s other bodguard) attacks another mage, who also dodges.

Araphor swings forcefully at another mage, landing a solid blow as he rides by. The spellcaster is apparently of stern stuff, however, and remains standing. Bo fires an arrow at the maia, but barely scratches him.

Again the archers fire, concentrating on the rear half of the charge. Strongwülf suffers a nick from one projectile, but Bo and Nwalme both take several hits. Bo keeps his horse, but Nwalme slumps unconscious from the saddle, landing in the road atop the wizard’s staff only a yard or two past the riverlet.

The leading horses begin to turn around…

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Nwalme Learns Things
The Huregoth Longitudinal Study

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Araphor and Bo were sneaking behind the dark elvish lines to see what they could learn. As they approach the Huregoths’ camp, Araphor goes full Disney princess by using Rider Within and Mammal Control to bend the forest mice to his will and scout the camp through them.

Through the rodent’s eyes, the well-hidden camp is revealed. While the mice cannot count, there are clearly tents enough for a hundred or so elves. There appear to be just over half that number present, mostly at rest.

In one of the bigger tents, the mice discover the Blue Wizard, poring over some tome by candlelight.

His control waning, Araphor sends the mice into the food tent, releasing them to gorge themselves on the elves’ supplies. He and Bo were able to sneak back to the others without incident.

Plans are discussed, some ludicrous, some with a chance of success. It is decided that Silenced Nwalme will sneak up on the most forward elf scout and capture him, with Bo and Araphor backing him up. It isn’t a complex plan, but it should work.

Of course, our heroes have trouble with communication when they can’t hear one another, and aren’t quite as stealthy as they’d like to be, as a result. The scout notices something amiss and leaps into action, but Bo is able to shoot him in the leg, crippling him for a moment so that Nwalme can Death-Touch™️ the hell out of him. Araphor and Bo bind the unconscious scout and carry him back to the rest of the party for interrogation. Araphor and Nwalme rest a bit, Araphor using Lend Strength to prepare Nwalme for his questioning. The rest of the party stands guard, eyes and ears peeled for Huregoths.

It becomes apparent during the interrogation that this elvish scout is the Huregoth equivalent of an Empress Guard, and elite bodyguard whose presence has been trusted within pretty high circles of power. As such, he is a veritable fountain of information, despite his being a “true believer” in the dark elves’ cause. Over the last few centuries, too many elves were lost – or worse yet, returned in pieces – when they explored westward to find their way to the Undying Lands, for him to believe anything but the worst.

The scout relates how the Huregoths and other elven clans had come to this camp because of its proximity to the castle and its key location in the Empire’s eastern supply routes, with an intent to disrupt the reinforcements heading to the front from the heart of the Empire. However, the explosion of their teleportation system left them with only slightly over half of the fifteen hundred elves they’d planned to deploy here.

On top of that, serious rifts developed within the clans, as an unknown assassin, presumed to be an agent of the Empress, claimed the life of one of the senior clan leaders. The appearance of the Blue Wizard with fifty of his own allies caused further disruptions. Finally, the defeat of their forces at the castle moat was for many the last straw. With so many promised successes ending in failure (and, apparently, the mind control magics fading), the doubtful and the faithful quarreled, and many of the former abandoned the war effort. Whole regiments deserted, disappearing into the countryside in varying directions, most back toward the east. The several dozen elves that remain at this camp are all that are left of the forces they’d sent to this location.

Even so, the camp still holds a senior leader of the dark elves. The reigning prince of Huregoths is present, deputy commander of the enemy forces and head of their special operations. And as for magic, there is the Blue Wizard, as well as half a dozen Huregoth mages and a couple others within the other clans’ stragglers. The Supreme Leader is on the other side of the river, leaving his son in charge of this camp.

While questioning the captive, Nwalme realizes that there is some sort of racial magic that could be related to the Huregoths’ eerie similarity to each other. With the help of Analyze Magic, Nwalme discerns that ritual magic has been used on this clan for centuries. It has made them something different, something like living artifacts. Using History , he also discovers that there is something in the camp, a device of some sort that would allow a small magic ritual group to energize these living artifacts.

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For Want of a Prince a Clan Went To War
How to assassinate leaders and influence people

Once back at the castle, there were some questions about what to do next; a discussion ensued. A few things were clear: Strongwülf felt that he had bonded with the adjutant and that the elf may be more on their side than the rest of the party believes.

Arādan spoke with the party about his clan of dark elves and their accompanying clans. They came over on one of the lesser ships, with no exposure to any of the detailed plans beyond the immediate. The Huregoths were supposed to meet up with some more experienced warriors and sail down the river, but the party had destroyed that plan with the successful Battle of the River Mouth. He’s not sure why the Huregoths are after the party with such vehemence. He thinks this may have something to do with the party’s reputed effectiveness.

Our heroes wonder whether the rest of the dark elves that the party had brokered a tentative truce with will stay that way. Arādan feels that there may have been some mind-control magic involved. (Impressively, no one in the party snickered at the thought of Sauron’s Shadow working him like a puppet as he has done multiple times in the party’s presence.) Arādan’s evidence is that a number of the four clans are discovering that things that they had previously accepted on flimsy evidence are proving to be untrue, and they’re not sure why they believed at the time.

Arādan isn’t sure where the teleported enemy elves might have gone. They were supposed to rendezvous with other elves here and the moat battle showed that they hadn’t arrived yet.

At least 500 of their strongest mages and warriors aren’t here. The four clans’ patrols haven’t found them, so the assumption is that they’ve withdrawn. Where they’ve gone is anyone’s guess.

Utilizing the knowledge of the castle’s master of the hunt, they were able to gather some ideas on where some nearby hiding places might be, so that Stormdancer could be deployed to try to find them.

Nwalme also looked over the effects and equipment that had been gathered from the bodies of the elves killed in the moat battle. He spotted a few things that may prove useful in using his magics to find the other elves: knickknacks of the sort that are shared between lovers or family members. He also found a beautifully made poisoner’s blade, perfect for assassins. The mysterious green stone, however, he set aside for another time.

Nwalme cast History on the blade and found that it had been given by a high-ranking Huregoth clan leader to another of the clan. The blade was used to kill one of the other clans’ leaders.

Nwalme also used Seeker ineffectively in search of the Huregoth clan leader. Since it’s been a week since the last casting of Seeker on the remaining Blue Wizard, he was able to use it again. He located the maia practically on the castle’s doorstep: in the woods near the Huregoths’ camp, about 2½ hours’ ride away.

Nwalme contacted the Empress to apprise her of what we’d learned and where we were heading. They found that Sauron’s Shadow was again able to jump onto the telepathic conversation.

When the information about the assassin’s blade was shared with Arādan, he revealed that the person murdered was a prince of his clan. The clan thought that he had been assassinated by the Empress – or by our heroes. Their clan had formerly been the least enthusiastic about the war, and with their prince’s death they fell under the command of the higher-ranking military leaders.

Nwalme decided to leave the staff at the castle, as the maia can sense it. Then the party rode out toward the forest camp and the wizard with Arādan.

Through Stormdancer, Araphor is able to spot a camp of dark elves. There seems to be three or four dozen – no more than a hundred, surely – with fifty horses. There are hints that they may have been in contact with the Huregoths.

Arādan continued on to warn the four clans that they have a traitor in their midst.

While Strongwülf counsels falling back to the castle to gather a larger force to try to rout the camp, it’s clear that with the woods are dense enough to keep a large force from being effective. Instead, the sneakier members of the party, Araphor and Bo, are going to sneak in to do some recon, while leaving the bulk of the party about an hour away. Araphor spends a few minutes helping to camouflage the horses as best he can, just to keep the party from being quite so easily spotted while they wait.

Araphor and Bo sneak forward. When they see an elf walking back in the direction that they wanted to go, they realize that they’ve managed to get behind the camp’s patrol lines…

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Spells and Portents
...and Elves, oh my!

Once back at the camp, our heroes try to understand what they’ve witnessed and remembered.

The first thing that they attempt to investigate is the elves that looked like Eorcanstan, Third Prince of Rohan. After talking with the adjutant, it was clear that he didn’t see the marked resemblance that the long-time Empress Guard did. Neither did Bo, despite his observations to the rest of the group while they were in the middle of the elven encampment earlier. Nwalme cast an illusion of the prince, to show them how despite his human features, he resembled those elves. The two of them felt that the resemblance was there, but that the differences outweighed the similarities. Nwalme even tried to use Telepathy to see what Bo was seeing, but even through Bo’s eyes the illusion looked the same to Nwalme.

After some discussion about whether the elves could have used disguises, the discussion turned to the obvious when dealing with magic users: could a spell be involved?

Nwalme repeatedly used Identify Magic on various members of the party to see who might have spells on them. Guthwyn and the adjutant were spell-free. Bo, on the other hand, had more than one spell on him. One of them, which Nwalme couldn’t fully identify, was centered on Bo’s head. It appears to be a benign mental spell that is tied to his perceptions. From what Nwalme could tell, it could mean that Bo has truer sight than others in the party. Needless to say, this calls into question the veracity of the group’s memories as well as what they’ve seen today.

It occurs to Araphor that if the source of the magic that alters their perceptions isn’t on them, and isn’t on Bo now – when it had when they were in the encampment – that the magic must be centered around those odd elves, weakening with distance.

One of the adjutant’s subordinates approached him and reported that some of the eerily-similar elves were approaching, but not openly. The adjutant excused himself to go deal with the situation, but the party was beginning to feel that another attack was imminent. They decided to head to the castle, three hours’ ride away.

Nwalme approached the adjutant as he conversed with other military leaders and their staff. One of the generals wanted to know what Nwalme had seen. He responded that he had seen a number of elves that had all looked uncannily like someone of power, from a royal line. That general and his adjutant exclaimed that this is what they’ve seen over the centuries. There’s something weird about these Huregoths.

Some of the elves had noted at the Battle of the River Mouth that at one point, for a short time, the Huregoths had all looked the same. This fifth tribe hadn’t been with the rest of the army, however. They’d watched the battle but hadn’t committed their forces, even as others lost their lives.

The party gathers as they ready to evac. Nwalme heals up Guthwyn’s bodyguard and Strongwülf, before embarking for the castle. Taking to the road and skirting an arm of the forest, they arrive at the castle without incident.

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The Battle Ends...

The battle continued between our heroes and their ambushers. Most unnerving were the water-warriors that sprang up at the command of one of the elves. ’Twas a long and bloody struggle, but our heroes emerged as the victors. Nwalme, Guthwyn, Strongwülf and the bodyguard were all injured in the fray.

Arod and the horses arrived not long afterward, as the party tended to the wounded and searched the bodies of the waylayers. Nwalme made sure to heal both Strongwülf and the bodyguard quickly, to lead the retreat back to base camp as soon as possible.

Bo quickly and quietly “neutralized” the magic-using elf, following the squad’s semi-official policy. On the mage’s body he found a green stone that bore a passing resemblance to the bridge stones found along the river.

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A Triple Threat
Singing, Dancing... and an Ambush

We find our heroes walking into a certain trap in the outer foothills surrounding the castle, not far from the dark elves’ main encampment on the plain. They are set to meet with the elvish troops’ secondary group, accompanied by a possibly friendly renegade elf adjutant (guide) and two definitely hostile guards (escort).

Nwalme does his best to surreptitiously communicate to the rest of the party that the two guards were determined by his Sense Foes spell to be hostile. Unable to do so with gestures, he instead uses Telepathy to get the idea across.

The forest encampment contained 40-50 renegade elves. They moved around in a very martial manner that minimized their footprints, though still not obviously hiding. Even Strongwülf is impressed with their soldiering skills. None of them were wearing the insignia of the most hostile renegade elf chieftain, but their livery made it clear that they were all from a single clan.

From Nwalme’s perspective, they were all adolescent elves, and normally wouldn’t be out and about without parents. There were strong physical resemblances among them all, which our guide said was part of their custom.

The party makes their way to the large guarded tent in the middle of the camp, which clearly houses its leadership. Announcing their presence, that leadership emerges to greet them. They are three elves, all oddly identical in every respect – both physically and in clothing and equipment. Even more oddly, they each look very much like the late Eorcanstan, Third Prince of Rohan!

Muddled memories strike members of the party. Guthwyn recalls the prince being killed by René with his signature sword-through-the-eye maneuver, back in Carn Dum. Nwalme remembers killing Eorcanstan personally with a Death Touch that overloaded a magic torq and blew his head off. Araphor remembers both, and struggles to reconcile them. But there isn’t time to try to resolve this…

The three leaders speak alternately to answer questions: There were 25 in their group (though the party was sure that there was room for 35-40). The three of them were triplets and raised together (rather than be separated as was more typical for elves). They said that they were born leaders and their father — back at home — is the leader of their clan, they are just the war-leaders. The rest of their camp is off hunting.

The triplets offer the party food, which they decline. Araphor mentions that the party met with the other leaders and wanted to make sure that the triplets’ clan was on the same page in terms of the accord they’d at which they’d all arrived.

As they lead our heroes to the tables, the party talks about the Third Prince a bit more openly. The party excuses themselves, though the triplets, once again, offer food — saying that they’d prepared it especially for the group. As our heroes back away, demurring further, they notice that the adjutant not followed them into the center of camp. He had instead stopped nearer the camp’s edge, ready to draw his bow. in a stance that spoke to his readiness to fire quickly. He had clearly been guarding the party.

The adjutant diplomatically asks the party’s escort to stay and help with the food and the hunters. Our heroes then join the adjutant and head out, tension level plummeting with each step further from the tables.

Once out of earshot, the adjutant says that he expects an ambush ahead, despite the fact that the party is taking an alternate route back. He further notes that the triplets hadn’t been the leaders in charge the last time he’d been to the camp. In addition, he states that the elves that we didn’t see in camp were their magic users. He estimates that were 10-15, perhaps as many as 25.

Sure that they’re being flanked on both sides, the party hurries through the forest. They spot and lose sight of the elves on one side or another. From the overflight of Stormdancer, their best estimate is that they’ll be out of the woods in thirty minutes or so. If they can get to the forest’s edge, there are six horses waiting for them, led by Arod.

Bo spots the ambush from about thirty yards away, uphill on the other side of a large fallen log. He calls out to the others and draws his bow. The ambushers realize that they’ve been spotted, and attack before the party can move into a better position.

Strongwülf goes berserk and charges forward; the adjutant follows to try to provide cover. Guthwyn and her bodyguard charge along with them, only a step or two behind. Bo falls back to get to cover and fire at the attackers on their flank as a hail of arrows flies at them all from behind the log.

Nwalme teleports into the midst of the ambushing magic users, interrupting a ceremonial spell. He Tosses one of them, disrupting the spell, but unfortunately he’s shot point blank by one of their bodyguards.

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Parlay View
Watching the camp(s)?

Our heroes did their best to control the the location of the parlay with the dark elvish chieftains who have been moving west into the heart of the Empire. Araphor is designated as spokesman, so that we have a single person speaking for all of us to better project a position of strength to the renegade elves.

As the elves approach, we note that they’ve sent nine instead of five. But five appear to be adjutants, and they hang back as four chieftains approach the party and begin the parley.

The chieftains want land of their own to the west. Araphor informs them that he cannot arrange this today, as we are at war. But he does allow that they can camp here for a few days as he tries to arrange something. He will have them escorted to the western lands after the war is over.

A hawk called from above us and circled, before flying off. It wasn’t immediately obvious what this meant.

As we watched, the five walk off and we hear them arguing. They soon abruptly stop in mid-argument, most of them standing “frozen” in place. One of their aides is then possessed by Sauron’s Shadow, who steps up and tells us that he’s doing his part and trying to prove himself. So he’ll make sure they agree to wait here.

Once that aside ended, the aide realized that he’d been controlled, and became oddly talkative. He relates that he’s experienced this twice before. The first time it happened, it saved his life. The second time it happened, his captain was railing about the army’s leadership. When he came to himself again, his captain was thanking him for his advice.

As he gets over the surprise of his possession, he relays his captain’s offer: the dark elvish cavalry will step out of combat and desert should a certain signal protocol be met:

  • The cavalry will be sporting a specific cavalry flag that signify someone from their ‘clan’ that may be open to deserting.
  • Our signal is to dip our flag three times
  • They should dip theirs three times in return to acknowledge our signal.
  • Soon after, they’ll charge at us – and through us without attacking, to desert.

Guthwyn tried to convince him that the same mind control magic that was used against us and the army could be being used against them. He doesn’t believe, as he states it’s common wisdom among his folk that mind control magic doesn’t work on elves.

Once the elvish diplomatic contingent heads off, our heroes assess what they’ve gotten themselves into. They get advice from the closest elvish expert: Nwalme. He doesn’t think there are enough boats nearby to transport all of these wandering elves. Guthwyn comes up with the idea of asking the Greenwood elves if there are any of their folk that may be interested in being escorts to these 800-odd members of the dark elvish army.

Our heroes contact the Empress, but she hands the ball back to us. She wants these enemy elvish troops to stay put, and especially to stay out of the areas where she doesn’t have sufficient military strength.

We keep an eye on their camps for a few days, talking with them occasionally, and observing what details we can of their behavior and equipment.

  • The two chieftains that are friendly are both farmers from villages disparate enough to have no opportunity to become enemies.
  • The two chieftains that are most competent with the Rider Within spells — fisherman folks for the inland sea. There is a lot of magic from them, though mostly at the cantrip and journeyman levels.
  • There are also bows and knives traditional elf types.
  • There are also the horseman. The adjutant is the best horseman we’d ever seen — until we saw the captain; the captain is truly spectacular. Even the plow horses and what not that they could find were almost at Arod’s level when the captain was riding them.

We eventually find out that the hawk that cried out during the parley was a sign to show the troops that we hadn’t prepared an ambush.

The more our heroes communicate with the renegade elves, the more it’s clear that they’re supremely lost. They’ve been lost for a long long time. They hadn’t even realized how lost they’ve been. They had something to believe in, but that’s gone now. And on some levels, they wish they had it back, so that they’d have a purpose again.

Where they came from has become hell on earth and they’re profoundly misinformed about thousands of years of history.

We told them that their escorts are a week out. Some of the elves are okay with this news. Many aren’t, and just want to get moving.

Our heroes soon notice that the dark elves must have a hidden camp in the woods. Some of the elves walk into the woods and different elves come back. Bo spotted it once, but not enough to be sure of any pattern. They were heading off just after dark, traveling in ones or twos. Others came back around dawn. There seemed to be six or so the first night, and a dozen the second.

Realizing that tracking elves in the woods is a recipe for disaster, Guthwyn pushes to just ask if they need extra provisions for the elves in the woods. The cavalry captain that has been the most friendly to us does his best to cover, but Araphor is sure that he’s lying. Araphor then asked to inspect the camp.

We get access to inspect the followers. We travel with the adjutant and another horseman, along with two other elves. Nwalme casts Sense Foes and is pretty sure that our two guides are hostile to us.

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Hey, Where'd They Go?
Pick a direction...

We return to our heroes, who are fortifying the castle. Araphor suggests infiltrating the renegade elves’ camp, but we need more information.

Nwalme interrogates more prisoners. He learns that their original plans have gone by wayside. They failed to drain the river to let in their forces, they lost one of their wizards to lead those forces, and they were expecting to be able to just walk into the castle, because they had suborned the people who had controlled it (Eorcanstan’s men). With none of these elements now in place, the final attack has been abandoned.

According to our prisoners, they have maybe 1,200 elves and 2,000 orcs, to attack the castle. They don’t all quite agree on the exact numbers.

Our prisoners talk more about how they came to invade. In the far east, elves have been deeply divided up until the last 500 years or so. This new order was mostly held together by a couple of men in black, the Blue Wizards, and a few elf chieftains. Any time the major leaders aren’t there, the rest become paralyzed and disorganized.

Gothforg appears to be the current man in black who is in charge of the troops. Lothar of the Green Pools is the elven chieftain working with Gothforg. It seems that there is always such a pair working together.

For a couple of centuries these leaders had been pushing the idea that the elves are all one united front and can take what’s long been due to them. But our recent successes are hurting morale, and they’re beginning to splinter into their constituent factions once more.

We realize that they have been mind-controlling their own people to keep the peace and hold the coalition together. The mages themselves, however, are also from a mix of villages. Which begs the question of why these mages are working together to keep this mind control going…

In light of this new information, it’s unclear why we are trying to hold the castle. Our real task is to “take care of the leadership” and stop these troops from being in a position to cause more trouble later. Presumably we could neutralize pieces of the army.

Araphor sends Stormdancer up to do some reconnaissance among the enemy troops.

The patrols that were supposed be nearby are no longer around. Clearly, their army is not as large as we had thought.

Several groups of elves – 300 or so, in total – are walking back towards their home, over the north mountains toward the Sea of Rhun.

There are four parties of about 200 elves each, heading West toward the plains. Our heroes decide that these elves should be dealt with, as their path takes them into the heart of the Empire.

Each of the four groups has about two wagons and maybe two dozen horses, some with riders. They contain subgroups of 30-80, with wagons generally toward the center of each. Each of the large groups are about a mile apart.

Our heroes head out to reach these parties. After about a half a day’s ride, we’re approach closely enough that they might be able to see us. They’re still in the foothills, a few hours short of the plains.

Araphor and Nwalme collaborate to make an offer to parlay. Nwalme casts Create Servant and instructs the servant to wait 15 minutes and then approach the elves. It is to say in Sindarin, “The Empress Guard request a parlay at sunset at [a nearby hill], no more than five representatives. I need a yes or no response.” When an acceptable response has been given, it is to leave on a path perpendicular to its original approach and then vanish. Stormdancer will ride in on its shoulder, with Araphor watching from within. Meanwhile, the party heads off in a different direction altogether, so that the servant’s path does not reveal their location.

The servant is challenged and brought into the nearest elves’ camp. It quickly becomes apparent that those present are more “frenemies” than friends. (The higher-ups speak a version of Sindaran that Araphor can mostly understand.) They agree to meet us. One was clearly not predisposed to come; when he realized four others agreed, he joined in.

We see nine elves leave — the four leaders who were more agreeable, plus five adjutants. The most hostile leader is only sending his aide. They stop when they’re still a ways away from the meeting location. Bo is slightly off from the group, bow at ready, while Guthwyn, Strongwülf, and the others await the elven delegation at the appointed place.

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A Surprise Visit
And a Still More Surprising Conversation

We rejoin our heroes in the castle recently vacated by the Empress as she headed to join the main body of her forces in the primary theater of battle, leaving us to “take care” of the enemies approaching from the north.

The first order of business is to investigate Bo‘s odd transformation during the recent nearby skirmish. Sadly, Bo’s recollection of the events are fuzzy (pun not intended). Nwalme uses Analyze Magic to determine that the nature of Bo’s transformation is an innate magic rather than some sort of enchantment. From that we can infer that Bo is of Beorning descent, a bloodline that seems to still run strong in the areas around Rivendell and the adjacent areas of the Anduin valley. Most of the party recalls encountering the young Beorning girl Nessa when we passed through that region, not long after Bo signed on.

As Bo struggles to feel out the magic within him, Araphor offers a suggestion: he can attempt to summon all of the bears in the area, and see if that will trigger a transformation. Since Bo’s control is still suspect, however, he suggests that Bo be locked in a secure room or cell during this attempt. Bo is game (pun intended), so they proceed to the dungeon. Once secure, Araphor casts a Beast Summoning for bears… and nothing happens. We release Bo from the cell, at a loss at how to help him further.

The next priority is the interrogation of our prisoners. Six dark elves were captured in the latest fight, and they await Nwalme’s attention. He proceeds with his inquisition, using his reliable blend of magicks and skills. The first couple of elves don’t reveal much, other than their fervent belief in their gods and their mission.

Nwalme makes better progress with the third prisoner, his first Death Touch breaking the elf’s spirit, and opening his mind to Nwalme’s Telepathy. As Nwalme begins to delve into the elf’s mind, however, his connection is severed as a sudden transformation comes over the captive. The elf’s demeanor shifts from that of a desperate and broken soul to that of someone extremely self-possessed and confident, and he begins to speak in a strong, clear voice.

Guthwyn and Strongwülf immediately pass out as a deep chill in the voice seizes them. But the remainder of the party endures, and recognize that the voice can only belong to Sauron, or what remains of him.

Sauron’s shadow, speaking through the captive elf, says that he’s been waiting to talk to us for some time, as we’ve been an incessant thorn in his side. More shockingly, however, he expresses a desire simply “go home” at this point, and abandon the war. When Araphor points out that his wish cannot be granted by the party, the shadow nods. He claims he cannot even name those who have that power (ed: the Valar), lest they move to destroy him.

He wants to know what he can do to atone for his actions and demonstrate his sincerity. He claims to be willing to work to end the war, although it is not exactly under his control any more, despite – as Bo gets him to admit – that he is/possesses the Supreme Leader of the Far East. The ship, as it were, is simply too big to change course easily.

Bo suggests that he offer to publicly travel some of his key elven subordinates across the Anduin, disproving the widely-held belief by his forces that this will kill them. Araphor is quick to point out that while this may be an effective way to help, we’re certainly not going to let him bring any part of his forces right through the heart of the Empire, where the Anduin mostly runs. Still, it might be possible at Osgiliath, which bridges the Anduin in the narrow valley of Ithilien.

Sauron’s shadow mulls over these and some other ideas presented, and then states that he will do what he can to stop the war, and that the party should be on the lookout for whatever opportunity to act he provides.

Once it’s clear that the possession is over, the party returns the captive to his cell, rouses the unconscious folks, and retires to the council chamber to discuss. There’s not a lot of trust for someone that has had millennia to practice deceit. Bo is worried about what alternate agenda the renegade elves crossing the Anduin would have – they could be anchors for teleporting in more forces, or worse. Guthwyn wishes that she’d been awake to ask Sauron’s Shadow to fix the orcs, as they’ve never had a chance to choose good or evil. (The Yrrch are a notable exception.) Araphor and Nwalme expressed little hope that the renegade elves could or would accept a peaceful path at this point.

Guthwyn feels that it doesn’t matter if Sauron is believable or not; if he acts good, that’s something that will reduce his army and improve our chances. Araphor is sure that we should be preparing for betrayal at all points, noting that Sauron has persuaded and corrupted both his allies and captors throughout history. Nwalme notes that Sauron has never used this tactic before, however, and that it could be that he’s not as powerful as we fear, although he could get nothing concrete from what telepathic connection he briefly had.

The consensus is that we should proceed with our current objectives and stay watchful for both opportunity and treachery. To that end, we begin to get a handle on when we can expect the Supreme Leader and his forces to arrive and besiege the castle.

A Divination reveals to Nwalme that the eastern armies will be arriving between noon and two in the afternoon three days from now.

Nwalme ‘talks’ to the Empress about our conversation with Sauron’s shadow, but doesn’t use names — fully aware that they’re probably being eavesdropped. She warns us to be very very careful. He also relates to her the results of his vision.

With this foreknowledge, the party begins to prepare the castle in earnest for siege, and send out word via the hobbit signal corps to nearby allies and forces.

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Triumph o'er Geysers and Bears, oh my!

Combat continued. Our heroes are battle-hardened and used to fighting difficult opponents, but even so they were outnumbered and hard pressed to win the day.

Even though the renegade elves had been surprised by our heroes appearing in their midst, they showed that they were well disciplined as they quickly leapt to the defense.

While the party did their best to attack their mages, the elves used their warriors to protect them and fend off the attackers. One of the mages was able to cast a Geyser, causing it to erupt between Bo and Nwalme, knocking both of them painfully on their asses.

But two unforeseen factors turned the tide in the party’s favor: Strongwülf was able to tap into his inner berserker, attacking with a heretofore unseen ferocity. And Bo, to his surprise, found the shock of the damage from the geyser triggering an ability that he didn’t know he had. He transformed into an enormous bear and rushed to protect his friends.

Unfortunately, other than Nwalme, no one else realized that Bo was the bear that was attacking elves in their midst. Strongwülf, in particular, was prepared to attack the bear. Luckily, cooler heads (most notably Araphor) prevailed — especially when it was pointed out to him that Araphor had the ability to control animals with his magics.

Some of the warrior elves surrendered, while off a ways Guthwyn cut down an escaping mage that she and Nwalme had caught, despite his plea for quarter.

After the combat, our heroes regrouped. Nwalme explained to the others that the bear was actually Bo. Once the stress of the combat was over, Bo started to revert to his human form. Bo and Strongwülf were both grievously wounded, and though Nwalme was able to stop them from immediately dying, they would need time to recover.

Araphor felt that the geysers blasting in the area could have been seen by any of the nearby enemy patrols and recommended that everyone bivouac out of there and retreat back to the castle and their reinforcements. Guthwyn organized the surviving seven prisoners and set the party marching castleward. They soon reached an approaching battalion of the Empress’ troops , and they were able to retreat without any further trouble.

They returned to the castle to find that their mission was successful: the moat had calmed to its normal state. The Empress and her retinue left for the field command center, leaving the party to heal over the next day or so. As she left, she formally relieved Guthwyn of her duty as commander-in-theater, riding off to take that position herself.

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