My last installment ended with the discovery of the first half of the Hammer of Gillibran, a handle inscribed with the letter 'G'. Now I was left standing in the cave of a dead ogre, pondering my next move, agonising over what direction my quest would take next. Not too much agonising, though; I was an adventurer after all. What else was there for an adventurer to do but loot the cave?
The cave was not exactly a treasure trove, but it did contain a silver box that I could not resist opening. Having already found one useful item in the cave, I should have known better, because the box was filled with poison gas. Luckily, I came prepared, and was able to avoid harm by slipping in my magical Nose Filters, purchased earlier from the wizard Yaztromo. So far, that guy is earning his keep. The box was empty, but I kept it anyway because, you know, silver. I do wonder why that Ogre had poison gas in a box, though. I'd like a reason other than "Ian Livingstone put it there to kill nosy adventurers".
I left the cave and walked further north, only to catch my foot in a noose and be left dangling from a tree. A successful Luck test meant that my sword remained in its scabbard, and I was able to cut myself down. It should be noted that at this point my character contemplates waiting around for the trapper to arrive, presumably planning to murder the fellow. Chilling.
Further north, I found a knotted vine hanging from a tree, and climbed up. Who wouldn't? It led to a wooden platform that was home to an APE-MAN, who attacked me with a daintily-clutched femur.
Despite my increased Skill (from a potion I drank earlier), and the Ape-Man's questionable bone-gripping technique, he managed to hit me a couple of times before I killed him. I had a penalty to my Attack Strength due to fighting in a tree, while the Ape-Man was right at home, funnily enough. It didn't do him a great deal of good, though, because soon I was looting his corpse. He was wearing a copper bracelet that I snapped on, and it turned out to be a Bracelet of Skill which gave me a +1 bonus to Attack Strength. Man, there are a lot of combat bonuses in this gamebook. There's bound to be a tough boss battle at the end, right?
Still further north I came to a four-way junction, and headed west, then north at a T-junction. Then west at another junction. (Gripping stuff.) The sound of barking dogs could be heard ahead, but I decided not to hide as they drew nearer. I was met by a masked rider and his hunting pack.
I'm pretty sure that his horse is not breathing fire. Despite being an adventurer, and also despite the gold rings he was wearing on every finger, I refrained from attacking him and entered into peaceable conversation. The rider was on the trail of a wild boar, but I couldn't help him. Even so he gave me some belladonna before galloping away. What a great guy. I'm glad I didn't cut his hand off and steal his rings.
I turned west at the next crossroads, and found a mud hut that was home to some sort of mutated freak.
This was Quin, who was just sitting around flexing his abnormal musculature. Transfixed by his horrid beauty, I went inside the hut, whereupon he challenged me to an arm-wrestling match. How could I refuse him?
I came to the conclusion that Quin's physique could only have been reached through some sort of vile magical experiment, so I decided to use my Armband of Strength to even the odds. It did the trick, and the defeated Quin gifted me with some Dust of Levitation. I left him slumped at the table with a suicidal expression on his face, and journeyed back into the forest.
Back at the last junction I turned north I came to a waterfall that tumbled noisily down into a river. There was a boat tied to a post nearby, and also a set of stone steps leading down behind the falls. I took the steps, and was soon in the lair of a hostile FISH MAN.
Alas, the Fish Man had no valuables, but he also wasn't able to hit me in combat, so it all evened out. I climbed out to the north side of the river and made camp as the sun set.
Just as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain had Chekhov's Sharpened Stick, The Forest of Doom had provided me with Chekhov's Belladonna. Spurred on by this narrative law, a WEREWOLF awakened me from my sleep and attacked. I dispatched it without taking any damage, though, so Chekhov's Belladonna remained on the metaphorical mantelpiece.
The next morning I set off again, heading north at another junction. Delusions of invincibility must have been distracting me, though, because I walked right into a pit trap. A successful Luck test meant that I avoided being impaled on a pointy stick, but I was still trapped at the bottom. Or I would have been, were it not for my Boots of Leaping. With a single bound I was free of the pit, and on my way.
Further down the path I found a sword stuck into a large rock. Unable to resist such temptations, I pulled on the hilt, and with a successful Skill test yanked it free. (With my Skill score of 12, there was no way for me to fail.) The sword was enchanted, granting me a +2 bonus to my Skill score.
(At this point I want to digress into a discussion of The Rules. Sometimes when you find a magical weapon it grants a bonus to your Attack Strength. This is all fine, and presents no problem with the rules as written. Sometimes, however, such a weapon will grant a bonus to your Skill score. By the rules, though, your Skill score can't be raised above its initial level unless the text specifically says so. By the rules, the sword that I just picked up would grant me no advantage at all, which doesn't make much sense. That said, I didn't apply the bonus. I tend to stick with the rules by following the text as closely as possible. Besides, I was quite powerful enough.)
At the next junction I turned east, then north. Just off the path was a pool of bubbling mud, which I decided to apply to my wounds. This is the sort of thing that counts as medicine in Ye Olden Days, and sure enough it healed me back to full health. Just in time to be randomly attacked by a PTERODACTYL, all flapping around and breaking verisimilitude. The standard fantasy potpourri of mythological beasts never really bothers me, but there's something about dinosaurs that just feels wrong. It might be the names. Anyway, I took my frustration out on the poor bugger, and while examining its corpse I spotted an arrow painted on the ground. My curiosity piqued, I followed the arrow to an old tree trunk with a dark hole leading downwards.
Dark holes are always promising to an adventurer, because that's where all the good treasure is. Despite my lack of a light source, I quickly used my magic Rope of Climbing to make my way down.
At the bottom was a cavern filled with multi-coloured mushrooms, being tended to by a bunch of small, pale-skinned humanoids: CLONES! The clones weren't attacking me, and I didn't want to attack them. I also didn't want to mess with the mushrooms; as a rule, I don't fool around with mushrooms. Unfortunately, the only options I had involved doing one or the other. I figured that, being a combat monster, I'd have more chance against the clones than the mushrooms, so I rushed to the attack.
The fellow I attacked put up no resistance as I struck his head from his shoulders. I like that touch of character; my warrior didn't try to stab him through the chest, or go for the efficient kill. He went right for a decapitation. There's a certain flair to it. Anyway, the headless clone dissolved and turned into a purple mushroom that turned to face me. That was my cue to get out of there, because, as I've said, I don't fool around with mushrooms. I fled towards a patch of green mushrooms, then left the cavern by a flight of steps.
Halfway up the steps was a chest and a barrel. Without even bothering to check if the chest was open, I blew it apart with my sword, and claimed the 8 gold pieces inside. In the barrel I found a shield, described as an emperor's shield forged long ago by a master armourer. I decided to take it with me; now, whenever I was wounded I could roll a dice, and on a 4, 5 or 6 the shield would protect me from 1 point of damage.
Further up the steps was an alcove, with the sound of shuffling feet coming from within. The only things with shuffling feet are zombies or song-and-dance men, and neither of those are good, so I kept on up the stairs. What I found there wasn't exactly pleasant either.
A FIRE DEMON! I had to fight it to escape from the cavern, and for most adventurers it would have been tough. Not only did it have a Skill and Stamina of 10, but in every round it had a chance of hitting me with its fiery whip. Unfortunately for the poor Fire Demon, my Bracelet of Skill gave me an effective Skill of 13, and I made short work of him. His whip almost got me on one round, but I was able to deflect it with my shield, and finish the battle unscathed.
Behind the Fire Demon was a throne, and next to his corpse was a crown. A couple of clones were bowing to me. I had the option of sitting on the throne, or wearing the crown, but there was no way. I know an instant death scenario when I see one. I hightailed it out of the cavern, and back to the surface.
I followed a path north, turned west at a junction, then turned north again, and continued until I spotted a stone building covered with ivy. The building had no windows, and the door was stone as well. With no key I thought I'd have to leave the place unexplored, but luckily I was able to charge the door down. (I needed to roll under both my Skill and Luck with two dice. My Skill was 12, which was no problem, but my Luck of 7 was a worry, so I drank my Potion of Fortune to raise it to 8. I rolled a 7, so I would have succeeded anyway, but it was best to be safe.)
Inside the building, stone steps led downwards. I followed them down into a crypt.
Lighting a candle I found in an alcove, I investigated the room. The skeleton of a goblin or an orc lay in the corner; I was all prepared for it to try to kill me, but it seemed that Ian was resisting the cliche for now. There was also a sarcophagus, which I decided to open. The slab on top was too heavy to budge, but with the Dust of Levitation that I had won from Quin I was able to look inside, and... SWERVE! I'd been worried about the skeleton outside, but inside the sarcophagus was a GHOUL!
Luckily I had a vial of holy water, which I splashed all over it. The ghoul retreated into a corner of the room, leaving me free to loot its coffin. To my delight, I found 25 gold pieces, and a bronze hammer head inscribed with the letter G. Gillibran's hammer was complete! Now all I had to do was get out of the forest, and my quest would be over.
I followed the path north, then east, then north again. I stopped when I saw the lair of some creature, and something glittering within. My quest was complete, and no doubt the dwarves would reward me handsomely, but... Shiny object! I had to have it! I bent down to pick it up...
A WYVERN popped out of its cave to shoot fire at me! I was lucky, though, and it missed. Then, some strange premonition came over me. I felt oddly compelled to pull out the flute that I had looted from a hobgoblin earlier, and start playing it, even though there was no logical reason that I should have done so. Despite the seeming madness of this act, it turned out that the flute was magical, and it put the wyvern to sleep.
It's lair proved to be something of a jackpot: a gauntlet, a throwing knife, 10 gold pieces and a gold ring. I tried on the gauntlet, and was pleased to discover that it was a Gauntlet of Weaponskill, which would give me yet another +1 to my Attack Strength. Not all that useful so close to the conclusion of my quest, but handy nonetheless. Then I got cocky, and put on the ring. It was cursed, a Ring of Slowness that would subtract two from my Attack Strength. I was effectively back to my starting level, my meager Skill of 12. However would I cope? (At this stage of the series, I can afford to be glib about a loss like this. It won't be long before this sort of thing will be a sure-fire death sentence.)
Cursed back to being awesome instead of super-awesome, I continued north, and was soon ambushed by five scruffy yet oddly polite bandits. They demanded five objects to let me pass, and I was honestly too tired to be bothered fighting them. I gifted them with a kingly treaasure: some garlic buds, two maggot-ridden biscuits, a necklace of mouse skulls, and a throwing knife. Enjoy.
With that, I was out of Darkwood Forest, and in the village of Stonebridge. The dwarves seemed quite suspicious of me when I asked to see Gillibran. One of them even asked about my wounds, which was pretty weird, because I could have sworn I didn't have any. Gillibran was looking miserable, but he perked up considerably when I gave him the hammer. Now his people would be able to fight the Trolls, though why they couldn't do this without the hammer is never really explained.
As I'd hoped, Gillibran gave me a hefty reward: a rad winged helmet worth hundreds of gold pieces, and a box full of jewels. I was now wealthy beyond my wildest dreams, and one gamebook closer to competing my goal.