"The Cauldron of Fear" by Joe Dever, illustrated by Brian Williams.
Given how much of a complete and total failure my attempt at the previous game in the series ended with, I'm a little uncertain on how to approach this one. Actually a little hesitant, if I'm honest. I'm worried that if I don't pick my starting items very carefully, I could wind up in the same predicament. But let's take a step back and look at where we are in the series first.
By this point in the series, illustrations were being done by Brian Williams. The atmosphere they give is a little different, certainly unique but with a slightly more threatening edge. Also by this point the forces of the Darklords have relaunched their campaign in full, rampaging across much of the land. It's against this backdrop that the game is set, tasking us with recovering the next lorestone from a city under siege (but without those lovable scamps from Police Academy 6: City Under Siege)
The book starts with some rather nice moments where we are met by our old friend Banedon the mage and his trusty sky-ship. We quickly start our trip to the city of Tahou, but plan to park our rather conspicuous boat some distance away. Shortly after we depart, we run into a group of evacuees who are fleeing the war-torn lands and are desperate for a safe place to stay where they can be told that they are lazy and taking other people's jobs by whatever Magnamund's version of UKIP might be.
One of the migrants is an old friend of Banedon, and gives us an invitation to stay with an acquaintance in Tahou, which I'm sure will be lovely if the place isn't a smoldering crater by the time I get there. Our next stop is a small village, where I'm surrounded by a group of beggars who sell me a few flasks of funny-smelling wine. They're so pleased that I pay them in gold that they show me to a hut where an old man dressed entirely in feathers tells my fortune. Or at least, he tries to - I spend the whole encounter giggling and making jokes about him being dressed like a chicken. Cluck.
As we travel through another village, this one full of rampaging Giaks, Banedon seems to make himself scarce so that I'm forced to fight them all by myself. To make up for this, I keep all of the stuff that they have stolen from the villagers, because it's okay to steal from thieves. At the tavern that night, I find a group of farmers who are placing bets on answering riddles. I choose to try out this 'Anarian gamble', because my record with solving riddles in these adventures is phenomenally bad. The farmers don't gamble for money though, they gamble for objects, so I wager the Sommerswerd. Because the idea of having lost the legendary blade of the immortal Kai lords to a bunch of farmers on a bet is just hilarious.
The riddle is a fairly easy one. Farm dude asks me "This dagger is now half as old as my son Loen was when the dagger was new. Loen is now fifteen years old. How old is the dagger?" Easily enough, he's had the dagger for five years, so he gives me a Scroll of Honour and something called Jadin Anklets. The next morning we push onwards, meeting some royal guards along the road who, when shown my invitation from Banedon's friend, gives me directions to Tahou and tell me that if I'm not inside the city by sundown I'll be considered an enemy spy and shot.
We are ambushed a short distance from Tahou, but it's easy enough to chop up the attackers, who are a group of enemy Giaks riding on wolves. Within a few hours, we arrive at Tahou. The guards impound our horses, explaining that there is a state of emergency in the city because of the "Oh Crap The Darklords Are Coming" threat. I'm given a receipt for my horse, and told that I'll be expected to help defend the city when the enemies come. I nod along politely and then go to find the lorestone.
My best buddy Banedon takes me to see his old master, Chiban, who lives in town. Chimchar explains to me that the lorestone was thrown into the cauldron some years ago - the cauldron in question being something like a large rubbish bin which the locals would use to throw things into the ancient ruins of the undercity. Chipotle then goes on to provide us a delicious meal, and then writes to the senate to request a meeting. Within a few moments he gets a reply. Chilli sauce tells me that the senate will see Lone Wolf, and vote on whether they will let him jump into the giant hole in the middle of the city or not. Seems a bit silly when I phrase it like that.
So, the senate take a vote. Some people decide that it's a good idea to let me into the undercity, reasoning that the lorestone would be useful in turning away the tide of evil. Others think that the tide of evil is only coming here to catch Lone Wolf in his pursuit of the lorestone, which is equally possible. Some also think that if they open the lid of the cauldron, a scary monster will come out, which is extremely likely. Nevertheless, they vote to let me go. I suspect some of them are secretly looking for any excuse to get rid of Lone Wolf, so they tie a rope to his leg and chuck him down the hole.
That description isn't actually too far from what really happens, because one of the senators betrays Lone Wolf and sabotages his rope, sending me hurtling into the cold waters of the undercity, which I escape by shedding my backpack and all of its possessions. I swim out of the lake and rest for the night. The next... morning?... I'm assailed by hordes of ghouls, who I carve my way through.
Eventually I find my way into the undercity - the crumbling ruined city of Zaaryx, home of the descendants of the great dragon people from before the dawn of time. Shame that the people of Tadou have been using the hole in the roof as a toilet for generations. Evidently someone flushed something even more unusual, an object called a psychic ring, which I find on the hand of a rotting ghoul when it suddenly hits me with psy-blast while trying to eat my face. I club the ghoul, take the ring, and press onwards into this weird undercity that would make the one in Skyrim feel a bit inadequate.
After a while, I find a bunch of little lizard critters playing around with a large egg. Making contact with them by means of telepathy, their leader shows me to the central chamber, where it is revealed that the egg that her chums were playing with is, in fact, the lorestone. Lone Wolf is bathed in a lambent light, infused with wisdom, regains all his strength (useful, as the fight with the psy-ghoul really took it out of me) and is teleported back to the city above - which is mostly a smoldering crater now, as the army of the darklord has well and truly invaded.
I stumble through the ruins of the city, fighting monsters and trying to save anyone I catch sight of, until I manage to eventually find Banedon. He and his friend chilblains tell me that the city has fallen, the senate is dead, and that the enemy commander is walking right towards me at that moment for a one-on-one duel. We have a big fight with the dude, one Zakhan Kimah (today's villain is sponsored by the letters Z, K and the number 7). I kill him without too much trouble, and as he falls a large mass of conveniently-timed backup armies arrive to drive off his forces.
But that is not all, oh no. For no sooner have I slain the enemy and saved the smoldering ruins of Tadou, then I receive a terrifying warning. A great booming voice echoes through the sky, that of none other than Darklord Gnaag himself - "Know this: you will pay for your defiance with your life. I, Gnaag of Mozgôar, have the three remaining Lorestones that you seek, and I shall destroy them when I destroy you, Kai Lord."
Oh no! Despair! How will our hero get out of this tricky trap? Has the duplicitous darklord sprung his terrible trap? Is this the end for Lone Wolf and Banedon, the dynamic duo? Tune in again in two weeks time for the follow-up, "The Dungeons of Torgar" - same bat-time, same bat-channel!
Lone Wolf Statistics at this point
Combat Skill – 15, Endurance – 25
Kai Skills – animal control, invisibility, divination, huntmastery, curing, weaponmaster, - short swords, quaterstaff, axe, warhammer, bow, mace (+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, Psychic Ring, 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)