At the end of your long trek, you face the unknown terrors of the Mampang Fortress. Hidden inside the keep is the Crown of Kings – the ultimate goal of the Sorcery epic!
Oh boy, here we go then, this one is a big one. In every sense of the word too, coming in at 800 references it’s the longest Fighting Fantasy book by a distance and it’s also the culmination of an adventure I’ve been on for nearly four months now. As a consequence, this one might run on a bit longer than usual. I typically write three 1,200-1,500 word parts for my write-ups, but I have a feeling this one could run to four, perhaps even five parts if I stick to accounting every choice and mistake. We shall have to see how it pans out!
I’ll start off by saying this is easily my favourite of the Sorcery covers, there’s so much vibrant colour and detail, the green and purple of the Archmage is a wonderful contrast and I’d spent ages looking at the image before I’d even seen the small face rising in the smoke. The Seven Serpents came to a close after the battle with the time serpent and whilst he was taken down, two more serpents made it through to Mampang, so unlike the previous books I am not carrying over any advantage into this one. If I may bore you with the map again, we pick things up after having traversed Lake Ilklala and are now in the Zanzunu foothills, making our way through Low Xamen.
Trekking through muddy pathways, curiously marked by hoof-prints, I picked my way across the rocky landscape. Night was starting to settle in and a brewing storm hastened my search for a safe place to rest. A bit of luck came my way as in the side of a ridge were three caves that could serve as a place to stay the night. One big one, another of a similar size, but with those curious hoof-prints leading into it and one smaller cave.
My choice was the larger cave without an ungulate inside. I slowly maneuvered myself inside a cave which was so deep I couldn’t actually see the back of it. Knowing I may not be the only one who wanted to shelter from the elements I decided to explore a little further down before I could allow myself to drop my guard completely and catch some sleep. Predictably, whilst fumbling through the dark and rocks, my foot kicked something soft and I was suddenly struck in the chest for a loss of 2 Stamina. Utterly confused, I ran back to the entrance of the cave so as to get a good look at whatever it was that I was now being pursued by. The distinct black and white fur told me that I’d wandered into the sleeping quarters of a Skunkbear!
Relying on my sword arm against a relatively weak foe (7/6) I wasn’t particularly tested, but slightly worryingly I was told to turn to a new page after winning my 2nd attack round. The important idea here was the ‘skunk’ part of my enemies name, he turned his backside towards me and released a horrendous stench into the cave which caused me to start gagging and thus take the rest of the fight with a -2 Skill penalty. Not such a big deal really, I only needed one more hit to kill him and that was just what I did. After taking a quick breather outside whilst the skunkbear odour filtered out, I settled down in the cave and got some shut-eye as the storm broke and the rain pelted down through the night. Having not eaten the day before, the benefit of rest was seriously impared and I actually ended up losing 1 Stamina overall.
Leaving the cave as the sun started to make a welcome appearance through the clouds I followed a narrow trail which led me through a very steep climb until it divided. To the right the path continued up the mountainside, to the left a narrow rope bridge provided a crossing over a gully. Not being a pussy, I opted for the rope bridge. Unfortunately, my bravery was met with a compulsory Luck test. At this point I believe my Luck was dwindling at 8 and I failed the roll. My foot slipped and went through the ropes but I managed to grab onto the side before I fell to my death. To continue I had to complete a Skill test, which was easily done due to my rather healthy Skill of 10, I kept hold of the now swaying bridge and made it all the way across.
Along the other side as I continued my ascent I could see what appeared to be a very large birds nest, which I decided to leave well alone. Now I’m still actually unclear if the nests are related, but I was suddenly very aware of a shape in the sky, a shape I had already encountered at the start of The Seven Serpents. The Xamen Birdmen are those responsible for stealing the Crown of Kings for the Archmage in the first place and one was hurtling through the sky towards me.
Probably too late now, but I took the chance that the thing might not have seen me and hid behind a bush. A fairly ridiculous tactic; one thing birds generally have going for them is good eye-sight and so I was suddenly in combat. A little spell-casting this time though, I opted for the SAP spell, designed to demoralise your opponent. It worked a treat too as a 2 Stamina cost made the big feathery idiot fly away and leave me be. And let that be a lesson to you! Moving on, the shadow of Mampang Fortress became larger and larger, I was set to reach it before nightfall at this rate. However, I was offered the chance to rest briefly in a sheltered alcove and have a bite to eat. Although I have no food, a little sit down can’t be turned down. My alcove chill-out zone had been used before though, a message had been written on the wall in dye –
Heed this warning! Proceed no further towards the curse that is Mampang. Every step you take in its direction takes you one step nearer eternal damnation. For I, Colletus, have been there and back and know the truth of its ways. If you do not turn back, you may find me at the Groaning Bridge. You must save you own soul before it is too late. -Colletus
Well nobody told me about eternal damnation when I set off… sigh. Groaning Bridge though? Ok, gotcha.
With Mampang so very close I continued further, my path leading out onto a rocky plateau atop a crevasse. One direction took me towards what appeared to be a rope swing. Now I know a little bit about Steve Jackson by now and in no way am I going to cross a crevasse on a knackered old rope swing, that route clearly ends up in a mangled heap of bone and blood. So I continued onward to find a safer route across, and would you believe it, a wooden bridge. It only occurs to me now as I type that if a perfectly good wooden bridge were available, why would a rope swing have been created? In the absence of this rational thinking, I gave the bridge a go. Oddly, as I began to put my weight on it, the bridge began to vocalise! ‘Oooooooo! Ahhhhhhh!’, said the bridge. I guess this is the Groaning Bridge then? No sign of Colletus the pessimist though… Continuing across I became vaguely amused by the complaints of the bridge until all of a sudden, the complaints stopped. They stopped because the bridge had suddenly vanished from beneath my feet and I was plummeting to the same mangled bone and blood death I had hoped to avoid.
Rather unsure as to what had happened there, but either way, my adventure was over.
So, let’s try that again shall we? Further along from the Groaning Bridge was another route I could follow, although this one had been blocked by rockfall which I elected to cllimb over and managed successfully, except for a small slip which cost me a twisted ankle and -1 Stamina. The rocks had actually fallen from a small landslip which created a natural crossing pint over the crevasse which led me into Mampang itself! My lucky landslide was one of many however and as I progressed along the Fortress side of the crevasse I was soon in danger of being swept away by a fresh fall.
Magic to the rescue, the most appropriate spell seeming to be WAL, which for a pricey cost of 4 Stamina created an invisible barrier which the rocks piled up behind, allowing me to carry on uninhibited.
What lay before me truly was the final stage of my journey, a bridge that took me into a volcanic chamber which housed the entrance to Mampang Fortress!
Finally, we’re here! Next time we might even go inside, exciting times indeed…