Too impatient to wait until I could look up the character I'd brought through the three preceding books, I started reading it on the way home. This showed me just how lethal the book could be (I think it was the elasticated rope that led to my first death), and I believe I saved that veteran until I'd got at least a rough idea of how to survive the early and middling stages of the adventure.
It's the one Sorcery! book I have yet to beat since reacquiring the series last decade. I've got a significant distance through it, but always fallen some way before the final hurdle. The write-up of my attempt at the unofficial FF forum shows how far I have got. Will I fare any better this time? Only one way to find out...
So the survivor of the previous book has reached Low Xamen. I can see the fortress that is my ultimate destination, and the sight does little to encourage me. Still, forbidding though it may be, it does not make me as apprehensive as does noticing hoofprints along the trail I'm following. Which is odd. Okay, so the ultimate villain in House of Hell had cloven hooves, but the Analander (that's what everyone who's heard the Fire Serpent's news calls me) knows nothing of that adventure (except maybe in some crossover fanfic that I have zero desire to read), and I'm pretty sure that the only hooved beasts encountered so far on this quest were horses, none of which did anything remotely menacing.
It's getting late and a storm is brewing, so I decide to make camp for the night. Up ahead I see three caves, one with a small entrance, one with hoofprints leading into it, and one with no real distinguishing features. Determined to discover the truth about what made the prints, I enter the cave into which they lead, and catch sight of a figure leaning against the wall. The illustration reveals more than I initially notice: while the text merely describes the figure as human-like and naked, with long hair, in the picture I can make out horns, fur-covered lower limbs, and (predictably) hooves rather than feet.
Those details remain unmentioned as I try and fail to attract the figure's attention, and draw nearer, but I finally spot them at around the same time that I discover the figure to be female and dead. With no Fear stat to manage, I am not overly troubled by this, but I'd rather not spend the night in the company of a corpse, especially in a world where being dead isn't always a guarantee of not being hostile.
There are parts of the world where 'Rest in Peace' is followed by an unwritten 'Please!'
Next I try the small cave, which I can only enter by crawling. As I do so, something inside it howls loudly, but I refuse to be intimidated, and advance to confront the occupant. Even if I didn't know what's in there from my very first attempt at the book, I'd probably expect some kind of trick, because all the available spell options are sensible. Anyway, I trust in my sword to protect me against the beast waiting for me, which turns out to be timid, tiny, and devoid of anything sharp with which to defend itself. Knowing when it's beaten, the Jib-Jib runs away, leaving me to search the cave and find a bottle containing a parchment I cannot read.
After a quiet night and the standard Stamina penalty for anyone who didn't eat the day before (Steve rather optimistically assuming that full-saga readers will be able to remember whether or not they ate Provisions between crossing the Lake and meeting the Marsh Goblins when they read The Seven Serpents, possibly months before), I set off again, helping myself to some naturally occurring spell components along the way. Encountering more hoofprints, I wonder if mountain goats could have caused them, apparently being too thick to imagine that the prints might have been made by creatures like the one I found in the first cave. Or the two that are throwing spears at me right now.
"I saw someone dead who looked like you," is not generally considered a particularly good way to start a conversation, but it works here. The creatures are saddened but not surprised, as the one I found had been ill for some time (which would be ominous news if I'd spent the night in that cave as the text implies), and it is a custom of theirs to wander off and die alone rather than become a burden to friends and family. I accept an invitation back to their village, and along the way I evidently learn that they are She-Satyrs, as that's what the book calls them from this point onwards.
They take me to their leader, Sh'houri, to break the news of my discovery, and I decide to see if that parchment I found means anything to her. It turns out to have been written by another former resident of their village, and is important enough that I am offered a variety of spell components as a reward for bringing it. The She-Satyrs also warn me of assorted booby-trapped doors in Mampang Fortress, and give me a hardwood spear, which they advise me to have blessed by Colletus the holy man if I should encounter him along the way.
Resuming my journey, I spot a sheltered alcove that looks like a good rest stop, and settle down there for a meal. Erudite graffiti warns me to turn back, and lets me know Colletus' whereabouts. I disregard the first bit, but take note of the rest before setting off again. Ignoring the rope that brought one of my early attempts at the book to an abrupt end, I reach a bridge, which starts making groaning and moaning noises as soon as I step onto it.
This'll be the Groaning Bridge, then. Which is where the writing said I could find Colletus. So I summon him as directed by the She-Satyrs, and discover that he's blind. Also a little curmudgeonly, though he mellows as soon as I request his services as a holy man. He blesses the spear, and tries to dissuade me when I tell him of my quest, revealing that trying to defeat the evil in Mampang is what cost him his sight. I refuse to turn back, so he gives me more spell components, blesses me, and reveals the hitherto invisible safe bridge next to the secretly unreal Groaning one.
Beyond the bridge I soon reach the pass that leads to the Fortress, which looks so demoralising that I suffer a Skill penalty as long as I can see it. Cautiously approaching, I spot a couple of drunken guards. Not too drunk to notice me, alas. One attacks, while the other rushes for a horn to summon reinforcements. I don't manage to kill the first in time to prevent the second from sounding the horn, and I don't manage to kill the second one at all. He need not have called for backup - though he will at least have someone to boast to about having saved Mampang from the Analander.
Well, that was over a good deal quicker than I'd expected. A pity as, despite some annoying flaws (follow the earlier link if you want to see me rant about a particularly wrong-headed spell implementation), overall the book is a satisfyingly epic conclusion to the saga.