While Boneshaker's Mountains of Forever made it clear that Proteus was to cease being a monthly magazine, it did mention the possibility of a future 'special' issue, and towards the end of the year, when I popped into the newsagent's at the Five Ways end of the shopping precinct, I saw that there was indeed a new Proteus. It contained a new adventure, The Orchid of Life, a reprint of an older adventure, an unimpressive short story, a few comic strips, and an ad for back issues at a reduced price, which prompted me to get copies of a few of the better adventures as a Christmas present for a fellow fan of gamebooks.
Though Orchid is credited to the magazine's most prolific author, David Brunskill, and is a sequel to one of his previous Proteus adventures, gamebooks.org reveals that Mr. Brunskill says he didn't write it. It's all a bit odd. While it is by no means the worst Proteus adventure, it is decidedly average - before I learned of the mysteries surrounding its authorship, I considered Orchid something of a disappointment compared with David Brunskill's last contribution to the magazine. Besides which, it doesn't look good. Well, Colette McKenzie's illustrations aren't that bad for the most part (though the Tyrannosaur is pretty dismal), but the text itself looks as if the publishers dispensed with the usual typesetting process and just reproduced the output of Mystery Author X's typewriter on the printed page. All in all, while it's not among the candidates for worst adventure ever published by Proteus, Orchid does see the series end with more of a whimper than a bang.
Anyway, it seems that I am an adventurer who succeeded in recovering the Sceptre of the Elvenking. While visiting Fourways, a town of the sort favoured by adventurers seeking something to do, I find the local tavern to be rather gloomier than usual, and am approached by an Elf named Tamlane, who knows of my past exploits, and explains the death and despair I'm needed to avert this time round.
Basically, a necromancer by the name of Liknud is planning on taking control of the region and subjecting everyone in it to all manner of necromantic unpleasantness. Within a few days he will be in a position to do so, having stolen the Orchid of Life, a source of great power that flowers just once a century, and is about to come into full bloom. Eildon, the Elves' best sorceress, has already attempted to thwart Liknud, and failed. She's not dead yet, but it's only a matter of time until Liknud becomes powerful enough to destroy her, after which nobody will be able to stand against him.
Well, that is, unless some valiant hero (guess who) is able to find the dagger of Telledus, an enchanted weapon capable of killing Liknud, which was recently lost to some 'loathsome creature' within the forest of Ardristan. Oh, and I should try to find some elf-fruit and the root of a Hellbane plant for protection against Liknud's magic (though, as I recall, those are not essential for success, just helpful - but there are also some other vital items that Tamlane doesn't mention because he doesn't know about some of the threats present in Liknud's lair).
I'm back to just two stats in this adventure. While combat in Orchid never gets anywhere near as challenging as in Proteus' harshest fight, starting out with the lowest possible Dexterity is a virtual death sentence, so I'll allocate dice and go in with:
Consequently, I'm more likely to fail as a consequence of deviating from the typically meandering viable path and missing out on something essential than because I lose a fight.
Before Tamlane and I go our separate ways, he gives me a potion of Healing, 'which will restore [my] strength when it is at its lowest ebb'. The rules say nothing about the potion, so unless it turns out to be something I can only use when prompted to by the text, I'm going to have to guess what that means in terms of game mechanics. Does the 'lowest ebb' bit mean I have to wait until Strength drops below 3 before I can use it? Can I swig it down during a fight? Or between opponents if I have to take on multiple enemies at once?
So, I head into the forest, and soon reach a crossroads. Whimsically choosing the direction that's best to pick at the start of the very first Proteus adventure, I get attacked by a wild boar, and while I win the fight without taking any damage, the fact that in most rounds I only narrowly beat an opponent with a Dexterity 6 lower than mine bodes ill for any combat against enemies that come closer to matching my ability.
Despite being aware that Liknud's malign influence is corrupting the forest and its denizens, my character finds it puzzling that the boar attacked. Oh dear.
Before long the trail changes direction, and I catch sight of a couple of wooden huts, one of them with a smoking chimney. There's no response when I call out, which, in gamebooks and the like, practically constitutes an invitation to break in and help myself to anything that looks useful. So I enter the first hut, which appears to have been a woodcutter's home, and find a slightly odd state of affairs. The place has been abandoned long enough for the half-eaten meal on the table to go mouldy, but the stove hasn't gone out. Oh, and there's a python lurking in the rafters, just waiting to drop down on anyone who happens to wander in. Though the snake coils around me, there's no Dexterity penalty for being encumbered by its weight, nor any mandatory constriction damage every round of the ensuing fight.
The python is a slightly better fighter than the boar was, and manages to injure me once before I kill it. After that I can get on with looting the place, and in a rather desperate attempt at padding the adventure out to 200 sections, there's one section for looking in the chest-of-drawers first, another for checking it out second, and yet another for searching it third (and likewise with the box and case near it), even though the order in which I investigate these receptacles makes no difference to what I find in them. All right, this set-up does mean I can only search each of them once, but so would the phrase 'if you have not done so already.'
The box contains a larger-than-standard gold coin with the image of a dragon on both sides. The case contains a variety of tools, of which I may take only two because gamebook logic, so I go for the rope and the axe. Most of the contents of the chest-of-drawers are, predictably, clothing (seemingly not women's), but I do find a bottle containing a single dose of Invisibility potion. The text says the bottle is engraved with a description of its contents, but in the picture across the page it has a label, and is covered in cobwebs in a manner that seems unlikely given that it was stuffed into a drawer full of old clothes.
Leaving the hut, I proceed to the neighbouring one (and the neighbouring section). This hut is also abandoned, but contains a puzzle promising access to the ring of power, which apparently protects the wearer against would-be stealers of souls. A key is provided, and there are three small locked doors, each with two statements inscribed above it. According to the parchment in which the key was wrapped, both statements above one door are true, and both statements above another are false. Nothing is said about the third door, but an inference can be made, and it helps me to pick the correct door, so I get the ring.
As I continue on my way, the path turns again, and I am surrounded by a group of armed men, all daubed with blue clay and wearing dragon masks. Their leader dances up to me and holds out a hand, and when I give him the double-dragon coin from the first hut, he and his companions melt back into the trees, allowing me to proceed to a crossroads.
The route leading directly back to where I entered the forest is off limits, but that still leaves two ways I could proceed. Going straight ahead could loop round to the entrance via the other path I didn't take at the start (in which case something will probably intervene to prevent me from heading that way), or it might lead to another junction (and potentially thence to another useful or essential item). I think I'll check it out.
The path bends in an unexpected direction, but does lead to another junction. The side turning here may loop back to the start, and I think I've pushed my luck in that regard enough, so I continue the way I am now going, and just before the path bends again, a Pterosaur swoops to the attack. The ensuing fight is easy enough, but winning merely enables me to continue until I reach another junction, at which point the text compels me to go deeper into the forest. That encounter was the kind of insignificant event that's often found on false trails, so I guess I went too far or not far enough, and will have to just hope that anything I missed was merely useful rather than essential.
After a while I reach another junction, and the sections for the two routes possible are, sloppily, both on the same page as the decision. I'll try another change of direction, and endeavour to avoid looking at the path not taken. The trail leads to another junction, and this time I keep going straight ahead until I hit a T-junction. One path appears to lead to marshland, the other is cast into shadow by overhead branches. Let's see what's in the dark...
More darkness, and beyond that darker darkness, which is not dispelled by lighting a torch. I get an item check for something I missed, and must choose between heading deeper into the darkness or turning back. I'm probably doomed either way, but turning around could help with identifying further true or false paths, whereas advancing will probably only reveal what form of death awaits characters who advance into the darkness without the appropriate light source.
The other way leads into a swamp (checking, I see that swamps have more trees than marshes, so the author appears to have done a bit of research). A Swamp Lizard confronts me, but chooses its moment poorly, as I'm on a decently solid bit of ground when it attacks. Though I have a substantial lead Dexterity-wise, I still take a few hits during the fight, and eat a meal afterwards to restore some of the lost Strength.
And that's it for swamp encounters. Next thing you know, I'm back on solid ground and facing another junction. I take the turning, and walk face-first into a clump of elf-fruit, which turns out to be like purple grapes, but harder. After taking a bunch, I continue on to what appears to be a dead end, but out from the trees steps a female Elf, described in a manner which suggests that the author was hoping that Mark K. Dunn would provide one of his trademark 'provocatively dressed beauty' pictures to go with this section (though the only picture on the page is of a Watersnake encountered elsewhere in the adventure - and by the looks of it, you're definitely going to need a bigger boat). She shows me a way through the not-so-impenetrable-after-all foliage, provides directions to Liknud's lair, and then strolls off in case Tamlane is in need of a spot of railroading too.
The forest is decidedly unhealthy around here, in places obviously due to deliberate destruction rather than just Liknud's general aura of badness, and I catch sight of a cave that practically screams 'bad guy in here'. While I'm looking at it, a group of thugs sneaks up on me and clubs me senseless.
I come round in the cave, being force-fed a healing potion by Tamlane (with no indication whether or not this is supposed to be the one he gave me back at the start). Tamlane hurries away before I have time to get to my feet, and I hasten after him, pausing when the tunnel ends in a pair of wooden doors. They're not locked, and beyond them is a chamber that's been converted into a dungeon. Many pairs of shackles line the walls, a couple of them in use, and two inattentive guards are playing a dice-based game. Doors lead to east and west, and I decide to see if rescuing the prisoners will provide any clues as to which way I should go now.
Taking the guards by surprise, I kill one of them before he can react. The other grabs a weapon, but doesn't put up much of a fight. Using his keys, I release the prisoners, who turn out to be woodcutters. They mention a recent kerfuffle when somebody brought in a nifty-looking dagger and Liknud was not pleased, cursing the weapon and ordering that it be taken away and put under guard. One of them also heard mention of a potion which serves as an antidote to the curse, so I make a mental note to keep an eye out for that.
The woodcutters then leave, and I pocket the money with which the guards had been gambling. Then I go through one of the doors, which leads via a corridor to a booby-trapped door. Half a dozen crossbow bolts come my way, and an unlucky roll has most of them hit me, so I wolf down a couple more meals to restore myself to full health.
Beyond the door is a room with shelves on the walls, and on those shelves are bottles containing a selection of coloured liquids. I take a bottle of the colour mentioned by the woodcutter and ignore the others, as an Instant Death section I inadvertently glimpsed earlier suggests that one of the other liquids might be lethally toxic.
Another door and an archway lead out of the room, and I choose an exit. The corridor beyond soon turns a corner, and I see a side turning leading to another door, which I investigate. The door is locked, but somebody has left the keys in the lock, so I am able to open it. It leads to a cell in which a young woman is shackled to the wall. She screams as the door opens, and then, upon seeing that I am not a guard, she begs me to release her. This could be a trap, but remembering the ineptitude of the guards I encountered earlier, I can believe that one might be careless or lazy enough to leave the keys in the lock, so I free her. She doesn't have any useful information for me (which could mean that this whole encounter is just padding), but if she is an innocent victim, rescuing her is a good thing regardless.
Heading back along the main passageway, I check out another turning, which leads to a room with three guards in. I fight them simultaneously, the specifics of which aren't covered by the rules, but going with one of the standard FF variants, I win while taking a fair bit of damage. Another meal helps with that, and I am a little disappointed to only get more cash as a consequence of my victory.
Again I return to the long passage, which finally terminates in a door. Beyond it I find a room cluttered with sorcerous paraphernalia, and occupied by a stereotypical-looking wizard. He introduces himself as a conjurer and illusionist named Aarko (though that appears to be a typo, as subsequent references to him say 'Zarko'), and turns a wand into a bunch of flowers. His next trick involves staring fixedly at me, which causes me to feel light-headed, but then the ring I picked up earlier starts to glow, bringing me back to my senses. Realising that he has failed to entrance me, Zarko flees through a door behind him, and I give chase.
Not quickly enough, though, as a short corridor leads to a T-junction, and there's no sign of the magician in either direction. The turning I take leads to a room in which beams of light imprison a female Elf on a raised dais. Close to the archway through which I came, a glowing gemstone stands on a pedestal, and near the captive Elf are three brutish men. The Elf yells at me to smash the jewel, and the thugs charge at me.
I down the potion of Invisibility, and my disappearance confuses the guards for long enough that I can shatter the stone. The lights around the Elf vanish, and she utters an incantation which causes the men to turn on each other, fighting to their mutually assured destruction.
The potion wears off, and the Elf turns her attention to me. She is Eildon, of course, and we've only just introduced ourselves when Tamlane dashes into the room and asks if I found the dagger. I admit that I haven't, and then Liknud explosively teleports into the room. Eildon confronts him, and is destroyed in psychic combat, after which he finishes me off with a hail of fire-bolts.
Well, that was by no means a great ending, but things could have gone worse. And that's as true for Proteus as it is for my character.