Wednesday, 5 February 2014

When Nothing Gave Us Cover From the Sky

Sorry that this entry has taken so long to write. Still, it's a decent length, after all the wait.

The other week I told of how I properly got back into gamebooks after finding a load of Fighting Fantasy in a charity shop, four of which I'd never played before. The second of these in publication order was Tower of Destruction, Keith Martin's fourth contribution to the series. Most of my attempts at it to date have ended with my character's losing a fight (though my most recent try just fizzled out as a result of my discovering a route through the book on which I simply wasn't allowed to turn to any more sections).

My character is a member of a barbarian tribe in the frozen north. In the hope of reducing the likelihood of dying in battle yet again, I shall be allocating dice. Thus, I get:
Skill 11
Stamina 14
Luck 8
As in most Keith Martin adventures, there are other characteristics to keep track of, but Honour and Time both have predetermined starting scores.

I'm on my way home from a trading expedition to Zengis, where I was apparently able to get a decent price for some furs (though I don't seem to have any money on me), and my musings about trying to get a job guarding a trade caravan are disrupted by the realisation that something isn't right. It's not as cold as it should be, especially around dusk. Except that it's too early for the sky to be getting that dark. And even if night were falling prematurely, it wouldn't make loud noises while doing so, would it?

I duck as a huge flaming sphere of rock flies overhead. Once it has passed, I continue on my way to the valley where my people live, speeding up as I see the smoke and fire. While passing over the village, the sphere has set much of it alight, killing many people. Including my parents, though this detail is only mentioned in passing, so I guess family relationships can't be that big a deal among my people. Doing the right thing is obviously important, though, what with there being a stat to keep track of how virtuous or villainous I'm being. So before following the trail of the sphere, I should do what I can to help the survivors.

While tending to the injured, I hear a child calling for help from under a mound of rubble. After an hour's digging, I uncover the cellar in which the girl is trapped, and get her out of it before the remains of the hut collapse. With everyone's immediate needs dealt with, I ask what happened, and learn that the Sphere dipped towards the village as it passed, thereby maximising the damage it caused. This was no freak meteor-related tragedy, but deliberate malice.

Between the injured and those involved in longer-term disaster relief, there's nobody available to accompany me as I seek whoever is responsible for this, but the villagers do provide me with some climbing gear and a flask of medicinal brandy. Now it is dusk, so my departure will have to wait until tomorrow.

In the morning I set off, following the trail of ice where the snow melted by the sphere's passage has refrozen. As the sun sets again (sure, this may be a hostile frozen wilderness, but that doesn't mean a man crossing it is liable to encounter anything dangerous, right?), I decide to seek shelter from the wind in a clump of pine trees. A Snow Owl hoots from one of them, and I head for it. At this point the book points out that such birds can be very territorial, and asks if I want to reconsider. Would it not have made more sense to give this warning before the initial choice of clump was made? Anyway, I decide to risk getting a pellet regurgitated at me, and proceed to the clump with the owl in.

The owl asks if I'm following the sphere, and I nod. It warns me of 'the creatures the barbarians call Ice Ghosts' (seemingly unaware that I'm a barbarian myself, and know nothing about these 'Ice Ghosts'), and advises me to consult Tasrin the Sage. It then says it'll keep watch over me tonight, so I have an untroubled night's rest.

Visiting Tasrin will take me off the sphere's trail, but the detour is probably going to be worth taking, so I follow the owl's directions. By midday I've sighted the log house where the Sage lives, and it's late afternoon when I get there. Sensing that something is amiss, I scout around, and in response to a sulphurous stench from behind the back door, I draw my sword and burst in, taking the Smoke Demon on the other side by surprise. It fights back, and the choking smoke around it causes me to suffer a temporary Skill penalty (in other words, an Attack Strength penalty, but many FF writers seem to have forgotten that the term 'Attack Strength' exists). Nevertheless, I win, taking only a little damage.

Undeterred by the strange noises from the adjoining room, I search the hut, and find the dying Sage. He identifies the Demon as a servant of Zeverin, the madman responsible for the sphere, and tells me that I'll find what I need in the Ice Palace. Before expiring, he directs me to the bottom drawer of his desk. This contains a healing potion, which I take, along with Tasrin's money, the ring he was wearing, and as much of his food as will fit into my backpack. I spend the night in the hut, and set off again in the morning.

I try taking a short cut to make up for the delay, and observe ominous clouds in the sky. What happens next is determined by the roll of a die, though I can spend Luck to improve my chances of a favourable roll. The writing here is not good: I'm pretty sure that it's just patronisingly pointing out that if I spend the Luck, I'll have to deduct it from my current score, but it could also be taken as saying that after spending the Luck, I must then deduct an additional point. In any case, I'm going take my chances with an unmodified roll rather than depleting an already low attribute. And I roll high enough to be successful anyway, so the skies brighten and I rediscover the sphere's trail without any trouble.

At the end of the day I come across a dead Snow Fox in a snare, and it would appear that there's nothing dishonourable about plundering someone else's traps. I dig myself a snow cave for the night, and the following day I sight the valley in which the sphere has stopped. I also see footprints indicating that someone has had what could be a rather nasty fall close by. Helping them out will take time, but by now I think I've had enough delays that another one won't really matter, so I investigate anyway.

The climbing gear helps me keep from falling after the unfortunate individual whose fate I am investigating, who turns out to be a barbarian from the Bloodied Eagle tribe, injured and concussed, but still alive. His people aren't renowned for their hospitality, but that wouldn't make killing him and taking his stuff a good choice even if the book didn't have a stat for Honour. So I tend his wounds and make sure he's all right.

When lucid, the barbarian introduces himself as Torsten, and says he fell while fleeing Ice Ghosts. Despite already having heard mention of these entities from the owl, my character is sceptical, but nevertheless helps Torsten climb back up. Torsten insists that I accompany him back to his tribe's camp so he can thank me properly, and not accepting the invitation would cause offence, so I put saving the world on hold for another day or so for politeness' sake.

His people ply me with drink, and when I ask about the sphere and the Ice Ghosts, the chieftain has a lot to say - unless it's a spirit speaking through him. Regardless, Zeverin is responsible for both Ghosts and sphere, has demonic associates, and is within the sphere, yet not there. The tribe are preparing for a trip to the Spirit Grounds to seek advice from their ancestors, but I suspect that that will take too long.

Also present at this gathering is a trader. I sell him the fox pelt (assuming that a Snow Fox and a Silver Fox are the same thing), and buy more provisions, as well as a crossbow and bolts. Rather pointlessly, the text stresses that I must pay for everything I buy, and not cheat. Is the sort of person who would cheat liable to be deterred by such an instruction?

The following morning, the tribe give me extra Provisions (if I'd known I was going to get them, I wouldn't have bothered buying any from the trader) and a flask of alcohol that will not only restore Stamina, but also make me confident enough to get a Skill bonus in the first fight I have after drinking it. Pity it's not an Attack Strength bonus - the usual restrictions on exceeding Initial Skill apply, so I'd have to lose a point before I could benefit from the bonus.

Over the course of the day, I get closer to the valley with the sphere in. At night I find a cave, in which somebody has left everything necessary for making a fire. In the morning I catch sight of what could be a White Dragon in the sky, but there's no point in wasting further time hiding and hoping for it to go away, so I set off anyway, and don't attract any untoward attention. The rest of the day and subsequent night are uneventful, and next morning the climbing gear helps me get down into the valley without any bother.

The sphere is guarded by two Ice Ghosts - blue-skinned animated corpses with ice in their veins. Oddly, they still breathe, and their breath clouds in the air (isn't clouding breath a consequence of the warmth of the breath?). Both attack me simultaneously, and the first time I hit one, I learn that swords aren't the best weapons to use against Ice Ghosts. I wonder why none of the barbarians from Torsten's tribe bothered to warn me about that in advance. Or about the Ice Ghosts' dying convulsions that inflict extra damage on opponents who don't know to jump back as soon as they deliver a coup de grace. Those little surprises lead to my being beaten down to just 2 Stamina by the end of the fight, and I'm only allowed to eat one portion of Provisions before continuing on my way. That potion from Tasrin helps restore me to better health, but my chances of surviving once I'm inside the Sphere now look decidedly iffy.

There's not a lot of cover between here and the Sphere. On the far side, the terrain offers better options for concealment, but as I recall from previous tries at the book, the sphere's occupant is aware of that as well, and has prepared a surprise for anyone trying to sneak up. So I take the direct path to the sphere. Observing an opening on one side, I wait until dusk because obviously I haven't yet wasted enough time, and then enter.

It would appear that Zeverin has managed to get his hands on some Time Lord technology, judging by how much larger the sphere's interior is than its exterior. Reaching a crossroads, I head right and reach a chamber in which a humanoid made of stone is heating rock globes with its fiery breath and throwing them into an aperture in the wall. This may have something to do with the Sphere's power source, but I don't remember deriving any particular advantage from interfering with the process, so I choose not to get into an unnecessary fight, and head back the way I came.

Continuing across the crossroads, I reach a featureless spherical chamber. A smoky entity coalesces into being, and I fight it. The Smoke Wraith proves less trouble than the Smoke Demon did, and once I've killed it, I search the chamber to find out what the Wraith was guarding. There's a sliding panel hidden in one of the walls, and I go through. Getting here has taken long enough that Zeverin has had time to create a Zombie guard on the other side, and as I wasn't expecting it, it automatically gets in a blow against me. It gets inordinately lucky once I'm able to fight back, too, and I lose several more points of Stamina before overcoming it.

Stairs lead up to what looks like a morgue. A humming sound comes from behind the door at the far end, and I sense that I'm close to unlocking the mysteries of the Sphere. But to get to the door I must pass the slabs with corpses on, and do you think the bodies are just going to lie there? Well, they would if I'd set off at the earliest opportunity and made no detours, but as it is, I have another Ice Ghost to fight. The description of what happens to it when I strike the killing blow is rather nasty, and the text implies that this so horrifies me, I don't bother to get any more healing before flinging open the door. But as it doesn't expressly forbid me from doing so, I'm disregarding those implications and downing a shot of brandy. Even at full Stamina, I'd have shaky odds of making it through what comes next alive. At just over half health, as I was before the drink, my chances would have been far worse.

Beyond the door is a large hall, with a pulsating screen at the far end. A bejeweled statue of a Demon sits on a sarcophagus, and close to it are a wizard and a Man-Orc. The wizard sets the Man-Orc on me, claiming to have 'more important things to do' than tackle me himself. Though that doesn't stop him from firing a magical dart at me a few rounds into the fight. The Man-Orc keeps me from attacking the wizard before he can interfere again, but as Zeverin fires at me again, I notice one of the Demon statue's eyes lighting up, so I attempt to smash that. I succeed, and the wizard vanishes (like the chieftain said, he wasn't really there), but the Man-Orc gets a free strike at me while I'm getting rid of Zeverin's projection. It's the last blow he does land on me, though.

I take the Man-Orc's sword, which is magical (and my Skill is just low enough that I can use the bonus provided by the sword) and eat some Provisions, because the 'fun' isn't over yet. The statue seems to be some kind of control mechanism for the sphere, but before I can start trying to operate it, I hear a groan from behind a door I hadn't previously noticed. Behind the door is a cell, with a man chained up. I use keys from the Man-Orc's belt to free him, and he operates the controls to put the Sphere out of action. Except that he bungles it, and warns me that the sphere is about to explode. I help him escape (consequently being injured by flying debris).

The ex-prisoner introduces himself as Aliades, reveals that he had been duped into helping Zeverin with his scheme, and points out that things are far from over. The sphere was just a prototype and, having confirmed that it works, Zeverin will now be working on an even more destructive flying tower. This will enable Zeverin to cause enough death to open a 'necromantic highway' that will allow the denizens of hell to pour into Allansia and overcome it as a stepping stone to taking over the rest of the world.

Aliades then teleports the two of us to a study, where he summons up enough food to restore my Stamina to its Initial level. While I'm eating, he tells me that only the Ice Palace to the north-east can provide me with magic to fight Zeverin. In a past life, Zeverin studied under Elokinan, the Elven Chief, Mage and Architect who sculpted the Palace, so there may also be useful information there. One complication: the Palace is a mausoleum, and the dead there might not appreciate my nosing around. But that's a problem to deal with when it arises. For now, I should get some rest.

At dawn, Aliades wakes me, clearly the worse for wear. He casts a quick spell and gives me a Potion of Stamina before dying from the withering affliction that Zeverin has inflicted upon him. I'm unaffected, possibly because I'm not important enough. After restocking on Provisions, I step outdoors, being instantaneously transported half the distance to the Palace, which leaves me miles from anywhere in a vast tundra.

I trudge through the snow, and fail to notice the approach of two Pegasus-riding barbarians until they're practically on top of me. Landing close by, they tell me that they're from the Frostwind tribe, and they look pretty formidable. Still, they're not actually hostile, just unimpressed to learn that I'm on a heroic quest (I rather like the dry humour of one of them observing that they met a similar hero just last week, and he got trampled by a Mammoth). If I were low on supplies, I could buy food from them, but I'm at full capacity, so we just go our separate ways.

Further on, I hear howls, snarls and scream from behind some rocks. I investigate, and find a trapper fighting a polar bear, watched by his huskies. The bear strikes a killing blow, then notices me and tries to get another kill. I win the fight, and the bear transforms into a barbarian. The trapper's sled has a few noteworthy items on it in addition to the furs and traps: a pouch of money, a large bag of salt, and some extra Provisions that I can take despite exceeding the quota, as they can be stored on the sled. Given the lack of restrictions on carrying equipment other than Provisions, I can only conclude that the text means 'Provision' rather than 'Possession' when describing what should happen if I take the salt with me once I've finished using the sled.

Towards the end of the day I sight the Palace, but only for a moment, and then it's gone, concealed by an illusion. In the morning I try to continue towards it, but the huskies refuse to get any closer, so I have to abandon the sled and continue on foot. I don't actually see the Palace again until it's almost directly in front of me, and up close it has quite an impact. There's a gatehouse in front of me, and an annoying error in the book that means heading straight for the gatehouse results in falling into a trap laid for people who try to avoid entering via the gatehouse. Easy enough to avoid when you know about it, but bothersome otherwise.

As I'm trying to open the ice gates, a figure on top of the gatehouse fires at me with a crossbow. I retaliate, and am slightly surprised to find that our sniping at each other is treated as a normal fight: ranged combat usually has special rules. After three exchanges of bolts, the Dark Elf in the gatehouse ducks out of sight, and I hurry inside to finish him off. This time the text explicitly states that I don't have time for Provisions or Potions, so I'm taking that as retroactively legitimising my Potion-taking back in the sphere.

The Dark Elf is not alone, and he lets his unwounded companion attack first. They're slightly easier to deal with one at a time. The only thing of note I find in the gatehouse is a little food, which I eat to make up for the one crossbow bolt that did hit me. If I didn't already have a crossbow, I'd be unable to take the sniper's one, as it's too 'light' for me to use. Bit of a flimsy explanation (perhaps it's a flimsy crossbow).

I proceed into the Palace to explore it. Under normal circumstances I can only visit each different part of it once, which is what messed up my last attempt: certain parts of the Palace only open up if you have specific items from other parts of the Palace, so going to the wrong one first can make it impossible to go everywhere and acquire everything necessary. To make things worse, the book isn't as clear as it should be about what to do if you've attempted to visit everywhere and wound up 'locked out' of several key locations. It's bad enough failing just for going to door C before door B, but when doing so doesn't lead to any 'fail' ending, just a list of non-viable options, that makes for a very unsatisfying bit of gameplay. For the sake of this post, let's hope I've learned from my mistakes.

There are two Towers next to the gatehouse, one with a shield above the entrance, the other bedecked with multicoloured icicles. I head for the one with the shield on, and a Dark Elf at the top of it takes a pot-shot at me with a crossbow. I fire back, and something deflects the bolt, so I waste no further time shooting, and enter the Tower. He lines up his shot while I'm ascending the stairs, so I get hit climbing through the trapdoor onto the roof, but the damage isn't lethal, and whatever it was that saved him from my crossbow bolt, it's not much good against my sword. Once he's dead, I find and take the Shield of Warding that deflected my shot.

On the way back down, I have a proper look around. The Tower has been pretty thoroughly vandalised, but at ground level I discover a rune-inscribed door that has been left alone. Maybe the runes deterred the vandals. And maybe it was the groaning noise from behind the door. But I'm not letting either of them put me off. Though maybe I should have done, as the Elf-Ghost that attacks as soon as I go through could be a nasty opponent, as it could drain my Skill as well as Stamina. I get lucky, and lose no Skill, but opt not to disturb the tombs it was guarding.

Maybe I'll have more luck in the Tower of Rainbow Ice. Or maybe not, as it's guarded by an Ice Golem in the shape of an Elf. It tells me that only Elves may pass, and as I'm not an Elf, I have no choice but to try and smash it. Well, I could just leave, but that would pretty much guarantee failure, so I carve the Golem into ice cubes.

The stairs the Golem was guarding lead to a landing, and I head right. This brings me to the entrance of a chamber in which a bird sculpted from ice clutches a leather-bound book. A magical barrier prevents me from entering, but a numerical sequence etched into the doorway suggests a way of dispelling it. The mathematical progression is mostly straightforward, though I don't get why the sixth number isn't 40 lower than it is. Nevertheless, I am able to work out what the final number in the sequence should be, so I am allowed into the chamber and can take the book and the bird.

Returning to the landing, I take the stairs up to the top level. The ceiling looks like a cloudy sky, though the illusion is slightly spoiled by the incense-burner that dangles from one of the clouds on a chain. The burner is too high up for me to reach, but the chain may be breakable. Not with a crossbow bolt, though, so I'm forced to leave it hanging there and go back down. Memory suggests that there's nothing to be gained by going left on the landing, so I leave the Tower. At least I got the most important item from it.

Judging by the description of the Palace layout, the Tower I've just left is relatively close to one made of Black Ice (presumably that's ice that's black in colour, rather than the kind that you don't notice until you're slipping on it), so I head for that one next. Inside, I find no way up, only steps leading below ground level, and sense that there's something evil down there. Searching the ground-level chamber turns up nothing but a portal I cannot open, so I descend to see if anything down below will provide a means of opening it.

The cellars are a warren of tomb chambers, and my arrival in their midst prompts the manifestation of a spectral Elf, twisted by malice. It mistakes me for someone who drove it insane and turned it against its own people (Zeverin, perchance?), and attacks me. Despite having higher stats than most of the opponents I've faced this adventure, it never manages to harm me (good thing too, as this is another potentially Skill-draining foe). When I strike the final blow, the Spectre's form changes to resemble how the Elf it was must have been before being warped, and the oppressive atmosphere lifts.

Back at the top of the stairs, I find that that portal has now opened, revealing stairs leading up, so I ascend to a domed chamber that still faintly echoes with songs from bygone ages. The Ice Bird I have with me animates for a moment, and sings a few bars of song, causing rainbow patterns to appear in its feathers. This must mean something, but I'm not entirely sure what. There's nothing else for me to do here, so I leave.

Across from the Tower I've just left is a Tower so light and delicate as to almost seem as if it's not there. I head for that one next. It contains no doors or stairs, but beams of coloured light shine down, and I conclude that they must transport people to different parts of the Tower. I step into the green one, and find myself in the basement. A Gremlin-like creature made of ice pops out of the floor and grabs one of my possessions, but a quick blow with my sword smears the thief all over the floor, enabling me to retrieve the stolen item. The Ice Mite starts to re-form, so I pick a beam before the pest can try to pilfer from me again. Will green take me back to the entrance?

No, it transports me to the middle floor, where I find an alchemist's laboratory. The only item of note in there is a flask of Blue Potion. As it has pointed ears etched on it, I think it's more likely to make me look like an Elf than counteract Sleeping Sickness when enhanced with the right ingredient. There's no green light beam on this level, so I try the purple one instead. And get painfully ejected from the Tower. I'm allowed to go back in, though, so I do. This time I try the blue beam, which takes me back to the middle floor. There's no point searching there again, so I try yellow. Which takes me back to the cellar (using a different section number from my previous cellar trip, just to catch out readers who notice the numbers). I smash the Mite again and step into the blue beam. Which sends me outside in a less painful manner.

There are only two beams in the entrance hall, so I take the blue to the middle floor again, and then try the red one from there. Which takes me back to the ground floor. If I want to get to the top floor, I'm going to have to go via the cellar. The Ice Mite still hasn't learned to leave me alone, and once I've reduced it to its component crystals again, I step into the ominous-looking beam of pure darkness.

I arrive in the chamber at the top of the Tower (about time too), and see a brief vision of a theatre-like auditorium. That fades, leaving me in a gallery filled with ice sculptures of Elves. I look around, and the bust of the sculptor talks to me, revealing that the spirit I helped find peace in the Tower of Black Ice was Zeverin's apprentice, and there are more unhappy souls trapped in the catacombs, which I will need the Ice Keys to enter. The bust also offers to provide me with something useful if I can solve one of the nastiest puzzles in the book.

On an ice monolith are etched eight clock-faces, with one hand shown on all but the last. The first shows an hour hand with one arrow, in the ten o'clock position. The second is another hour hand with four arrows, pointing to five o'clock. So far, so straightforward. But the third is a minute hand with two arrows, pointing to quarter past, and the fourth an identical hand showing twenty to. The fifth is like the first, but with five arrows, and the sixth like the fourth, but with three arrows. And to muddle things even further, the seventh is a minute hand with five arrows, mid-way between five and ten past. I can see a logical progression to the first, second and fifth. I can see a different logical progression to the fourth and sixth (and could potentially reconcile it with the other progression by having the different hand length provide a modifier). Where the third and seventh fit in, I have not the faintest idea.

Some years back I put an attempt at the book on hold when I reached this point, meaning to get back to it and solve the wretched puzzle (I know there are solutions online, but looking at them would feel like cheating) at some later date. There's still a 'save' of it stored in my gamebook manager. This time round, I should keep going one way or another. What if I ignore the anomalous clock faces and go with one of the recognisable progressions? Two possible solutions present themselves, each producing a different section number. The one involving eight arrows on an hour hand seems a bit excessive, so I'll try the other. And that's not it. However, the wording of the section containing the puzzle implies that I can have more than one go: usually, puzzle sections say something along the lines of 'If you get it wrong, turn to...', but this one just says 'If you can't solve the puzzle, and want to give up'. Which lends itself to abuse - I could just check every section until I find the correct one - but I'll just try the one other solution that occurred to me, and if that's no good, I will give up.

It's the right answer. Which doesn't explain how clock faces 3-4 and 6-7 fit, but that's not my problem. I gain a silver amulet, and the text explicitly advises me to make a note of the name of the sculptor, so I imagine there's a 'convert letters to numbers' check somewhere to prove that I have the amulet. Good of Mr. Martin to give advance warning, as some gamebooks don't bother to indicate details which need noting down for later on. There's nothing more for me to do up here, and section number recognition kicks in and enables me to pick the beam that will transport me outside the Tower without hurting me.

I think I should be heading for the Ice Cathedral next, so that's what I do. On the doors are an engraving of a bird soaring into the sky, wings outstretched, so I pull out the Ice Bird, and it sings at the heavy doors, causing them to open. Among the Cathedral's contents (all made of ice) are a pipe organ surmounted by a sculpture of an angel, four sarcophagi, a bunch of keys, and a fine-weave basket. I briefly turn to the wrong section on account of confusing an amulet with a brooch (couldn't the author have made the two items of different metals to make it clearer that they weren't the same thing?), but have no trouble getting back to the right one as soon as I realise my error.

If I'd been able to acquire that incense burner, it could come in handy here. As it is, the song of the Ice Bird pacifies the restless spirits that weren't mentioned in the description of the Cathedral interior, yet were apparently active around me (maybe the incense burner summons them, and I've just been through an awkward transition resulting from the use of the same section to follow on both from using it and from not using it). Anyway, I head across to the organ, and see that the angel statue is holding a tablet with some rather odd musical notes on it. This is the book's other nasty puzzle, though I have already solved it once. While not very good at reading sheet music, I get the basic principles, and by combining that knowledge with my cryptographical skills, I was able to make sense of the hidden message. Readers with no musical knowledge could potentially crack the code with the help of a name provided elsewhere in the book, which makes this puzzle a little less unfair, but I know that some fans find this just as bad as the clock face one.

Having made a note of what the music tells me, I take the Ice Keys, making a note of how many there are in the bunch, as the text makes it pretty obvious that the number is significant. For no adequately explained reason, I can't touch the basket, so that only leaves the sarcophagi. Each contains an Elf in a shroud, holding an object, and the four occupants are straight out of a rather macabre deck of 'Happy Families' cards. I strongly suspect that for the greater good I'm going to have to break into at least one of the sarcophagi. Possibly two, as two of them have engravings.

At the cost of an Honour point, I take the Ice Sword from Mr. Elfcicle. Do I risk a similar penalty for the sake of Mrs. Elfcicle's wand? If it improves my chances of saving the world, that's a price I may have to pay. But the wand snaps when I try to take it, so I only get the penalty. Miss and Master Elfcicle can keep their amulet and puzzle. There may be something else I could do here if only I knew what needed doing (something related to the incense burner, perhaps), but on this attempt at the book I'm done here.

There's still one Tower in the Palace that I haven't explored: the Great Tower, which stands at the centre of the Palace. When I enter it, I discover it to be guarded by an animated statuette of a jaguar. Once I've subdued that, I take the steps leading down from the entrance chamber, which lead to a locked door I cannot open. There were also spiral stairs leading up, so I try them instead. They lead to the Tower of Destruction equivalent of a compilation album - ice sculptures, engravings, an organ, coloured ice, more stairs... and another blasted Dark Elf. This one's a sorcerer of some kind, judging by the way he floats in mid-air and prepares to cast a spell. I attempt to distract him with a crossbow bolt in the face, but by the time I've got the bow ready, the spell is finished, and semantics get annoying. The Shield of Warding has a good chance of protecting me from the effect of any magical attack with the word 'Bolt' in its name, but the Dark Elf cast an Ice Dart spell, which is presumably unaffected by the Shield.

Still, I am now able to fire my bolt, while Elfic Bristow prepares another spell, and the race to see who fires first is determined by a standard round of combat. If I win the round, I shoot him. If he wins the round, he completes his spell. If we both get the same Attack Strength... that contingency hasn't been planned for. Guess which of those three outcomes occurs. No, hang on, my gamebook manager's combat simulator is adding the Skill bonus from the Magic Sword, which wouldn't apply for firing the crossbow, so the Dark Elf wins the round. And hurls a Lightning Bolt at me for the Shield to deflect. Another round of ranged combat ensues, and again I narrowly lose, so he is able to cast a spell on himself before swooping down to attack me with a dagger.

Now I can use that Skill bonus, and the Dark Elf stops winning Attack Rounds. Rapidly recognising his error, he drops the dagger and surrenders. I keep the blade of my sword at his throat (I still don't know what that spell he cast on himself did, so I'd better be on my guard for a sneaky attack), and he explains that Zeverin sent him and his associates to pillage the place and make sure nobody could get anything from the Palace to help oppose his schemes. The Dark Elf comments that he thinks Zeverin is rather too subservient to his Demonic master, but the opportunity to wreck a place this nice countered whatever qualms the Dark Elves had about their boss's relationship with his boss. He also observes that the Demon is way out of my league. I gag him and tie him up to safeguard against treachery, and if I manage to save the world, I might even come back and save him from freezing or starving to death, if none of his compatriots have beaten me to it.

The Dark Elf has some keys, which I take. I could also help myself to his robe and dagger, but in Keith Martin books there's often a downside to taking weapons from enemies, and there's been no text to suggest that the other Dark Elves would have kept from shooting at me if I'd been wearing their boss's outfit, so I think I'll make do with just the keys.

Going up the stairs, I unlock the door at the top, which leads to a library in which the text is inscribed upon the walls. A spectral Elf appears, and tells me he has a lot to teach me, and not much time. I have the option of giving him the book, but I'm not sure I can do so without handing over the Ice Bird, which I may still need. So I hang on to it and wait to see what else I can learn from the spirit. He can inform me about one of three topics, and I choose Elven magic here. The spirit tells me that Tassaskil can regenerate the enchantments of the Ice Sword, and Elokinan's Chalice, which is in the Ice Crypts, can boost a mortal's Stamina 'to extraordinary levels', then starts to tell me something about gaining access to the Crypts, but fades away with the sentence unfinished.

I eat some Provisions in case the Dark Elf has freed himself and prepared an ambush, but it appears that he's still tied up, so I go down to the basement again, and the Dark Elf's keys unlock that door. All I find down there is the room where the Dark Elf had made camp, so I help myself to his food supplies and the Potion of Flying he was storing. I also find a hidden Potion of Speed, about which the book says that the Dark Elf 'obviously didn't have time to get this to prepare himself for fighting [me]'. A narrow escape indeed - who knows how close I came to dithering just long enough for him to go down two flights of stairs, unlock a door, rummage through his belongings and activate the concealed compartment in his lunchbox?

On my way out, I spot that the jaguar statuette still radiates a faint magical aura, so I take it, and will be able to bring it to life and set it on one opponent. For spurious reasons, I can only set it on my chosen enemy and then stand back awaiting the outcome of the fight. Why is there no option of joining in, and hoping to get in three or four unopposed blows against the opponent in question while they're busy fighting off the Stone Jaguar?

What remains to explore here is rather more mundane (well, as mundane as buildings sculpted from ice can get). First I try the dwellings once inhabited by the Ice Elves, which turn out to have been cleaned out long before, so I rummage around in the ice rubble that has accumulated in the streets. This attracts the attention of a Giant Wolverine, which sprays me with vile-smelling musk and attacks. Thanks to the Skill penalty (just for this fight) that results from my trying not to throw up, this is the most formidable opponent I've yet faced this adventure, but I manage to kill the beast without taking a single wound.

Resuming my search, I encounter another spectral Elf, who begs me to release the spirit of his father, who was trapped in the workshops by Zeverin, and warns me to beware the evil one in the Great Tower. The warning is a bit redundant, but I might as well head for the workshops next.

The architecture of the workshops is a lot more ornate than that of the Elves' homes. All but three of the buildings are just as empty, though. First I try the armourer's, which contains neither restless spirits nor any armour in a usable condition. A ledger provides indications that an Elf named Filandre may have had some magic armour, but gives no hint of where it is now. In the weaponmaker's workshop I find a box of enchanted crossbow bolts that do double damage among the incomplete swords and morningstars, and then hear a terrible moaning from a side chamber. That'll be the trapped spirit, then.

Investigating, I see a mound of toppled equipment and broken ice, with a translucent hand reaching out from under it. Aware that the spirit may drain my Stamina if I try to help it, I eat more Provisions before taking the spectral hand. A wise decision, as freeing the trapped spirit costs me 8 Stamina. Still, I get back the Honour I lost for taking the Ice Sword, which is rather appropriate, as the spirit tells me that Zeverin trapped it here as punishment for crafting the sword.

Is there likely to be anything useful in the jeweller's workshop? I check it anyway, encountering another Dark Elf. It's another 'which section you turn to next is determined by who wins the first Attack Round' situation, and this time I genuinely get equal scores for both of us. As the book doesn't allow for that contingency, I just roll again, and this time I land a blow on the Dark Elf, preventing him from completing the spell he was trying to cast. The fight never goes any better for my opponent, and once he's in no fit state to rescue his leader from the Great Tower, I take the jewels he'd looted, eat another meal, and turn my attention to the Ice Palace's stores, as they're the only part of the place I haven't been by now.

I never will get to them, because along the way I spot some ice gates which had been concealed by an illusion. If I stop to check them, I'll be forced to use the Ice Keys to unlock them and descend to the Ice Crypts, but if I don't stop to check them, I'll never get another opportunity to do so, and will wind up in the same textual dead end as on my last attempt at the book. Just have to hope I can make do without whatever I might have found in the stores.

Beyond the gates are steps leading down below ground. I use the Ice Keys and head down. The ice on the steps makes a dangerous-looking ramp, so I use the bag of salt I've been lugging around for the past few hours to make it less slippery. The tunnel leading on from the steps gives off a faint glow, and has alcoves in the walls containing sculptures. Rounding a corner, I see a crossroads up ahead, but I see it through the insubstantial body of a spectral guardian who wields a wand and tells me that only Elves may pass. I drink the potion from the flask with the pointed ears on, and, as expected, it makes me look like an Elf. Possessing no ability to see through the illusion, the spirit lets me past, and I proceed to the crossroads.

The path straight ahead has steps leading down, so I think I'll save that until last. The right turning leads past a chamber that's hidden behind another illusion, but the amulet allows me to see through it, so I go in to find out what was considered worth hiding here. An assortment of ice sculptures too delicate to take away, a number of rather odd wind instruments carved from ice, and a robe on a peg, with a metal tube sticking out of the pocket. I take the robe down, and it attacks me, being a predator that disguises itself as clothing. I shred it like a particularly scathing fashion critic, and take a closer look at the tube, which contains a Wand of Cold with one charge left in it. Don't ask how I'm able to recognise its function or the lowness of its power.

Returning to the tunnel and continuing along it, I reach a desecrated graveyard. None too surprisingly, I also sense spirits who are in a troubled mood, to say the least. Before entering to do what I can to put things right, I eat more Provisions: if there's anything hostile in there, I'm liable to need to be at full health to deal with it. As it turns out, the insane Elf-Ghost that attacks me isn't able to do any harm, but it's better to have been prepared than not. Further effort earns me an Honour point to make up for the other tomb I raided, but also requires me to eat again. Then another Elf-Ghost attacks, wounding me a couple of times before I dispel it.

Though tempted to leave the ungrateful dead in their current condition, I persevere with returning bodies to graves and making what repairs I can. Eventually the graveyard is in a respectable state, and I hear an unearthly sigh. Feeling a sudden chill on my forehead, I check my reflection in a bit of ice, and find that a star-shaped mark has appeared there. I wonder if Allansia has a self-help group for adventurers who wind up with silly markings on their foreheads.

Returning to the crossroads, I go straight across (observing from the section numbers listed that if I'd taken another branch first and then gone along the one to the despoiled graveyard, the amulet wouldn't have dispelled the illusion, which seems a bit odd). This passage has wall carvings of Elven bowmen and swordsmen. I notice some odd-looking carvings, just in time to dodge out of the way when they briefly animate and strike at me. Continuing on my way, I reach a chamber containing an ice anvil and tools, and then a wave of intense cold hits me.

Another spectral Ice Elf appears, wielding knives. He asks if I'm here to see Elokinan, Tuinarel, Tassaskil or Meloniel. I remember that Tassaskil's the one who can re-enchant the Ice Sword, and name him. The Spectre bows and indicates that I should proceed. A particularly formidable-looking Elf-spirit stands by the anvil. He stares at me, somehow assessing my Honour. While not all that it could be, it is evidently satisfactory, as he touches the Ice Sword and imbues it with power, providing a +2 Skill bonus that disregards Initial levels. He then tells me that he has enough power for one further enchantment, which will improve the Sword's effectiveness against either wizards or Demons. I suspect that the Demon will be more of a threat than Zeverin, and choose accordingly, so Tassaskil adds the extra enchantment, which enhances the Sword's bonus by 1 against Demons and causes it to do extra damage. The book doesn't explicitly state that the extra bonus can exceed Initial scores, but it seems reasonable to conclude that it works the same way as the basic bonus.

I return to the crossroads and take the steps down. More gates bar the way, and the word 'Call' is inscribed on them. The music puzzle in the Cathedral told me how many times I must call out Elokinan's name, so I do it, glad that it's only my character who has to perform the action described. I imagine that he has a pretty sore throat by the end. And losing count would be a real pain.

The gates open, light pours out from behind them, and the spirit of Elokinan appears and looks into my soul. My less-than-maximum-possible Honour score appears to be more of an issue here, but then Elokinan sees the silly mark his fellow-Elf-spirits left on my forehead and as compensation allows me to drink from his chalice, boosting my Initial and current Stamina to 25. I'm starting to feel like I might be in with a chance of winning this book for the first time ever.

Elokinan gives me a vial of liquid from the chalice, and tells me that this dose will make me invisible as I travel to the Tower. And if I ride something to get there, the concealment will spread to my steed. Noting that my Ice Sword is already charged, Elokinan then transports me straight outside, saving me a bit of a walk. Correction - straight outside the Ice Palace, saving me a longer walk. And not before time, as the northern sky darkens and Zeverin's Tower glides into view, pausing to destroy a village. Rather more impressively than the book's front cover suggests. Forget the pretty fireballs, this is more like when the aliens zapped the White House in Independence Day. Only with the beam turned up to 11.

The Tower heads towards me, so I drink the Dark Elf leader's Potion of Flying and Elokinan's Potion of Invisibility, and get into the Tower without attracting the attention of the two-headed Giant guarding the entrance. A black stone corridor, giving off a red glow and radiating heat, leads into the Tower. There's a closed door on my right, and an open door in the wall about half way along the corridor. I've only got this far into the book once before, that time without the sword or the Stamina boost, and this is just about as far as I did get. Pity I can't remember which of the options presented to me led to the fight that got me killed last time.

Ah, it's opening the door. This leads to a guardroom containing two Nightgaunts, who scream as they run at me. The scream attracts the attention of the two Nightgaunts in the room with the open door, who also charge at me. At least the narrowness of the corridor means that only two can attack at a time. And this time round I have a decent weapon and a superior Stamina. I still take a couple of blows, but nothing I can't handle.

Hurrying along the corridor, I round a corner and find that stairs lead on. Two flights, one going up, the other down. Maybe the Tower entrance was higher up the structure than I imagined it to be.

Or maybe Zorin Industries lent a hand with the design specs.

Not massively keen on learning whether or not the stairs leading down are a trap, I go up. Narrowly avoiding an encounter with a lesser Demon and one of its minions, I go up, feeling the temperature increase, until I reach a spherical chamber, with steps leading up to another exit, guarded by a bizarre giant Golem. Its feet are like giant stone ball-bearings, which enable it to effectively skate around on the curved floor. I find it harder to keep my balance, and decide to see if the Stone Jaguar can distract the Golem long enough for me to get to the steps. No it can't. But the Golem doesn't manage to do any more damage than the Nightgaunts did, and I still have plenty of ways of restoring Stamina.

At the top of the steps is an archway leading into darkness, and a side passage along which I think I hear footsteps approaching. It could be that the archway is a trap, and the footsteps are intended to scare me into hurrying through, so I take the side passage. It curves around, circumventing the darkness (this part of the Tower could do with being described more clearly) and brings me to the entrance of another chamber. Lights flash within, though I can only just make them out through the thick webs blocking the doorway. Lacking any useful magic, I can only try to force my way through. They sap my strength, inflicting a temporary Skill penalty.

The chamber beyond the webs contains four stone figures which are feeding a column of flame with blood that they pour from copper bowls. The after-effects of the webs somehow keep me from noticing the other occupant of the room, who slings a Lightning Bolt at me. The Shield of Warding doesn't work, but the section doesn't have one of Keith Martin's patent 'you have no time to use any Stamina restorative' restrictions, so I down the booze from Torsten's tribe, which not only makes good the damage just done but also cancels out that Skill penalty.

My assailant floats into view. It's Zeverin, preparing another spell. Let's see how an enchanted crossbow bolt in the face affects his concentration. Well, the first one just counteracts the magical sphere he was preparing to hurl at me, but the other three significantly reduce his health. Once I'm out of bolts, he hits me with a couple of salvos of magical darts, but then he's out of magic and lands, hoping to finish me off in straight combat. A single blow with the Ice Sword shows him to have been even closer to death than I'd realised.

His death has no effect on the functioning of the Tower, and I sense that there's more trouble to come yet. There's time to take some action (though not to eat a meal), so I drain the healing potion that Aliades gave me (the text only lists brandy as something I can drink, but if I can drink, I can drink). Ambiguous text makes it unclear whether or not I can also drink the Dark Elf's Potion of Speed.

And then Zeverin's boss shows himself. Relem the Night Demon, one of the second-highest ranking of Titan's Demons (but not quite on a par with Ishtra, Myurr or his boss Sith) appears before me and hurls magical bolts. The Ice Sword dispels some, and the Shield of Warding deflects the rest. That's wiped the smiles from Relem's faces. He shoots great bolts of fire at the floor by me, and the flames do me a little damage, but Tasrin's ring spares me from the worst of it.

Relem prepares to attack, but the Ice Bird flies at him. He shatters it, but while he's distracted, I have time to take the Potion of Speed. And then we fight. Even with the full Ice Sword bonus, I only match him, Skill-wise, his Stamina is as high as mine would be if I were at full health, and he does as much extra damage to me as the Ice Sword does to him, but that Potion enables me to get in an extra blow in the first round. For much of the fight we're evenly matched, but the dice favour me slightly more than they do him. And then, with him down to his last point of Stamina and me only in slightly better shape, an Elf-spirit gives me a small boost to Stamina and Skill. The book doesn't say whether that bonus is above and beyond Initial Skill, but it doesn't matter. Even without it, the next round is Relem's last. The Ice Sword sunders his form, banishing him back to the Pit.

The Tower's fires cool, and the pillar of flame becomes a ring of fire surrounding the room. I guzzle the brandy to bring me a little further from the brink of death, and dash for the exit, hoping that Tasrin's ring will keep me from getting burned, burned, burned. Not completely, alas, but the fire only singes off what I got from the brandy.

Outside the chamber, I reach a junction. Back to the spherical room the Golem was in, or to a part of the Tower I've not visited? Let's hope that the other way leads to an emergency exit, because the Tower's shaking very ominously. Bits of stone fall from the ceiling, but none hit me. I see a side turning to a room where people are donning harnesses, evidently in preparation for evacuation. I dash into my room, narrowly succeeding at the Luck roll to get there without taking further harm, and see the men jumping out of an archway at the behest of a robed figure. Concerned that there might not be enough harnesses for me as well as Zeverin's minions, I charge in and fight the robed man for one. He loses.

As I pull on the harness and make for the archway, someone fires a crossbow at me. The bolt would hit, but the Shield of Warding does its stuff again. The harness magically slows my descent, and the only servants of Zeverin who've landed nearby would rather run than fight.

The Tower crashes and explodes. I've done it! Except that a robed figure is advancing on me. He's far enough away that I can eat a portion of Provisions before he arrives, but I'm still in pretty poor shape by the time he gets close enough for things to turn nasty.

It's Zeverin. Again. He's worse than the Borad. He prepares to hurl a spell at me, and then the Ice Sword's magic drains out into a pool of light. Elokinan's form emerges from this pool, dispelling Zeverin's spell and trapping the evil mage in a cage of light, where he will remain trapped for all eternity. The cage and its prisoner vanish, and Elokinan tells me I've saved Allansia, and probably Titan. As his last act before departing the world forever, he does something to ensure that Relem will never be able to find me and take revenge.

Not far away is a trapper's hut. I head there in search of hospitality.

For some time I've considered this the book in which Keith Martin's fondness for extra rules and hub structures got a little too much. In addition, the early stages do little to convey a sense of trekking through a frozen landscape, at times the plot just drags, and the text contains plenty of errors. Still, by the end it felt pretty epic. Enough so that I barely mind Elokinan's playing deus ex machina to deny me one final fight with Zeverin and a chance to use that Wand of Ice. It's still not my favourite of Mr. Martin's books, but I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to.


  1. This write-up is great, but it reminds me why I don't enjoy KM books as much as books by some other authors - they are just far too darned long and dull at times!

  2. The clock puzzle is rather weird. If you just multiply time by number of arrows, then (using 24hour clock where appropriate) you get a sequence that clearly leads to the required reference. But this doesn't tell you what the final symbol is, which is what in-world you're supposed to know, only the out-of-world reference you're supposed to go to. So, you can easily solve this puzzle without actually solving the puzzle.