"Castle Death" by Joe Dever, illustrated by Gary Chalk.
I know from the comments that a lot of people rather liked Kingdoms of Terror, whilst I didn't care much for it and strongly preferred Castle Death. That's cool though, because the next adventure, Jungle of Horrors, offers a lot of what made both of the previous books good.
In our ongoing quest to assemble a full set of Lorestones (Gotta catch 'em all, kids!), we head off to the jungle-swamps of Danarg, with a trusty NPC in tow, and armed with a brand new Kai skill - animal control, which I'm sure will help in a swamp.
This also lets me complete another Lore Circle, a rather neat little system that has been included in the books at this point, which allows you to boost your core skills by picking relevant groups of Kai abilities. Lore Circles actually become quite useful when fighting some of the more powerful foes in the Magnakai series.
The book arrives as Lone Wolf disembarks his ship (which has surprisingly not crashed during the voyage yet) with his trusty guide, Paido (who has surprisingly not been eaten by a monster during this voyage yet). We learn from rumours around town that the forces of the Darklords, who have been in civil war since we defeated their ruler about four books ago, have now got their act together and elected a new ruler, who is burning villages all along the borders. Happy days.
Our first destination is Tharro, which is located on the verdant outskirts of the jungle, and I opt to take the road route to it rather than rafting upriver and risking a potential shipwreck (raft-wreck?).
The swamp itself was once, long ago, home to a lovely chap called Angarash (sic) the Damned, who I'm sure was a very friendly chap. A bunch of wizards killed him and turned his volcano lair into a lush forest, but after a few decades most of their forest turned into a foul and stinking swamp, presumably because wizards suck at terraforming.
The trip down the road goes easily enough until it starts to bucket down with rain. We shelter in a handy roadside inn, mainly because Lone Wolf can't resist the promise of booze. Unfortunately I waste the entire visit talking to the dwarf innkeeper, who tells me endless stories about his eyepatch, until a farmer interrupts him to tell me that his sister is a fortune-teller and that I should probably go to visit her. I've eventually had enough of the locals, and trudge back out into the rain just to get away from them.
Our road leads us eventually along to meet an old man who demands that we pay the toll. I've never quite been able to mentally seperate people asking for me to pay a toll from bandits, so I'm tempted to chop the old man's head off, but he suggests that I instead answer a riddle.
I figure that this would be merciful, but given my attempt to answer a riddle in the last book, I suspect that this won't end well. He asks "If a brick counterbalances three quarters of a pound plus three quarters of a brick, how many pounds does the whole brick weigh?" So, after I fail to answer that riddle correctly and have chopped the old man's head off, we run down the road to flee an angry mob...
No, just kidding. He accepts my answer and we continue along until we come to a relatively large city, where very little of any note happens until we meet a group of town guards. When I try to reach into my pocket to show one my papers, he assumes that I'm going for a weapon and attacks me with lethal force. Must be an American policeman. Actually wait, that's in terrible bad taste. I apologise.
I'd like to take a short moment here to tell people about my friend Stuart Lloyd's newest work, a gamebook by Tin Man Games called Asuria Awakens. Stuart is the webhost of Lloydoggamebooks, and a long-time supporter of my blog, and a talented gamebook writer and developer in his own right. His new work is promising to be utterly fantastic, and I can't recommend it enough. Go check it out. Now.
It isn't long before we (that's Lone Wolf and Paido, who is still miraculously alive) arrive at a temple. As they offer somewhere to rest and recouperation. Or at very least, a free meal. We enter the temple, which is full of scented insence, candles, and monks that go 'ommm'. The monks give us some tasty soup, and go to fetch their high priest... dude... thing.
The high priest dude thing emerges, and does what any good priest normally does - laughs maniacally and tells us that we are doomed, doomed, DOOMED. Then he turns into a Helghast, one of the most powerful undead servants of the darklords. I can't help but wonder how long he'd been waiting there, masquerading as the high priest, purely in order to catch me with poisoned soup and hits to the head with his helghast dagger.
One thing that I notice about the combat is that, by this stage in the series the book throws an utter stack of modifiers to this fight. Combat with helghasts has always come with a lot of buffs and debuffs for various effects, but this time around it really feels like you're juggling a lot of damage potential.
In either case, I manage to whap the bugger several times with my sommerswerd, until it inevitably crumples into a pile of smouldering green smoke, a response that is also common to most politicians when exposed to daylight. It's around about this time that the poisoned soup that I had eaten starts to take full effect. Without any healing potions to aid me in my recovery (I never generally carry them, relying upon my curing skill entirely), I quickly succumb to poisoned soup.
Perhaps not the most noble of Lone Wolf's deaths, but certainly the quickest. Not quick enough to warrant me replaying it from the start, which I only do if I feel that I died within the first quarter or so of the book. Nope, by my own unwritten rules, this death has to stand.
Shame really, I'd have loved to see more. Maybe we'll see more of the book next time. Tune in again in two week's time for the next chapter in the Lone Wolf series, "The Cauldron of Fear"!
Lone Wolf Statistics at this point
Combat Skill – 15, Endurance – 25
Kai Skills – animal control, divination, huntmastery, curing, weaponmaster - short swords, quaterstaff, axe, warhammer, bow (+3 CS) Lore Circles - Circle of Fire and Light (+1 CS and +5 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)