The Seven Serpents – Part 1

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Sorcery #3

The Seven Serpents

Seven deadly and magical serpents speed ahead of you to warn the evil Archmage of your coming. Will you be able to catch them before they get there?

Apparently, this one is a hard one.

Ok, we’re half-way through now so to re-cap, I am trying to reclaim the crown of kings before the evil Archmage of Mampang can use it for something unmentionably evil, our journey has led us over the Shamutanti Hills and through the very bowels of the city of Khare. Now, on the edge of the Baddu-Bak Plains we pick up the story in The Seven Serpents. Look, here’s a map, work it out yourself, why do I have to do everything?

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Travelling out of Khare it became obvious that conditions were going to be harsh, a barren wasteland surrounded by desolation and a whole load of nothing. An hour later and all I had was a blank horizon to look at. I suddenly became very aware that my Stamina was still in single figures after the last book and I had absolutely nothing to eat or drink with me. Although having said that, if things get bad, I do have a bottle of poison to quench my thirst. Before I could continue contemplating suicide on the first page of the book I had a more immediate issue to deal with, from out of nowhere four Nighthawks were circling and preparing to attack. I see, page 1 and something is already trying to kill me, that’s how it’s gonna be, huh?

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Given my precarious Stamina situation, I steered away from magic and leaned on my able sword-arm. The Nighthawks all had a Skill of 7 so I was easily able to make it through the required three attack rounds before turning to the next reference where I was given a brief respite from my situation by a Goldcrest Eagle who came shrieking into my battle and ripped one of the Nighthawks to bits, the rest of them fleeing into the clouds. My eagle buddy had been sent to deliver a message by the King of Analand which he delivered by dropping a sealed scroll at my feet. Beats a pigeon, that’s for certain.

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And so here we have the goal of this book… seven serpents are speeding towards my enemy with information on me and my arrival and I’m guessing I have to kill these scaly gits. Seven sounds like a lot. Oh god. Anyway, as you may remember, from the previous book, a blind beggar sent me into this one with a little something to help me out, a Serpent Talisman. The power this talisman gave me was one of control over these serpents, when I meet them I am to deduct 14 from the page reference and they will reveal a secret piece of information to me. Beyond that, I don’t know what to expect from them, so as the letter indicates, Shadrack should be my first port of call, wherever he might be.

Several hours of walking later and a solitary leafless tree creeped up from the horizon. Taking a moment to rest under its branches, I began to hear a voice speaking to me, the trees branches forming the face of an old man. It spoke of Shadrack and that he was waiting for me to the east at Fishtail Rock. Seems legit, so I headed east.

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And would you believe it, the tree was right.

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Although on closer inspection, the face I had seen appeared to be that of Shadrack himself, his powers allowing him to deliver his message via the branches of a dead tree. I was greeted warmly and he explained that he would help me with whatever I needed and all he wished to know was of recent events within Khare. We talked of the outside world and thankfully, he gave me a meal to eat whilst I filled him in on the latest goings on in Khares sewers. Once that was covered, we came onto my goal and I found that the seven serpents were once attached to a hydra slain by the Archmage, twelve years ago. Black magic resurrected the heads as seven winged serpents that became his servents, each bestowed with a single power – that of the sun, moon, earth, fire, air, water and time respectively. However, each one also comes with a weakness. Shadrack was able to tell me one of these weaknesses, the air serpent has the ability to leave its body and turn into a puff of gas, during this time it’s body is vulnerable and should be destroyed as it will die if it cannot return. Adding 3 Stamina to the 2 I already gained from the meal, I stayed the night in Shadracks cave and he sent me on my way with the gift of the Galehorn, an item that will let me cast a wind spell. An all-round good egg that Shadrack.

I rejoined the path I had originally been following before the tree advised deviating and I wasn’t alone for long when a cloud of distant dust began to get closer and closer, three riders were approaching, the horses creating the cloud eventually became clearer and it was now obvious that they were in-fact centaurs.

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Keeping things friendly, I didn’t leap into combat and talked to them, they announced themselves as Baklands Horsemen and asked my purpose for being out here. I skirted around the details of my quest and said I was headed for the Forest of Snatta in the north. One asked another about seeing if I had any valuables worth taking, but this idea was shut down quickly as their leader was seemingly afraid of someone willing to walk in the plains alone. He asked if I was a Sorcerer, which I confirmed and made up some nonsense about casting a Luck spell on them. I faked a spell-casting, which they were naively delighted to receive, in return they offered to take me to one of two nearby attractions, the snake charmer to the north-west or the caravan to the north-east. I opted for the former and off we rode.

A strange musical wailing met me as the horsemen rode off, not wanting to meet Manata the snake-charmers pets. Manata has what can only be described as an unconventional existence. Here he is, miles from anyone in the middle of the desert, sitting in a pit, playing a flute to some snakes. What a life.

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I shouted down to him and found him to be reasonably pleasant, he unsurprisingly spoke with a bit of a lissssssp and invited me to hop down into the pit with him. Perhaps a risky move, but I went with it. We had a chat, but it quickly became obvious that he wasn’t going to be much help to me, however he did offer to exchange a bottle of holy water for an item in my inventory. I proposed a counter-offer, I would kill him, keep my stuff and take his. Predictably this meant killing his snakes too, all six of them, but with Skills ranging between 5-7 and Stamina 1-4, they didn’t provide their master with any meaningful protection and the charmer himself was no issue at 6/7. I continued on my journey with a brand new bottle of holy water and a bamboo pipe.

Continuing on a north-westerly direction, night soon fell and I spent a fairly miserable, if uneventful, night under the stars and gained 2 Stamina for it. Sticking to my current heading I eventually came across evidence of civilisations past and a crumbling ruin appeared over the cusp of an incline.

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No evidence suggested what this building had been for or who had made it, but on venturing inside, a set of hieroglyphics potentially offered a clue. I set about trying to transcribe them, but on conducting a quick safety check with a SUS spell, I understood that all reading the hieroglyphics would do was trigger a trap so I left well alone and turned my attention to a nearby trapdoor. Creaking open the ancient passage down, light streamed down a flight of stairs revealing an extremely startled, bearded old man and an awful smell. Desperately happy, he explained his situation, he had been the priest of the temple and had been imprisoned in his own building by Klattamen, whatever they are, who had ransacked the place, taking anything of value. Now it seems odd to have a half knackered temple in the middle of a desert… who worships there exactly and how has this man survived?! Regardless, I was in a charitable mood and agreed to release him, smashing his flimsy chains with my sword. Beside himself with joy, he was able to help me out by telling me about the weaknesses of two serpents. The moon serpent is weak to fire and the earth serpent is powerless when not in contact with the ground.

Unbeknownst to us though, the old man was sick with yellow plague, which I assume was the reason for the smell. In helping him, the disease had been passed over and at the end of every day 3 Stamina will be lost until a cure can be found. And here we end part one… we might be diseased, hungry and alone in a desert, but we know how to kill three of the seven serpents. I’m calling that a win.

Now where the hell are they?

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Khare – Cityport of Traps – Conclusions

I write this one up after a holiday and so I’m sitting with my book trying to remember just exactly what the hell happened in this part whilst the streets and hills of Los Santos are trying to pry me away.

What I do remember is that I certainly enjoyed the book and that the quality and feel of the series continues to remain high after The Shamutanti Hills, which I enjoyed a great deal. With Khare though, I did have a few problems too. The lesser of these problems was down to my own expectations if I’m honest. I was hoping for another City of Thieves style experience, but I seemed to spend most of my time in the outskirts of the city or underneath it in the sewers! Having said that, while the sewer section was a bit boring, the small, ramshackle huts scattered around the city outskirts were very colourful and I had some great encounters there, especially the bizarre Flayer chef. I think that I missed this one though, a great little bunch of characters were drawn for this group or half-orc children.

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I think my biggest problem was some of the puzzles, as I mentioned in my read-through, the main culprits being the guillotine, rune puzzle and the order of the spell lines. I would be interested to know if the pulleys and ropes in the guillotine puzzle illustration actually correspond to the outcome? I simply lost interest when I realised how much time I was potentially going to waste trying to figure it out! I am informed by a reader that the rune puzzle corresponds to numbers on the face of a dice, personally I would have never made that connection in a million years. And with the spell, the lines seem to flow in any number of combinations making solving that puzzle pure guess-work, which I don’t think is ever a good thing. Unless I missed something that tells you the order in which they fit together?

Despite this though, the fact the book was a bit harder than The Shamutanti Hills made up for these issues, that there was actually something for me to work towards and search for meant there was a great deal more tension, especially as I neared the end of the book. It’s just a shame that I messed up and forgot my Flanker reference or I’d have made it all the way through in one uninterrupted go!

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The illustrations generally continued to be of a high quality, but before I go onto some of the better ones I missed, there has to be mention of some of the half-arsed ones. Some encounters seemed to be accompanied by what should have been incidental illustrations to space out the text, but blown up to be full-page drawings, much like this one.

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Compared to the supremely detailed scenes that decorate the rest of the book, it was a shame to see some pages with so much white space. To get us back on track, here’s one encounter that like the Harpies, I had previously only been aware of from Out of the Pit, the severely messed-up Living Corpse.

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Images of the city itself were something I would have liked to see more of, like this brilliant, higgledy-piggledy scene with the wonderful little cat scampering across the street.

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What there were plenty of though were interiors, lots of shops, inns and residences were detailed in this book and even though I encountered plenty, there were still many I never visited. The first one in particular looks very intriguing – so much detail!

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And the last one there, with its magic paintbrush, very much makes me think of that wonderfully creative quest from Oblivion.

To finish up, here’s a happy looking fish to send you on your way.

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Next step, the apparently hard-as-nails, The Seven Serpents. Never-fear though, I have a ring a blind man gave me!

Khare – Cityport of Traps – Part 3

Gravestones were scattered around the graveyard that stood before me, in the middle of which was a large stone crypt. Above the doorway was a sign which read ‘HERE RESTS LORD SHIVA – FIFTH NOBLE OF KHARE‘. So given all I’ve learned, at this stage I’m pretty certain a line of the North Gate spell is hidden somewhere inside and so I pressed on. Before I could enter though, a shimmering circle of darkness lay on the ground along the overgrown path leading into the crypt. A quick Luck test and I hopped over it. Flinging the door open, I jumped inside and found the entrance room to be quite small and quite empty, save for a small staircase that led down further. Damp air, dripping water and a stench of decay were the first things I discovered. A coffin was the next thing I noticed and with a sudden creaking sound it was a coffin whose lid was starting to slide open! To make things worse, from an alcove in the dark, I was joined by this abomination…

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Too shocked to cast a spell, I readied my sword and began combat with the 9/8 Deathwraith. Unfortunately, my sword literally just couldn’t cut it, a silver weapon was needed to harm this thing and so all I could do was buy time. On winning an attack round I simply bought myself a Luck roll. Having no other option available to me, it was time to call upon Libra. Blinding light shot down the stairwell, seemingly being emitted by the radiant figure of a woman, whom I’m guessing is this Libra chick I apparently worship. She’s a bit of a badass though as all she needed to do was point at the coffin and the terrified Deathwraith slid into the coffin, it’s life-force apparently being drained. And all of a sudden, everything was quiet and it was done.

As soon as I took a second to relax, the coffin began to open again, but this time, instead of a Deathwraith appearing, a man climbed out. A very old man. He thanked me profusely, he had been trapped and tormented as the living dead for so long he felt he owed me a debt. We spoke of my quest and as I’d hoped, he did have a line of the spell for me – ‘One lock made out of Golem’s hide’. It turned out that he had another little bit of information, a rhyming couplet that read ‘For sleeping of the sleepless Ram; Seek out the one they call The Sham’. I had no idea what he was wittering on about, but I earned 2 Luck points for my discovery.

Now I really was leaving the centre of Khare, city streets were turning back into the huts I saw on my way into the city itself, I was off the cobbles and onto a dirt track. Stopping to give a gold piece to a blind beggar, things got lively again.

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I always wondered where the slightly freaky image of the Harpy in Out of the Pit came from, now I know, it comes from right now as Harpies descended upon the old guy from the skies, his possibly paranoid cries telling me they were after his gold. I think they were just being dicks. Combat time, but as I hadn’t used any magic for a while, I thought it was time for a spell! Being quite flush at the moment (as nobody seems to want to sell me any god-damn provisions!), I cast WOK, which instead of summoning a furry bro from Kashyyyk, turned one of my gold pieces into a shield. For the duration of the next fight I could deduct 2 from my enemies Attack score. This could potentially be quite handy as even though the harpies weren’t very strong (7/6, 6/6) I was being assisted by the beggar who was unsurprisingly rather weak (2/8) and I wanted to keep him alive so they had to die as quickly as possible. Lots of Luck rolls to nuke them with maxed out damage later and my new buddy made it through, but with only 2 Stamina left!

This man was a good man to help. After the fight he told me he was once a Noble of Khare and had suffered a pretty major fall from grace to where he is now. Indeed, he had a line of the spell to share with me, ‘By Courga’s grace and… ‘someones‘ pride’. Yes, he couldn’t actually remember that bit, but he did tell me that the god of grace had a temple nearby and I should be able to find the name of the god there. He gave me a tip for that too ‘the left eye leads the way‘. As a final gesture he gave me a silver ring, fashioned as a serpent which has a page reference attached to it for use in the next book!

Having now left Khare-proper, the North Gate sat before me in all its terrific splendour; gargoyles and stuff making it all like, impressive and shit. But I still had a temple to hit! The Shrine of Courga was to presumably be my final destination. A vast, echoing entry-way greeted me, giant stone gargoyles leaning into the room over multi-coloured depictions of Khares mythology, accompanied by presumably very valuable ornaments and beautiful tapestries. Standing on an altar was a large golden statue of Courga.

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Before I got onto that though, I decided it was time for a little magic. I cast my SUS spell which would help reveal traps, and indeed I did find a dark circle on the ground before the idol that I would me mindful of. I then turned my attention to the valuables! Rather comedically as I picked up an attractive looking gold chalice, the gargoyles hanging above me predictably began to creak into life, I replaced the chalice and they went back to sleep. Problem solved. And so, the idol was next and as you can see in the illustration, he bore an instruction ‘On Courgas face you kiss a cross and finish with the lips, for answers to your questions must not err or else me spits’. A cross, you say? As I’d learned earlier I should start with the left eye and avoid the cheeks, so I went left eye, right eye, forehead, lips. Bingo! Worked a charm. The idol spoke to me and granted me a question, wanting to complete the third spell line I asked the name of the god of pride, ‘Fourga‘ was my answer. I left the temple and headed towards the gate.

Of course, the gate was heavily guarded, I guess they don’t want it being opened given the evil stuff that’s out there. But being the responsible adventurer that I am, those gates are getting opened anyway. I cast a DUD spell, temporarily disguising a worthless piece of my inventory as something infinitely more valuable and used it as a bribe to get the guards out of the way. I think I used my Bomba apple, my notes are in another county at the moment. Regardless, it worked and I moved onto the gate! As I approached the gate, a phantom voice spoke to me, asking for the spell… the fact I only had three of the four lines was a problem. I was instructed to start again.

My adventure was over.

However, as I prepared to start over again, maybe explore the port this time, maybe avoid getting showered in sewer poo, I realised I’d screwed something up. In my notes I realised I’d missed a bit! Flanker was to meet me at two page references in the book, I had been to both of these references, but only remembered to turn to the relevant page on one of those occasions! So we have a loose thread, lets pull on it a bit…

All the way back to the festival we go and this time amidst all the dancing and fighting, I bump into Flanker. Who’d have thought it! And yes, as we start conversation, he almost instantly tells me of a friend who may know a line to the spell. D’oh. Lortag the Elder was his name and I headed over to his hut.

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Three raps on his giant brass knocker and he came over to see me with slight apprehension, he asked for my weapon before he would let me enter, perhaps foolishly I agreed and went in unarmed. As Flanker promised, this chap did know a line to the spell, but he wanted me to help him solve a puzzle first. A number of runes lay on the table before him, as you can see in the illustration, but one more followed in the sequence and he wanted to know which of the following it was.

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Now I’ll be totally honest here, I didn’t have a bloody clue as to what I was looking at. Complete and utter guesswork to the right answer followed. 274 was the correct one, the runes apparently matched those on a gambling die and I am still none the wiser. Anyway, the now happy-chappy Lotag gave me his spell line, ‘So tumblers two sealed deep inside‘. I left his hut and followed the path round until I arrived at the chapel I visited in part one. And there we have it, I now had a path to the end that had me gather all four lines of the spell. Back to the gate we go…

The four spell lines need to be placed in the correct order and three of them contain a number, which together give a page reference. After a brief mental fumbling around I realised that ‘Fourga’ was meant to represent ‘four’, and so I came up with this…

So tumblers two sealed deep inside,

One lock made out of Golem’s hide,

By Courga’s grace and Fourga’s pride,

I bid you, portals, open wide,

…and turned to 214. To be honest though, the lines fit together in just about any order, but we got there in the end. With a big creaking sound, the gates opened up for me.

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The Baklands awaited me and as I had been told at the start, from this point onwards, my progress will be watched… ooo.