Middle Earth: Sunset of the Fourth Age

Escaping The Palace Again
...with no hobbit left behind!

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.

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More Stand In Our Way
...and manage to slow us down quite a bit

We rejoin our harried heroes in the imperial apartments, in the chamber of the ladies-in-waiting. They await a broom with which to sweep away the caltrops which line the “secret” passage that has its entrance here, while the strong (and flirtatious) serving maid literally sits on the Usurper’s spy among them.

The leader of the ladies returns quickly with a broom, which Araphor takes, thanking her graciously. He heads into the passage and begins quickly and thoroughly sweeping a path down its center. The rest of the party follows. Thaliondor brings up the rear, pausing to respond to a comment from the flirt with a smile and wink.

At some point, the caltrops peter out, leaving the center of the passage free to traverse. The party trots along it quickly. Eventually Araphor’s sharp eyes catch the beginning of another stretch of caltrops which signal the approach of the far end of the corridor, and he resumes sweeping a path. They reach the end, Rene taking the lead and rushing up the ladder-stair to push up the trapdoor exit.

As his arms rise above the floor with the trapdoor, a sword swings at them, crippling his right arm and sending him falling back down into the arms of Guthwyn, who manages to brace him somewhat. Araphor begins casting a spell, while Rene moves out of the way to have Nwalme heal his arm. Guthwyn moves up the ladder, and Thaliondor begins aiming at the trapdoor with his beloved crossbow, waiting for a shot.

As Araphor’s Dehydrate spell resolves, Guthwyn charges up through the trapdoor, shield up. She clears the trapdoor quickly, finding a rather ill-looking guard standing nearby, and another guard a little further off. Thaliondor fires a bolt, taking the second guard in the throat, and he collapses. She dispatches the ill guard quickly, and calls down for the rest of the party to join her. They all quickly ascend.

The group consults briefly on how to approach, discussing the layout of the tower they’re about to enter, knowing that the imperial dungeon lies beneath it. After mapping out a strategy, Thaliondor and Guthwyn open the doors leading into its main floor.

Immediately, a volley of crossbow bolts flies at them, downing Guthwyn. As the party moves into the chamber, they find themselves up against eight of the Usurper’s Guard, two with long pikes, the remaining six with crossbows. Three of the latter drop their bows to draw swords and prepare shields, while the other three begin reloading.

Thaliondor fires his crossbow at one of the pikemen, hitting him solidly, but not taking him down. Rene moves into the chamber, trying to get within the range of the pikes, acrobatically dodging a thrust by one of them. Araphor moves in as well, as Nwalme pauses to heal and revive Guthwyn. Rene wades into battle, felling a swordsman quickly. The uninjured pikeman tries to skewer Nwalme, but loses control of his weapon, sending it flying across the room to crash into the wall next to Araphor, who narrowly dodges it. The unarmed pikeman steps back, hands up in resignation as the fight rages on.

Thaliondor reloads his crossbow as Araphor strikes at a swordsman, crippling his leg and sending him to the ground. As Thaliondor fires, taking out a crossbowman who has reloaded, he calls for their surrender. In response, a pikeman skewers him solidly, knocking him back and unconscious. Rene, meanwhile, faces off against a second swordsman, felling him quickly before turning his attention to the pikeman.

Araphor turns to find a crossbowman aiming at him at point-blank range, and he swings his blade hard at the man. The guardsman falls, but not before firing his bolt solidly into Araphor’s chest. Fortunately, his mithril armor absorbs the blow, as well as one from the swordsman who strikes him in the back. Meanwhile, Rene swings at the pikeman that hit Thaliondor, but the man dives acrobatically away, dodging the blade.

Araphor spins around, striking the swordsman behind him incredibly well, causing him to drop his weapon, stunned. At this point Guthwyn rejoins the fray, hitting him as well and sending him to the ground.

The acrobat pikeman rolls and picks up a loaded crossbow from the floor, which he fires at Rene. Rene dodges the bolt, leaping over to thrust both his blades into the man, who falls limp to the floor. The remaining guardsmen call for quarter.

The pikeman who lost control of his weapon, the only unscathed guard, seems only too happy to cooperate. Unlike his fellow Rohirrim stationed here, he apparently has no fondness for the Third Prince of Rohan. He provides Guthwyn with information on the guards in the tower: there are but two left on the roof, and one in the dungeon. He also warns that we should bar the door, as they will expect reinforcements at some point. As they talk, Nwalme revives Thaliondor, but barely.

The group hammers out a plan: leaving Nwalme and Thaliondur here to rest along with Rene and the unscathed guard, Guthwyn and Araphor will head downstairs. They intend to call back if they run into trouble in the barracks below, but otherwise expect to return quickly with Smial.

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Back To The Palace!
Do NOT get in our way

We find our heroes on the run in the city of Isengard, sheltered by the hobbit underground in a not-quite-so-safe house, weary and hurt. They pause here to recover their strength and question their prisoner, the recently Ring-wearing and less-recently-dead lieutenant.

Nwalme-Anna leads the interrogation, using his magicks to ensure they get the truth from the prisoner. The rest of the party assists as they see fit. While Rene is extremely curious to find out about his survival, Araphor instead focuses on the survival of the party, insisting we first determine how we are being tracked. The prisoner’s information is somewhat helpful in regard to the tracking; he knows it’s some sort of box device in which an item attuned to the party, but not a specific individual, is placed. This convinces the party that they have no choice but to keep moving, as there is no one place they can be safe. The information regarding his death is less than useful, as he wasn’t alive to witness his revival; he can only say that he was told he wasn’t actually dead.

Nwalme and Araphor also take time to rest and recover their strength, Araphor attempting to keep the priorities in mind: mobility first, then full recovery. Araphor also takes a few moments to talk to Rene and encourage him to give the anti-Nazgul sword over to Thaliondor, to keep our opponents guessing. Surprisingly, he agrees readily, and swaps this sword for Thaliondor’s.

While they rest, a messenger arrives to inform them that they’ve discovered someone watching the house. They go send people to dispatch him, but fail in the attempt, and he escapes. As a sizable force of guards (both “Empress” and city) are getting close, the party chooses this time to move on. But the situation leads Araphor to suggest we send eyes to watch the movements of the guard forces, since they appear to be sending larger and larger forces after the party.

At the next stop, they pause to consider their next move. Reports come in of a fairly large force moving out, as well as a smaller group that’s very close – a group that includes the Nazgul. Thaliondor points out that we may want to try turning and attacking this smaller group if we can get two steps ahead instead of one. But as more reports come in, it strikes everyone (especially Thaliondor, who has been promoting this for some time) that the time may be right to return to the Palace and rescue Smial. As more reports come in about the size and composition of the forces being sent into the streets after them, including what may be the Usurper himself, it becomes clearer that this is the course of action to take. The hobbits with them also decide that it’s time to start a riot, and several of them disappear to put that into motion. Leaving the prisoner in the care of the hobbits, the party then sneaks off to the inn at which they surfaced when escaping the Palace a few weeks ago.

At the inn, they note smoke rising off across the city before they are quickly ushered inside by the proprietor, who is visibly (and understandably) nervous. Inside, they are surprised to find a very satisfied hobbit with a group of strangers… strangers who in size, build, and general appearance resemble the exact makeup of the party!

The hobbit leading our group congratulates him, and everyone goes over the plan: The faux party will attempt to lead the guards on a chase, taking them slightly off the true path (but not so far as to be obvious). They also will take the formerly dead lieutenant with them. In the mean time, the party heads into the secret tunnel, bringing a couple of hobbits with them to assist with any secret doors and such they may encounter. The objectives are discussed, and the primary one settled upon: rescue Smial, and escape the city.

The group makes its way through the tree-crypt and passage, reaching the sealed secret door without incident. Araphor casts Shape Plant and makes sure that the door is not barred. The group bursts in, surprising two guards, and Rene dispatches them swiftly, downing them in as many rounds, one dead, one on his back on the floor, unarmed.

The disarmed guard yells for help, but Thaliondor moves and kicks him solidly in the head, rendering him unconscious. They move onward, opening the flimsy new door to check for further guards, but find none. Thaliondor rushes forward, as Rene volunteers to bring up the rear. Araphor points out that this is ridiculous – the party needs to move fast, and Rene has just shown that he is quick and effective on point. Rene reluctantly agrees, and joins Guthwyn and Thaliondor in the antechambers, making their way into the rotunda, while Araphor and Nwalme follow close behind.

Thaliondor reaches the balcony quickly, and spots two guards at the base of the far staircase. One guard turns to run for help, and Thaliondor shoots him squarely in the back with his crossbow. Meanwhile the other guard charges up the stairs, sword in hand. Guthwyn soon after enters the hall, and runs to attack this guard, while Thaliondor reloads. As Guthwyn engages the closing guard, Thaliondor takes aim and shoots the fleeing guard squarely in the head, felling him quickly.

The guard fighting Guthwyn takes a few solid hits himself. Between that and seeing his comrade fall, he decides to run for help. He turns and runs back down the stairs, just as Rene enters the chamber. Seeing the guard about to escape, Rene vaults over the balcony rail smoothly. Twisting and rolling in midair, he lands on his feet, swords drawn, facing the fleeing foe. As the guard reaches him, Rene furiously attacks, thrusting his blade squarely through the guard’s eye, bringing him to an abrupt halt.

Guthwyn, still in close pursuit, takes no chances and swings her own blade, nearly eviscerating the man. The guard’s corpse collapses to the floor, and as the two of them pull back and clean their blades, Thaliondor runs by them in the direction of ladies-in-waiting chamber and its secret passage, Araphor and Nwalme close on his heels.

Thaliondor is greeted at the door by a serving maid, who recognizes him and welcomes him in with a smile and wink – while suddenly thrusting an arm out throttle one of the ladies in waiting, pinning her to a nearby wall. Thaliondor smiles and winks back, thanking her as the rest of the party bustles in from the hallway. They find the no-longer-very-secret-at-all door, and Rene leads the way, stepping into the passage.

He steps back quickly, however, his sharp eye and quick reflexes not entirely saving him from stepping on one of the numerous large caltrops that litter the passage floor. Upon seeing this, Rene readies his cloak to try and use it to create a path, while Araphor asks one of the ladies if there might be a broom handy. She rushes off to fetch one, and the party waits tensely…

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Thaliondor, One-Handed
...nearly

We find our heroes once again fighting inside a burning building. Near the back door, the formerly dead lieutenant defends himself from Guthwyn, who is intent on seeing him dead despite his surrender. Thaliondor is attempting to wear the Ring he has been handed, while Rene is trying to prevent him from doing so.

A hobbit stands near Guthwyn, trying to get her to stop attacking, and Nwalme-Anna, looking rather fatigued, is walking toward the group. In the front of the main room, the badly injured Araphor slowly makes his way toward the front door and the Ice Slick just inside it.

The lieutenant lands a solid blow on Guthwyn, forcing her to pause and defend herself for a round, giving the hobbit a chance to convince her to stop her attacks. She does so, the breather allowing her blood-lust to sufficiently fade. She orders the lieutenant to relinquish his weapon, but he refuses to do so while she has hers. She lowers hers, convincing him to follow suit.

Meanwhile, Thaliondor remains intent on wearing the Ring, and does so, vanishing. Rene, seeing no other way to stop him, swings his sword at Thaliondor’s hand, nearly severing it from the wrist despite being invisible once again. At the same time, Nwalme leaps on to Thaliondor’s back, grappling with him. Thaliondor moves to slam him back against a nearby wall, but not very successfully, still reeling a bit in pain as his hand hangs by a few tendons. Rene uses Nwalme’s presence as a guide to take another swing at Thaliondor, while Nwalme reminds him verbally of the Empress’ orders, and commands him to remove the Ring.

Thaliondor responds, “I can’t.” Nwalme slips off his back and moves to cast a Minor Healing on him. As he re-attaches the hand this way, he slips the Ring off of Thaliondor’s finger, making him visible once more.

At the front of the common room, Araphor pauses to cast Destroy Water, clearing the Ice Slick so that the party can easily make their escape. He joins several hobbits out in the street, followed shortly by the rest of the group, the captured lieutenant in tow. Not long after their exit, the back room is seen to be engulfed in flames.

The hobbits help the party limp a few blocks until a cart picks them up. They are transported to another house, one that’s not quite so “safe”.

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Game Synopsis, 10/20/2000
raw

We find our heroes in a third hobster safehouse, with a group of faux Empress guards fast approaching their position. The party lies in wait, ready to strike rather than run.

Araphor casts an Ice Slick, creating the ice just inside the unlocked front door. A hobbit is posted to be responsible for closing the door as necessary. Meanwhile, Nwalme-Anna establishes illusions covering the upper floor’s windows and the back door (which is also heavily bolted and secured). The party then gets into position: Thaliondor and Guthwyn opposite the door, crossbow and bow at the ready; Rene and Araphor to either side of the door, swords drawn; Nwalme just to one side of and behind the archers, fingers itching. Hobbit crossbowmen are posted at all upstairs windows.

Soon enough, the guardsmen with their two dread lieutenants arrive. One lieutenant pounds on the door, yelling, “Open in the name of the Empress!”. The party silently waits a moment or two, and the guardsmen burst in through the unlocked door. The first slides a bit on the ice, but keeps his feet, ending up just on the other side of the slick. The second is not so fortunate, and ends up on his back on the ice. The third to enter is one of the lieutenants. He manages to keep his feet and remains standing on the ice, over the fallen guardsman.

The party reacts swiftly. With two strokes each, Araphor fells the first guard, while Rene severs the lieutenant’s sword arm at the elbow. Thaliondor and Guthwyn place a pair of missiles solidly into the lieutenant’s chest as well, sending him falling back out the door. Nwalme takes a moment to charge up his wand with a Strike Blind curse, even as three guards in the street fall dead to the ground, quarrels through their foreheads courtesy of the hobbits on the upper floor.

The upper hand is short-lived, however, as Rene suddenly slumps to the ground, blood spurting from his side. Araphor and Guthwyn (now armed with sword rather than bow) rush to his side. Araphor escapes the grappling attempt of the downed guard and recovers the anti-Nazgul sword from the ground, taking a blow from the invisible attacker in the process. Meanwhile Guthwyn swings into air, managing to connect with something that parries her blow, and calling for Nwalme to “light him up” as they had done with the barrow-wight weeks ago. Nwalme proceeds to create an illusion around the invisible attacker, and Guthwyn has at him with a will. The assailant, however, is more interested in Araphor and strikes him a couple more times, sending the ranger reeling across the room, struggling to stay both conscious and alive. Thaliondor and the hobbit, meanwhile, dispatch the last guardsman inside, shutting the door and leaving no hostiles other than the invisible one in the room.

In the background, muffled shouts of “Open in the name of the Empress” are heard from the rear, and there are reports of the building being set ablaze back there, but the party is absorbed by the threat in their midst, paying it little attention.

Guthwyn and the mostly-invisible foe continue to square off as Nwalme moves to heal Araphor. More guards push the front door open, despite the hobbit’s efforts to jam it, but Thaliondor downs one and sends the rest scurrying with a well-placed blow and a loudly-voiced threat.

He does, in the process, note something odd about the other lieutenant… how he looks like the “dead” lieutenant, but not quite exactly… and [I think] this lieutenant somehow ends up falling over to the ground, without any help from Thaliondor…)

The mostly-invisible man leaps over Rene’s body to stand on the lower part of the staircase, continuing to battle Guthwyn. Behind her, Rene rises to his feet, somewhat restored by Nwalme’s healing magicks. A hobbit descends the stairs, announcing that there are no more targets visible outside. Then he notices Guthwyn fighting an odd smoky wisp, and she shouts to him that there’s a Nazgul in front of him.

Before the hobbit can do much more than gawk, the wraithlike foe realizes that the battle is no longer in his favor, and turns, fleeing toward the back of the building. Thaliondor and Guthwyn quickly pursue him, Rene pausing only to fetch the anti-Nazgul sword from Araphor on his way to join them. They reach him as he is halfway through unbolting the back (very warm) door. They lay into him, but he surprises them by voicing his surrender. Thaliondor demands he give up the Ring he is obviously wearing. The foe further surprises everyone by doing so, saying “You take it, brother” as he hands it over to Thaliondor. As he becomes fully visible, they recognize him as the “dead” lieutenant.

Guthwyn, caught up in battle, ignores his surrender, and he defends himself, having failed to give up his sword along with the Ring. Rene, shocked to see the dead lieutenant, but even more shocked to see the Ring put into Thaliondor’s hands, smacks at said hands with the flat of his blade. Thaliondor fades from view for a split second before the smack of the blade forces the Ring back off of his finger, but not out of his grasp…

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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…

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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.

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