Not far away are two potential shelters from the downpour: an inn and a mill. The inn being the more obvious choice, I decide to check out the mill instead. It appears deserted when we peer through a window, but when Paido ascends a rickety staircase to a platform jutting from the mill wall, he comes to an abrupt halt and puts his hands up. The Mongoose text helpfully points out that he looks as if he's surrendering, lest I assume that he's chosen to start playing charades at a woefully inappropriate moment, and adds that I sense danger, no doubt to keep me from making the all-too-common error of thinking that he's surrendering to something completely benign and unthreatening.
I don't have the Discipline of Invisibility (and have no intention of getting it before at least book 10), so sneaking up on whoever has ambushed Paido isn't an option. All I can do is watch as the spear-wielding individual who surprised Paido demands an explanation for his trespassing, and is answered with an unexpectedly loud yell that blasts him through the platform's parapet and onto a convenient compost heap. Paido explains to me that he used a Vakeros power-word, a special ability I am slightly peeved to note was not available to me when playing the character of Paido in the mini-adventure accompanying the Mongoose edition of Jungle.
We can search the mill or continue on our way through the filthy weather. The behaviour of the man with the spear suggests that there might be something dodgy going on here, so I think we'd better investigate. But the mill turns out not to be in use by some criminal gang, dodgy cult or other such dubious group - it's just being used to grind corn and house the man who threatened Paido. I wonder what could be going on in the region to have prompted such a hostile reaction from the miller. Not that he's going to be any more hospitable in future, as I do slightly borrow the map of Tharro that he has in his room (though I let him keep his food and axe).
Now we have to resume our rain-drenched trudge north. The road descends into a valley, in which a track leads east. A signpost indicates that it leads to Topham, a place too insignificant to appear on the map in the front of the book. Despite more of the mildly insulting over-clarification, the Mongoose text is better here, because it fixes a pretty serious error in the original version: one of the choices given at the end of the section has been duplicated from another section on the same page, so rather than having the option of ignoring the side turning and continuing north, I must either go east or help Paido fight off the attackers who won't actually be bothering him until the end of this adventure.
Still, the fact that I can now see where to turn if I don't want to take the detour is not in itself sufficient incentive to keep me from investigating the dangers and/or treasures that might be found in Topham. The track leads us to a few cottages and an abbey, and we get there just in time to see a group of brown-robed monks lowering a coffin into one of several freshly-dug graves. Divination alerts me to the fact that they are communicating telepathically in a language I don't understand, and that our presence makes them uneasy. The Mongoose text also points out that, while the monks of this region are notorious gluttons, the group here are all looking distinctly malnourished.
For the sake of another point of Healing, I also ask about the barge, which costs just half the price of a consultation with the Prophetess. If I were thinking about taking it, I'd want to know if that's the cost for the two of us or per person.
Slightly carelessly, both sections covering asking the old woman a question give the option of asking the other question without specifying 'if you have not already asked'. The loophole-exploiting sort of player could thus keep alternating between the two questions until Healing restored all the damage taken in that fight.
Still some way short of full health, I wait by the river for an hour. The ferry arrives, and I learn that the price the woman gave me was per person. But if I were going to get on the boat, Paido would pay his way. The book does give me the option of not boarding the barge even if I can afford it, but doesn't explain why we spent all that time waiting for a ferry we had no intention of catching. Funnily enough, in the very next section, Paido points out that we ought to get a move on, as we want to reach Tharro before nightfall.
As we head back along the track, the book asks if I have a Lodestone. Acknowledging that I do have the blasted thing leads to my being informed that our horses become agitated as we near the abbey, forcing us to make a detour. I wonder what would have happened if the answer had been no. An ambush by the undead infiltrators?
Anyway, we get back to the Great North Road, which eventually brings us to another village that's not on the map. An old man in rusty armour blocks our way and demands that we pay a toll. Paido gets argumentative, and the old man indicates a placard, faded to illegibility, but with the Queen's seal still just visible, as proof of his authorisation. I show my Pass to prove that we're on royal business, but the man is too short-sighted to be able to read it, and proclaims it a forgery. He does hand it back, though, so I don't get to cross it off my inventory just yet.
Paido insults the man, and his yelling attracts the attention of a dozen villagers armed with farming implements. Before the situation can deteriorate further (incidentally, I've not been able to make a decision and influence the course of events since we passed up the second chance of going on the ferry), the old man offers a compromise: if we can solve his riddle, we can go. If not, we have to pay the toll. I'm confident enough in my riddling skills to accept his terms. And the riddle... I correctly solved the variant of it that appears in Deathtrap Dungeon on my first attempt, back when I was around half my current age. This version is no trouble.
Both publishers of this book were a bit careless with the art here, as their illustrations of the old man show no sign of the droopy moustache clearly mentioned in the text. And yes, the Mongoose edition does have another of those irritatingly pointless 'this is the section corresponding to the right answer to the puzzle you just solved' interjections. Still, Paido and I are at least allowed to resume our journey without further hassle.
At last we reach Tharro, and the text asks if I still have the Pass. Presumably it must be possible to lose the thing in the encounter with the old man. Hmm, wonder if it's possible to lose any other Special Item there. Like that blasted Lodestone. Or the Sommerswerd! Imagine that - Lone Wolf, multiple-times saviour of civilisation, forced to surrender the greatest magic sword in all the world to a crusty old codger for failing to work out the weight of a brick. I'd say that the books would never allow something that ludicrous to happen, but then I remember a certain Instant Death from later in the series. And the fact that it's technically possible (though almost as unlikely as winning Crypt of the Sorcerer by the rules) to be killed with a cabbage in book 18.
I do have the option of refusing to show the guard my Pass, but having been forced to use one of my inventory slots for the thing, I'm going to get what use I can out of it. Upon seeing Lord Adamas' seal, the guard salutes and lets us through (and in the Mongoose text I return his salute). Only two roads lead from this entrance into the town: Copperpiece Lane and Hog-Foot Run. The latter sounds more interesting.
At this late hour, most of the shops are closing, but we do encounter one which is open for business. It sells magical paraphernalia, and I decide to have a browse. My Kai abilities inform me that most of the items in stock are fakes, but there is a ring which radiates magical energy. It costs more than the ferry from Topham, but not as much as a meeting with the Prophetess. On the downside, I have no idea what it actually does, and it's probably a Special Item, which would take up my last free slot until such time as I can ditch the Pass and/or Lodestone. Best to leave it, I think. But spending a section looking in the shop has enabled Healing to finish bringing me back to full health.
Not before time, either: leaving the shop and continuing along the road brings us to the square outside the Temple of the Sword. On this occasion I do have a map of Tharro, which informs me that the nearby watchtower is called Shieldwarden Tower. Paido tells me that the Shieldwarden is the commanding officer of the town garrison. Anyone think that calling on the Shieldwarden will enable me to bypass the potentially lethal shenanigans in the Temple? No, me neither. And just in case whatever contrivance would force me back to the Temple involves Endurance loss, I shan't even try to visit the tower.
So, as before, we enter the Temple. I refuse the stew, but Paido eats (clearly having learned nothing from the incident at Topham). The black-robed monk reveals himself to be a Helghast, and I take the Combat Skill-boosting Alether before attacking. Do I risk using Psi-surge? Despite what happened last time, yes.
It wasn't worth it. I win the fight, but if I hadn't used Psi-surge, I'd have won just as quickly, and lost less Endurance in the process. Still, the important thing is that this time I'm the one who's not dead at the end of the fight.
Well, nothing bad happens, and after a bit we reach a spur of volcanic rock that acts as a causeway, giving us solid ground underfoot. The spur splits, giving a choice of continuing south or heading west. Having Nexus would be of help here, but I picked Psi-surge, didn't I? A peek at the rules reminds me that at the rank specified, Nexus provides protection from noxious gases, so I guess the atmosphere is going to get a bit unpleasant. Not that that gives any hint of the way I should go here. Still, I get the impression that the abandoned Temple we seek is in the middle of the Danarg, so west seems the better option.
Another two Vordaks drop down from their mounts onto the deck, and start attacking the skyship's superstructure, so I hurry over and make use of the Sommerswerd's ability to hack up undead. Unusually for a Lone Wolf book, these Vordaks have separate sets of stats rather than being treated as a single entity more powerful than a lone one of their kind (which is how the group of Vordaks at the Abbey were handled). One has a slightly higher Combat Skill than the other, but the difference isn't enough to make using Psi-surge against the superior Vordak worthwhile. I kill the first with one blow, taking no damage myself, and achieve an identical result against the second.
More Vordaks arrive, this lot concentrating on Paido. As I move to assist him, a Kraan dumps a load of black crystal cubes on the deck. Divination (which I can choose not to use in the Mongoose text, just in case I'd rather remain ignorant of impending peril) warns me that they are explosive devices, which could damage the ship badly enough to cause it to blow up. Getting rid of them takes precedence over assisting Paido, so I start grabbing cubes and slinging them overboard, to explode in the swamp below. The Mongoose text fixes a bit of sloppy grammar in this section, and also replaces 'collecting' with 'snatching up' when describing my actions. Given the number of items this book has compelled me to take and keep, I'm fine with that change of phrasing.
Returning my attention to Paido, I see that a Kraan-rider has dropped a barbed net on him. Only one of the Vordaks that had attacked him still stands, but with Paido immobilised by the net, he's at its mercy. I hurry towards him, but before I can get close enough to help, the Vordak has tied a rope dangling from the hovering Kraan to the net. I yell a battle-cry (misspelled in the original text), and the Vordak turns towards me, a terrified expression on its face. That surprises me, in part because the actions of the other Vordak boarders suggested that they had no qualms about giving their lives (unlives?) in the attempt to thwart us, but mainly because I'm not sure how a fleshless skull displays terror. Not that it matters, as I decapitate the Vordak in an instant, and all its face is going to display from now on is mud and slime.
Incidentally (referring back to something I said near the start of my first playthrough of this book), this is why reading the last section of the book before playing it was a bad idea: the knowledge that Paido's capture is unavoidable might have made it that bit more obvious that I should dispose of the crystals rather than going to his aid. Though the knowledge that they were about to explode and destroy the skyship was a pretty powerful motivation anyway.
The power of the Lorestone provides me with a mystical insight that tells me Paido will survive, and one day we will be reunited and again fight side by side. Either I'm forgetting something from a certain later book, or Joe Dever's plans changed a little between writing this and Paido's reappearance. We shall see.
Paido had programmed the skyship to fly to the city from which we embarked on this adventure, and I spend the journey working out how to land the thing in one piece. On arrival, I inform the Elder Magi of what happened to Paido and me, and they let me know how successful the Darklord invasion is proving. Their leader then shows me a vision of the city of Tahou, which has been built on top of the remains of the much more ancient city which houses the next Lorestone I need. So that's where I'll be spending the bulk of the next book.