We rejoin our harried heroes (and their new ally, a Rohirrim guardsman) in the tower of the imperial palace in Isengard. Thaliondor is badly injured, and Nwalme-Anna is exhausted. The remainder of the party is tired, but ambulatory.
Araphor suggests that there’s one Ring-bearing lieutenant whose whereabouts is not quite accounted for, and has Guthwyn wear the Ring of See Invisible, taking it from Nwalme. She points out that the anti-Nazgul sword would be handy in such a case, as well, and Araphor takes it from Thaliondor, trading swords temporarily.
Guthwyn takes her crossbow in hand and leads the way down into the next level, finding a large storage area. Looking around, she spies the trapdoor leading down to the level below. Araphor suggests a destructive search (sticking swords in things), to speed things up, and they quickly go through the room before proceeding downward, Guthwyn continuing to lead.
The next level contains the prison and its cell, and is lit by several braziers. No one appears to be about, and one of the four cell doors is wide open. Guthwyn calls out for Smial, but gets no response. They peer into the open cell, and see what appears to be a dead human body, half in shadow. Araphor grabs a torch and tells Guthwyn to cover him as he explores into the cell. As he enters, he hears Smial muttering and grumbling about taking so damn long.
Smial emerges from the cell, pausing to kick the corpse, muttering another epithet. It’s apparent he’s been in captivity some time – he’s thinner than anyone’s ever seen him. He explains that the guard had come in to kill him, but he managed to grab the man’s belt knife and dispatch him before he could even swing his sword.
The three head back up, Guthwyn at point and Araphor taking up the rear. Smial pauses briefly in the storeroom to grab a loaf of bread. They rejoin the rest of the party. Waiting for Nwalme to continue his rest, they talk with Smial about his imprisonment, where the other prisoners went, and other details. Guthwyn voices a suspicion that he may not be the true Smial, to which he responds with a string of insults, including the suggestion that she consult her horse. (This strikes everyone as proof enough of his identity.)
After a few more minutes, the party moves on. The antechamber is empty, and they prepare to cross the courtyard to the storehouse in which they can escape to Orthanc. The guard who joined them leads the way, walking alone to the building and opening the door, pausing to reassure the gate guards on his way. He holds it open, and signals for the party to proceed. They run for it, Smial well in the lead), as the gate guards yell for them to halt. Thaliondor trips up, falling flat on his face, but Araphor helps him back onto his feet and they race on.
At the storehouse door, Guthwyn turns to provide a covering shot with her crossbow, and everyone makes it inside, barring the door behind them. They quickly make their way to the secret stone door, moving aside a large crate to access it, and speed along the passage into the maze beneath Orthanc, finally coming to the main doors of the tower, which are locked and barred from the outside.
Nwalme and Araphor prepare their spells (illusions and Shape Plant), and the party makes their way back to the forest in much the same manner as they approached the tower, weeks ago. They encounter no guards. It would seem that they are busy elsewhere, especially considering the fires which seem to be growing out of control within the city, clearly visible from the heights here.
Not long after entering the forest, they are greeted by Arod and the horses and ponies. They recover their equipment, saddle up the steeds, and head deeper into the woods, for Fangorn.
They reach Fangorn Forest proper shortly, and all seems quiet at first. But soon they espy a reptilian flying beast overhead, circling the area. Perched upon its back is a rider the Nazgul who has been hounding them all day. It quickly zeroes in on the party, and dives at them. It belches a fireball straight at them, and everyone dives from horseback to hit the ground. Nwalme gets caught, but the fireball explodes relatively harmlessly overhead, its heat washing harmlessly over the party. Not quite so harmlessly, though, several branches fall down from the forest canopy overhead, damaging several people and mounts.
The party picks themselves up as the Black Rider steers to the ground. His reptilian steed catches its wings in the trees, and it falls the last twenty feet to the ground. The Nazgul, however, manages a spectacular acrobatic leap from its back to land safely. Rene, who has taken a moment or two to grab from Thaliondor the Ring of Haste, faces off against him, his blades flying furiously. Araphor grabs his spear and Guthwyn her sword, both of them closing in, while Nwalme casts a Strike Blind into his curse missile wand.
Rene lands several blows, some of them exceptionally damaging, and the Ring-wraith lands a solid counter-blow. Meanwhile, Araphor and Guthwyn move into range. The next round finds Rene on the defensive, reeling a bit from the blow he received, but the Nazgul is in even worse shape. Araphor strikes with his spear twice at the Nazgul’s head, hitting him solidly both times, but doing little damage. Guthwyn also connects with her blade, hurting him somewhat.
The sounds of approaching Ents fill the air as the fight continues. Rene lands another blow, and the Nazgul decides to acrobatically leap away. As he does, Araphor and Guthwyn land more blows, and he lands badly. Reaching a hand into his tunic, he vanishes from sight. Rene asks Guthwyn if he’s invisible, but she responds in the negative – the Ringwraith has vanished once again. Its mount, however, is not quite so lucky. Just as it recovers from its harsh landing, it is dragged by the tail into the brush, the Ents making quick work of it.
After a long day (and night), the party rests, safely in the company of the Ents.