To harass and harry!

I made my way to the campsite of Candaith, yet another of the rangers under Strider’s leadership.  He explained that he had recently discovered there were more orcs skulking about in the Weather Hills than he had realized.  He wished for me to venture south and create a distraction for them, while he scouts far to the north and assesses the main orcish force.

As he explained this to me, I again marveled at these men and gave silent thanks for their careful stewardship over the land. Without them, we may have already been overrun, and I am glad to lend my aid to them, however small it may be!

We shared the fire and made our plans under the ruin of an old watchtower on a large hill. Those who watched from on high in days prior are no longer, and it is left to men such as these to take their place.

With Light,
Kaleigh

Mother, I hope I am doing you proud!

Kaleigh’s journal:

I came across a disturbing sight this evening as I approached the Forsaken Inn on the border of the Lone-lands. A group of young men… well, boys really, were fighting another boy who was rather badly hurt before the fight could be broken up. Afterward, we found out that the one boy had been teased and ridiculed by the others until he finally could take no more and lashed out in rage. Ashamedly, I was reminded of my own childhood.

You see, when I was a young girl, I was… well, quite a sourpuss myself. I loved to tease other children to make myself feel better, looking for any fault I could find in them. And how I loved to complain about something if I did not feel it was exactly how I wanted it! Who knows how many times I was on verge of driving my parents stark-raving mad? Especially my poor mother, whom I am sure I wore out.

It may have been why she succumbed to the Fever so quickly. When I was only ten years old she fell ill. Everyone thought she would recover easily, but she just got worse, until we knew we would probably lose her. She called me in to see her near the end, and we talked about everything. One of the things she said was, “Kaleigh, I want you to remember something. Whenever you start to tease somebody, find fault in someone, or complain about them in some way, I want you to remember this: ‘If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will’. A very wise man once said that, and it will help you change your attitude if you allow it.”

I am sure I looked at her quite puzzled, for it was such an obvious truth, but I promised her I would do it, and I meant it. After she was laid to rest, I missed her so dearly. Soon, though, I was back to my old habits: making fun of others and complaining incessantly. At times, I would consider what she had said, but I could only agree, thinking, “Of course, you will find bad in people. I do it all the time!”.

Once I had matured a little though, and my childhood fantasies gave way to more adult concerns, I began to realize what the saying meant. Of course, if you look for the bad in someone, you will find they have faults. No one is perfect, least of all me. But, maybe, that itself is the problem. What, if you look for the good in people, will you find? And I had to conclude that everyone, even that rotten Beckham Quimby, had some good in them.

And then I realized that a lot of one’s outlook comes down to choice. We are all self-fulfilling prophets, are we not? Think of all the times you go into a situation with a preconceived idea of how it will likely end up. How many times did things happen more or less how you thought they would? Now, think about how many times you were completely surprised by how things turned out? A lot less, right? Some of that is simple reality, which should never be truly ignored. I am not suggesting one should waltz into a lair of trolls with a handful of daisies tomorrow hoping to make new friends!

But I hated no one more than Beckham Quimby, until I decided to maybe just try to see the good in him. Soon, he was my best friend, and later, my dear love. He perished in the assault on Archet, and I miss him terribly. But how much more would I have missed if I never saw who he really was? How much more would I have lost if I never gave him, or myself, that chance?

I always felt so safe and secure on our farm. My world had borders made of Archet, Staddle and, when I was very lucky, Bree. Existence ended with these places, I thought. Everything else was merely a dream. What I have seen these past few months could drive me mad, if I were to let it. Dark forces I never knew existed pose grave threats to us all. I just think we should save our more critical judgments for them and look upon those that we break bread with, walk the road with, and share our lives with, in a kinder light.

Kaleigh

Attack at Dawn

Attack at Dawn

As I stared into the depths of the enemy stronghold at Dol Dinen, the warning given by the way-watcher, Hithlim, returned to me…

“Kaleigh, the foes you go to meet are not the sort that fill legions upon the battlefield. They are of the highest Tier one can imagine dwelling in this realm. And with most of us scattered in distant places, you will not likely find any to aid you, nor to run to should things go badly. If you should fall, there is no retreat.”

[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that are forced to ‘retreat’ have instead died and are forever lost from these lands.]

…the gauntlet had begun…

[Attack at Dawn. Size: Small Fellowship. Tier: 3]

We three stared into the heart of the maelstrom that we knew would descend upon us the moment we breached the gate leading into the fortress.

“You two will go in first,” said Siniath.  “Strike hard and fast, and gain as much ground as you are able as quickly as you can.  I will follow behind and ward off any foes that return to the stronghold.  With luck, and the aid of my brothers, that number will be few.”

I glanced at Deverell as she peered into the fortress, steeling herself for the battle to come.

“And you are sure you do not wish to make the assault with us, or have one of us remain with you?” I asked Sinath.

“Nay,” he replied softly.  “You will need to press forward with all speed if you are to keep word of our settlement from passing beyond these walls.  You will not be able to do so while having to watch your back as well.”

“We will do so, as swiftly as we are able,” promised Deverell.

“If word of your deeds together is true, only a fool would think to split you apart,” Siniath said.  “Some may call what we do here today foolish, but I am no fool.”

We regarded Siniath as he moved to the place from where he would keep his watch over us, until I felt Deverell pull away.

I came up behind and embraced her as she stared out over Dol Dinen and the path that had led us to this moment.

“We best start our attack if you are ready,” I whispered to her.

“There is so much at stake, Kaleigh,” she replied.  “Too much for someone like me to fathom or bear.”

“It is because of you that we have made it as far as we have,” I told her.  “And whatever we do here today will be the same.”

We held each other close for a moment.

“Will you stand with me, one more time?” I asked her.

She nodded and urged me on with a plaintive smile.

“Go, Kaleigh.  Go!”

I turned and charged toward the gate leading into the enemy’s stronghold…

…and into the madness that awaited us just within…

We battled with the awareness that these were only our first few steps upward, onto the mountain that we had to climb that day…

We cut down the enemy gate-warden and all other foes that might rally more forces to the gate…

…before turning to the wargs that circled about, lunging and nipping at us…

With sticker and staff we caught them, and they fell before us…

“Are you hurt badly, Kaleigh?” Deverell asked, as I hobbled over to finish off the last of the wargs.

“One of them nipped me on the ankle is all,” I grimaced.  “I will be fine.”

We quickly glanced over the courtyard and the two paths that led from it toward either side of the rise before us…

“Which way?” asked Deverell, as she looked from side to side.

“We haven’t the time to scout them,” I replied.  “And we dare not signal to Siniath for fear we might give his presence away.  Let us take the left path.”

We caught our breath for a moment longer and then sprinted onto the eastern path…

…charging upward toward the foes that stood between us and the gate leading to the inner courtyard of the fortress…

We battled down those who might escape to bring allies to the fight before turning to the wargs…

…dodging and weaving about us at a frenetic pace, waiting for the smallest slip,  the slightest stumble upon which to pounce…

As I finished one of the last, I heard Deverell’s cry…

“Kaleigh!

“No, you don’t!” I cried, catching the last warg in the underbelly with my sticker before it could leap onto Deverell….

Deverell backed away as I steered it to the side, driving it to the ground before finishing him...

We took a moment to collect ourselves before resuming our charge up the hill.  But, in our haste, we failed to see the greater threat that lay in wait for us…

A wood troll emerged from the copse of trees on the northern side of the hill as we approached, forcing us to retreat to level ground…

As we battled the troll on the foot of the hill, I heard a dark whisper upon the air.  It clung to me like a mantle from which I could not get free…

“Kaleigh!  Kaleigh, watch out!” exclaimed Deverell.

I came to in time to see the troll ready to stomp me into the earth…

…but was able to save myself by shouting a word of binding in the moment before what was nearly my last…

Free of the power that held me, Deverell and I then battled the troll until it began to topple…

…and fall, crashing to the earth…

Deverell and I looked at each other, realizing that we both had felt the same darkness cling to us…

“There is a great power here,” I said, my mind returning to our battle upon the Bruinen.

…but unlike then, this power was not friend but foe…

We both gazed over the stronghold’s fortifying walls toward what appeared to be a large command tent set against the face of the cliffs overlooking the hill…

“Not only is our presence here known, but we will be thwarted at every turn,” I warned Deverell.  “Be ready.”

Together we charged up the hill and through the gate leading to the inner courtyard… 

…into a cacophony of shattering rock and stone being hurled at us from above…

“The catapults upon the hill, Kaleigh!” cried Deverell, as we ducked under the splintering fragments and debris.

I spied a third gate leading to yet another level of the stronghold before us and pointed toward it…

“Make for the edge of the courtyard and circle toward the gate!” I shouted above the din.  “I will draw them toward the center!”

From over the wall, a great craban arose.  It flew toward me, to keep me in harm’s way of the catapults above…

…but I caught it with my sticker, sending it to the earth like the stones that fell toward us still…

A group of orcs charged through the gate at us, halting our advance…

Deverell abandoned the edge of the courtyard to aid me in fighting our way toward the gate, as hurtling stones flew and crashed around us…

Once we reached the gate, we turned on our attackers, forcing them to battle up the ramp toward us while in range of the catapults…

The orcs and goblins made one last charge, breaking through the gate and toward Deverell…

…but I caught them from behind as they passed, striking them down…

…until the two of us were free of them and standing on the third level of the stronghold with a moment to breathe…

Before us lay a path leading upward, to what appeared to be another gate and the final level of the stronghold.  The path from the gate led southward, toward the command tent…

We retreated to the gate we had just won, taking refuge from the stones that were still being cast at us.  I gazed up the path that would require yet another charge, weariness from the sleepless march of the night before setting in…

“Just a bit more yet,” I said breathlessly.  “Are you ready?”

Deverell nodded her assent, and I began my charge up the hill.  From the gate above emerged an enemy lieutenant and his soldiers to battle us from higher ground…

I cried out as a goblin archer caught me with an arrow before I could close the ground.  I bit my lip and cut a notch into the shaft with my sticker, breaking it off as I continued my charge…

I waded into the enemy throng sent to halt our advance, parrying away their attacks to find openings for my own.  One by one, they fell before us…

But my eyes were growing heavy with fatigue…

“Kaleigh!  Behind you!” Deverell exclaimed.

Just as I reached the archer that had pierced me with his arrow, Deverell’s warning roused me, saving me from the enemy lieutenant who had skulked his way in behind us…

I caught the goblin with my sticker…

…and then whirled upon the lieutenant, catching him with my other before he could come too near…

I cut a swath of crimson from him, and he fell before us.  The gate to the final level of the stronghold was won…

We took a moment to catch our breath and recover from the battle, wordlessly peering through the gate to see what might lie before us…

“The catapults will not be able to reach us here,” I said finally.  “We should be safe from…”

…but the blast of war-horns from below silenced me…

“Siniath will be overrun,” said Deverell.  “Kaleigh, we must go to his aid!”

I drew my stickers and we charged back down the hill together…

We were met by a band of orcs and wargs, led by a Dourhand lieutenant at the gate below…

We struck down his forces before turning to the leader.  Beyond him, in the courtyard below, I saw many foes streaming toward us…

…through the southern gate which Siniath was fighting desperately to hold…

I shouted a word of binding at a troll nearing the gate to hold him still, until we could finish the Dourhand and press on…

A pack of wargs reached the gate as we advanced on the troll…

I circled around our foes, luring them away from Deverell, as we battled to reach Siniath…

Slowly, we worked a backward retreat of inches, knowing that to give either too much or too little ground would be the end of us all…

Then we heard Siniath’s cry above the din of battle…

“The leader!  He’s broken free!”

Into the fray stormed an Angmarim general with a dark-furred warg at his side, straight toward Deverell.  I readied my stickers to pierce them where their charge had left them exposed…

…but then a malevolent whisper passed over me, dimming my vision and halting my attack…

“Kaleigh!  Kaleigh, I cannot hold them!” I heard Deverell cry.

I shook my head to clear my sight, as if to free myself from a shroud that had been draped over me…

The Angmarim shouted a word of command to his warg as my vision returned.  The warg turned to hold me at bay while its master fought to bring Deverell down…

When it reared up to bite at me, I caught it in its maw with my sticker before ending it with my other…

Deverell had parried away the Angarim’s attack long enough for me to come to her aid…

Together, we closed in on him… 

I readied my stickers, piercing his gut the moment he whirled upon me.  He fell to the ground between us, lying at our feet…

The counterattack having been quelled, we gathered at the southern gate for a moment to rest…

“Our plan is working as well as I could have hoped,” Siniath offered, recovering his breath as he looked over the courtyard.  His gaze then went upward, to the rise leading to the crest of the hill where the command tent stood.

“How far were you two able to reach before the sounding of the enemy’s horn?” he asked.

“To the final level, on that path just before the gate leading to the tent,” I said.  “Though it is a wonder that we were not overrun.”

“My brothers keep the greater force lured to the north and the west for now,” nodded Siniath.  “How long they will be able to hold them, I cannot say.  It would be best to be through and done with this place, and with any foe able to give word of the encampment, as quick as we are able.”

Deverell and I looked at each other and nodded.  Our brief respite was over…

“Be wary on your ascent to where you once stood,” Siniath warned.  “The enemy will not give back the ground it has reclaimed freely.  I will watch for any foe that returns and keep them from you.”

“Please, be safe, Siniath,” Deverell said.

Siniath nodded once more, his gaze returning to us.  “There are many wonders being worked, both out there and here in this stronghold.  Perhaps with enough of them, we might all make it through this day.”

I blinked away tears as I watched the noble man return to the gate, to keep his watch over us…

“Deverell, we best away,” I said.

The two of us crept up to the gate once more and passed through…

As we came through the gate before the path leading upward, to where we stood when we heard the war-horns sound, I caught sight of a figure skulking to the south and stopped.  It was an orcish shaman, touched by the blight of darkfire…

I nodded to Deverell and we charged toward our foe…

The shaman raised his staff, meeting my stickers before they could reach him…


…before then bringing it down, alighting my body with the darkfire he summoned, its blaze scorching me…

He moved like a wisp of flickering flame, dodging to and fro…

…narrowly eluding attack after counterattack…

…then striking at the moments in which I left myself most vulnerable…

We battled on, circling one another, each looking for an opportunity, a weakness to be revealed.  I watched as the shaman drew his staff back and forth before himself, ready to block any strike I made…

I gathered myself for a moment and then feigned a high attack, forcing the shaman to bring his staff upward to meet it.  I then turned my blades downward once more, plunging them into the shaman’s leg…  

When he stumbled, I brought them back over his staff and swung in a wide arc…

…catching him across his exposed chest and causing him to fall…

I stood silently and still for a moment, as Deverell’s words quelled the darkfire that had coursed over my body and spirit during our battle with the shaman…

“I pray that was the creature uttering darknesses upon the air,” Deverell said as we looked upon the orc while watching the darkfire burning within it extinguish.

I shook my head with a sigh.  “An acolyte, or a follower, perhaps.  But I fear its master lies in wait for us yet above.”

“Siniath battles below to let us go forward, Kaleigh.  We best be on our way,” Deverell suggested.

I drew the sleeve of my tunic across my eyes to wipe away the soot and ash and then nodded, drawing my stickers once more…

Dodging the fire from the catapults above, we raced up the path leading to the upper level of the stronghold and through the gate…

…into the enemy that lay in wait for us…

I screamed as an arrow pierced my shoulder, knocking me backward to the ground just beyond a wood troll’s grasp…

By the time I had broken off the arrow shaft and regained my feet, the enemy had passed me by, making straight for Deverell…

Whether to help or to hinder, all looked upon her as she called upon her powers to protect herself and bind my wound…

With her aid, I was able to cut down two of the wargs that threatened her before turning toward the troll…

It loomed above, shouting down its malevolence upon me…

It kicked and swung its limbs, trying to dash me into the stone face of the hill we battled upon…

Favoring my wounded shoulder, I spun away, catching its leg with my other sticker.  I felled it with a few more swings, while eluding the other foes until I could face them… 

Deverell backed away as I advanced upon the rest of our foes while hunched over in pain.  One by one, they fell before us…

…until I had finally pierced the last and sank to my knees, both from relief and the pain about to claim me…

I felt darkness closing in upon me, drawing me downward…

“Help me,” I pleaded, my voice barely a whisper…

“Rest easy, Kaleigh.  Rest a moment.” I heard Deverell say.

From behind where I knelt, I heard her whisper words of light.  The darkness lifted from me, and I felt strength returning to my limbs.  The crippling pain in my shoulder eased enough for me to press on…

I slowly rose to the my feet and gazed upon what lay before us…

We had reached the catapults that had rained stone after stone upon us, and the command tent lay just beyond…

The forces of the enemy defending the catapults turned upon us and began to advance...

A great craban rose over the enemy, stirring up a crimson dust-storm to hinder our vision of the battle below.  We backed away until I was able to catch it with a sticker, causing it to fall to the earth…

With the death of the craban, the dust in the air began to settle, revealing the enemy horde…

I threw myself into their midst, twirling amongst them to keep Deverell safe from their ire and to strike at any opening I could spy…

I felled a troll lingering by the light of a burning pyre, before then eluding the shadow cast by its fall…

…and then whirled upon an orc charging at me with axe in hand…

As I turned my blades toward the pack of wargs circling about me, a threat revealed itself…

“Kaleigh, an archer!  Hidden by the pyre!” cried Deverell.

But I was unable to break free from the melee in which I was engaged, for fear that my attackers would cut me down from behind…

I cried out as the archer pierced my side with an arrow, but I fought on…

…even as another arrow came after the first…

My leathers prevented the arrows from piercing me deeply, and I broke off the shafts once free of other foes before advancing upon the goblin archer…

He threw down his bow and took up a spear as I charged him.  We battled by the light of the pyre, weaving in and out of the shadows it cast about us, until I finally caught him with my sticker…

He fell before us, the last defender of the enemy’s siege weapons that now lay within our reach …

I walked over to the catapults that had nearly ended us time and again, with Deverell trailing behind…

“Would you bring me a firebrand from the pyre?” I asked her.

Deverell looked over at the tent.  “Let me treat your wounds first, Kaleigh.  Then, I will bring one for each of us.”

I kept watch over the tent while Deverell treated me as best she could, where the arrows had pierced my leathers…

“I owe you for this,” I whispered to her, fighting back tears of pain and regret as she bound my side.  “I owe so much…”

“Kaleigh, it was my choice to come with you, and what is done is done.” Deverell chided me as she worked.  She turned to look over at the tent briefly before tending to my wounds once more.  “Keep your thoughts to the present, and we may yet prevail this day.”

I bit my lip and nodded, trying to brace myself for what was to come…

“We are going to stir up a hornet’s nest once we put these catapults to the torch,” I warned her.

Deverell answered by going over to the pyre and fetching two firebrands, one of which she offered to me…

We each touched the fire to one of the catapults, in many places, until they both roared with flame…

And then we waited…

…watching as a great horde of the enemy emerged from the tent, to save their weaponry and bring us down…

“Stay back,” I told Deverell.  “I will try to hold them.”

I lit out to meet the foe, to halt their charge where the barricade lining the path offered protection for the burning catapults…

…but there were too many to hold, and most slipped past my reach, to where Deverell guarded the opening in the barricade beyond which the catapults lay…

I whirled upon the pack of wargs assailing Deverell, drawing them away one by one as she tried to fend them off…

The enemy I had turned my back on began to close in.  I spun between both sides, battling to keep each at bay until I could finish the wargs…

Between the two of us, we finally slew the last warg, and I went to turn on the remaining foes…

…but an orc caught my boot with his foot as I spun, and I could not keep myself from stumbling to my knees before the enemy.  They closed in quickly as Deverell screamed, pleading with me to rise…

From my knees, I saw an orc shaman come running from the tent with an undead spirit at its side.  It snarled commands in a dark tongue before advancing upon me…

I regained my feet as the enemy began to charge past…

“Fall back!” I cried.  “Back to the catapults!”

I backed away as the shaman and its spirit advanced, to the barricade from where I heard the orcs chase Deverell to the catapults.  I fought desperately, battling to strike down the shaman and spirit before she was overrun…

Her cries sped me on, and I pierced the shaman through before driving the ghost back to its fitful rest…

As I turned and began to race to Deverell’s aid, a Dourhand lieutenant emerged from the tent…

He chased me up the path, to where I turned toward the orcs attacking Deverell…

…and cut them down from behind, before they could harm her further…

Together, we turned on the Dourhand and his minion.  No other enemy emerged from the tent to engage us… 

…and when I cut down the Dourhand, we stood alone at last…

After a moment to recover, Deverell and I crept up near the entrance to the command tent and peered inside, but much was yet hidden from our sight…

“Siniath should be here with us,” I said softly, peering out over the stronghold before returning my gaze to the tent.

“Perhaps he’s made contact with the other way-watchers,” offered Deverell.  “Should we wait for him a bit?”

I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to shake the weariness that still clung to me…

“We cannot stop now, Deverell.  Not when we are so near to seeing things through.  There is no other way to know what lies inside the tent, nor what transpires there even this moment, lest we make our strike now,” I surmised.

Deverell nodded her assent, and I readied myself for one final charge.  I felt Deverell slip her hands into mine, and I squeezed them with my own…

“I will be right behind you, Kaleigh,” she whispered, lending me her strength.

I drew in a deep breath and then began my charge toward the command tent…

…where I spied a ring of raised platforms upon which goblins danced and chanted, paying tribute to a giant orc-lord who stood below them, basking in their praises…

The orc-lord was touched by dark-fire, and he raised up an axe nearly twice my height as I approached him…

I drew my stickers and made to close ground with him, to work my way inside the longer reach of his weapon…

…but he instead lowered his axe and breathed darkfire upon me…

…before catching me with the haft of his axe while I was blinded and scorched, sending me crashing into the raised platforms behind where I once stood…

I fell to the ground in a heap as the orc-lord advanced upon Deverell…

I sprang to my feet and threw myself in front of the orc-lord, stopping his advance.  We traded parries as the darkfire raged over my body, burning away my strength and desire…

It was then, from the path to the tent beyond the orc-lord, that I heard a cry…

“Kaleigh!  Deverell!”

It was Siniath, come to aid us.  We called out to him, and he began sprinting toward the tent…

The orc-lord whirled about and gestured with his hand, sending dark words upon the air…

…and there arose a wall of fire across the opening of the tent as Siniath approached, causing him to stop short.  Tendrils of blistering flame shot upward across the height of the entryway.  Scorching heat radiated through the whole of the tent and beyond…

“Siniath!” cried Deverell.

Through the wisps of flame, we saw him back away…

“Keep battling him!  I will find another way,” Siniath shouted over the roaring of the fire.

I went to renew my attack upon the orc-lord when I felt a searing pain in my hands…

I cast aside my stickers, which the orc-lord had set to flame, and backed away as he charged toward me…

“Kaleigh!” Deverell screamed…

The orc-lord had woven rings of darkfire that were strewn about the tent, inside of which rose plumes of flame…

He pressed in upon me, backing me into the fire.  I cried out in pain and leapt to the side, narrowing avoiding the swing of his axe…

As the orc-lord chased me about the tent, he began shouting in a dark tongue.  The goblins atop the platforms began jumping down from them, to the ground…

I ran to fetch my stickers and swept them up while running by…

“Deverell, be ready!” I called out.

But rather than attack us, the goblins streamed toward the southern wall of the tent…

…where a hidden cave opened into the face of the hill, leading to a likely path of escape…

“The goblins!” I cried out.  “Slay the goblins before they can away!”

Deverell ran to guard the opening of the cave as I caught one of the goblins attempting to flee.  I drew my sticker across his body, dropping him to the ground, and then lit out for the others with the orc-lord chasing after me…

It was not long before I felt his fiery grasp upon my shoulder…

The darkfire raged over me as we grappled.  My shoulder, pierced by the arrow from before, began to tear apart from the strain…

I screamed as the orc-lord drew me in…

I was held fast in the orc-lord’s vile embrace.  Into my ear, he whispered dark and terrible things, curses and blasphemies in the blackest of tongues…

As his dark words tumbled over me, I felt something snap inside my mind, like a length of wood brought over a man’s knee…

The orc-lord released me, howling with triumph as I began to stagger, wandering aimlessly around the tent…

Darkfire was cast upon me once more, but I had not the strength to fight it.  It raged over me, burning away not flesh and bone, but my will and desire…

The roaring flame and Deverell’s screams both faded as my world went silent…

I came to stand before the orc-lord.  Unbidden, my arms fell to my sides…

The orc-lord roared, bringing his axe around with a vicious swing…

…and my vision turned to grey as death came for me…

But the blade struck an unseen force before me and was turned away.  There was a flash of light, then the sound of splintering wood and Deverell’s piercing scream…

The orc-lord was knocked backward and dazed, but my mind had been made clear…

“Now, Kaleigh!” I heard Deverell cry.  “Strike him down!”

I brought my stickers to bear upon the orc-lord with all that I had left within me, battling through the darkfire and the pain…

My very being was melting away as my hope for atonement was nigh…

I threw myself into the fiend and caught him with my stickers one final time…

…quenching the darkfire within him and sending him to his final rest…

“Deverell!” I screamed, spying her lying amidst fragments of the broken staff that the elves of Rivendell had gifted to her.

She rose from the ground, wearily climbing to her feet.  I rushed over to help her, embracing her as the wall of darkfire guarding the opening of the tent burnt itself out.

Siniath burst into the tent and ran over to us.

He looked upon the dead orc-lord and then to the cave set into the hill.

“Did any foe escape?” he asked.

I looked to Deverell, who shook her head.

“Not one,” she said.  “What is hidden shall remain so.”

“The Rangers of Esteldín will remember your service. Without your aid, Esteldín would surely have fallen,” Siniath said softly.

“But now, we must fly…”

Counsel

Counsel

After the battle at the ford, we were led along the winding and twisting roads that eventually brought us to the elves’ secret home.

Dusk was settling upon the vale as our path led downward, into splendor that both soothed the spirit and exemplified plainly what it was for which we toiled to save.

We were brought to the stables, where I wearily climbed down from Dandi’s back to the ground below.

“These dear friends will see to you and keep you company, sweet girl,” I whispered to her as I stroked her neck before turning to leave with the others.

She neighed after me as we walked away, and her voice cut through all I shouldered that day, touching my heart.

We were led through the settlement to guest chambers where we were to rest for the night.  Foods and wines of all kinds, each better than the last, were brought to us, and we were freed of our armor and clad in the finest of elven fineries before being left to our rest.

Sleep claimed me, keeping me through the evening and well into the next day, only awaking when I heard a light knock at the door to my chamber.

At the door was a messenger who asked forgiveness for disturbing my rest.  He handed me a missive before taking his leave.

The missive was from Lord Elrond, asking for Deverell and I to meet with him in his library in the Last Homely House in one hour’s time.

Deverell was still sleeping in her chamber, so I made to rouse her.

“Wake up, Sleepy!” I laughed, shaking her gently.

But she would not rise so easily, so I let her be.

She looked so peaceful in her rest, unlike the days when the burden of the concerns that we bore weighed upon her and dimmed her light…

…before the day I had asked her to keep me through the endeavor for which we still battled…

I lay my hand over her own for a moment.

“One day, I will finally give more than I take from you,” I promised in a whisper before turning away.

I took leave of our guest chambers, venturing out into the cool of the early evening…

…finding the beauty of the vale no less striking in the evening than during the light of day.

Will that beauty remain, by part or by parcel…

…when the Last Homely House is no longer the last…

…and the bridge of time, from present to past…

…fades at the foot of the western shore?

I left my musings at the door to the Last Homely House and went inside.

Both the splendor of the hall and the elves within greeted me upon my entry.  I was pointed to the stair which led to the library.

It was only when I reached the top of the stair, and the door to the library lay just beyond, that the thought of meeting alone with Lord Elrond made me uneasy.  I took a moment to settle myself and remember the things for which I sought his counsel.

I then drew in a deep breath and went inside.

I found Lord Elrond at the foot of the stair on the lower level of the library and bowed before him.

“Good evening to you, Lord Elrond,” I greeted him.

“And to you, Kaleigh,” Lord Elrond replied.  “It is one far better than the evening before evening last, I think, when the evil host gathered upon the far side of the Bruinen.  All who dwell within the vale know of your part in the battle that turned that host away.  Every last one of us is in your debt.”

I blushed crimson to the roots of my hair.  “Thank you, my lord, but it is my belief that we all have come out ahead.  It was your sons who led us in battle, and from them whom we drew our strength.  And it was your presence at the ford from afar that aided and guided them, and through them guided us all.  Whatever small debt you believe you owe has been paid over and beyond.”

I spied a hint of a smile grace Lord Elrond’s countenance.  “You weave your words with elegance, Kaleigh, the same level of elegance with which you wield your knives upon the battlefield.  But however you might try to parry it away, you will find yourself unable to turn aside the gratefulness those of the vale feel for you and your companion who aided us in our time of need.”

“You honor us both greatly, Lord Elrond,” I replied, curtseying before him once more while still trying to fight down the flush in my face.

“And where is Deverell?” Lord Elrond inquired.  “Did she not know of the missive I sent?  I hope she is recovering well from the battle?”

“Forgive us, Lord Elrond,” I asked.  “I went to rouse her but she was not easily stirred.  As you do, she battles in a way beyond my ken, and the effort takes all of her strength and beyond, to a place few ever find in themselves.”

“There is nothing to forgive,” Lord Elrond replied.  “I know you both mean to leave the vale soon, and I would see you both whole and hale before you do.  Please, give Deverell my best wishes, as I also give them to you.”

“I am most grateful to have them, Lord Elrond, and I know that Deverell will feel the same when I share them with her.  Our time spent here in this haven, and the gift of your good wishes, will make our road a brighter one,” I said, smiling.

Lord Elrond studied me for a moment and then said, “I hope they shall, for I suspect the road that brought you here was more difficult than you care to reveal, and the road you mean to take from here darker still.”

When his words found their mark, and I did not respond straightaway, he asked gently, “What is it that truly brought you to the vale?”

I reached into the pocket of my dress where I had secreted Halbarad’s letter and offered it to Lord Elrond.

After he read the note, he returned it to me, and I tucked it away once more.  I watched him closely as he weighed it, turning it over in his mind.

“The kinsmen of Estel serve their captain dutifully and well,” he finally said.  “Much as we do in the vale of Imladris, they shelter in a place hidden from the eyes of those that would seek to do them harm.  That place bears their captain’s name.  Do you know of it?” he asked.

“I do, my lord,” I replied.

“Do you know the name’s meaning?” he inquired.

I blushed once more, for better reason, and admitted, “I am sorry, but I do not.”

“It means ‘hidden hope’ in these words,” he said.  “Tell me, do you weave at all?”

“I enjoy my stitching very much, when I have the time to sit with it,” I smiled.

“Have you ever woven rope before?” he asked.

“Many times, my lord.” I replied.

He nodded, looking upon me as an elder would a child.  “Then you know that many strands are woven together to make the rope.  Why is this?”

“To make the rope stronger?” I asked, more than I stated.

“Indeed so,” he said.  “Tell me of the road you have taken while in service to these men.”

I reached for the pocket of my dress once more.  “I have kept a record of our journey, Lord Elrond, if you would care to see it?” I asked.

“If you will allow it,” he replied, the wisp of a smile returning to his face once more.

I brought my map over to him, showing him the paths Deverell and I had taken, and how they had led us to come to Rivendell while he looked over my shoulder.

After I had finishing telling my tale, he traced his finger over our path…

“As do the paths woven by those who serve their captain in his stead, so does your path, and Deverell’s path, strengthen those whom you serve.” Lord Elrond said.  “In the letter that you carry, and in the paths that you weave from it, hope may be hidden, yet it remains.”

I dabbed at my eyes to wipe away the tears that welled in them before they could fall.

“Thank you.  Thank you, Lord Elrond,” I was finally able to get out.

“You have done all you are able in northern lands.  The path of those who walk with Estel lies southward.  His kinsmen will follow southward in service to their captain.  You should return to Esteldin with word of all that you have done and have seen.  If your path on this endeavor is to continue, you will then know,” Lord Elrond advised.

“I am most grateful, my lord, grateful beyond the words I know to truly express it,” I said, thanking him as I slowly started to fold up the map.  “If… I may…”

“Yes, ask freely,” he answered.

I unfolded my map once more and held it out before him.  “Is there somewhere yet that might be in need of aid?  Somewhere we have not yet been to see?”

“Let such things be decided by those whom you serve,” suggested Lord Elrond.  “By availing yourself to the direction of the weaver who guides the strands, the greatest care may be taken to ensure that the rope will not unravel.”

“I will bring your counsel to those who remain in Esteldin and do no more, I promise you,” I said quickly.

“See that you do,” he said sternly, before pointing to a place on the map to the south.  “Below the halls of the ancient kingdom the dwarves attempt to reclaim even now, trouble stirs in the depths.”

I folded up my map once more and tucked it away.  “Deverell and I will away tomorrow with this news and give word to the Way-watchers.”

It was then that Lord Elrond was called away to other matters, leaving me to contemplate the wisdom of his words.

I took my leave from the Last Homely House and walked out into the evening once more…

…with the weight of Lord Elrond’s words upon my shoulders and my heart…

After our rest that evening, Deverell and I awoke to find a satchel left for each of us at the door of our quarters.  The satchels were filled with elven waybread to keep us on our journey.

Leaning against the wall next to one satchel was a staff of mallorn wood, beautifully adorned with carvings of runes that appeared to swirl about its length.  Atop the other was a sticker of elven-make, light as a feather, yet firm in my hand and more sharp than any blade I had ever held.

As I readied my things for the road ahead, I reflected upon the notion that the good wishes of the elves were no trifling thing.

Deverell had some things yet to see to by the time I was ready, so I decided to take one last turn about the settlement before meeting her at the stables.

The morning was bright, and the path brighter still, for the good wishes of all those I came across while on it.  So many stopped to bid us well on our journey.

The voice of the elves will still touch us, their spirit and grace will still linger, long after the day they might leave these lands to us…

…a legacy beyond mere wishes and dreams, an example to value and follow…

…to sacrifice all for, even as those before have done for me…

We all finally gathered at the stables, Deverell and I, along with Elladan and Elrohir, with whom we battled alongside at the ford.  The two brothers were to escort us as far as Thorenhad, where they would once more take up their watch over the paths leading to the hidden vale.

Together, we took the trail leading upward, out to the high moor…

…while casting one last gaze upon the Last Homely House, and the treasures of the vale, before turning southward to leave them behind…

Upon reaching Thorenhad, we took rest for the evening, rising early the next day to start on the road once more.  We parted company with the sons of Elrond with regret, but also with the promise of well-wishes, and the hope our paths might cross again one day.

“May your journey be swift and true, that you may find its end in good time,” said Elladan.

“And know that the path to Imladris will be open to you both, now and for always,” added Elrohir.

We bid farewell to Elladan and Elrohir, then peered into the clouded sky that brought forth a light rain to start the day.

The elves in the camp seeing to the horses led Dandi and Dancer over to us, from where they had set out feed for them.

And we were away, to the Great East Road, onto which we then turned westward, toward Bree-land.

The rain grew heavier, and lightning brightened the sky, illuminating all within its brief evanescence, before the day became dark once more.  We made camp during the heavier parts of the storm but took to the road as often as we were able.

We came to the Last Bridge, parting company with the elves who kept watch over the last of the Trollshaws, and crossed into the Lone-lands.

Once we passed Weathertop on the Great East Road, we turned northward, winding our way through the foothills, and over the Weatherway, into Bree-land.

We spied evil men and others rooting through the ruins out in the open of the Weather Hills and skirted them to the west as best we could, taking cover on the edges of the Chetwood.

We had traveled by day and rested by night for many days.

Once we reached the southern waters of Nen Harn, we traveled northward, along its eastern shoreline…

…until reaching its northern shore, where we then cut eastward, through the forest east of the ruins of Merenost, south and east of Lin Giliath.

We tread warily, making our away around the hills and stone where we spied the caves that the trolls of the forest likely called home.

Daylight was fading as we came to the cliffs overlooking Dol Dinen.  I stopped Dandi before we came too near the edge and beckoned Deverell forward to see.  We then led the horses to the edge of the forest behind us to rest before returning to the cliff.

I surveyed what remained of the forest, as we stood overlooking the land beyond the cliff for a few moments in silence.  Then Deverell asked, “What is this place, Kaleigh?

“What lies beyond the cliff is called Dol Dinen,” I told her.  “Once it was a great forest, before the Angmarim hewed most of it down and built a great stronghold further to the east.  It is from there that the orcs and goblins, and things more foul, harry the Way-watchers.  We are in a most dangerous place.”

“Why did we cross eastward at the ruins then and not continue to the north from there, on the western side of the mountains?” she sighed.

“Because I thought we might skirt the edge of Dol Dinen and bring word of anything we might discover to the Way-watchers,” I smiled wearily.

Deverell nodded and then returned her gaze to the forest below.

“I should have said something before we turned this way.  I am sorry.” I said.

I saw a brief smile surface for a moment before her weariness took hold once more.  “You are the scout and remind me often why you rightfully are called by that title.  I had just hoped we might reach Esteldin tonight if we pressed on into the evening a bit is all.” she replied.  “That we might find out if…”

“…if we can go home.” I finished for her, fighting back the sob that had taken life in my chest at that moment.   Neither of us had dared to speak of it during the whole of our journey, but now we were near.

So very near…

The weight of our endeavor pulled the tears from our eyes, and the path they traveled down our faces, the wet against our worn and tired skin, gave testament to how far we truly had come, together…

The two of us embraced, trembling in each others’ arms, as we both relived what we had endured, the sum of our months’ long journey laid bare in those few moments…

Finally, I let go of her and turned back toward the east.

“If we skirt Dol Dinen, keeping as far to the west as we can and under cover of the trees, we could reach Esteldin before the sun rises,” I mused.

“I’ll get the horses,” Deverell said, turning swiftly to keep to her word.

We eased Dandi and Dancer down the steep switchback leading to the downs below and headed northward, keeping close to the eastern edge of the Kingsfell mountains.

The western edge of the forest still provided cover from the eyes of those that lurked further east…

…though the wound they continued to inflict upon the forest had grown in the time since I had last come to know of it.

At the times we heard movement in the distance, we shrouded ourselves, staying tight to the trees.

As we rounded one of the foothills that led to a shallow canyon set in the mountains,  I caught sight of shadows flickering against the side of the cliffs ahead.

I motioned to Deverell to stay put, then eased Dandi slowly forward…

Nestled between the canyon walls was a campsite.  I spied movement beyond the small tent that sat before a fire pit.

I waited to see who might come forth from the darkness…

A lone figure emerged, taking a place before the fire.  It was a man wearing the colors of the Way-watchers.

I motioned to Deverell to ease up slowly and, when she was near, I urged Dandi forward, toward the camp.

“Who goes there?!” I heard the man call out, in a voice familiar to me.

“It is Scout Kaleigh, with a friend just behind.  We mean you no harm, Master Siniath.”

Siniath stood and looked over us a moment before beckoning us forward.  We settled the horses nearby and then met him near the fire.

“You two do not know the trouble you’ve walked into this evening,” Siniath said, as we approached.  He looked about for a moment, then back to us.  “I would ask your aid, Scout Kaleigh, for our need is dire.”

“You have it, this very moment,” I replied, looking at him with concern before glancing to Deverell.

“Mine as well, good sir,” Deverell said, returning my glance.  Looking then to Siniath, she asked, “What is it that we can do to aid you?”

Siniath looked between us, then back to Deverell.  “I do not wish to presume, but you are Lady Deverell, I take it?”

When she nodded, he gifted her a warm smile.  “You are known to us, Lady Deverell.  Your deeds precede you and deserve far more praise than I have time to give them this moment, I fear.”

He then looked off into the distance behind us and nodded, causing us to turn.

As we looked into the darkness, Siniath said softly, “Esteldin has been discovered by the Enemy.”

We turned to find him hunched over. as if he bore the weight of his news upon his very shoulders.

“How… how can this be?” I stammered.

“Our lookouts spotted a small group of men wandering the downs near to the hidden encampment before dusk.  We sent scouts to intercede before they might discover our true presence.  When our scouts learned the Enemy had driven them out of their homes and put them to the torch, they decided to aid these men by allowing them to seek refuge within our encampment.” Siniath explained.

“These men, they were not traitorous?” I asked.

“No, they were not.” answered Siniath.  “But neither they nor our men noticed the band of goblin-scouts following behind them until it was too late.  The goblins know of our presence and where our encampment is hidden.  They race for Dol Dinen to bring word to their masters even now.”

“We must fly to keep them from it, before they can no longer be silenced!” I exclaimed.

When Deverell nodded her assent, Siniath said, “There is more.  The goblins will likely make it to the safety of Dol Dinen before we can hope to reach them.  Many of our brothers ride south now, to distract as many of the enemy as they are able by luring them to the west.  My task is to take advantage of the chaos woven by penetrating as deeply into the camp as necessary to find these goblins and end all chance of their spreading word of our hidden presence.

We stood silently, the magnitude of the task before us leaving room for little else in the moment…

“There is little hope that we will prevail,” admitted Siniath.  “If you wish to instead see to what you both have been tasked…”

“We will need a place to hide the horses, once they have carried us as far as they are able without giving away our presence,” I mused.  “There is a cave to the east that I know, east of the main trail leading to Dol Dinen.  We can leave the horses there and hope they are not found before we return for them.”

“Let us away, then,” said Deverell.  “Now, while there may yet be time.”

She ran off to fetch our horses, Siniath and I looking after her.

Siniath then turned to me.  “Whatever end we meet this day, whatever fate befalls Esteldin, we will make it cost the Enemy, and dearly,” he vowed.

We set the horses to fly across the downs like birds of prey…

…and we raced the moon, as it sped across the sky…

The first light of day already threatened the darkness…

I led the others to the cave, where we hoped other Way-watchers, if anyone, were to find the horses.

We pressed on…

…over hills where we attempted to glean which path might thread its way through the enemy’s forces safely…

…where we lent encouragement to one another before braving those paths…

And over grasses, where we took as much advantage of the scant cover they provided as we were able…

…until the place we had marched through the night to reach finally came into view…

The Way-watchers’ gambit had worked.  Unfettered, we stole our way to the outer fortifications protecting the Enemy’s stronghold…

…and along their length, to the front gate that would grant us entry into the deeper fortifications, and those that remained inside…

Master Siniath bid us wait, while he skulked up to the gate…

…before turning to beckon us forth…

With the burden of protecting the secret of Esteldin upon our shoulders, after our long march across enemy lines through the whole of a sleepless night…

…we now stood upon the edge of battle, the dawn of the new day breaking upon us…

Penumbra

Penumbra

Two days after the battle outside the Prancing Pony, Deverell and I passed through the southern gate of Bree-town and onto the Great East Road.  After the chill that had lingered in the days before, the newfound warmth was most welcome.  The preternatural winter had been broken for now.

I stopped Dandi to watch Deverell as she tarried by the gate for one last look before we were to away.  That the foe had reached the very doorstep of our home and nearly taken it for themselves was beyond unsettling.

Halbarad’s task for us had been to achieve what our enemy had done instead, to slip past outer lines and defenses, to strike at our foe, in places and in ways that would catch them unaware.

We instead found ourselves endeavoring just to keep pace with them, a trailing shadow on the distant edge of a powerful force…

Deverell finally turned Dancer onto the road, and we were away.

We rode through Bree-land and crossed into the Lone-lands…

…where the memory of battle still lingered, like the chill of the late-winter air surrounding us…

We found no trouble with the Eglain and pressed eastward, over the Last Bridge and into the Trollshaws…

…a land of great beauty, and great menace, and one that held a precious secret.

Memories of the time I had spent in this land in earlier days washed over me, the many friends I had come to know.

All was still and quiet…

Too quiet…

We had met no one on the road, nor the hills surrounding it where elven scouts kept watch from above…

Once we reached the forest path leading to Thorenhad, a settlement that overlooked the great road from a rise to its north, and found it abandoned, we hastened to the ford that allowed passage over the Bruinen…

…and further, onto the winding roads that led upward into the great foothills of the Misties.

By the light of the full moon we raced over hidden trails, known only to those called ally by the Lord of the secret vale.

And there, on the path leading into the vale, we met the elves heading toward us.  A great force of the Enemy has been seen gathering by the elven scouts, and it was now fast approaching.  Lord Elrond had sent his defenders to stop them at the ford of the Bruinen.

Deverell and I took up places amongst the procession and marched with them down to the water below.

The Enemy had proven more swift once again.  We would be defenders once more… 

The forces of evil had marched up to the bank of the Bruinen and waited for the sign to attack. Dark clouds rolled in as a great storm approached.  We knew if the Ford were to fall, Rivendell would not be far behind it…

I heard in my mind Hithlim’s warning once again…

“Kaleigh, the foes you go to meet are not the sort that fill legions upon the battlefield. They are of the highest Tier one can imagine dwelling in this realm. And with most of us scattered in distant places, you will not likely find any to aid you, nor to run to should things go badly. If you should fall, there is no retreat.”

[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that are forced to ‘retreat’ have instead died and are forever lost from these lands.]

…the gauntlet had begun…

[Ford of Bruinen. Size: Duo. Tier: 3]

I clasped Deverell’s hand in mine and looked to her.  We both were so weary, weary of war, and of battle, and all that came with it…

But there was no rest for us now.  Battle was upon us…

Deverell nodded to me, and we then walked down the river’s bank to where the sons of Lord Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir, would lead our defense of the ford.

“Come, let us meet them in the middle of the Ford and dare them to come forth!” cried Elrohir.

We came to the middle of the Ford and surveyed the enemy force.  They had siege towers from which to traverse the defenses placed on the western bank in safety.  We would battle in the shallows of the river, keeping the enemy away from the eastern bank and our archers as best we could.

The oncoming storm kept us shrouded in whatever dim light was able to pierce the clouds above while the rain soaked us through.

The leader of the enemy force stood atop the central tower, looking down upon us as he prepared his first assault…

“This Ford will become your grave!” shouted Elladan defiantly at our foe, and his brother replied in kind…

“We will not allow you to cross these waters.  Rivendell shall never fall to your kind!”

I watched as the enemy leader thrust his arm toward us, and those at the front of his forces began scaling the siege towers, dropping onto the bank before us as the rain above…

Our battle had begun…

Fiends of all sorts came forth to engage us, wooden trolls and orcs at the fore.  They met us in the waters, amongst the whipping winds and stinging rain that swirled beneath the darkened clouds above.

We battled in darkness…

…save for when lightning crashed above, turning night into day for but a brief moment before darkness settled once more…

I skulked toward an orc in battle with Elladan, striking it down as the sound of chittering and many splashes in the water came from behind…

Friend and foe alike turned to gaze upon the creature…

…as we struck down one foe, only to face another far more deadly…

We feared, yet knew not, what evils would be visited upon us that day…

As we battled the great spider, more foes leapt down from the siege towers, threatening to overwhelm us.  Elrohir signaled to the archers on the eastern bank, but their volleys could not pierce the swirling winds…

“We cannot fire through this rain!” their leader called out to us.

I glanced over to the western bank and, through the rain, I spied some orcish shamans standing before the siege towers, holding their wooden staves aloft in the air…

“The orcish sorcerers!” I shouted.  “They are strengthening the storm!”

Elrohir turned at once and began to sprint through the wind and the rain toward the shamans, but my cry stopped him…

“No, I will go!  Protect the others!” I screamed, trying to make myself heard over the blustering of the storm.

I reached the western bank where the sorcerers chanted their evil curses.  Through the wooden poles and between the siege towers of the enemy, I glimpsed the sight of a veritable army, scores of evil beings teeming just beyond reach…

I struck down the orcish shamans and the winds and rain subsided briefly, long enough for the brothers to bring down the spider with the aid of the archers.  But more wielding dark magics were soon to come in their place and bolster the storm once more.

That was one battle of the many we would face that day…

An evil man of Angmar leapt onto the Ford.  He wielded powerful magics that turned our blades away from him…

…whilst he called out to the crebain he held in thrall to harry us, allowing both his attacks, and those of his allies, to strike true…

With his magics and his thralls he mocked us, but we first drove them back, and then down into the water, where they remained still…

And hope remained with us, for we knew we did not battle alone…

…though it was by our hands that most of the foe was slain…

In the midst of the battle, I did not spy a dangerous foe skulk behind me, and the cries of my allies came too late.  Were it not for the twin blades that rose from the water and dealt death to that fiend, his blade would have found me instead.

From afar, the Lord of the Secret Vale watched over our battle, and he lent his aid to us as he was able.

The brothers gave rise to both voice and spirit…

“The ford shall never fall!”

“Rivendell shall stand forever free!”

We gathered ourselves in the scant moments we were able…

…before rushing to meet the Enemy’s unrelenting assault once more…

More orcish shamans came to strengthen the storm swirling about us.  They called to spirits long dead for aid…

Wood trolls lured into service of the Enemy from the woods of the region battled us, meaning to drive us from the Ford…

We wove between them, circling, maneuvering for the chance to make an unfettered strike…

…and while our blades found their mark often, there always came another foe to take the place of those that had fallen…

We battled on, through the cold winds and rain, fighting down terrors while fearing what the enemy general might next unleash upon us from his perch above the battle…

Ogres bounded off the siege towers that groaned and creaked beneath their weight, leaping down onto the Ford to engage us in battle, with orc and goblin kind following behind…

We wore them down, sacrificing speed to save our strength for the rest of the battle to come, hoping we would last to their end…

Elladan and I finished the last of the assault as lightning crashed above us.  More of the sorcerers had come to give life to the storm once again…

A swarm of goblins and orcs, followed by more of the wood trolls, dropped down to the Ford…

They threatened to surround us, to reach the eastern bank of the Bruinen…

…to break through the narrow, wavering line we strove to maintain, to keep those behind us safe…

All depended on us standing firm and turning the foe away.  There was no falling back to a safe place…

There could be no retreat…

It was then, as we battled the last of that assault, that I heard a sound in the distance.  Through the haze and the mist of the storm, I spied movement just beyond…

The enemy forces had stopped their advance and begun milling about behind their fortifications restlessly.  We gathered at the center of the Ford to rally ourselves while we peered westward through the storm…

“What are those?  More siege towers?” Deverell asked breathlessly.

The sound of footfalls upon the path began to grow louder and more clear.  Shrouded forms began to take shape…

“Giants!” cried Elrohir.  “They have made a pact with the giants!”

“If this place will mark their end or ours, let it be theirs!” answered Elladan.

We steeled ourselves for the enemy’s final assault as the giants stepped over the fortifications and onto the Ford…

“Archers!  Archers, bring them down!” cried Elladan.

Lightning flashed around us as some of the arrows let loose by elven archers found their mark.  But most were turned away by the storm…

More wood trolls joined the battle as we sought safely from the giants’ malicious steps…

I spied Elrohir surrounded by foes and rushed to his aid, striking at the giant that approached…

We brought him down but, in the ensuing scrum, we did not notice another approaching threat quickly enough…

“Brother!”

“Kaleigh, watch out!”

We cried out with pain as the giant’s blow sent us hurtling over the Ford, crashing down upon the far bank of the river.

Our foes advanced upon us…

But we raced back over the Ford to engage them. halting their advance.  With great effort, we then drove them slowly back to their own bank, fighting with all our strength for every inch of ground we gained…

…only to lose that ground once again…

…in but a matter of moments…

As we battled on, surrounded on all sides by our foe, the swirling winds, and the stinging rain alike, the little hope that I held in my heart began to grow dark.  I feared the Enemy was too strong for us to hold back…

Even as we struck down their forces, more came in their place, with no end to them in sight.  The storm cast all beyond the banks of the river into impenetrable shadow…

We were besieged on all sides, battling moment to moment just to remain standing, all the while witness to feats of strength wrought by the giants that were beyond reckoning…

While rushing to aid Elrohir, one of the giants unknowingly caught me with the backswing of his next strike, lifting me off my feet and flinging me toward the sharpened wooden pikes that formed the barricade protecting the enemy’s forces…

In the smallest of moments, I twisted myself in mid-air to avoid the pikes…

…pushing off of them to catch and right myself, before leaping down to the ford to engage the enemy once more…

We battled, aware that our end might come at any moment.  Despair gripped my heart, and my strength waned…

My vision was clouded, my eyes stinging from the water splashed and kicked up by the giants, and the wet gave weight to all that I bore upon me…

Slowly, I lumbered to engage more of the wood trolls that had joined the battle.  They struck at me with their branches and spat their bitter sap, slowing me further…

I heard Deverell cry out, but her voice was carried away on the storm.  My vision had narrowed to what stood just before me, alone…

I drove the wood troll down into the water, nearly falling in with him.  I caught myself and slowly rose up once more…

They battered me senseless…

…and I was near, more near than I had ever come before…

As I waited for my end, the foes before me began to buckle, from behind…

Lightning flashed, illuminating all around us,  The shroud of shadow was lifted, and we could finally see…

“These are their last!” cried Elrohir.

“Rally!  Rally and make this their end!” answered Elladan.

The stillness beyond the enemy barricade stirred me, and the brothers’ cries gave rise to my heart…

We were within reach of routing the entire enemy force…

We battled what remained of the enemy, quickly gaining the upper hand…

The enemy general shouted vile curses upon us, as he witnessed the end of his army from the top of his tower…

We toppled the last vestiges of the great threat we had thwarted, then turned to face the one who had led them…

…and watched in astonishment, as he let out a strangled cry before leaping from his tower down to the Ford and engaged us in battle…

As we moved to encircle the uruk, he bellowed deeply.  From the western bank of the Bruinen, we saw an enormous troll emerge from the rock and stone that sheltered the river.

As the troll raced toward us, the river frothed near the falls to our north.  From the water arose a herd of galloping horses that raced by, spraying us with foam.

“Father!  Father aides us!” cried Elrohir.

The uruk looked toward me as I approached.  I felt a chill as he raised his first and spoke dark, dark words.  An icy hand grasped at my heart…

Night brightened to day for a brief moment as lightning pierced the sky.  The uruk set his troll upon me while he faced the others…

I shuddered as I heard my friends cry out in pain.  The uruk had cast a ring of fire about them from which he did battle, as I endeavored to keep the troll away.

I held it at bay but just barely.  My legs were heavy and my mind slowed by the mark upon me and all that had come before that day…

Then the moment I was holding on for came.  I breathed in deeply and braced myself, as the troll readied to let loose a fearsome strike…

The water rushed over us.  I felt my body nearly twist itself apart as I collapsed onto myself to avoid the troll’s fist and the force of the galloping host that leapt over me.

The troll toppled, crashing down onto the Ford and into rubble that was carried away by the river…

I lifted myself from the ground and raced over to where the others battled the uruk general.  His mark upon me had failed, as did the circle of fire he had cast before.  His dark magics were at their end…

But one yet remained whose powers were true.  From behind the uruk, I spied ripples in the water.  Twin blades arose…

I set myself for a moment and then charged forward, taking the uruk by surprise.  He stepped back, ready to meet me with his axe…

The twin blades swung upward, cutting the uruk’s legs from under him.  He fell backward into the water and was no more…

The four of us stood silently over the body of the enemy general as we gathered ourselves and the sky brightened around us.  We looked to one another as the enormity of what we had achieved began to set in…

“Rivendell will long remember those who came to her aid in her time of greatest need. Your deeds shall not soon be forgotten,” Elladan said softly.

“Today will be marked as a great victory… one we would not have made without your help. Rivendell thanks you,” said Elrohir.

Deverell embraced me from behind, and I clasped her arm.  Tears welled in my eyes, for they were all I had left to give that day…

I was battling, battling, battling… to surface…

…to claw my way from the darkness…

…back into the light…

Defense of the Prancing Pony

Defense of the Prancing Pony

After gathering as many of the townsfolk as we were able to find to the Pony during the night, we took what rest we could. At the dawn of the next morning, we met with the Watcher in the Pony square…

”We have dared to stand against our captors, and now they are angry. The women and children are inside the Prancing Pony,” said Second-watcher Heathstraw.

I clasped Deverell’s hand and she looked to me and smiled wearily.

“We will hold them here, Kaleigh.  I know we will,” she said.

“The brigands will come with torches and try to burn us out. The Pony can handle a few, but not more than five,” continued the Watcher.

The attack on Archet had never weighed so heavily upon me.  I tried to surface from my thoughts and return to the moment at hand, but heard Hithlim’s warning over the Watcher’s words…

“Kaleigh, the foes you go to meet are not the sort that fill legions upon the battlefield. They are of the highest Tier one can imagine dwelling in this realm. And with most of us scattered in distant places, you will not likely find any to aid you, nor to run to should things go badly. If you should fall, there is no retreat.”

[While running the ‘gauntlet’, a permanent death rule applies. Any that are forced to ‘retreat’ have instead died and are forever lost from these lands.]

…the gauntlet had begun…

[Defense of the Prancing Pony. Size: Small Fellowship. Tier: 3]

I clutched at my chest and shook my head, trying to free myself…

”…if you see a torch-bearer, he must be immediately dispatched, without delay. Now, prepare yourselves, they come,” commanded Heathstraw.

We took our place before the Pony as its last defense and were tested soon after…

“Let us finish this! We will be free once more! For the Free Peoples! For Bree!” cried the Watcher.

And battle was upon us. Bandits in service of the mysterious Sharkey assailed us, trying to reach the Pony…

…and creatures far more sinister followed behind…

They swirled and circled about the square, taunting us, waiting for an opening…

…before charging us, hoping to turn us away through fright, but we would not turn away…

As I battled a wood-troll, Watcher Heathstraw cried out…

”A torch-bearer! Quickly, do not allow him to reach the Prancing Pony!”

I whirled about and sprinted for the stair, cutting down the brigand before he was able to set the Pony ablaze and then returned to the battle…

The ghosts of past and present loomed all around, forcing me into battles not only of space, but also of time…

I would not let myself fail again…

I waded into the stream of oncoming foes, turning them aside with my stickers…

…sending them to their rest on the cold cobbles beneath our feet…

A mighty Gorthorog entered the square along with many foes, including a torch-bearer who lit out for the Pony…

I raced toward the torch-bearer, cutting him down, before returning to aid the others…

I screamed at the Gorthorog to lure it away from Deverell.  It wielded a mallet and mace, each larger than any one of us…

I darted beneath the greater of its weapons, plunging my sticker into its knee with all the strength I could muster, crying out with both triumph and fear…

The Gorthorog responded in kind, driving both of its weapons into the cobbles, narrowly missing me…

…yet deafening all around while kicking up a blinding cloud of dirty snow…

Second-watcher Heathstraw and I battled the creature, maneuvering for a deciding blow while Deverell lent us her aid…

Finally, the moment came…

I let down my defenses, allowing the Watcher an unfettered strike as the Gorthorog advanced upon me.  He fell to the ground, and we ended him…

The Watcher’s chest heaved, “Rest… rest for a moment and gather your breath while we have the chance.”

Deverell saw to our cuts and scrapes while she was able, and we lent one another what encouragement we could in the moment before battle was upon us once again…

Bandits once again swarmed the square in an effort to reach the Pony.  We battled to turn them aside…

…all the while keeping an eye out for those brandishing torches, hoping to get near enough to the Pony to set it alight…

Watcher Heathstraw and I looked out over the enemy forces, trying to discern from them which direction the greatest assault would come…

…but the bandits would not give even this away freely…

Each assault wore us down further, and there was no let up of foes coming from either the south or the west…

“Kaleigh!”

I turned to see a torch-bearer nearing the stairs of the Pony and lit out after him…

…catching him with my sticker just before he came too near and set the Pony ablaze…

Worn and weary, we battled on…

The brigands started to work a new tactic to lure us away from the Pony.  They began having their archers fire at us from cover, forcing us to move forward to engage them.  They would then send their torch-bearers scurrying by, with the hope they would reach the Pony before we could disengage and fall back…

I heard Deverell cry out…

…and I whirled about to find another torch-bearer within strides of the Pony…

I gathered myself for another sprint over the slick cobbles, catching the brigand just in time, but we were slowing, weakening…

…and our foes were unrelenting…

Sensing our fatigue and that the end of our strength was near, they pushed forward into the square…

We held our ground for as long as we could, until greater foes were sent in to break us…

…and we were driven back, step by step, by their strength and their numbers…

…yet we made them pay dearly for each advance…

As we drew near to the Pony and saw the worried faces of those depending upon us to keep them safe, I reached for all that I had left within me to battle on…

Watcher Heathstraw and I weaved across the square, taking turns out in front of the battle, trying to give one another precious moments of rest…

…but in one of those moments, I saw that one of the torch-bearers had skulked past us too far…

Just as I caught him from behind with my sticker, he heaved his firebrand through an upper window of the Pony…

I raced up the stairs and pounded my fists on the door…

“Fire!  Fetch the buckets!  The buckets!”

I then returned to the battle, fighting to clear my vision through the stinging tears I wept as I heard the Pony catch fire behind me…

The screams and the wails, the village was burning…

Through the smoke and the blur of my tears, I saw spirits of old rise up to do battle once more…

…and I battled them, and with them…

“The village!  Save the village!”

Captain Brackenbrook teamed with Deverell and I, as we fought with those that threatened our home…

I heard the screams behind us, and I turned…

“Deverell!  The Mad Badger!  It burns!”

But the Blackwolds would not relent.  They poured through the gates, forcing our hand.  We could not leave them to aid the others, and the village fell further to the brigands’ torch…

We battled on…

One of the Blackwolds led a pack of wolves into the square.  I bound him in place and thought, somehow, with words I did not know, but not quickly enough…

…not before he loosed them upon us…

The wolves howled and they bayed, piercing our hearts and minds with fear.  I turned to call for aid, but there was no one, no one save for those we fought to save…

The village burned around us, and we battled, alone…

“Jon!”

“Atli!”

I screamed as I tried to lure the wolves to face me.  Their claws and teeth found their mark, piercing my leathers…

“I…”

Brackenbrook and Deverell rallied to me then, Deverell catching me around my shoulders before I fell to my knees.  I staggered under my feet, trying to catch my breath as they battled on…

It was then that we heard a growl, low and gutteral, permeate the air around us…

“Those who stand against Sharkey will burn for it!”

The three of us turned to face the Blackwold leader and the wargs he set upon us, as we choked on the acrid smoke born from the flames of the Mad Badger…

I lit into him with every last bit of my strength…

The wargs bit and pawed at us, while their master used the confusion they wrought to make his strikes.  We parried away his at attacks while fighting for a better position to make our own…

We felt the warmth from the fire engulfing the Mad Badger as it grew.  Flames licked the outside of its walls, where no relief could be brought until our battle was won…

“Death to the Free Peoples!” sneered the Blackwold leader confidently.

But, ever so slowly it seemed, we struck down his wargs, one by one…

The moment was now.  We pushed through our pain, our fatigue, and the fear and despair that we battled to keep just out of reach…

The Blackwold leader looked at the wargs lying cold and lifelessly near his feet…

“I will never lose to the likes of you!” he uttered, starting to back away.

But there was no letting him escape after the ruin he had brought about…

…and we struck him down before the prize he sought, one he had come far too close to reaching…

I heard Deverell and Brackenbrook cry out in triumph.  I turned to look for more foes but saw none…

I wiped the smoke and the tears from my eyes and found myself in the Pony square in Bree.  The Prancing Pony was burning…

We stumbled to where the townsfolk carried buckets of water outside and joined them to help dowse the flames…

Once the flames of the Pony were under control, Second-watcher Heathstraw, Deverell, and I embraced one another on the cobbles where the battle was fought.

“A great victory for Bree!” exclaimed the Watcher.

I leaned against Deverell and nodded wearily.  We had won our victory, but at far too great a cost for my liking.

And our task was far from done.  Our endeavor could afford us only two days more in Bree, for helping to drive out the remainder of Sharkey’s forces and for what little rest we could find for ourselves, before we had to away…

We meant to take the Great East Road and travel eastward, in search of wise counsel and where we could lend or aid once more, before the great battle that was surely to come…

Scout’s Honor (Part 2) – A Burglar’s Guide to the Mischief-maker

A playful trick to raise the spirit…

Oh, hello again! I was just practicing one of the tricks I play to bring cheer to friends in safer times. Not all mischief is ill-natured, and a bit of fun can turn a cloudy day into a much brighter one for all involved.

Today, we will discuss how best to make mischief amongst foes in times that are not so safe, while still bringing cheer to the friends on our side! But first, a quick recap of the three different Scouting techniques and my belief on where they each are best applied:

  • The Quiet Knife: All on-level landscape tasks, quests and Tier 1 – 2 skirmishes, Tier 1 (and some T2) instances and Tier 1 raids (The greatest amount of instant damage)
  • The Mischief-maker: Tier 2 Raids and some instances and skirmishes (Tier 3) (Crowd control, Debuffing, Fellowship-wide healing and power restoring)
  • The Gambler: Soloing over-level quests and group instances or just to try something fun! (A bit of everything, with an emphasis on Damage over time)

The Mischief-maker

As we did with the Quiet Knife technique, let us first go over the unique benefits that come with being a Mischief-maker (the line bonus on the side of the Trait Window):

A Small Snag is the Mischief-maker’s critical chain finisher

Disable is one of the four Tricks that Mischief-makers employ to weaken their foes (and the only one completely exclusive to the Mischief-maker technique)

All three Scouting techniques allow Scouts to reveal weaknesses in a foe. The Mischief-maker also weakens the foe’s Resistance, thereby making it easier for the Scout and allies to land conditions and tricks on the foe!

With this bonus and a legendary legacy, Mischief-maker’s can play tricks on their foes from quite a distance! Also, the reduction in cooldown to the Mischief-maker’s ability to tell Riddles allows them to renew their Riddle continuously, keeping the targeted foe out of the fight indefinitely.

These are trick removal skills that allow the Mischief-maker to conjure certain effects depending upon the circumstance.

Quiet a Snag is the improved version of A Small Snag, and this ability allows Quite a Snag to be used outside of the critical chain

Trickster is the Mischief-maker’s capstone skill, greatly empowering and enhancing the ability to play tricks for a limited time























Scout’s Honor (Part 1) – A Burglar’s Guide to the Quiet Knife

Just a few steps more and it is lights out for this creep…

Oh, hey everyone! You all caught me while being sneaky, something we Burglars very much enjoy being. I am not sure why everyone insists on calling us Burglars, though. I have never stolen a thing in my life, honest!

So, you want to know what it is we do and how we go about doing it, you say? Well, we Scouts have three different techniques for Scouting, though all three overlap a fair amount.

There are general skills and guidelines that apply to all three techniques, but first let me list the three of them, where I feel they are best applied, and the main benefits of using that technique:

  • The Quiet Knife: All on-level landscape tasks, quests and Tier 1 – 2 skirmishes, Tier 1 (and some T2) instances and Tier 1 raids (The greatest amount of instant damage)
  • The Mischief-maker: Tier 2 Raids and some instances and skirmishes (Tier 3) (Crowd control, Debuffing, Fellowship-wide healing and power restoring)
  • The Gambler: Soloing over-level quests and group instances or just to try something fun! (A bit of everything, with an emphasis on Damage over time)

The Quiet Knife

Since most endeavors call for the Quiet Knife technique, I will discuss that first. As most know, with each technique comes benefits associated only with that technique, benefits unavailable to the other styles. These benefits are the defining aspects that make each technique what it is. Here are the benefits that come with being a Quiet Knife (these are the ‘line’ bonuses at the side of the Trait Window):

Knives Out is the Scout’s only direct area of effect damage skill

Criticals…

Critical Defense reduces how much damage critical hits end up doing

The Quiet Knife’s only self-heal… (crticals!)

Criticals…

Criticals… (is anyone noticing a pattern here?)

So, you likely noticed that nearly every benefit to the Quiet Knife technique involves critical hits. The Quiet Knife line is largely devoted to two things: critical strikes and attacking from stealth. Notice that last benefit? It guarantees a critical strike when attacking from stealth with either of our two best skills for doing so: Surprise Strike and Cunning Attack.

Let’s go through some of the Quiet Knife’s main skills. For now, I will mainly focus on skills either devoted or largely influenced by the Quiet Knife technique, leaving the more general skills for later…


One of the Quiet Knife’s two best options from stealth


The second of the two stealth options


Notice all the benefits that come from striking from the shadows!


This skill guarantees a critical hit on your next attack


The Quiet Knife’s only area of effect attack. It can be used both offensively and defensively


All three techniques allow a Scout to reveal weaknesses of a foe. The Quiet Knife also makes the foe more vulnerable to critical strikes


A way to incapacitate a foe, in order to gain time and position on him!


A very quick attack that will not slow you down in any way!


This is meant to be a finishing blow, one which will give a brief window to attack the next foe from stealth


The beginning of the Scout’s ‘critical chain’. Critical chain skills are skills that only become available after a critical strike is made. There are two stages to the chain: Openers (like Double-edged Strike), and Finishers (to be seen shortly!)


The Quiet Knife’s main critical chain finisher


Feint Attack is part of the Quiet Knife’s critical chain. Once Improved Feint Attack is learned (the 6th of the 7 Quiet Knife line bonuses), it is no longer restricted to the chain but can be used at any time. Feint Attack allows the Quiet Knife to use many skills normally available only while sneaking and boosts many attacks that strike harder while sneaking. It also gives a +10% Melee Damage boost until one of those stealth-related attacks is used (up to 10 seconds)


All Scouts know how to Exploit Openings (a fellowship maneuver starter). Quiet Knives have an extra method for doing so while sneaking

If you are feeling overwhelmed, do not lose heart! So far this is mainly listing things for easy reference once we get to the heart of the matter. At the end of this essay, I will give tips for scouting in the field that will bring all of this together [with any luck! :)]

As can be seen, the emphasis on critical strikes we saw in the Quiet Knife line bonuses is furthered even more within their skills. We have a skill to guarantee a critical strike, a critical chain of skills only useable once a critical strike is achieved (and which are more powerful than most other skills), and a skill that improves all damage against a foe and weakens them even further to critical strikes. In the stealth department, we have skills that strike harder when in stealth, an extra fellowship maneuver starter only available while in stealth, and a skill that lets us feign stealth to a degree.

Many of the skills listed above come from the Quiet Knife tree, so I will not list them again here. However, let me cover a few of the benefits to be gained from the tree itself. As you will see, the thematic continuity of the Quiet Knife technique continues to be preserved:







Positional damage is something new (though astute readers will have already seen its mention before!). All Scouts, no matter what technique they employ, want to be striking at their foes from behind. It would be more accurate to say that all attackers should strike from behind where they can, but it is even more important that Scouts do so, and this extra Positional damage is only a very slight reason for doing so.

One last thing before we pull this all together. Higher level Scouts will have access to Legendary Items (where is that booing coming from?). Let’s have a quick look at what legacies are available to our weapons and scouting kits to see if we can draw any more ideas for how best to perform the Quiet Knife technique (legacies appropriate for Quiet Knives bolded):

  • Burglar Weapon Legacies (Major)
    • Burglar Bleed Damage (+1% – +15%)
    • Critical Response Skill Damage (+1% – +10%)
    • Cunning Attack Bleed Stack Chance (+3% – +66%)
    • Position Surprise Strike from Stealth (+3% – +25%)
    • Feint Attack Damage (+3% – +25%)
    • Snag Damage Bonus (+3% – +25%)
    • Subtle Stab Damage Multiplier (+1% – +10%)
    • Surprise Strike Critical Rating (varies depending on level and quality of the weapon)

 

  • Burglar Weapon Legacies (Minor)
    • Coup de Grace Damage (+3% – +25%)
    • Critical Chain Skills Critical Multiplier (+3% – +25%)
    • Harmful Gamble Damage (+4% – +40%)
    • Lucky Strike Damage (+3% – +25%)
    • Riddle Range (+1 meter – +20 meters)
    • Trick Range (+1 meter – +9 meters)
    • Trick and Trick Removal Damage (+1% – +25%)
    • Subtle Stab Critical Multiplier (+3% – +25%)
    • Stat Legacies (Agility/Fate/Vitality) (varies, depending on level and quality)

Well, as you can see, no Quiet Knife would complain if they were to find a weapon with four, five, or even six Major legacies. Some quick explanation on these:

  • Critical Response Skill Damage applies to all 3 Critical Chain skills listed above, and any others you might acquire
  • The Cunning Attack Stack Chance applies only to non-critical, non-stealth attacks. Still, the extra damage adds up very well!
  • Ideally, our critical rating will already be at or near cap, so we can avoid Surprise Strike Critical Rating for one of the other legacies
  • Critical Chain Skills Critical Multiplier adds 25% extra damage to all critical hits when using the critical chain skills. Normally, a critical hit does 150% damage and a devastating critical hit 200%. With this legacy at full, those change to 175% and 225%, respectively.
  • For all classes, changing a minor legacy to your main attribute (Agility for Scouts) is something to consider. With no legacy points spent at all, this will give a First Age 100th level weapon +149 Agility, which equates to +149 Crit Rating, +1,192 Physical Mastery, +447 Evade and +298 Parry, all while freeing up your points for legacies with a more linear progression

 

  • Burglar Kit Legacies (Major)
    • Critical Chain Skills Critical Chance (+1% – +15%)
    • Devastating Critical Buff Duration (+3 seconds – +30 seconds)
    • Off-hand Critical Rating (varies, depending on level and quality of the kit)
    • Mischievous Glee Healing (+5% – +50%)
    • Hedge Your Bet Damage (+3% – +25%)
    • Gamble Chance (+5% – +20%)
    • Positional Damage (+1% – +15%)
    • Skills Critical Multiplier (+1% – +15%)
    • Tricks Duration (+1 second – +15 seconds)

 

  • Burglar Kit Legacies (Minor)
    • All In Buff Duration (+1 second – +15 seconds)
    • Coup de Grace Stealth Window (+1 second – +10 seconds)
    • Increased Range for Reveal Weakness (+1 meter – +20 meters)
    • Clever Retort Damage and Healing (+4% – +40%)
    • Addle Induction Multiplier (+7% – +50%)
    • Sneak Movement Speed (+1% – +10%)
    • Pulse Modifier for Glee (+1 pulse – +9 pulses)
    • Stealth Level (+1 level – +3 levels)
    • Stat Legacies (Agility/Fate/Vitality) (varies, depending on level and quality)

Some explanations:

  • Critical Chain Skills Critical Chance is not to be missed! (more on this later)
  • You may have noticed that Feint Attack has the additional benefit of granting +10% Positional damage and a +20% Skills Critical Multiplier when it does a critical or devastating critical hit. Each Quiet Knife technique has a capstone skill that grants bonuses with a critical strike. What those benefits are varies with the capstone. Normally this bonus lasts for 15 seconds only, but the Devastating Critical Buff Duration increases the duration
  • Off-hand Critical Rating (like Surprise Strike above) should be one of the first legacies we can set aside, since we should be able to get near the Critical Rating cap through other means
  • Once Coup de Grace is used, if the foe falls in the next 4 seconds, the Quiet Knife will enter stealth briefly. The Coup de Grace Stealth Window legacy gives additional time to slay the foe before the opportunity to gain stealth is lost
  • Quiet Knives move at 90% of their normal speed when sneaking. The Sneak Movement Speed legacy can boost that so that you sneak at your full running speed!

All right then! We have covered our skills, the powers we draw from the Quiet Knife technique and skill tree, and how our legendary items compliment them. Now it is time to put it to use in the field!

Pulling it all together

  • The best way to open a combat is from stealth. A Surprise Strike (for foes with lesser morale) or a Cunning Attack (for foes with larger morale to take advantage of the bleed) is a great way to begin. However, it always pays to think outside the kit, so to speak. Using Aim and then Coup de Grace guarantees each of Coup de Grace’s three attacks will strike critically, dealing a great amount of damage. If the fight will be a longer one (over 1 minute) this also allows Coup de Grace to be ready again sooner. Finally, Coup de Grace does not seem to break stealth immediately, so a quick follow up with Surprise Strike, or ideally Cunning Attack (since the foe will be turning toward us now and the bleed amount is independent of facing), will pile on more damage to the creep
  • Once you have done all you can from stealth, Feint Attack/Improved Feint Attack is a good way to continue. Each subsequent attack afterward (for up to 10 seconds) will get the +10% melee damage bonus Feint Attack gives
  • Hopefully by now you have opened up your critical chain with a critical hit. At this point, you mostly want to keep to the critical chain skills if you can. Let me briefly summarize all the benefits that apply only to the critical chain skills that can be earned from the Quiet Knife line, fruit from its tree, and legendary items:
    • All critical chain skills bypass 10% of the foe’s mitigation
    • +20% damage to all critical chain skills (10% from Dance of Blades from the tree and 10% from the legacy), +45% to Feint Attack (from its additional +25% damage legacy)
    • Every critical chain skill has a 45% chance to lower the foe’s Critical Defense by 5% for 8 seconds. While this is not a cumulative effect (it will not go lower than 5%), the timer is renewed every time the chance is met thereafter. With the ease of critical striking for Quiet Knife scouts, this is effectively a +5% Skills Critical Multiplier for every person striking that foe
    • +25% Critical Magnitude to all critical chain skills (from the legacy)
    • +15% chance to strike critically with critical chain skills (from the amazing legacy)
    • +10 Positional Damage and +20% Skills Critical Multiplier for 15 seconds (longer with the legacy) from striking critically with Feint Attack
  • If only there were more than our three critical chain skills (Feint Attack, Double-edged Strike, and Flashing Blades) to take advantage of all these critical chain benefits… and there is! A dip of 12 points into the Gambler line will grant:

  • With Gambler’s Advantage, we now have four critical chain skills, each of which has only a 5 second cooldown. As long as we are continually landing critical strikes, these skills will be available to us to wreak havoc on the Enemy’s forces
  • I might cover what sort of equipment to look for in a later installment but, before we finally leave critical chain skills behind, let me mention one more thing. There is a set of jewelry, attainable only in the Epic Battles [where is that booing coming from? :)], that grants the following set bonus:

    • The highest chance for a Quiet Knife to strike with a critical hit with normal scouting skills is: +25% (from a capped Critical Rating) + 5% (from Deft Strikes in the Quiet Knife tree) + 10% (from the Epic Battle jewelry, if the 10% chance is met) = 40%. With the Critical Chain Skills Critical Chance legacy, the chance for a critical hit with the critical chain skills is 55%.
    • As for skills outside the critical chain skills, Improved Feint attack gives its +10% Melee Damage bonus for 10 seconds (or until a stealth-enhanced skill is used), but the skill itself only has a 5 second cooldown. With the legacies boosting its damage, we want to be using Feint Attack whenever we can. So, just before Feint Attack is ready to be used again, a Surprise Strike (for foes with lower morale) or a Cunning Attack (for foes with higher morale) will give us full benefit of Feint Attack’s stealth enhancement, just in time to regain it with another Feint Attack!
    • Remember, however, that only non-stealth, non-critical attacks can be stacked with the Cunning Attack Bleed Stack Chance legacy. Therefore, after a Surprise Strike from stealth, before using Feint Attack to regain the stealth enhancement, a quick non-stealthed Cunning Attack will have its full chance to put an additional bleed on the foe. In longer fights, it is a good idea to alternate between Surprise Strike (10 second cooldown) and Cunning Attack (5 second cooldown), being sure to follow up any Surprise Strike with a Cunning Attack out of stealth, before using Feint Attack to regain its bonuses
    • Lastly, you will have likely noticed that every single attack we Scouts have is a ‘Fast’ attack. When it comes to fast-paced combat and striking quickly, we Quiet Knives have few equals. Even so, there are fast attacks and there are fast attacks, with Flashing Blades and Subtle Stab at the slow and fast ends of the spectrum, respectively. A Subtle Stab is virtually instantaneous and, as such, should be used whenever it is ready (3 second cooldown). The Quiet Knife that is able to deftly mix Subtle Stab into their dance of war is a true force to be reckoned with!

A possible point allocation…

Scout

I hope this guide to the Quiet Knife Scouting technique has been useful! Scouting is no easy task, so try not to let things overwhelm you. Learning a bit here and a bit there will add up, and those new to the craft will find themselves well along the path to mastery before they know it!

The Quiet Knife technique is the technique most applicable to the everyday situations in which we Scouts will find ourselves, though personal taste and preference should always come first, of course! In our next installment, we will discuss the Mischief-maker, and why it is more fun to be surrounded by friends to witness any Mischief you create! See you soon!

(dedicated to all Papa Hobbits, Mama Hobbits, and Baby Hobbits, everywhere)

On Par with Radiance? What Has the Pursuit of Group Content Cost Us?

Greetings, everyone! 🙂

From its very beginning, the path to Mordor was fraught with peril for those of the Fellowship of the Ring. Likewise, the path toward Mordor taken by Turbine also has its risks and perils. How much development to put toward one aspect of gameplay over another cannot be an easy decision to make!

There have always been some who have asserted that the creation of what would be considered ‘traditional’ group content (Instances and Raids) was a waste of precious development time, money, and other resources.

Recently, some very concrete details regarding this issue, along with a concise statement by Sapience that there will be no more development of this type of content, were given during one of the latest Shield runs through Moria.

Have those who have argued against this type of content been right all along? Has a mistake, on par with that of the Radiance system, been committed by the LOTRO team with the creation of this content?

Let’s have a look 🙂

So, what was this ‘Radiance’, anyway? 🙂

Radiance was a mechanic solely devoted to raiding. The idea was that, in the most dangerous places of Middle-earth, you would need armor forged in such a way that the Dread that would otherwise overwhelm you, from being so near to the great evils of the world and within their lairs, could be held at bay. Radiance armor let you stay standing, and in control of yourself, as you forged ahead into battle against those great evils.

In essence, Radiance was a gating mechanism that guided the player through the storyline of the Instances meant to come before these great battles (Raids). Players were awarded Radiance armor, piece by piece, by working through the various Instances, until they had earned enough of it to try the Raids themselves.

Radiance was not a very popular system amongst the players, and Turbine eventually issued a Radiance Removal Developer Diary that was essentially an unprecedented level of apology to the players for the instituting of the system. Some excerpts from the diary:

The request for Radiance was also made late enough in the Moria cycle that we left no time to respond appropriately to what was delivered. Quickly, we began to slap-patch the system into something that resembled what we originally desired.
We thought we could salvage the work we put into Radiance and have the system gain acceptance. As it turns out, we were wrong –very wrong.
You, the players, hated Radiance. In fact, there has never been such a polarizing and definitively poorly received implementation as Radiance.
At that point we resigned ourselves to pulling out Radiance. We knew it was a failure and we wanted to no longer keep it in the game.
I am happy to report, finally, that Radiance has been removed from the game.
However, this is a point where we need to admit that we made a mistake. And with that mistake in mind we shall forge ahead, mindful of the error that we made and fueled by a desire to never repeat it again.

Clearly, many of these statements closely parallel the decision to no longer continue the production of traditional group content. Was an error in judgement made in pursuing this content? Is an admitting to an error in the choice of creating and maintaining traditional group content also warranted?

To my mind, it comes down to the matter of scale…

So, what sort of scale are we talking? 🙂

In one of the threads that developed as part of a discussion of this matter, Sapience gave some details from which I feel we can determine the exact proportion, to the percentage point, of the player base that partakes in this type of content:

Raiders comprise the smallest, by far, group in our game. PvMP players are far larger and even they are small. in fact together the two groups wouldn’t comprise 10% of the total player base and never have (this is important. it’s not a new thing, it’s a long standing historical fact).

So, we know that the sum of all raiders and PvMP players can be no more than 9% of the player base. In addition to this, we know that the PvMP players make up a ‘far larger’ proportion than the raiders. A 5/4 split would not account for being far larger. We could say it is 6/3, but given the fact that the sum might be less than 9%, and the strong wording regarding how much lower the raider count is than the PvMP count, I think we can safely use 2% as our number. It is likely even lower than that, but we will use that for now 🙂

Now, I am not really a ‘numbers’ person, and many reading this may not be as well. It is one thing to ‘know’ that only 2% of the players partake in traditional group content, but it is another to understand what that really means, to really have a proper perspective on that number. So, I came up with some thought experiments to help me, and anyone reading this, to have a better appreciation for what this means.

1. First, think of someone you know that engages in group content. It may be you, or someone you know. Now…

…name 49 other players who never have engaged in group content. Obviously, it will be harder to ‘name’ them, both due to the number being that much greater, but also because, since they do not engage in as much group activity, they are likely not as widely known. By ‘name’ I more mean to recognize that they are here in these lands with us. When you go to the festivals, for the one person you know (maybe yourself) that engages in group content, you will see 49 other players, on average, that do not.

When you or the person you know who engages in group content may be crafting away at a crafting hall, you will (over time and average) see 49 other crafters there with you who do not. Of course, if you know an additional person who is a grouper, there are another 49 additional players who are not as well. This ratio has been consistent over the whole history of these precious lands, and so these numbers apply at all times throughout that history as well.

2. Think of a time when you took part in a 12-person endeavor…

Maybe it was the Giant Turtle in Moria, a run through one of the wings of Helegrod to fetch tokens for armor, or perhaps in taking part in one of the LOTRO Players Adventures. Now, consider…

…for the 12 of you that were a part of this endeavor, there are 588 other players who never take part in this sort of content. It is difficult to imagine that kind of scale, but that is how the numbers work out. And, of course, that means that, for every other group of 12 players that does so, there are another 588 players who do not. Hard to imagine, no? 🙂

As difficult as it is, however, it is the case given these numbers.

One final one, and the one that really did it for me, I think because it involves another aspect of the game.

3. Imagine those 12 players that took part in that one 12-person endeavor all have houses in the same housing neighborhood…

Not as a kinship in a kinhall, but separate houses, one for each of the 12. This is certainly not unimaginable as I know more than one kinship who, between their members, owns all or nearly all of the housing in their neighborhood as well. For ease of thought, let us assume their district is the first one on the alphabetical listing.

  • If we assume that every single house is occupied by a different player in all of the districts, and…
  • You were to send someone to look at every single house, both their lawn and inside of each home…

…in the rest of that first district, and in more than the next 22 districts on the housing list, you would not see a single housing item earned through group content play. This one blew me away, especially when you consider it would actually be a far greater number than 22, due to the following:

  • Housing items from group content are quite rare. Very few instances have them, only one person per group endeavor can get them, and many of the items are very, very rare
  • Some may have won such trophies but choose not to display them for a variety of reasons. I am in this group. Who wants some nasty thing in their house, right? 🙂

So, we know that only 2% of the player base engages in this type of content and have an appreciation for that number. But there is still one more thing to consider before we can come to our final analysis.

What percentage of that 2% is here for group content solely and remain only due to that content? How many of these players would have left these lands if the creation of traditional group content had ended years ago? How many will leave now that it has?

Take me, for example 🙂

This is a snapshot of my barter wallet from nearly a year ago…

I also am co-founder and leader of the Skirmish Repertory Company, which performed a full season of all the raid-skirmish theatricals (even Icy Crevasse!), finishing the year with many encore performances of Why Hoarding a Horde of Coins is a Drag on the Economy – The Draigoch Story 🙂

Clearly, I belong in the 2% who engage in group content 🙂

Yet, at the same time, I also:

  • am a member of one of Landroval’s oldest bands, the Green Hill Music Society, winner of Weatherstock’s Crowd Favorite title in past years and which celebrated its 5 year anniversary last year 🙂
  • while I do not compose or arrange music myself, I write lyrics for the songs composed by others to sing at our concerts and other gatherings
  • keep a journal of my travels in these lands and many other aspects of my time here as well 🙂
  • am currently running The Spirit Gauntlet, a solo perma-death campaign told by way of a pictorial journal [Maybe 900 pictures and 60,000 words so far? I do not have the current count 🙂 ]
  • was awarded the Fashionista’s Choice award for 2012, have contributed numerous outfits to the Show Your Outfits thread on the forums, and also have a Fashion page with my journal as well
  • have participated in many of Turbine’s Screenshot Contests and even won a few 🙂
  • am a heavy role-player as well, ever trying to unite the Sun and the Moon, the two aspects of these lands most often seen as diametrically opposed
  • contribute to the Free Peoples’ side in the Ettenmores (though the state of my looking-glass precludes this for now)
  • write Guides to aid the community, Tales to share with others, attend festivals, gatherings, fishing contests, and I had best stop now or this list will go on forever 🙂

My days are filled to here with so many things to do that it is forever a struggle to even see to half of them. While I am certainly a ‘grouper’, part of that 2%, I certainly cannot be defined by that alone.

It is the same with most every person I know who participates in group content as well. They are also musicians, role-players, attendees of social gatherings and festivals, hosts and hostesses of parties, contests, and so much more.

While I am sure there are some who care only for group content and, sadly, will leave, I cannot imagine that very many will. If we use a very conservative estimate, saying that only 50% of the group content audience would/will remain in these lands now that no more ‘traditional’ group content will be developed, we can come to the conclusion that…

…less than 1% of the entire player base would have been lost if this content was never developed. 1 out of 100, 10 out of 1,000, 5,000 out of 500,000.

It is a sad day when even a single person leaves because they are not fulfilled in these lands, of course. Neither the developers, nor the players, should be happy for it. At the same time, what was the cost for producing 7+ years of this type of content in order to retain less than 1% of the player base?

In the Final Analysis…

Radiance…

  • Affected, at most, only 2% of the player base, and likely much fewer than that, as it only came into play during the most difficult raids
  • Affected only three small areas out the entire landscape of Middle-earth: the Watcher’s Lair, Dar Narbugud, and Barad Guldur
  • Was in existence from the launch of Moria (November 18, 2008) until March 18, 2011, so only 2 years and 4 months out of 7+ years so far 🙂
  • The in-game effect of Radiance was very, very slight. The development time was greater, of course, but all in all, it was a very minor system
  • Not everyone in the 2% who were affected by Radiance hated it. I thought it was a good measuring stick to determine how prepared you were to face tougher challenges. A good many went to battle with the Watcher straightaway once Radiance was removed and did not fare very well

When you consider that there were, at least, 588 other players for every 12 who ever ventured into places where Radiance was a factor, and account for the time taken for the battles in those three lairs (maybe 30 minutes, 3 hours and 3 hours, respectively), the cumulative effect on player-time from Radiance has to be so small that it could hardly be measured. Maybe something like .000001% of all the seconds spent by all of the players in LOTRO have been affected by Radiance [that is a wild guess, but you see my point 🙂 ]

Looking back on it now, given all of this, it is difficult to imagine that the complaints against Radiance even measured highly enough to be noticed by Turbine, really. It would be only small percentages combined who would have complained at all: at most 2% of the player base, then the percentage that actually disliked it, then the percentage of those whom actually took the time to complain about it at all, and so on.

To remove Radiance and write a developer diary of an apologetic nature regarding it, under these circumstances, cannot be termed anything but extraordinary.

The Development of Group Content…

I do not think it is a stretch of the imagination, in any way, to say that the development of group content has affected every single second, of every single player, from the very first day of these lands. The time spent developing this content was time not spent developing content for the other 99% of players who would enjoy it. And that development time has always been considerable.

Consider the comments of Sapience and HoarseDev when the question of what it takes to create and test a raid came up in the same Shield run:

“A huge amount of time and resources. It takes animators, it takes artists, it takes QA, it takes play teams, it takes repeated play testing, it takes huge and massive amounts of tech to get all hooked up and tested out. It is incredibly time consuming, most people would be shocked at how time consuming it really is.” — Sapience

 

“Raids are an order of magnitude larger and are vastly more risky than anything else. They are definitely on a level all their own.” — HoarseDev

I realize he may have just been using ‘order of magnitude’ as a figure of speech, but it is likely true that the development of traditional group content takes ten times as much of an effort, more or less, than any of the other systems developed for these lands. The question is, knowing this and knowing that, at most, 2% of the players were using it, consistently over time, why did Turbine continue to pursue it?

That is not all, however. It is very likely true that the development of group content affected virtually every single second of time even before the first day the servers opened. From the initial idea to create a world based on this story, and to the very last day of development before time began in Middle-earth, the developers’ mindset, time and actions were affected by group content and how to bring it about.

How many more regions of Middle-earth would have come to life if the time to produce traditional group content pre-launch had been used for that instead? How many additional hobbies might there have been? How many more musical instruments, quests, story-lines, and,cosmetics? Well, around ten times as much for every moment spent on developing group content, it would seem. But that is not all.

Even though no more new content of this type will be developed, how much time will be spent to maintain it, time spent that could have gone to other things? But that is not all, either.

What has been the cost of gating the best armor and items to wear behind this content, alienating at least some of the other 98% of the player base that does not take part in group content at all? What has been the cost of having currencies like Marks, Medallions and Seals be earned at either a far greater pace or outright exclusively from this content that less than 2% of the player base uses? That is not all either, but it is enough to give an idea of the cost.

In fairness, you cannot blame Turbine for trying this, of course. After all, other games have developed ‘traditional’ group content, and done so successfully. It would not be termed as ‘traditional’ if that were not the case, right? 🙂

But, given what we know, regarding the tiny amount of players who actually used the content, and that it was known that so few used it even back then, why did its production continue for so long? While the developers were wrestling with the relatively small issue of Radiance, an issue infinitely larger had surrounded them that they either could not or would not see. Sadly, it was a costly one for us all.

We are at a crossroads. Looking back we can see what might have been. But, looking forward, now that this difficult decision has finally been made, we can see a brighter future as well. Sadly, some will leave us, and something that a very small percentage of us enjoyed will no longer continue to be renewed.

But, with that time devoted to things that the great majority wish to see, we can look forward to a great increase in those things to come! More regions developed, more quests and stories to be told. More systems that we can all share in as we continue on our path toward Mordor and beyond!

Onwards, to Gondor!