Saturday, 7 November 2015

Rather an Uncanny Place Altogether

Part 4 of my playthrough of Spellbreaker (click links for parts 1, 2 and 3 if you missed them or want to refresh your memory) commences with my character setting off along the path leading through the marsh known as Blackmire. I haven't got very far before I spot signs that the monster mentioned by the landlady of the Brindled Cat has been active recently. Either that or a murderer has chosen to dispose of their victim's body in the marsh, and is spectacularly rubbish at covering their traces. Worth investigating, in any case.

The trail of blood leads to a clearing littered with animal bones. A recently-killed ox is the source of the blood. Noticing ripples in the water close by, I optimistically tell myself that a fish or a swamp snake must be causing them, and then proof that I'm trying to delude myself erupts from the water and attacks. Despite allowing the Fen Beast to surprise me, I manage not to suffer any adverse consequences from the ambush, and the creature only gets in one lucky blow against me before I kill it.

It appears that I missed an opportunity to get hired as a monster-hunter by the farmers of Fenford. Well, unless they were offering something more valuable than hard cash for my services, I don't think that's likely to be too big a deal. Lacking any reason to take a memento of the fight, I leave the clearing, but as I do, I catch sight of mistletoe growing on a tree. Remembering what I saw in the puppet show, I use my Gold Sickle to cut a clump.

From here on, Fenford becomes effectively a maze. But one in which more than one essential item may be found, and retracing one's footsteps is unlikely to be an option, which makes it a much bigger pain than the Maze of Zagor. I go straight ahead when the path splits, which was probably not a good idea. I hope it wasn't a good idea, because a die roll determines where I end up next, and the book already has too many instances where pure chance establishes whether or not the reader will have a shot at success.

My wanderings lead me to a clearing where I find a fungus with the cheery name of Death's Shroud growing on a rotting log. I think that might come in handy, so I take some. Memories of a past failure deter me from taking one of the paths leading from this clearing. Having died the only time I got into the fight to which that trail leads, I cannot be certain that there's nothing good to be had as spoils of battle, but it's a nasty enough combat that I really hope it's avoidable on a viable path through the book.

The path left from here leads me to a random encounter, which on this occasion is a Giant Slug. Not a tricky opponent to deal with, and once it's out of the way, another roll of the die plots my path ahead. My roll takes me straight back to the random encounter table, where I am attacked by a quartet of Mudclaws so rubbish in battle that they only have a 1 in 1296 chance of ever inflicting a wound. None of them beat the odds.

Again the die determines where I go, and this time it's to a particularly boggy part of the marsh, where I risk drowning. Luck is with me this time, but another couple of rolls taking me there, and I could be in trouble. Then it's back to the die-determined direction, which takes me to an actual choice of path. I can see that going straight ahead would lead to the same tiresome roll, so I try going right, and find a medicinal toadstool knows as Malague.

Left means another roll, so I try going right again. Nope, that's the marshy bit that I was hoping not to come back to. It almost claims my life this time, but I narrowly make it through to the die roll, which takes me back to the branching path before last. This time I go left, and find myself following a stream into the heart of Blackmire. Which is actually where I need to end up, so I just hope that I've got everything else I need from this wretched bog.

The stream passes a hut of woven reeds, and while I'm looking at this dwelling, what looks like a distant relative of the Creature from the Black Lagoon approaches on a raft. It hasn't attacked yet, so I try greeting it. The creature introduces itself as Sam Boggart of the Fen Folk, and asks if I wish to avail myself of his services as a herbalist. I accept, and Sam gets out a book of potion recipes. There's only time for him to brew up two potions, but that's all right, as I only have enough herbs for two potions. A couple that I bought in the market, combined with the one I found in Gwythain's Barrow, make a mixture that provides protection from fire, while the three I found in Blackmire are essential components of a venom antidote.

Once Sam has concocted the potions, he gives me some roast duck and offers to show me to the tomb of Enthus the Martyr, on an island in the Miremere, the lake at the heart of the swamp. Enthus' name seems familiar from previous attempts at the book, so I accept, and Sam takes me by raft to the island. A little searching leads me to a granite door with no levers, and I push it open without difficulty. Spiral stairs lead down to a chamber containing a sarcophagus on which is a carved effigy of the priest it contains. Granite candlesticks flank the sarcophagus, holding candles that went out a long time ago. Inside the sarcophagus I find only Enthus' mortal remnants and priestly robes. If there's anything of use to be had here, I shall have to attempt to invoke Enthus' spirit for a blessing or advice. (Don't try this at home, kids. Or in any tombs, graveyards, crypts, careers libraries, or pretty much anywhere else, for that matter.)

Having used my Heal-All in order to not die, and not having purchased the vial of priest's blood from the relic stall because it seemed like a dodgy idea (and was outside my price range), I can only light the candles and pray. A difficult Faith roll follows, which could be made easier by burning a herb I didn't buy in the market. Still, I have 50/50 odds of succeeding even without that herb, so not getting that instead of the superfluous anti-contagion one isn't necessarily a catastrophic error... and I succeed. For the first time in all my attempts at the book (though it is only the second time I've made it to this tomb anyway).

Enthus' spirit appears, and reminds me about the plot I'm trying to avert. Thanks, but I did the recap by means of a link at the top of this post. Any chance you could tell me something actually helpful? Alas, while he's been wasting time blathering on about impending doom and disaster, a powerful evil spirit has managed to infiltrate the tomb, and animates Enthus' bones in order to attack me. This Revenant is more powerful than your average animated skeleton, and consequently manages to wound me once before I destroy it.

Enthus' spirit thanks me, and causes a secret compartment in the sarcophagus to open. This contains his Holy Amulet and a page he tore from the Black Grimoire, on which is written the spell he used to lock the casket in which he trapped the Infernal Beast. Could be useful to know, but would it not have made more sense to tear out the page with the Spell of Unlocking on? Just imagine the look on Nazek's face if he'd made all the other preparations for his abominable rite, and then at the last minute found out that the page he needed was missing, and he'd blown his once-in-37-years chance of achieving his goal. That would have been the most epic prank in all Titan's history, and Enthus passed up the opportunity. Some martyrs just have no sense of humour.

Well, it hasn't been an entirely unproductive visit, so I go back to Sam, who takes me across the Miremere again and gives me directions out of the marsh. I'm soon back on dry ground, and on the road to Selwick. It's getting dark, and a man on horseback approaches. As on the one previous occasion I made it through the marsh alive, I do not have the potion that would enable me to see through illusions, but the very fact that I'm given the option of using it here (provided I have it) is enough to raise suspicions. Besides which, I remember being killed by this entity on the aforementioned attempt at the book.

The 'man' offers to take me to Selwick on his horse, and warns against staying outdoors after nightfall. I politely decline his offer, and he and the horse transform into a more ominous-looking steed and rider. He tells me that I'll pay for my impudence, so either he automatically takes being turned down as a serious insult, or my character's idea of polite refusal is something along the lines of, "No, you ugly creep, I wouldn't get on your wretched, flea-bitten nag if it were the last horse in Ruddlestone. Your mother was a Molekin and your father smelt of Malague!"

The reason he killed me last time is that I didn't have Deliverer, and he's immune to nonmagical weapons. This time I am better equipped for the fight, and kill the Wraith Rider without any trouble. The rest of the journey to Selwick is uneventful, but by the time I get there, most of the residents have locked their doors and turned in for the night.

There is still a light in one house, on the outskirts, so I try knocking on the door to ask if I can spend the night there. The occupants welcome me in and give me food. It turns out that I'm their first visitor since Mistress Crowfoot (the witch mentioned by Tira) cursed them for refusing to sell her their best land. As Liam, my host, is detailing the misfortunes that have befallen him and his wife in recent days, a small, furry, horned humanoid emerges from the shadows and sours the contents of a bucket of milk. Liam identifies the creature as a Grimalkin, and it suddenly makes a leap for me. I dodge it, and it flees outdoors.

I give chase, and the Grimalkin bites the horse in the yard, causing it to kick out at me. Thanks to the loss of Luck I endured in boggy patches of Blackmire, I take a hoof in the chest, but the damage is not lethal. I pursue the Grimalkin into the stable and kill it there. Close to the spot where it made its last stand, a sigil has been inscribed on the floor, so I erase it and break the curse. Encouraged by my success, Liam urges me to bring Mistress Crowfoot to justice, and I agree to try.

Liam gives me directions to Paddock's Wood, where Mistress Crowfoot lives. Following his directions, I reach a clearing, and learn that the local witch has been taking inspiration from Baba Yaga, though with her own personal spin on things. Rather than a pair of chicken's legs, her cottage stands on one giant crow's foot. As I stare at the trapdoor that is the only entrance to the hut, the foot turns in my direction (is it possible for a limb without a face to face me?) and I wind up conducting the strangest fight I've had in a long while, against the taloned foot of a hopping cottage.

It is at least not a difficult fight, and I'm soon able to clamber up to the trapdoor. The interior of the cottage conforms to most of the stereotypes about witches' dwellings, but the owner is not immediately apparent. There are a number of smaller creatures in there, though: a bat, a cat, another Grimalkin, a rat, a raven and a toad. Alerted by the sound of my fighting her house's foot, Mistress Crowfoot has disguised herself as one of her familiars. I might be able to figure out which one is her from what could be a clue in the description of the denizens of the cottage, but there's no real need to work it out, as the typo that was fixed in the Wizard Books edition led to a section that reveals the nature of the witch's disguise, and I can still remember the answer from the first time I succeeded in escaping from prison in Hallow's Well, over a decade ago.

I sprinkle the powder Tira gave me on the appropriate creature, which changes into the witch. Before she can try any more trickery, I use the shackles Karad gave me to immobilise her. Most of the other creatures attack me, but none of them are any serious kind of threat, and I kill them without incurring any harm. Mistress Crowfoot says something to the last of her pets, which attempts to leave the cottage, but I set my falcon on it, and whatever message the witch intended to send goes undelivered.

I interrogate Mistress Crowfoot, who reveals when and where Nazek's coven will be meeting. Then I take her back to Selwick, where she is imprisoned. The locals hold a celebration, and I receive a Healing Salve as payment for my services. At last I get to turn in for the night, and that's where I shall be concluding this instalment of the adventure, as I know from my third ever attempt at the book (in which I never went through Blackmire) that there's a nasty bit of randomness coming up, and I want to establish another save point before I get there.

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