Monday, 15 February 2016

The Sickness of the Abbey

After a significantly longer wait than followed my most memorable failed attempt at Lone Wolf book 8, I’m having another go at it. The background is, naturally, the same as it was last time, and I don’t see any reason to change my decision as regards my new Discipline, Weapon Proficiency, or equipment. Though I will put an extra 10 Gold Crowns into storage at the Kai monastery, to free up some space in my pouch for local currency.

Not that I’m certain of acquiring any cash on my travels this time, since I’ve decided not to travel by barge, as has previously been my custom when playing The Jungle of Horrors, so as to avoid having the early part of this playthrough (and possibly the whole of it, if I don’t get better numbers when fighting that pesky Helghast) turn out more or less identical to the previous post on this book.

Thus, after Lord Adamas parts company from Paido and me, I opt to travel to Tharro by the Great North Road. Initially the journey is uneventful, and by noon we’ve covered half the distance to our destination. However, the weather takes a turn for the worse, and torrential rain drenches us and our horses. As is all too often the case with the Mongoose Publishing reissues, the prose also takes a turn for the worse, spelling things out that bit more blatantly for the benefit of the slow-witted individuals whom Joe Dever seems to believe make up a substantial amount of his fan base.

Not far away are two potential shelters from the downpour: an inn and a mill. The inn being the more obvious choice, I decide to check out the mill instead. It appears deserted when we peer through a window, but when Paido ascends a rickety staircase to a platform jutting from the mill wall, he comes to an abrupt halt and puts his hands up. The Mongoose text helpfully points out that he looks as if he's surrendering, lest I assume that he's chosen to start playing charades at a woefully inappropriate moment, and adds that I sense danger, no doubt to keep me from making the all-too-common error of thinking that he's surrendering to something completely benign and unthreatening.

I don't have the Discipline of Invisibility (and have no intention of getting it before at least book 10), so sneaking up on whoever has ambushed Paido isn't an option. All I can do is watch as the spear-wielding individual who surprised Paido demands an explanation for his trespassing, and is answered with an unexpectedly loud yell that blasts him through the platform's parapet and onto a convenient compost heap. Paido explains to me that he used a Vakeros power-word, a special ability I am slightly peeved to note was not available to me when playing the character of Paido in the mini-adventure accompanying the Mongoose edition of Jungle.

We can search the mill or continue on our way through the filthy weather. The behaviour of the man with the spear suggests that there might be something dodgy going on here, so I think we'd better investigate. But the mill turns out not to be in use by some criminal gang, dodgy cult or other such dubious group - it's just being used to grind corn and house the man who threatened Paido. I wonder what could be going on in the region to have prompted such a hostile reaction from the miller. Not that he's going to be any more hospitable in future, as I do slightly borrow the map of Tharro that he has in his room (though I let him keep his food and axe).

Now we have to resume our rain-drenched trudge north. The road descends into a valley, in which a track leads east. A signpost indicates that it leads to Topham, a place too insignificant to appear on the map in the front of the book. Despite more of the mildly insulting over-clarification, the Mongoose text is better here, because it fixes a pretty serious error in the original version: one of the choices given at the end of the section has been duplicated from another section on the same page, so rather than having the option of ignoring the side turning and continuing north, I must either go east or help Paido fight off the attackers who won't actually be bothering him until the end of this adventure.

Still, the fact that I can now see where to turn if I don't want to take the detour is not in itself sufficient incentive to keep me from investigating the dangers and/or treasures that might be found in Topham. The track leads us to a few cottages and an abbey, and we get there just in time to see a group of brown-robed monks lowering a coffin into one of several freshly-dug graves. Divination alerts me to the fact that they are communicating telepathically in a language I don't understand, and that our presence makes them uneasy. The Mongoose text also points out that, while the monks of this region are notorious gluttons, the group here are all looking distinctly malnourished.

Curious, I stop to pay my respects to the deceased, and the monks throw back their hoods to reveal skeletal features. By which I don't mean 'even more seriously underfed than I'd realised', but 'undead monstrosities'. More specifically, the type known as Vordaks, with which I've had bother before now. They make a sound that panics our horses, which inflicts a Combat Skill penalty owing to my lack of Animal Control. I could use Psi-surge against them to more than make up for that penalty, but I think I have enough of an edge on them anyway. And a quick comparison of columns on the Combat Results Table reveals that using Psi-surge would have ended the fight slightly more quickly, but the Endurance cost for doing so would have left me in worse health despite my being hit fewer times.

In the abbey, Paido and I find the corpses of the real monks. Paido doesn’t understand what interest the Darklords could have in the Abbey, so I explain their preference for sending infiltrators into lands they intend to invade, and speculate that the fighting elsewhere which deprived us of our escort to Tharro may have been instigated by the Darklords.

While burying the monks, I find a Lodestone, which the text insists that I take, even if doing so forces me to discard a Special Item. I’ve put enough probably-not-going-to-be-needed-again clutter into storage at the Kai monastery that I do still have carrying capacity, but only just. I would not have been happy if I’d had to ditch something useful just to provide Mr. Dever with a means of discreetly confirming my awareness of the massacre at Topham Abbey. Oh, well, at least I’ll have something to use as a paperweight when I’m allowed to leave behind the Pass I was forced to carry back at the start of the book.

Continuing along the trail, we eventually reach the River Phoen. There's one house here, a noticeboard identifying it as the Ferry House. The book only offers a choice between waiting for a barge and investigating the Ferry House. Having already made up my mind not to travel on the river this time, I'm not that keen on either option, but I'll go for the Ferry House. Even if checking it out only provides a brief interlude before I get forced to wait for the barge anyway, it'll provide an extra section or two for Healing. Unless it, too, has been taken over by undead minions of the Darklords...

No, the hideous monstrosity that confronts me after I knock on the door is just an old woman with poor personal hygiene. Considering some of the bizarre creatures I've encountered in the course of my adventures, it's a bit much that the book has me scarcely able to believe that the decrepit figure before me is actually alive. She asks me what I want, and the book asks if I've met a character named Jako. He must either have been in the inn I avoided or someone I'd have encountered if I hadn't stopped off at the Abbey.

Not having a good in-game reason for having knocked on the door, I dither, and the crone asks if I'm here to find out about the ferry or to see her daughter the Prophetess. The Prophetess sounds more interesting, but the price of a consultation is prohibitive. Affordable, but higher than I'm willing to pay. Especially as, while whatever she may have to say will probably be true, I'm not sure it'll be all that helpful. I'd happily cough up the necessary if I thought she'd tell Paido, "Don't eat the stew," and he'd heed her warning, and thus be on hand to help me fight the Helghast, but odds are that her words will be some pseudo-mystical riddle that only makes sense in retrospect. So thanks, but no thanks.

For the sake of another point of Healing, I also ask about the barge, which costs just half the price of a consultation with the Prophetess. If I were thinking about taking it, I'd want to know if that's the cost for the two of us or per person.

Slightly carelessly, both sections covering asking the old woman a question give the option of asking the other question without specifying 'if you have not already asked'. The loophole-exploiting sort of player could thus keep alternating between the two questions until Healing restored all the damage taken in that fight.

Still some way short of full health, I wait by the river for an hour. The ferry arrives, and I learn that the price the woman gave me was per person. But if I were going to get on the boat, Paido would pay his way. The book does give me the option of not boarding the barge even if I can afford it, but doesn't explain why we spent all that time waiting for a ferry we had no intention of catching. Funnily enough, in the very next section, Paido points out that we ought to get a move on, as we want to reach Tharro before nightfall.

As we head back along the track, the book asks if I have a Lodestone. Acknowledging that I do have the blasted thing leads to my being informed that our horses become agitated as we near the abbey, forcing us to make a detour. I wonder what would have happened if the answer had been no. An ambush by the undead infiltrators?

Anyway, we get back to the Great North Road, which eventually brings us to another village that's not on the map. An old man in rusty armour blocks our way and demands that we pay a toll. Paido gets argumentative, and the old man indicates a placard, faded to illegibility, but with the Queen's seal still just visible, as proof of his authorisation. I show my Pass to prove that we're on royal business, but the man is too short-sighted to be able to read it, and proclaims it a forgery. He does hand it back, though, so I don't get to cross it off my inventory just yet.

Paido insults the man, and his yelling attracts the attention of a dozen villagers armed with farming implements. Before the situation can deteriorate further (incidentally, I've not been able to make a decision and influence the course of events since we passed up the second chance of going on the ferry), the old man offers a compromise: if we can solve his riddle, we can go. If not, we have to pay the toll. I'm confident enough in my riddling skills to accept his terms. And the riddle... I correctly solved the variant of it that appears in Deathtrap Dungeon on my first attempt, back when I was around half my current age. This version is no trouble.

Both publishers of this book were a bit careless with the art here, as their illustrations of the old man show no sign of the droopy moustache clearly mentioned in the text. And yes, the Mongoose edition does have another of those irritatingly pointless 'this is the section corresponding to the right answer to the puzzle you just solved' interjections. Still, Paido and I are at least allowed to resume our journey without further hassle.

At last we reach Tharro, and the text asks if I still have the Pass. Presumably it must be possible to lose the thing in the encounter with the old man. Hmm, wonder if it's possible to lose any other Special Item there. Like that blasted Lodestone. Or the Sommerswerd! Imagine that - Lone Wolf, multiple-times saviour of civilisation, forced to surrender the greatest magic sword in all the world to a crusty old codger for failing to work out the weight of a brick. I'd say that the books would never allow something that ludicrous to happen, but then I remember a certain Instant Death from later in the series. And the fact that it's technically possible (though almost as unlikely as winning Crypt of the Sorcerer by the rules) to be killed with a cabbage in book 18.

I do have the option of refusing to show the guard my Pass, but having been forced to use one of my inventory slots for the thing, I'm going to get what use I can out of it. Upon seeing Lord Adamas' seal, the guard salutes and lets us through (and in the Mongoose text I return his salute). Only two roads lead from this entrance into the town: Copperpiece Lane and Hog-Foot Run. The latter sounds more interesting.

At this late hour, most of the shops are closing, but we do encounter one which is open for business. It sells magical paraphernalia, and I decide to have a browse. My Kai abilities inform me that most of the items in stock are fakes, but there is a ring which radiates magical energy. It costs more than the ferry from Topham, but not as much as a meeting with the Prophetess. On the downside, I have no idea what it actually does, and it's probably a Special Item, which would take up my last free slot until such time as I can ditch the Pass and/or Lodestone. Best to leave it, I think. But spending a section looking in the shop has enabled Healing to finish bringing me back to full health.

Not before time, either: leaving the shop and continuing along the road brings us to the square outside the Temple of the Sword. On this occasion I do have a map of Tharro, which informs me that the nearby watchtower is called Shieldwarden Tower. Paido tells me that the Shieldwarden is the commanding officer of the town garrison. Anyone think that calling on the Shieldwarden will enable me to bypass the potentially lethal shenanigans in the Temple? No, me neither. And just in case whatever contrivance would force me back to the Temple involves Endurance loss, I shan't even try to visit the tower.

So, as before, we enter the Temple. I refuse the stew, but Paido eats (clearly having learned nothing from the incident at Topham). The black-robed monk reveals himself to be a Helghast, and I take the Combat Skill-boosting Alether before attacking. Do I risk using Psi-surge? Despite what happened last time, yes.

It wasn't worth it. I win the fight, but if I hadn't used Psi-surge, I'd have won just as quickly, and lost less Endurance in the process. Still, the important thing is that this time I'm the one who's not dead at the end of the fight.

The Helghast’s corpse dissolves, but the sound of running feet from beyond the refectory door indicates that there’s more trouble on the way. The only alternate exit is the hatch into the kitchen, so I bundle Paido through it. Before I can follow him, the door bursts open and a mob of angry monks bursts into the room. Not keen on another fight in my condition, and doubtful that firing my bow will help much, I scramble through the hatch.

Upon finding the smouldering remnants of the Helghast’s robe, the monks start shouting about murder, suggesting that the infiltration of the Temple was not yet complete. The Helghast can’t have been the only Darklord agent here, but this lot seem unaware of the evil that was lurking in their midst. Not that now would be a good time to try and enlighten them, so I just carry on fleeing. One of the monks gets close enough to jab a sword into my leg before I’m completely through the hatch, but only does minor damage.

The kitchen is unoccupied. As I carry Paido towards the door at the far end, I spot a vial of liquid beside a cauldron of stew, and the text has me pocket it. That’s another Special Item, so if I’d bought that ring, I would now be forced to get rid of it (or something more important) just so that I can confirm that the poison with which Paido was poisoned is poisonous. Well, the good mood inspired by my winning the tough fight didn’t last long.

Beyond the door, a corridor leads to another door and a flight of stairs. Divination informs me that an aura of good emanates from the top of the stairs, suggesting that it leads to a place of worship, but gives no indication of whether or not there’s anyone in there. I decide to go in, as the monks are probably all busy searching for me. And they might just think that someone as evil as they assume me to be would be incapable of entering somewhere with such an aura of good.

Well, the prayer hall to which the stairs lead is deserted. Taking a closer look at that vial, I discover its contents, which have the same appearance and consistency as the poison that the assassin back in book 2 tried to use on me, are, in fact, the same kind of poison. Now there's a shocking twist! If I don't want Paido to die, I’m going to have to come up with a cure, and soon. But there is a more immediate concern: the sound of running feet and growling dogs from downstairs. So much for the monks not suspecting I’d take refuge here.

The hall has another door, but it’s bolted on the other side. I still don’t have Invisibility, so I must either find a hiding place or confront my pursuers. My Endurance is still a bit low for a fight, and trying to hide in a pew seems like a bad idea (all the more so in the Mongoose text, where a typo implies that there’s just one pew). The pulpit won’t be much better, but it should at least be a bit more easily defensible if there’s no way of avoiding a fight.

As it turns out, the defensibility of the pulpit turns out to be less of a concern than expected. By an amazing coincidence, when I put Paido down, his tunic catches on a concealed lever which activates a lift that takes us down to a secret room below the hall, then returns to its normal position before the pursuing monks can learn of the existence of this convenient bolt-hole.

Paido is now comatose, and Healing alone won't save him. Not yet having upgraded to Curing, the only way I can prevent the poison from killing him is by feeding him the healing potion I've been carrying since the start of the adventure. It takes several hours to do this, as I have to do it very gradually in order to be sure not to choke him, and dawn is breaking by the time I'm certain that Paido will live.

When he regains consciousness, he is amazed to learn that the Temple has been infiltrated by Darklord agents. I can only assume that the poison has somehow destroyed his memory of what happened at Topham Abbey. There isn’t even an ‘If you have a Lodestone’ option that would enable me to remind him of the incident (so why am I still having to lug the blasted thing around?).

A passage leads away from the secret room, so we head along it. It twists and turns, eventually leading to a door that opens at the press of a button. The hexagonal chamber beyond is decorated with tapestries depicting grotesque creatures, and contains several plinths, each supporting a bowl of silver liquid. As we enter the chamber, one of the bowls emits a humming noise. Its contents glow, illuminating the domed ceiling, and a hideous, vaguely giant fly-faced image appears, addressing us in an unfamiliar language, of which the only word that makes any sense to me is ‘Gnaag’, the name of the new Darklord ruler. Then the monstrosity recognises that I’m not a Helghast, but Lone Wolf, and with a roar of anger, Gnaag terminates the sorcerous videoconference before I can make some kind of pun about having killed his Helghast.

A quick search of the chamber turns up two Meals’ worth of food (does that mean that Magnamund’s undead derive their sustenance from the same sources as the living?) and a couple of weapons. The sword is of no use to me, but I take arrows to replace the ones I used just before the Helghast shed its disguise. We also find a lever which opens yet another concealed door, this one leading to a descending staircase. Paido urges me to leave, and after knocking over the bowl through which Gnaag communicated, I head down the stairs.

At the bottom is a warren of catacombs, but my Kai abilities help me identify the way out, and we exit via a trapdoor in the ceiling. It leads into a courtyard encircled by trees, which provide enough cover for Paido and me to avoid being spotted by the two monks that are also present. Those monks enter a nearby building, soon after emerging on the backs of our horses and riding away. Pests! Wish I’d left the Lodestone in a saddlebag.

We sneak into the stables to see if there are any other horses in there. There are, and in just as good shape as the ones those monks took. I guess the monks were tempted by the novelty value of new-to-them horses. I saddle up a couple of black stallions while Paido keeps watch, and he warns me that more monks are headed our way. We quickly get onto the horses and ride out, startling the approaching monks. One of them throws his sword at me, but a combination of Huntmastery and Divination enables me to dodge this potentially lethal missile with ease.

It’s early enough that the streets are still pretty empty, so there’s nothing to delay our escape until we reach the town’s north gate. The guards on it have been on duty all night, and don’t appreciate our being in such a hurry, but they let us through with just a little grumbling.

We ride on towards Syada, the last town before the eponymous jungle. By midday the terrain has changed from grassland to an uneven rocky plain, and we draw near to an abandoned mine. Or is it abandoned? I spot a face in the window of a stone cabin by the entrance. I’m not going to investigate, though, because doing so could lead to unnecessary combat, and Healing hasn’t yet taken care of all the damage I sustained in the fight. Besides, I might end up compelled to take some useless piece of mining equipment with me.

The road leads to a ridge. Before ascending, we stop to let the horses drink at a handy stream, and have something to eat. Continuing to the top of the ridge, we encounter one of the 'You see something that horrifies you, but must turn to another section to find out what it is' transitions so beloved of Joe Dever. On this occasion, the appalling sight turns out to be Syada. In flames. With the invading army swarming the hills to the north, and a vast crowd of refugees heading along the road towards us. Though in the Mongoose edition, the really appalling sight is the accompanying illustration: perspective has been botched to the extent that the soldier on horseback warning us to turn back must either be a giant or levitating.

Peculiarly, the text stresses the impossibility of continuing east along the road. We were heading north-west along it anyway. But now we'll either have to leave the road and head west towards the Danarg via the Mordril Forest or turn back. Let me think... take a more uneven route towards where I need to go, or head back to the town where those gormless monks have probably had enough time to get our faces on wanted posters for murder, horse theft and spilling arcane substances on the carpet. Perhaps I should check the map before deciding, as Mr. Dever advises.

We head west, before long running alongside a stream. The invading army sounds as if it's less than 20 miles away. Eventually we approach the edge of the forest, which Paido notes is gradually succumbing to the baleful influence of the Danarg swamp. Crossing a brook, I spot fresh tracks in the ground, but can't identify them because I don't have Pathsmanship. Doubtless we'll run into whatever made them before long. Yep, after a while, the track we're following leads to a pool at the foot of a waterfall, bridged by a fallen tree, and while we're crossing the 'bridge', something gets on it at the other side and starts heading towards us. Another suspense-enhancing section transition delays the revelation of precisely what is advancing, but I'm pretty sure it's not Little John.

The approaching creature turns out to be a rather hideous hybrid of lizard and mammal, and it looks as if every species that's ever contributed DNA to its lineage was a carnivore.
Imagine this crossbred with a grizzly bear, an ogre, and Jean-Claude van Damme.
Or don't, if you want any sleep tonight.

Will firing an arrow at it help? Probably not (unless I were allowed to smear the head with some of the poison I was forced to collect from the kitchen), but I'll give it a go anyway. And it's a tricky shot, which is fair enough, as I'm firing from the back of a scared horse standing on a damp log, with Paido too close behind to make backing away an option. Unsurprisingly, I miss, and there's no time for a second shot, so I hurriedly draw the Sommerswerd as the beast draws near.

My horse gets so alarmed that I have to dismount. The stupid animal then blunders into Paido's steed, and both stallions overbalance and plunge into the maelstrom below. Paido leaps from the saddle and manages to grab onto the side of the tree, but he doesn't have a good handhold, and I can't help him up until I've dealt with the attacking monster, now identified as an Anapheg. At least it has a low Combat Skill. In fact, even if I get the worst possible number every single round of this fight, I'll still win. All that the random number generator will determine is how much damage I take in the course of killing the thing.

3 Endurance, if you were wondering. After a first round that went as badly as was possible, I managed to follow up with a killing blow. And I'm able to get to Paido and grab his arm just before he loses his grip. Mind you, there was no time limit on the fight, so I'd have saved him at the last moment whether I one-shotted the Anapheg or took three times as long to kill it as I actually did. Maybe Paido just has too much of a sense of the dramatic, and felt that he had to start falling at the moment that I reached him.

We resume our journey, and our surroundings become more oppressive. The text asks if I need either of a couple of substances I know to be heavy-duty healing potions, so I guess that somewhere along the way I avoided contracting some nasty infection. A bird with dark plumage watches us for a bit, and then flies away. That's a little ominous, as I remember a similar bird being the servant of a Vordak way back in book 1.

It's getting dark, so we stop for the night. Paido tosses a coin to determine who takes first watch. Divination tells me which way the coin has come down, so I deliberately choose wrongly, as Paido probably needs the rest more than I do. As it turns out, the night is uneventful. Apart from the moment when I spot something watching us. Whatever it is, it doesn't attack, but knowing it's out there makes it hard for me to sleep when it's my turn, so I'm bleary-eyed and grouchy by the time we have to resume our journey.

The ground becomes steeper. I remember being told that the Danarg is in the crater of an extinct volcano (is it really likely that a swamp could form in such a location?). By midday we've crossed the lip of the crater, and forest soon gives way to swamp. We wade through ankle-deep muck until we reach the edge of a deep, murky pool, which tell-tale signs indicate to be inhabited. I haven't acquired Pathsmanship since the last check, but I do know which direction tends to be the optimal one when making a blind choice in this series, so I skirt the pool to the south.

Well, nothing bad happens, and after a bit we reach a spur of volcanic rock that acts as a causeway, giving us solid ground underfoot. The spur splits, giving a choice of continuing south or heading west. Having Nexus would be of help here, but I picked Psi-surge, didn't I? A peek at the rules reminds me that at the rank specified, Nexus provides protection from noxious gases, so I guess the atmosphere is going to get a bit unpleasant. Not that that gives any hint of the way I should go here. Still, I get the impression that the abandoned Temple we seek is in the middle of the Danarg, so west seems the better option.

Nothing bad happens. Maybe the bad air is only on the southern branch. After a bit, the spur slopes back down, and we have to start wading again. Something howls to the north, suggesting that I did choose the better direction to go around the pool. We have to stop and eat again, and while the text has said nothing about Huntmastery being ineffective as a means of acquiring food in this charming environment, I'll have a Meal from my Backpack anyway.

Further on we reach a more solid mound with a tree on it. I remember this part of the book well. The red fruits on the tree aren't fruit, and the pool of water it overhangs is not water. Or a pool. The tree is a tree, though, so it's okay for Paido to climb it to use a device that should help him get a bearing on the Temple. While he is thus occupied, I go nowhere near anything that's not what it seems.

Troubled, Paido climbs back down and announces that his device, which can detect a rare substance used in the manufacture of the Temple, found nothing. I climb up and have a go myself, with equal lack of success, but I spot a red island of volcanic rock to the north, and speculate that it could be blocking the device. I also remember from my previous attempt at this book that the mapmaker in Tharro claimed to have seen the Temple from a ‘scarlet tor’ that was almost certainly that very island (not that my character would have any way of knowing this, having missed the encounter with the mapmaker).

Paido thinks my theory about the island blocking the signal from the device is plausible. In any case, with no other indication of where the Temple could be, we might just as well head in that direction as any other. We make slow progress as the day wears on, and a Mongoose edit gets rid of a bit of daft hyperbole, making some fissures we pass deep rather than bottomless.

Suddenly a massive swamp python with envenomed fangs erupts from the muck underfoot. Lacking Animal Control, I must fight it, and my not having Curing means that it will do double damage. Still, its Combat Skill is almost as bad as the Anapheg’s, so the odds of it killing me are very low. And I do survive, though I lose as much Endurance as I did fighting the Helghast, largely on account of getting three 3s in a row at the start of the fight.

Other denizens of the swamp start to show an interest in us, but none of them try anything before we reach the island and clamber onto solid ground. A trail leads through the undergrowth, and Paido and I follow it to a thicket of trees containing a settlement of crudely-made huts. We catch sight of brutish creatures which Paido identifies as Ghagrim, the warped descendants of the people who inhabited the region before it became corrupted, and Paido urges me to leave quickly.

We have already been noticed, and though we flee, the Ghagrim are better adapted to the territory, and soon catch up with us. Now seems like a good time to use one of the Fireseeds I picked up before embarking on this adventure. Yes, the flames dazzle the Ghagrim, enabling us to vanish into the undergrowth. Probably only a temporary delay, but it enables us to reach a seemingly deserted track that skirts the settlement. We should make better time on the trail, and it’s heading in the right direction, so I stay on it, and we get to a rocky promontory on the north-western tip of the island without further incident. With no sign of any pursuers, we even manage to get a little rest before dawn.

By daylight we resume our search for the Temple, and I spot its spire even before Paido’s device pinpoints it. Howls indicate that the Ghagrim are back on our trail, so we climb back down to swamp level and carry on towards the Temple. Randomness determines that we encounter nothing unpleasant all morning, and when we stop for lunch, Paido is confident that we should reach the Temple before sundown. A little ominously, the text states that so far we’ve managed to avoid the swamp’s more hostile inhabitants. Okay, so the Anapheg wasn’t much bother, but that python was no pushover. If there’s anything worse in the vicinity, I’d rather not become acquainted with it.

We don’t. To my surprise, we make it to the Temple without any more trouble. Clearly the circumstances leading to the death that so exasperated me back in the nineties are not quite as I remembered, as the point at which I could have blundered into it appears to have passed unnoticed.

The Temple is a massive ziggurat, decorated with vast quantities of precious stones. The swamp has not tainted it in any way (though I imagine that might change once I take the Lorestone housed within it). We ascend a staircase of amber to a pair of doors, which Paido knows how to open, and are the first people to enter the Temple in seven millennia.

I am drawn to a crystal dais, on which I am bathed in golden light. The Lorestone appears in my hands, restoring me to full health (a whole three sections before Healing would have done so anyway). Paido tells me we should be on our way, and I am less than ecstatic at the thought of returning to the swamp. That won’t be necessary, though, as the Temple also houses an ancient but fully functional skyship.

We board the ship, Paido activates the hangar doors, and we’re on our way. Naturally, a quiet trip is too much to ask for. A hideous shriek heralds the attack of a squadron of Kraan (the winged beasts used by the Daklords’ troops) piloted by Vordaks armed with iron staves that spit blue fire. One of the Vordaks shoots, and the Sommerswerd’s ability to deflect magical attacks comes in handy for the umpteenth time.

Another two Vordaks drop down from their mounts onto the deck, and start attacking the skyship's superstructure, so I hurry over and make use of the Sommerswerd's ability to hack up undead. Unusually for a Lone Wolf book, these Vordaks have separate sets of stats rather than being treated as a single entity more powerful than a lone one of their kind (which is how the group of Vordaks at the Abbey were handled). One has a slightly higher Combat Skill than the other, but the difference isn't enough to make using Psi-surge against the superior Vordak worthwhile. I kill the first with one blow, taking no damage myself, and achieve an identical result against the second.

More Vordaks arrive, this lot concentrating on Paido. As I move to assist him, a Kraan dumps a load of black crystal cubes on the deck. Divination (which I can choose not to use in the Mongoose text, just in case I'd rather remain ignorant of impending peril) warns me that they are explosive devices, which could damage the ship badly enough to cause it to blow up. Getting rid of them takes precedence over assisting Paido, so I start grabbing cubes and slinging them overboard, to explode in the swamp below. The Mongoose text fixes a bit of sloppy grammar in this section, and also replaces 'collecting' with 'snatching up' when describing my actions. Given the number of items this book has compelled me to take and keep, I'm fine with that change of phrasing.

Returning my attention to Paido, I see that a Kraan-rider has dropped a barbed net on him. Only one of the Vordaks that had attacked him still stands, but with Paido immobilised by the net, he's at its mercy. I hurry towards him, but before I can get close enough to help, the Vordak has tied a rope dangling from the hovering Kraan to the net. I yell a battle-cry (misspelled in the original text), and the Vordak turns towards me, a terrified expression on its face. That surprises me, in part because the actions of the other Vordak boarders suggested that they had no qualms about giving their lives (unlives?) in the attempt to thwart us, but mainly because I'm not sure how a fleshless skull displays terror. Not that it matters, as I decapitate the Vordak in an instant, and all its face is going to display from now on is mud and slime.

However, in the time it's taken me to eliminate the Vordak, the Kraan has gained height, lifting Paido out of reach. Cawing exultantly, it flies away, too stupid to realise that, 'Okay, so we failed to kill Lone Wolf or prevent him from getting the Lorestone, but we did capture his friend,' is the sort of report that's likely to inspire Gnaag to rip its wings off and poke them into its eyes.

Incidentally (referring back to something I said near the start of my first playthrough of this book), this is why reading the last section of the book before playing it was a bad idea: the knowledge that Paido's capture is unavoidable might have made it that bit more obvious that I should dispose of the crystals rather than going to his aid. Though the knowledge that they were about to explode and destroy the skyship was a pretty powerful motivation anyway.

The power of the Lorestone provides me with a mystical insight that tells me Paido will survive, and one day we will be reunited and again fight side by side. Either I'm forgetting something from a certain later book, or Joe Dever's plans changed a little between writing this and Paido's reappearance. We shall see.

Paido had programmed the skyship to fly to the city from which we embarked on this adventure, and I spend the journey working out how to land the thing in one piece. On arrival, I inform the Elder Magi of what happened to Paido and me, and they let me know how successful the Darklord invasion is proving. Their leader then shows me a vision of the city of Tahou, which has been built on top of the remains of the much more ancient city which houses the next Lorestone I need. So that's where I'll be spending the bulk of the next book.

Still, before I head to Tahou, I’ll be popping back to the Kai monastery. I need to stock up on Alether again. Besides, it’s where I’m allowed to abandon unwanted items, and right now I still have a Pass, a Lodestone and a vial of poison that need to not be cluttering up my inventory any more.

4 comments:

  1. Wow. I am amazed by some of your choices here. I can understand avoiding the inn if you haven't been that way before, but then fighting the Vordaks (and picking up that annoying Lodestone) even after you had been warned that there was something not right and passing up the chance to visit the Prophetess because of money, when you had already noted that you had more than you can carry: well, I just don't get it.

    And to top it all off, you don't buy the magic ring, which is the only reason for fighting the Helghast in the first place!

    Incidentally, it is possible to lose the pass to the tollkeeper, but it is random, so you're better off just refusing to show it to the guard if you want to avoid the Helghast fight.

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    1. As I mentioned early on in the post, I usually travel by barge in this book, so I had no idea what were the optimal choices on the overland route. At some point I may investigate paths not taken, to find out the benefits of visiting the Prophetess and buying the ring.

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  2. Thank you for taking the trouble to reply. You will find out the effect of the ring in book 11 (even though you don't have it, it will tell you what the effect would be if you did have it).

    I don't know whether the advantage in that book is worth the danger of the Helghast fight in this. Personally, I avoid the Helghast, but obviously both routes are viable. Congratulations on surviving!

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    1. Until your comments, I wasn't even aware it was possible to avoid the Helghast fight. There's obviously quite a bit to the book that I've never found.

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