Oxfam bringing joy once again

A short while ago I had a fairly major find in Canterbury Oxfam and today I had a similarly big hit in the Oxfam Books shop just down the road from that place. My eyes lit-up when I saw a thick section of green in the kids titles, curiously some brown too which I’m unfamiliar with…

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The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was a very early edition, I think it only listed the first three titles as being available in the series, but I left that on the shelf for some other lucky person. And although I have yet to add Appointment With FEAR to my collection, I’m not after the Wizard editions so that stayed there too, Freeway Fighter I have recently acquired on eBay as it’s my next book to read at the time of writing… so what did I actually pick up in the end?

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Handily, with these books I’ve filled an imminent gap, with my collection now taking me almost up to book 22, Robot Commando, ironically with Appointment With FEAR being the only title missing up to that point. As with my previous big haul, these books appear to be from an abandoned collection once owned by a ‘Lionel Cornish’. Seems Mr. Cornish once held these books in great esteem, writing ‘KEEP OFF’ on one inside cover, but then reduced his interest to the point of being willing to accept £1.95 for it.

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Well, they’re mine now, Cornish. All mine.


Space Assassin – Part One

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Space Assassin

Looming above your home planet is the vast hulk of the starship Vandervecken. Aboard, the crazed scientist Cyrus is planning to unleash a gruesome experiment upon your world, which will destroy all life as it is known, leaving only hideous mutations in its wake. YOU are an assassin, and your mission is to stop him – before it is too late!

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This is the Vandervecken, the immense spacecraft where utter maniac, Miley Cyrus, is conducting abhorrent experiments on humans and aliens alike. Stowing away on a supply craft, we make our way aboard, hoping to end her ultimate plans of destroying all life on our planet with viruses. We’re in luck too as we have a fairly strong character to do it with, although ironically one with sub-par Luck (12/17/9), as was detailed earlier we have some other stats to deal with too, an Armour score of 10 and 5 points to spend on weapons. I’ve gone for an Assault Blaster, which does 1D6 damage (3 points) and an additional 4 points of Armour (1/2 point each).

As the supply craft closed in on the Vandervecken, I spied a small iris airlock so I lept from the supply ship and floated over to my choice of covert entry point. So far, so good. Through the airlock we go and find ourselves in a small corridor ending in three doors, on the floor was a small pile of ‘organic refuse’, so of course, I had to have a rummage through it before continuing.

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A six-limbed, hunchbacked skeleton lay on the floor, a bloody trail leading from its body to the maintenance hatch on my right. In its hand was a small electronic device with one button on it, wires leading up the creatures arm into the remnants of a sleeve. Yes, apparently this small rat thing used to wear a shirt. Ignoring the fact this could well be the trigger to some sort of bomb I took the device from the creatures hand only to find the wires were attached to nothing. What seemed to be missing was a power source, so I took the incomplete device along with me. A trail of blood is always an interesting thing to follow, so I went through the right door to find out where our skeletal pal had come from.

What I found was soon to become an on-going theme – a long tunnel. This variety was a dark access tunnel filled with conduits and aluminum lattices cutting through the ship, this led down to another maintenance hatch off to the side, behind which I could hear muffled gurgling, the tunnel continuing into the darkness. I’m going to assume that the door is where the snappily dressed skeleton came from, so I opened up the hatch. A prison area was what laid before me, a faceless robot guard stood in front of two cells, a prime target to try out my Assault Blaster on. The poor lamb didn’t stand a chance at 7/6 I easily beat him and with a damage roll of 6, I one-shot him. After having splashed out on an Assault Blaster though, I was offered to loot one off this guard, a little annoying as I could have got me some grenades instead and I’m not even allowed to dual-wield them! Regardless, I took at look at the cells, the gurgling noise was emitting from this one and inside I found a battered old man, covered in scars and stitches. On seeing the door to his cell open to reveal the smoking remains of the guard, he started to talk, mostly babble following his obvious traumatic experiences, but did relay some interesting information about the pilot of the Vandervecken. He is actually a machine, not a man and should he ask me anything about ‘thinking or feeling’ I should just reply that I ‘don’t know’. Will do.

Moving onto the the next cell, it appeared to be empty on first impressions, but on closer inspection I realised I was incorrect as I was attacked by what appears to be a Furby for the cost of 1 Armour point. The thing scuttled up the wall and sat glaring at me, unfortunately I wasn’t given the option to blow it away, so I went back to the tunnel.

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Only a few more metres along the tunnel and I’d come across another hatch, this one feeling slightly warm. Behind the door were several large conduits running from floor to ceiling that were the source of the heat and behind them was a sliding door. Following this one through I found myself in a fashionably furnished room filled with couches and tables, and inhabited by two rodent-like beings in white lab coats sat reading electronic resource sheets. IT is a cushy job alright, but rather than blast these little guys, I decided to try and get some info from them and merely threatened them. They claimed innocence though, stating they were ‘humble scientists’ (now making me think of the South Park otters) and that Cyrus only seeks them out when he needs them, never the other way around.

Curiously, I ordered them to strip (!) and tied them up. As I did this though, I found sets of electronic keys on them and was able to use them on a security door leading out of their science lounge.

Another long corridor of  a hundred metres or so was ahead of me and I followed it along until a door to the left distracted me. What I had been distracted by was actually just a small kitchen, but in there I managed to scavenge a high-energy bar that would restore 5 Stamina points. I should also point out something I forgot to mention earlier, Space Assassin imposes an item limit on you, excluding weapons, allowing you to carry only five at any one time.

Leaving the kitchen I shortly came to the end of the corridor which culminated in a circular room occupied by a squat, tri-pedal robot armed with a pair of electric-lashes. ‘Halt: inspection point‘, it squawked at me. Having no time for trying bluffs, I opened fire on what was another easy encounter (7/6), although a very couple of rolls did actually see me take a little damage. I had a look through the remains of the robot, but found nothing except for what looked like a safe beneath its feet. Three coloured buttons were on the door; blue, red and green. I pressed them in the most logical order I could think of – red, green, blue. And yep, RGB did the trick and the safe popped open, a booby trap was waiting for me, but now disarmed I could take the Gravity Bomb and add it to my weapons collection. Ignoring the side-door, I continued straight ahead to find another long corridor, with yes, another side-door.

A small library of sorts was behind here, books, microfilm, resource sheets, all manner of scientific information was available. Three volumes were left out on a table and I had time to read through one of them. My subject choices were – molluscs, neurotoxins and robots. Knowledge of neurotoxins I figured would probably not help me if I was afflicted by them, molluscs were not entirely out of the question to be attacking me on this ship at some point, but given that I’d already seen two different robotic guards, I sat down and learned a little bit about robots.

Unsurprisingly the corridor continued ahead ‘for a very long while’ and the next side-door actually had a sign, ‘CEPHALO SQUIRRELS – HANDLE WITH CARE’. Space squirrels sound more fun than walking down a corridor for a long while, so I went inside.

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The poor little guys looked quite angry to be held within a small plastic cage, and to add insult to injury, some of them had inexplicably been shaved. What kind of monster shaves a squirrel? Cyrus, that’s who, and I am going to kill him.

A tyrannical despot is bent on destroying the world!

So, one of the sci-fi books… Space Assassin isn’t the best reviewed book of the series, my favourite summary on the Reviews Archive being, ‘If you see it, get it if you want, but I wouldn’t myself‘. Truly glowing. However, the sci-fi Fighting Fantasy is bad equation doesn’t really work for me as I quite liked Starship Traveller, so I will refrain from forming an opinion before I get stuck in.

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Space Assassin is one from the ‘Presents’ series, our author this time is Andrew Chapman who Titanica tells me wrote the book after reading Warlock of Firetop Mountain when that was the only Fighting Fantasy book that existed, it sat around and got moulded by himself and eventually the publishers before it ended up in its current form. Save for reading it on a train somewhere, I have no real memories attached to this book. The cover always stuck in my head I guess, I always thought the armour looked like a pretty cool offspring of Stormtroopers and 40K marine armour.

In the absence of much else to say about the book before I dive in, I’m going to start detailing any special rules and a basic story set-up in the introduction before I write Part One.

The space assassin of the title is actually in reference to you, the reader. Our target and villain of the story is Cyrus, a tyrannical scientist who has been conducting bizarre and hideous experiments on humans, creatures, whatever he can find really, he is the Space-Josef Mengele. His mutant creations and robotic cohorts guard his huge starship, the Vandervecken and his next experiment is to release radioactive isotopes over our planet which will shower deadly viruses on all living things. Armed with a variety of weapons and twenty-seven different schools of alien and human martial arts, we are being sent to stop him.

A few new mechanics are in place to represent the sci-fi setting, the most important being in armour and weapons. Armour is a 6+D6 value that works like a typical 2D6 Skill or Luck test, when you are hit in combat you roll against your armour, fail and you take damage, succeed and your armour absorbs the hit, either way you then lose one point from your armour value. This might seem to make things much easier, but some weapons can do 6 Stamina damage to you in a single hit. Weapon selection is done by spending 1xD6 points on a limited range of weapons, ranging from grenades to blasters, all doing varying damage. Provisions are also out, with Pep Pills taking their place, you begin the adventure with 4 of them, each restoring 5 Stamina and can be used at any time.

So we know who we’re after and we’ve got a pretty good idea how to kill him. I’ll see you shortly on the Vandervecken…


Talisman of Death – Conclusions

As far as story goes, Talisman of Death was a bit of a roller-coaster ride, it ripped along at a fair old pace and sent me through a pretty wide selection of scenarios. We started in the rift, travelled across the wilderness, explored a city, got hunted by demons, crashed a black-mass, went on a raid with thieves, crossed the wilderness again, a mini-dungeon crawl, a mountain climb, worked our way through jungle and then fought a dragon – it hardly gives you time to breathe! Whilst I did appreciate that this meant for very few dull moments, I did feel that maybe the book tries to do a bit too much. Some story directions I found more entertaining than others and I’d have liked to have spent longer on some locations or events than we did. For instance, I was very excited to combine City of Thieves-style street exploration with a cat-and-mouse chase between myself and the undead, only to then have the Talisman taken from me almost straight away. Ending this segment so soon was very disappointing, it was also disappointing to miss this memorable piece of art whilst being stalked through Greyguilds.

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During the latter stages of the book, I couldn’t help be reminded of Caverns of the Snow Witch in that it did seem to be a longer than average adventure, the journey out of Greyguilds to the mountain with Hawkana pursuing me in my dreams did drag a little compared to the rest of the book. Having commented on the length of the book, there were still plenty of choices I didn’t explore.


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My unexplored choices seems to have covered some of my favourite illustrations from the book, this elk-man thing looks particularly bad-ass in the sheeting rain…


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…this thing… I have no idea what the hell is going on here, it looks like something Kurt Russell should be burning alive…

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…I’m fairly sure this is the first (proper) boss from Demons’ Souls…

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…and this is the worlds derpiest looking triceratops.

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There’s also this great image of Smaug… I mean ‘the dragon’… having a snooze in his cave before we violently butchered him.

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I’ve been a bit critical of the book, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I read the whole thing in two short sittings and had many memorable encounters, particularly the excellent dragon battle finale. I just would have liked to see it expand upon its more interesting segments like infiltrating the evil cultists or solving the underground riddles of the ivory spear. A bit of a jack of all trades I guess that stops short of being excellent and ends up just being very good. It was pleasing to get a good ending, difficulty wise the book was pitched pretty well given how the book flows so easily, the main challenge coming from some of the combat as opposed to needing items or making hard decisions. Including restart points was a nice idea, but I imagine the majority of players have already got their very own checkpoints set by jamming fingers in pages, but legitimising it in the rules of the book will please some.

After Scorpion Swamp, I leave Talisman of Death with my faith restored in the non-Jackson/Livingstone books, I thought this one was in safe hands and overall I think my confidence was rewarded with a solid adventure.









Talisman of Death – Part 3

Back from the dead, we traipse along Trader’s Rows and down the storm drain again in search of the thieves guild who will hopefully help me steal back the Talisman of Death from evil hands. Only this time, I’m not going to catch a harpoon in the chest. For the cost of 2 Stamina the bolt glances off my shoulder and I make my way through the entrance to the Thieves Guild, a magnificently furnished room with some familiar faces from the Red Dragon lounging on sofas like a bunch of students in a common room. They leapt to their feet when I appeared, brandishing swords, but I deflected this aggression by calmly stating I had been invited. Not entirely believing me, I was soon speaking to their Guildmaster, a wonderfully moustached man known as Vagrant.

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To a stunned silence I made no attempt to hide my intentions and announced my desire to steal the Talisman of Death to the thieves. ‘We’ll mount an expedition before they move the Talisman’, said Vagrant suddenly – this was serious stuff now. He barked instructions at his crew and before I knew it, I was in a raiding party.

That evening I was led by the boys to the city roof-tops where we moved to a tall house, just below the top of the temple to Fell-Kyrinla. A hulking man named Bloodheart flung a grappling hook across and on the other side a slight man named Jemmy the Rat prised open a skylight and disarmed a poison dart trap, a quick descent down a rope and we were in. Unfortunately, we weren’t alone. An old servant, which in my mind I liken to the Butler in the Tomb Raider games, was shuffling along and although I couldn’t be sure he had seen us, I didn’t want to take the chance and knocked him out with my sword pommel. As I went to tie him up, one of the thieves stepped in and went to cut his throat. Call me a scumbag if you like, but I let him. For my sins I lost 1 Luck point, but I had earned us a clear route into the Inner Sanctum. Inside we found a raven haired woman praying at an altar, on top of which sat the Talisman of Death. ‘Hounds of hell! It’s Hawkana, the High Priestess!‘, shouted Jemmy the Rat, and within a blink of an eye, the thieves had all buggered off and left me there whilst Hawkana cast a spell, slamming the doors shut.

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Unhappy that I’d interrupted her chat with her goddess, Hawkana hit me for 3 Stamina points with a pillar of flame from the ceiling, I had however avoided the worst of it and now it’s my time to retaliate! Last time around I’d bought a Vial of Vapours of Speed and here I was about to get the big pay-off as I was given the chance to use it. I’m such a canny so-and-so, I got this covered. Or so would have been the case if the vial had contained anything more than the purest fresh air! I’d been scammed! Before I could act, Hawkana hit me again, this time a sword blow to the arm taking off 2 Stamina and then I was thrust into combat. With very strong stats indeed (12/14), I was pushed down to only 2 Stamina, my Skill of 10 meaning I had to take advantage of every hit I could muster with some good Luck rolls. First thing was to grab up the Talisman, gaining one of my lost Luck points back, however I noticed Hawkana starting to pick herself up from the pool of blood in which she lay. A ring on her hand glowed green as he wounds began to close, I swiped off what was a Ring of Regeneration and her resuscitation thankfully ceased and I regenerated 6 Stamina for myself. However, detached from Hawkanas magic, leaving the inner sanctum reduced the ring to a useless piece of metal. Regardless though, it was time to get the hell out of there, making for the roof-tops by which we entered. One thief, Bloodheart, disappointingly decided to try and quite literally stab me in the back but was taken down by a flurry of crossbow bolts fired by a group of pursuing warrior-women! I was able to manage the rest of my escape on my own without anyone having it in for me for once. This lasted for about 5 minutes.

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Remember Tyutchev and Cassandra? Well as soon as my feet hit the cobbled street from the roof-tops, there they were, waiting for me with a hideous squid creature hovering between them. Guys, please, gimme a break! The squid was called Thaum and he shifted shape into the man in flowing grey robes I saw earlier performing magic, whatever Thaum actually was, it was clearly a capable illusionist. A horrible looking troll with a hammer appeared, ‘Here is Harg‘, said Thaum. Harg swung his hammer at me, and I stood there unflinching only for Harg to vanish at the last second. Smiling, Thaum threw a fireball at me, which I decided was probably not as illusionary as I’d like, so I dived towards Tyutchev. In the spot I’d just been standing the fireball exploded, taking me for 3 Stamina and a bit of my clothing. Things got a bit out of hand from here on… Cassandra was upon me, Tyutchev had just been made invisible by Thaum and Thaum himself was probably about to fling more fireballs and conjure up some death-gnomes. It was time to turn to God for help. From a list of available Gods, I opted for the All-Mother, and in a stark contrast to real life, it worked!

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Plucked from the streets, I soared above my assailants in the talons of a great white eagle viewing a mountain in the distance, the voice of the All-Mother in my head, ‘That is Mount Star-reach, your goal. At the summit lies the portal that will take you back to your own world‘. My hope of being flown straight there was dashed as the eagle landed back in the city, presumably weighed down by the Talisman. Set down on Store Street, it was market day, so I knew the followers of the All-Mother would be on guard. I decided to lay low until nightfall, but naturally, that didn’t stop someone trying to hunt me down. This time a Dark Elf (8/8) tried to take me down but didn’t really slow me down, infact my pals in the All-Mothers watch were soon found and helped me through the gate and out of the city. One Luck point was mine, as well as a long walk up the side of a mountain.

After putting a few miles between myself and Greyguilds I took a rest and slept in a hayrack, 2 Stamina points restored. I hiked all day across the muddy plateau towards the mountain and before I knew it, night was falling again and I set up camp. In my sleep I had dreams of Hawkana in a funeral robe, her wounds still bleeding. She beckoned me in towards the Valley of Death. I woke shaken and drained, 2 Stamina points lost. Easy come, easy go. Looking a little bit Wuthering Heights-ish here is old Hawkana…

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The following night however, she caught up with me. In my sleep she drew me in and I was trapped in the spirit world, fighting her for a second time. Significantly weakened though at 10/12, she was a much more manageable opponent and she was defeated. All Stamina lost in the fight was restored when I woke. Hoping that would be the last time this frizzy witch would bother me, I trudged onwards.

A large shadow began to form on the ground beneath me, it looked like a bird. A big bird. Looking up, it was indeed a bird, only it didn’t look quite as friendly as the one sent by the All-Mother.

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Luckily though, as I ducked down to fight, it flashed overhead and missed me completely and then became distracted by a wild horse, which it flew off with in it’s talons. Eventually, I came to the base of the mountain, red-stone cliffs stood before me with a flight of stairs cut into the rock. A refreshing waterfall was a more inviting proposition at this point though, so I rested there for a while. Naturally, behind a waterfall needs to be checked to see if there are secrets and I found a hidden cave. Managing to light a damp torch, I explored the back of the cave and discovered a black wooden door, a centre panel depicting a red dragon spitting flame and an ivory spear. The doorway creaked open into a musty passageway that led onto a cross-road where I went straight-ahead.

Stepping into a circular room of bare rock I could see a small pillar in the centre, on closer inspection it bore the words -

‘Behind the symbol on the first door,
lies that which you risk your life for.’

Presumably this was pretty important as after I finished reading, the ceiling cracked open, pouring in water and a slab of rock started to close up my exit! A successful Skill test was needed to get me through the quickly narrowing gap. Through the door and further down the corridor was a large iron door, written upon which was, ‘Only one can be read‘. Inside were more stone pillars, circular, rectangular and square. Only allowed to read one I guess, so I went for the rectangular one -

‘Put yourself in the place of the monkey.
To the left is danger; the idle shall act.’

I don’t think I’m going out on too much of a limb here when I say I think I might have to make key decisions soon. I moved onward.

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And here it is! Damolh, son of the God Nil, Mouth of the Void stood before me in statue form before four doors. Now my first clue hinted that the first door was was bad (I’m risking my life for the Talisman of Death), the second clue suggested the same, that left of the monkey was dangerous, so being at a bit of a loss, I went for the Dragon as we’d already seen the image of one on the entrance to these caves. Inside was a crypt of some sort, a sarcophagus sat at the end just begging to be opened up!

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The front door of the caverns helped me make my mind up again here as I was given the option of taking one of the weapons held by the inhabitant of the sarcophagus, an ivory spear was depicted, so that was what I made off with. Am I gonna be killing a dragon with this by any chance? Oh look at that, the spear had the word ‘Dragonsbane’ carved into the shaft… Who’d have guessed! An obligatory encounter followed as it goes almost without saying that the ex-owner of the spear came to life and offered a modest, if brief, challenge at 8/10. Noticing the base of the sarcophagus was hollow, I followed that route forward, a shaft of daylight leading me back out onto the mountain, some way above the roaring waterfall.

Avoiding crashing rocks as I climbed higher, the environment began to change as I entered a more humid, almost tropical region. I always thought it got colder as you went higher, but what do I know? In this new rainforest location, my clothes clung with perspiration and before I could gain my bearings I was besieged by wild Hogmen, I tried to help them understand I meant no harm. Genius that I am, I offered them some of my provisions, turns out though that they didn’t particularly want to eat salted pork! They took the to see their leader…

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I was honest about my predicament and it seemed to do the trick, the Hoglord (what an awesome name!) said we could help each other out. My route to the portals on top of the mountain was blocked by an ancient Red Dragon that had been destroying the villages of the Hogpeople, if it happened to die, nobody would miss it. Any man who attempted to fight the beast would certainly be roasted by it’s flaming breath though and the only way to combat this was to fashion a shield from some of the beasts scales, Hoglord gave me Gum of the Amber Pine with which to do just this. We dined on guavas, mangoes and nuts for 2 Stamina points and I bid them farewell as I headed towards the sulphur-scented dragons lair atop the mountain.

Maneouvering by torch-light along a large, smooth-walled tunnel, the smell of sulphur continued to fill my nostrils. To the side I could see a narrow passage though and decided a more concealed route was the clever option. Good choice too as I had managed to sneak up on a sleeping dragon! The cavern had opened up massively and the 18-metre long beast lay snoozing on a pile of treasure, some of it’s scales were also littered around the floor and so I snatched up a few for my secret weapon.

Sneaking ahead, I left the caverns, shield nicely glued together and in the distance I could see the portal! Before I could get too enthusiastic about skipping the dragon altogether, a rush of wind preceded the red dragon landing next to it, ‘I am bound by the Gods to guard the portal’, it said.

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No point wasting time chatting though, I plunged straight into an attack, my shield doing its job against the blasts of fire sent my way, my Skill helping me avoid a swipe of claws and my spear helping me to maximise my damage, increasing my output to 5 Stamina damage per hit, a necessary boost as the dragon was obviously very powerful (12/20). On reducing the dragon to 5 Stamina though, the creature turned into an old man, begging me to spare him, claiming that he had been cursed to take the form of a dragon until he was beaten in combat. Not buying it for a second I jammed my spear into him, blood spurting from his fatal wound before he proved my point by reverting into his normal form of a dragon.

With a prayer to the All-Mother, I stepped through the portal, the Talisman heavy at my chest. All went dark and then I was within a circle of stones, I had found my way back to Earth. As I left Orb a hero, the two beings who summoned me, Time and Fate, left me with the words – ‘We may call upon you again!’.

My adventure was over.