Resuming my more successful attempt at the Lone Wolf series, I now get to replay The Caverns of Kalte. I can expect to do better than before, given that this time round I have a higher Combat Skill even before the game-unbalancing magic sword acquired last book comes into play. Still, if I don't follow the optimal path (and a little randomisation makes it impossible to guarantee doing so even if I never make a poor decision), I'll need to fight a battle in which taking any damage is lethal, so for my 'completing Fire on the Water' bonus I'll take Mindblast, which could shift the Combat Ratio far enough to make all the difference between success and failure.
The background, for anyone who doesn't know: Vonotar the Traitor, about whom my friend Banedon told me in the first book (and whom I could have encountered at a distance in the second one, had I made a different decision at one point), has assumed leadership of the Ice Barbarians to the north, and I've been chosen to bring him to justice. There's a time limit, as the impending winter will freeze the sea in around a month, so when the ship is blown off course by a blizzard, I have no choice but to set off from where we make landfall rather than wasting a day trying to get to where we were headed.
As before, I pick the longer but less hazardous of the two possible routes from here, in part because I'm not certain that it'll be possible to avoid that unwanted fight if I try the other way. Events transpire just as they did last time until the Baknar fight, which is over much more quickly and less painfully (for me) on account of my being a slightly better fighter and much better armed. Again I acquire protection from the cold (and wind up smelling revolting).
The encounter with the Ice Barbarians still gets my guides killed, but the Barbarian who goes for me winds up half-killed without even harming me, rather than knocking me down. The bow-and-arrow-toting child in his backpack is thrown clear, but even if I were willing to take a child hostage, I'm pretty sure the Barbarian wouldn't be discouraged from attacking, and if I remember rightly, the brat would put up a vicious fight, so I just focus on finishing the battle against the adult Barbarian. One blow is all it takes, even with his Endurance mysteriously higher than it was after I first hit him.
More Ice Barbarians approach. The book forces me to try and take the child I just orphaned hostage, and he proves about as manageable as a handful of enraged cats. Still, to my surprise, the Barbarians are unwilling to risk any harm coming to the boy so, threatening him with the knife he just tried to stick in my back, I retreat to my sledge. It'll be too slow with a full load, so I ditch the equipment on it, and leave the child behind as I make my getaway. I soon outpace them (and they're probably not as determined to chase me as they would be if they wanted to rescue one of their own).
By dusk I've reached the foot of a mountain range, and another blizzard is on the way, so I'd do well to find shelter. Fortunately, Sixth Sense (which I have) proves just as effective as Tracking (which I still lack) for detecting a nearby cave network. And both Disciplines are equally useless at alerting me to the presence of a crevasse in the floor, so I fall in. It's not a lethal fall, though (indeed, I manage to land unscathed), and a faint light attracts my attention. I'm beginning to suspect that back when I was trying to get through books 1-12 with one character back in the nineties, I always went for the shorter but riskier route, but depending on the source of this light, I might be just about to rejoin the trail I used to follow.
No, this is not what I expected. I've stumbled upon an ancient subterranean labyrinth constructed by an ancient race (retconned in the Mongoose edition to be the Shianti from the Grey Star books). I continue north until a melt-water river blocks my way, and attempt to get across Frogger-style by using ice floes as stepping stones. I have a 1 in 5 chance of falling in, and do not get a favourable outcome. Still, it's not automatically lethal, and the odds of my freezing and drowning are... Well, they're 3 in 10 in the original text, but only 1 in 5 in the Mongoose reissue. Not that that makes any difference here, as I get the same number as I did when trying to get across the river.
But this time low is good and high is bad, whereas for the crossing it was the other way round, so I survive. Continuing on my way for a while longer, I become aware of how hungry I'm getting when I smell food being cooked in a nearby chamber. And I like the look of the section number for investigating further.
Yes! I've found the mad old Barbarians I was hoping to encounter. They're roasting a small animal on a spit over a flaming bowl. Speaking to them will not produce the most favourable outcome, so I just attack. Neither of them manage to harm me (and one didn't even get the chance). One of the Barbarians wears a small triangle of blue stone on a chain around his neck. I take it, since that's what will enable me to evade that fight. I then eat the roast animal, and help myself to the hemispherical bowl over which they cooked it. There's a similar bowl nearby, and they can be combined to create a metal sphere, which enables the owner to carry around the inextinguishable fire that it contains without getting burned.
After travelling on for a while, I stop for a nap. Or possibly a lengthy snooze - the lighting down here makes it impossible to judge how much time has passed. Regardless, I press on again, eventually reaching a vast chasm with a ledge running around it. I haven't got far along the ledge before a two-headed serpent starts following me. Animal Kinship enables me to identify it as a venomous Javek, and I use the Firesphere to block its path. Unable to get past the flames, it eventually retreats (with a 'spiteful' hiss indicative of sapience on its part or excessive anthropomorphisation on my part in the Mongoose text), and I retrieve the sphere and continue on my way.
Beyond the chasm is (eventually) a huge chamber with fissures in the ceiling. I have the option of trying to climb up and out, but as it's a 500-foot climb and I have no reason to want to leave these caverns, I just keep going. The exit leads to a smaller cavern with two more exits, and tracks I cannot identify in the snow by both. While I don't have Tracking, I do know the unwritten (at the time this book came out) rule, so I go left. This takes me to a chamber with a bone-strewn floor. At the far side are massive granite blocks that I identify as the foundations of the fortress which Vonotar has made his home. Conveniently, there's also a ramp leading to a massive stone door.
Before heading over to the door, I search among the bones, eventually discovering a carved bone box that holds a diamond. Valuables aren't often worth much in Lone Wolf adventures, but I take it anyway. Continuing towards the door, I discover that the mound of ice crystals at the foot of the ramp is actually a living creature - another serpentine monstrosity. Trying to evade it without knowing how easy it will be to open that door doesn't look that smart, so I fight. The Crystal Frostwyrm is unaffected by Mindblast, but that makes no difference to the outcome of the fight, which is that the creature soon dies. It then melts because it was made of living ice (biology in Magnamund is weird), and soon only the contents of its stomach remain to be seen. There's a Silver Key in there, which I take, being mildly burned by the stomach acid coating it (biology in Magnamund is really weird).
Proceeding to the door, I find no handle, keyhole or hinges. However, there is a triangular indentation in one of the blocks beside it, and the blue stone triangle I got from the aged Barbarian is a perfect fit, and causes the door to open briefly. If anyone's wondering about the fight I've just evaded, it's against a creature with a highly toxic barb on the end of its tongue, and another of the triangles on a chain around its neck. Maybe one of the Barbarians was keeping it as a pet, and this door is the equivalent of one of those cat flaps that only open when a cat with the right kind of chip approaches. Or possibly the encounter just makes no sense at all.
Inside the fortress I soon find a room full of rubbish, with a lever beside the entrance. The lever activates a stone door that can seal off the room. Even so, I search among the debris and find a serviceable rope. Also an intact backpack, but I could only take that if I'd lost the one I had at the start. Heading further into the fortress, I reach a hall from which I can go east or west. I was heading north, so the correct way is obvious.
Encountering a closed door with a lever beside it, I pull the lever. The door only partly opens, but I can squeeze through into the long-neglected room beyond, which contains another backpack, this one stuffed with vials of potion. I examine the contents of the vials, different Disciplines enabling me to identify a Healing Potion (inevitably derived from Laumspur), a potion that'll give me an edge in combat (worth saving for a lot later) and a powerful sleeping draught. I accidentally break the last vial while trying to open it, but I recognise what it contained as a result of my sojourn in the Graveyard of the Ancients. It's a powerful poison, and (absurdly) knowing what it is causes me to take damage from it, while I'd be unaffected if I couldn't tell what it was. That's taking 'what you don't know can't harm you' way too literally.
The next room I enter contains a stone chest, carved with hideous creatures. It has a lock, and the key from the Frostwyrm's stomach fits it. Amusingly, the Mongoose edition has to specify that only a Silver Key listed as a Special Item will do, and the Silver Key that's a Backpack Item (presumably the product of an edit in a reissue) won't fit. The lock swallows the key (the Mongoose text is clearer about the impossibility of retrieving the key), but that's not a major disappointment as the chest contains a helmet which boosts Combat Skill, so I don that.
Ascending stairs to a landing, I spot a concealed door and open it. My Sixth Sense and experience remind me of a legend about Ice Demons who travelled to this world but were imprisoned in ice crystals upon their arrival. The lesser ones power the lighting here. Breaking ice crystals in here would be a bad idea, so I don't step on the flagstones that appear to be made of quartz. Crossing the chamber without incident, I reach an altar with a statue of 'white stone' on it, and sense that something is trapped inside. Hitting it with a weapon could be suicidal, so I leave via a staircase. This takes me to a hidden passage that runs above the corridors, so I stay out of the way of the fortress' inhabitants for a while.
Eventually a portal to below catches my attention, and I look through it, spotting a man sitting in a pentagram. When I call to him, he claims to be a merchant from Ragadorn, captured by the Barbarians. I choose to leave him there, since I think it suspicious that a mere merchant should be held in a magical prison. Especially as previous attempts on which I never found this hidden passage did include an encounter with a disguised Helghast in a similar cell.
Steps lead down to the standard corridors, and I find another secret door. The passage beyond it passes another cell, this one containing an old man who's clearly taken a bit of a beating. His robes are so dirty and bloodstained, I can only just make out that they look like the ones worn by Banedon. Still, that's enough to identify him as one of the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star, so I open the door. The prisoner is Loi-Kymar, whose capture by Vonotar is the focus of the mini-adventure in the Mongoose edition (and by far the best of the Mongoose mini-adventures I've played to date). He explains that Vonotar, fearing the Darklords' wrath for his failure to achieve what they wanted him to do (a significant part of which was killing me), wanted to gain Loi-Kymar's mastery of teleportation, and has been unsuccessfully attempting to get learn the secrets of loi-Kymar's Guildstaff ever since he captured him. Loi-Kymar offers to guide me to the hall where Vonotar resides and, once the traitor has been captured, teleport me back to the ship.
By paying attention to the sounds of the fortress, Loi-Kymar has learned much about the secret doors and passages, and he leads me to the kitchens. I empty that sleeping draught into the cauldron of gruel, and the nearby Barbarians are soon out of action. Some healing is then provided (not that I need it right now). After that Loi-Kymar shows me the corridor to the hall. There are two Barbarian sentries, so to keep them from causing trouble, he brews up a bowl of gas, and I'm able to sneak close enough to deliver it unnoticed, so the guards soon pass out.
We enter the hall, where Vonotar sits on a throne atop a crystal pyramid. He doesn't notice us until Loi-Kymar sneezes, at which point the villain creates a moat around the pyramid, from which he summons a tentacled monstrosity to attack me, and psychically attacks Loi-Kymar. I need to kill the monster before Vonotar can kill the old wizard, but it's undead, so the Sommerswerd does double damage. Thanks to a couple of lucky rolls, I take less than half the time limit.
Perceiving me as the greater threat, Vonotar breaks off his attack on Loi-Kymar, who creates a bridge of creepers across the moat. As I'm crossing, Vonotar fires a cone of frost at the bridge, but the Sommerswerd is able to attract and neutralise hostile magic (as he'd already know (but forget) if I'd encountered him last book), so no harm befalls me.
Loi-Kymar then traps Vonotar with vines, and advises me to confiscate all the Traitor's rings and amulets. Retrieving his staff, he scorns my attempts to indicate the whereabouts of the ship, and just teleports the three of us straight there. The return journey is uneventful, and Vonotar is tried and sentenced to eternal imprisonment in the Daziarn, from which no escape is possible (though Grey Star would disagree). Still, now Vonotar's there, he'll never bother me again until book 11.