"Castle Death" by Joe Dever, illustrated by Gary Chalk.
In the last Lone Wolf book, I failed to recover one of the mystical lorestones mainly due to losing enthusiasm for the adventure in the third act. But that doesn't mean that Lone Wolf himself stopped, oh no. Entirely seperate from me, he rushed off and found the lorestone, which promptly told him where he could find the NEXT lorestone. It is buried in the depths of the rather ominously titled Castle Death, and you know what that means - a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl!
The local friendly high council of wizards are nice enough to give Lone Wolf a ride to the castle in their handy flying boat. All the evil inside the castle is kept at bay by some magical shields, which gives me the impression that the castle is probably used as a dumping ground for some gribbly monsters and abyssal horrors. We're only given a few hints about the history of this castle, so I suspect that the mages know more than they're telling us. Hmm. In either case, it seems like just the natural place to store a holy relic, doesn't it?
From the moment we set foot onto the island that the castle is build upon, we are beset by gribbly mutants of one form or another. I am chased across the beach by an army of vicious flesh-eating rats, and have to slay a giant frog-snake thing (don't ask - really, don't ask!) in order to escape. The weather seems to sense the atmosphere and adjust itself accordingly, throwing a few dramatic lightning bolts to illuminate the horrors. It rather reminds me of the castle in that old Vampire Hunter D cartoon. I'm eventually able to escape the rats by running across a rickety old bridge, which promptly collapses behind me, leaving the rats stranded on the other side.
I hurry along the island, eventually finding a tunnel set into the landscape which seems to lead its way down into the castle itself. Once deep inside and lit by the light from my firesphere, I find a stone panel. Rules of narrative would dictate that it's a trap that would collapse right out from beneath me when I step on it, so I instead poke it with my sword until I'm sure that it won't. As I poke it, I find an etching of a snake carved onto the stone, with '123' next to it. Confident and reassured that it is not a trap that will send me plummeting down into the darkness, I step on the stone and immediately it collapses and sends me plummeting into the darkness. Bastards.
Upon awakening from unconsciousness, Lone Wolf immediately grasps for his weapon - a reaction that tells us so much about the character, especially in light of his high body count in each and every book. I wouldn't want to be working in a hotel with him for a guest and be asked to give him a wake-up call! Anyway, I find myself in a pit with a giant snake. The snake is an utter tank with a health pool that is frankly absurd. So after batting it with my sword for a few rounds, I peg it into a nearby tunnel. Once there, I kick in one of the walls and emerge into a new chamber. Hiding behind a pillar, I witness two strange pig-men creatures sidling through a hidden secret passageway.
I decide not to follow the pig-men and instead head off in the direction that they came from, stealing a gem from a nearby tapestry as I do. The passageway leads to a hallway full of sleeping gas, which leaves me questioning a little bit about the pig-men and why they've come through here. I wake up to find that I'm in the middle of an auditorium surrounded by weird men in hoods, and I'm chained to the wall. It's like a mix between Temple of Doom and a regular Thursday night for me. The lord of the castle emerges from the crowd and greets me, telling me that I've invaded his castle and that I've been sentanced to being thrown into the labyrinth. His midget henchman (why do all crazed evil maniacs have midget henchmen? I want one!) takes my Sommerswerd, but not before it zaps him a little bit for his insolence.
The lord of the castle encases the sword next to his throne beside his other prize, the lorestone I've been sent to recover, and chucks me head-first into a maze. I really wish I knew what these crazed megalomaniacs actually told their interior designers when they started building mazes in their basements. Hell, I wish I knew what they told their landlords!
I stumble through the maze for a while, managing to find a spare sword that's lying around and grab it by use of a strand of rope. I use that sword to kill some... floating... bubble... things... alright, I have no idea what those were, but I was then chased by an invisible man across an invisible bridge. In short, the maze is a bit like a descent into madness.
The maze eventually leads into a chamber, in which a statue tells me a riddle to solve. His riddle is My daughter has many sisters, as many sisters as she has brothers, but each of her brothers has twice as many sisters as brothers. So answer me this, wise warrior, how many sons and daughters do I have?’. I answer 7 - the daughter, 3 sisters and 3 brothers; each brother would have twice as many sisters (4) as brothers (2). But, despite that this is a logically accurate answer to this little maths riddle, the book says that it's wrong, and the statue proceeds to try to drown me by vomiting water from a tube disguised as its mouth until the room floods. Nice.
In a twist that's frankly more generous than most Fighting Fantasy riddles, I'm able to smash the mechanism of the water pump trap apart with my sword, and escape the chamber. The next chamber contains a giant worm - what is it with this book and giant worms, snakes and so on? Anyway, I'm given the option to climb on top of its body (once I've killed it, a process that is so natural to Lone Wolf that it's almost like breathing) and climb onto the wall and out of the maze! Consider your labyrinth officially broken!
Scurrying away from the labyrinth, I hurry down a set of stairs in order to flee from the guards that have been alerted to my escape. Ruthlessly decapitating a poor, innocent guard who was simply trying to descend himself with a crossbow from a rampaging Kai psychopath in a heated blood frenzy (this is how I imagine Lone Wolf deals with most of his problems), I hurry through a secret passage hidden behind a tapestry and find my way into a steel room, which contains all my loot that the guards had taken before throwing me into the maze, and a rather nice heat-resistant amulet to boot. The amulet is immediately useful as the passageway quickly grows hotter and hotter, but I'm impervious to any harm. This type of puzzle is something of a staple in gamebooks, but I've not seen one before which gives you the solution IMMEDIATELY before the puzzle.
Anyway, the furnace chamber eventually leads into another hall, which I follow until it opens behind the big bad's throne. Floating above the throne are two gems, one black and evil and one the lorestone. I decide to check out the front of the throne for traps, and sure enough I find that the lord of the castle is sitting in it, pointing a wand at my head. I proceed to do what I believe the common people call 'twat him on the head' with the Sommerswerd until he's quite dead (he's another rather tough fight, but not as difficult as the one earlier in the book), whereupon the book tells me that he dies "like a candle flaring in a storm before it is extinguished by the rain", no doubt inspiring Elton John to sing a song about him.
I grab the lorestone, and it heals my health back up to maximum. Like all fantasy castles, it immediately starts to collapse because the boss is dead. I wish that architects would stop relying on their load-bearing evil lords to prop up their dungeons. Anyway, a handy anti-gravity beam of light appears, which floats me back to the surface level. Useful, that. I fly up, watching as "Boulders, some the size of horses" fall past me. Damn, I wonder if they have boulders the shape of horses too. Sorry, I'm rambling.
Okay, do you think I'm exaggerating the point that Lone Wolf is a psychotic killing machine? Read this, then. "When you reach the jetty you are covered from head to toe in the blood of your foes. The sight is so frightening that all resistance melts away, and creatures hurl themselves into the lake rather than face the fearsome straight-backed, white-skinned killer of their kin." That's an actual description as he escapes the castle. I rest my case! So, Lone Wolf stumbles back into town, where the local magi hail him as a hero. For some reason. Personally, I'd have thought that they'd rain down fireballs upon him, assuming he was some kind of blood golem or abyssal gore-drenched horror.
Still, nevertheless, I have recovered the second (technically my first) lorestone, and the magi tell me that the next one is hidden in the Jungle of Horrors, but I'm sure that will be no problem for 'Lone Wolf the Bloodletter, Slayer of Gods, Ruiner of the Damned, Destroyer of nations, Enemy of all who live'. I anticipate that in two weeks time, our adventure will be very short, due no doubt to simply setting the entire jungle on fire and murdering anyone I see.
This was a lot of fun. The pacing of it, I felt, flowed far better than the previous one. Some of the puzzles were a bit too easy, like the heat tunnel one, but the enemies felt far tougher this time around. The atmosphere really boosted the fun of this one, with the castle feeling legitimately creepy and grotesque. It is quite light on background, though - even by the end, you know next to nothing about either the castle or its owner. Perhaps the next book in the series will boast more lore? Tune in again in 2 weeks to find out!
Lone Wolf Statistics at this point
Combat Skill – 15, Endurance – 25
Kai Skills – divination, huntmastery, curing, weaponmaster - short swords, axe, warhammer, bow (+3 CS) Lore Circles - Circle of Fire (+1 CS and +2 E)
Carried in hands – Sommerswerd (+8 CS), Bow (arrows x6)
Special Items - Firesphere, Map, Crystal Star Pendant, Kazan-Oud Platinum Amulet, Silver Helmet (+2 CS), Padded leather waistcoat (+2E), Fireseeds (x3)
(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of dark fantasy stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'" and "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance". His newest book, "Diary of a gay teenage zombie", is available now)