In this excerpt from the third book in the series, The Demon's Claw, you have finally tracked down the man who may be able to help you in your quest. I'm sure I don't need to add that the illustration is by the peerless Russ Nicholson, undisputed master of fantasy gamebook art, and you can see a lot more of his work over on his blog.
You have been told that Susurrien lives in a room above a butcher's shop. You enter and look towards a stone slab where a bearded giant of a man is dismembering a carcass. His cleaver strikes the raw flesh with remorseless thwacks. As he sees you, his eyes betray no emotion - but the cleaver slips, striking the stone of the slab and giving a metallic shriek.
The bearded man glowers at his chipped cleaver, then nods towards the stairs.
Still no word has been spoken. You pass him and begin to ascend. After a few moments you hear him start to hack at the meat on the slab once more.
The room you enter is plain. A man sits in a wooden chair by the window, drawing occasionally at a tall hooka that stands beside him. The odour of incense masks the charnel stench from the butcher's shop below.
Prince Susurrien turns. His robes rustle - a crisp, silken sound. His chair creaks as he shifts his body to half face you. A limpid red gem glowers like a third eye from the centre of his gold turban. His jewellery and gilt-decorated tunic glitter as they
catch a shaft of morning sunlight.
His stare is intense and unnerving. With his swarthily handsome face he looks like a man capable of great passion and cruelty. Then he gestures to the cushions piled against the wall and bids you sit. Sharp white teeth flash as he smiles. You crouch down on the cushions but your muscles remain tense. The sunlight, passing through the wooden lattice across one window and through the dusty air, casts a host of narrow bright beams across your face. They all appear to radiate from the exiled prince. The spider's web? You hide a wry smile.
'I knew you would come.' His voice is soft and deep, suggesting the quietest beat of an enormous drum. 'You seek the Sword of Life; I, the Sword of Death. By uniting we shall achieve what we desire.'
You don't pretend to like the idea, but there is no alternative. You nod.
'I have here the Hatuli - literally, the Bring-hither.' He holds up a mannikin that looks as if it has been carved from diseased wood. 'It was constructed by the great wizard Sa'aknathur, and my agents found it for me in the ruins of his fortress. If it were operative, it could find the magical swords for us. But it is not.' He sets the mannikin on the floor by his chair, where it waits, lifeless.
'Its eyes are missing,' continues Susurrien. 'They were two tiny emeralds of flawless beauty, and I believe they were prised from the Hatuli's head by Hunguk the Pirate-King when he sacked the fortress. So, your quest will involve stealing them back from Hunguk.'
You can see a difficulty here. Hunguk the Pirate-King, if he ever lived, must have been dead for more than five hundred years.