Before starting on this adventure, as per the rules laid out at the start of this endeavour we treat the previous book as if it had been completed correctly (because the narrative of this book does, you see) and update our Kai skills. To hunting, tracking, sixth sense, mind shield, animal kinship, we now add another skill - a weapon skill in swords.
Having arrived at the king's palace in the previous book, we are told that the darklords armies are massing to take the city. As we start, there are more gribbly monsters outside the city gates than the whole of the final Lord of the Rings movie. The only way to defeat them is to recover an ancient mystical sword, which was loaned to a neighbouring country. Way back then, this was the usual method of cementing alliances between nations, based very much on the time-tested technique of kids swapping stickers and baseball cards.
As I'm the last surviving member of the kai and the only guardian of their powerful wisdom left in the entire world, naturally the king insists that I am sent to a safe location far from the war, with a unit of his best men to protect me, so that my knowledge may be preserved for future generations... Nah, of course not, he sends me off to recover the sword alone. Fantasy adventures aren't much fun if the kings of nations play it cautiously, after all.
I'm given fourteen gold coins, a sword and a set of chainmail armour. I also carry the royal seal, two meals and a crystal star pendant from the previous books. Now, let's rock.
The adventure starts as the captain of the guards escorts me to the docks, to board a ship that will take me the first part of the way on my quest. I'm confronted by a man who claims to be the first mate, who asks me to prove that I am the Kai by using one of my skills. After I command some mice to bring me cheese, he is so amazed that he summons two of his biggest friends to kill me. Yeah, turned out that he wasn't the first mate at all, but a servant of the darklords. You'd have thought that my ability to slice the nuts off a passing housefly would have put some doubt into his mind about this plan...
When I was finally able to catch up with the ship, it was already pulling out of the harbour, ready to leave me behind. Which was not exactly encouraging. Even less encouraging was several days into the voyage, when our stock of food was set alight and our water supply poisoned. Things were not going well, and they took a turn for the worse when we fished an injured man out of the sea. He told us that his ship had been wrecked by pirates, but Lone Wolf suspected that the darklords were behind it. But then, he says that every time he misplaces his car keys.
Following this ominous series of events, which are only slightly more ominous than a secret message scrawled on the wall in blood, the game decides that I've spent far too much time enjoying a comfortable voyage and sends a storm. The ship is ruined, leaving me bobbing up and down on some driftwood. After an extended period of time, I wash up on shore, having chosen not to flag down any passing fishermen out of fear that they might be the afore mentioned pirates. You can never trust fishermen, I tell you!
One of the fellow passengers took the time to tell me that the man who owned the city was evil, which is about what you can expect in any city's politics. I quickly make my way through the city, only encountering one group of muggers (good going, you normally get four times that many just walking through Liverpool), and get to the next coach station. The attendant tells me that a ticket will set me back a good 20 gold, which I don't have. But after about ten minutes of solid gambling at the local (and very convenient to even exist in this book, so close to the coach station!) casino, I've won enough to pay my ticket.
Leaving Ragadorn behind, I board the coach with five fellow travelers - two brothers who are knights, a down on his luck merchant, a traveling priest, and a warrior woman. The coach rattled along for a few days, with each stop at inns for the night leaching me for more gold. One afternoon while driving through a mountain pass, falling boulders kill the driver. Everyone assumes it was an accident, but my Kai skill of paranoia tells me it was someone trying to kill me!
That evening the six of us arrive at the inn, I'm now down to my last 3 gold after I pay for the room. When dinner is served, I find that it's been poisoned. I'm told that I can go and attack the would-be assassin, but the options I'm given are the five other travelers. Guess I can't just question the cook or the waiter, then!
Given the option of leaping up and attacking one of my travel companions, I realise that I don't have many clues to examine. The only one I can think of is that the priest announced that the failing rocks at the mountain pass were an act of God rather than an attempt to kill us. It's a pretty sketchy reasoning, but I roll with it. Amazingly, it turns out to be correct - after I kill him, I find that he has a whole bunch of darklord mementos in his backpack. This doesn't seem to be enough to convince the witnesses that I didn't just murder the priest, though. I'm not given the option of simply explaining it all, so instead I have to run away.
The next day, I find a man lying injured on the roadside. He's been impaled by a spear and, when I remove it, he turns into a horrible gribbly monster and tries to eat me. I'm glad to have a weapon again, and I remember that this spear is very important later in the adventure... Once the fiend is dead, I push onwards until I eventually get to the port.
The port is a bit of a hassle, as I need to show the king's seal at an office in order to get a pass to continue onwards. Wild adventure of office red tape! After navigating some very dull offices and getting my red pass, I'm introduced to Rhygar, a stand up chap who offers to accompany me. One of the army's best and a heroic veteran, the book tells us how awesome Rhygar is. So, naturally as per all fantasy books, he'll be dead by sundown.
Almost immediately after we leave the port, we are attacked by an entire cabal of helghasts, the same gribbly monster we meet a few days ago. Rhygar and I have no choice but to flee from these nazgul wannabes, so we pelt it at full speed across the countryside. Eventually we come to one of several large tunnels which we are required to pass through, and one of the helghasts ambushes us, having hid in an overturned carriage within the tunnel. Thankfully I kept ahold of the magic spear, and killed the bugger without too much difficulty.
I leave Rhygar behind and make the final rush towards the capital. Stumbling into the waiting arms of the guards, I wave the royal seal at them, and they rush me to see the king. He's thrilled to see me - so thrilled that he unlocks the royal vault and hands over the legendary sword.
The Sommerswerd is pretty imba, to be honest. It gives my combat skill a massive boost, deals super damage to undead, and amplifies my sixth sense. It also glows in the dark. In all seriousness though, this moment is written in such a way that it genuinely does feel very epic. I'm so pleased with it that I don't even care when a messenger tells me that Rhygar's body was found in the field, eaten by helghasts. Told ya so.
I'm sure that, somewhere out there, Rhygar is someone's favorate character. Not mine, though, mine's Banedon. But it's only right to spare a moment's silence for Deadmeat- erm, Rhygar.
Having broken through the enemy armada with far, far too much ease, I return to the field of battle, ready to turn the tide of the war by slaying the darklord in heroic combat, mano e mano. I'm expecting the book to end with a phenomenal battle, one that will break the siege and cement me as a hero across the land. Unfortunately, the heroic warrior Lone Wolf instead decides to use his sword on possibly the least heroic way possible - to zap the darklords tent with him inside it, from all the way across the field. He doesn't even see the enemy in person, and possibly kills even kills him while he's asleep (or having a dump, or jerking off, whichever is funnier).
So yeah, the ending was a little anticlimactic, but it's still only the second gamebook I've actually finished in all the years I've been doing this blog, so that's a thing.
Despite that, though, the book is still damn good. Like the later Fighting Fantasy books, you get a real sense of having gone on a long journey. Finding the sword feels genuinely rewarding and suitably epic. It takes everything that worked with the first book and built on it to create something very memorable. The only thing that's really missing is a fight between Lone Wolf and the Darklord.
As a kid, I remember the helghasts being the most difficult part of this book, but I experienced none of the problems associated with my misadventures with them this time around, I'm unsure why that's the case but I'm definitely not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
It's also a good thing that the book had Vonotor put in an appearance, because he's the focus of the third book in the series. Check back in two weeks for the third book, Cavern of Kalte.
Lone Wolf Statistics at this pointCombat Skill – 15, Endurance – 25
Kai Skills - hunting, healing, sixth sense, mind shield, animal kinship, weaponskill swords (+2 CS)
Special items – Map, Crystal Star Pendant, Sommerswerd (+8 CS)
(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)