|The Happenings I|
|Series||The Happenings by Azaelia Silmarwen|
|Previous||The Life of a Hero|
|Next||Goodbye Albion, Hello Tattered Spire|
|← The Life of a Hero||Chapter Chronology||Goodbye Albion, Hello Tattered Spire →|
CHAPTER SIX: THE MAGE AND THE CRUCIBLEEdit
When I arrived at the Heroes Guild, the first thing I noticed was the fact that the room had been cleaned. The desk, which had been upside down was now that right way up and paper was neatly stacked on top of it, and a chair was standing next to the desk. The next thing I noticed was the fact that Theresa and Hammer were watching me. I made my way back to them.
'There you are,' began Theresa. So much for a greeting. 'I believe the second of our Heroes, the Mage, is in Brightwood.'
'How did you come to that conclusion?' I asked. I wanted to know a bit about whom I was going to find. I didn't want any surprises.
'There is a powerful Will user there named Garth,' replied Theresa.
My breath hitched and I stared at Theresa with my eyes wide.
'You remember that name, I see.' said Theresa. 'I suppose you remember that he was there the night Lucien killed Rose.'
I only nodded, trying not to remember that night. Hammer, however, had a bit more to say on the subject.
'You didn't tell me that!' Hammer said accusingly. 'How are we supposed to trust him?
'I agree with Hammer, Theresa. How do we know his still not working for Lucien?' I said quietly.
'Garth believed that Lucien's interest s in the Old Kingdom was purely academic, like his own,' explained Theresa patiently. 'And Lucien, for his part, thought that Garth was only a brilliant scholar. When each learned the truth of the other, their partnership ended. Violently.'
'Hmm, I still don't know if I will be able to trust him fully, but I trust your judgement Theresa.' I said eventually, and I could tell that Hammer agreed with me.
'Good. You will find Garth in Brightwood Tower.' said Theresa. 'I have seen a vision of him toiling on some ancient technology there. Surely, he intends to stop Lucien, but he cannot do so without help. Go and inform him of our intent.'
'Sure, and if he doesn't except?' I asked.
'Easy. We drag him back here by force.' Hammer answered.
'Hammer, you should remain here.' Theresa said as Hammer and I made our way to the Cullis Gate.
We both stopped, exchanged a look, then turned to face Theresa.
'Why? I'm ready.' argued Hammer.
'With Lucien still searching for Heroes, it's safest for you here.' Theresa said firmly. Her statement held no room for arguments.
'Fine.' Hammer said sullenly. 'But don't think that you are holding me back when the action starts.'
'Go now,' Theresa told me.
'So I get to stay here with Miss Barrel of Laughs, while you go out into the world?' Hammer said to me. 'Great.'
'I'll be back soon.' I told her. 'Then we can go out and fight Lucien together and seek our vengeance.'
Then, with a quick look over my shoulder at Theresa, I left the Heroes Guild, with Storm.
From the moment I stepped out of the Cullis Gate in Bower Lake, I should have known that getting to the Mage would be difficult for as I was heading to Brightwood Road, I remembered the passage I read about the Mage "The Mage follows where wisdom leads, usually into conflict", and of course, being as intelligent as I am, I just shrugged it off and watched Storm playfully chase a rabbit. Another sign that told me that I would be having an eventful journey was when I was walking down Brightwood Road and a group of bandits attacked me. This of course surprised me greatly. Bandits in Bower Lake? How could that be when I stopped Thag? I pondered this thought as I continued down Brightwood Road, leaving the dead bandit bodies behind me.
It was only when I actually arrived at Brightwood did I start to realise that something wasn't right. When I arrived there, Theresa spoke to me.
'Someone or something...is coming your way...I have never felt anything like it.' came Theresa's worried and unsure voice.
I immediately drew my hammer. If some unknown enemy was coming, I would be ready, but it unnerved me immensely that Theresa didn't know what it was and that she was also worried.
I cautiously walked down Bower Lake Road, listening to everything around me. Listening for any unnatural sounds. Sounds that might mean an ambush.
At the end of the road, I found an empty statue plinth and turner left walking through the gates that lead to Brightwood Tower.
Again, I walked cautiously up the road, and it was then that I heard it...the snapping of a twig. I froze and looked around, trying to find the unseen enemy. I could not seen one, and I was about to shrug it off, thinking that I was hearing things, when I caught sight of a few unusual camouflaged blobs. I stood there looking at them for a while, before I took my rifle and shot one and out jump an angry Hobbe.
I sighed with relief. It was only an ambush of Hobbes. I could handle them. However, as I was killing them, the feeling of dread came back. What was the strange enemy that Theresa warned me about? And where was it?
Once more, I continued cautiously up the path and went through another gate. As I was walking along I began aware the something didn't feel right. Instinctively, I stopped and looked around, but I couldn't seen anything, and as I was debating where or not I should draw my rifle and just shooting into the bushes at random, I heard a weird noise above me. Upon looking up, my jaw dropped.
Flying above me was some sort of upside down, greyish black pyramid. This must have been what Theresa was talking about. I stood there staring at it, before running towards the Brightwood Tower when I realised that was where the tower was heading.
Unfortunately, it got there before me and when it stopped it admitted to strands of bright white light and strange men appeared. They were dressed all in black and their faces with hidden by a black mask. I also noticed that they were the same build as the Albion Guards. I had no doubt in my mind who they worked for.
'Lucien's men are attacking! You must save Garth!' Theresa said urgently as the black clothed men ran at me.
'That just confirmed my suspicions,' I muttered as three of the soldiers encircled me.
'Should I kill you here or shall I...' began one of Lucien's men, but he never got to finish his sentence, for in one quick move, I sung my hammer and hit him straight in the side of the face, knocking him to the ground. After all, I wasn't going to stand there all day waiting for them to attack. As a result, I ended up enraging the other two, with made it easier for me to defeat them as their attacks were sloppy. Basically, they hit everything, bar me.
Once they had been taken care of, I ran toward the tower and fought of another small group of Lucien's men, before I looked into the distance at the entrance of the tower; there were two guards standing guard. Sighing, I took my rifle and shot at the first guard, but my aim was a little crooked, and I got him in the arm.
'Take cover!' he yelled to his comrade, but he was too late, seeing as I had just sent another bullet at him and then shot his friend. My aim was true.
Once inside the tower, I met another two soldiers, before coming to an open landing. On the landing were five guards, all of whom turned and pointed their guns at me, until their leader told them not to shoot, which confused me. So instead, they came running at me, swords drawn.
The first soldier that came at me, stopped short, and I assumed that he grinned nastily at me when he said, 'I'm ruthless.' Then he charged at me and with one swipe of my hammer, I knocked him off the side of the tower to his death.
'No, you're pathetic,' I muttered before turning to the other four soldiers. They were not happy.
'Resemble and revenge your fallen comrade!' ordered the leader, before leading the charge at me.
It was too easy. In a few short minutes, I was running towards the main tower, praying that I would be able to make it in time. I was wrong. Just as I got to the stairs I heard a crashing, the sound of a big crackling fire and the sound of someone using Will. I quickened my pace, but it was no good.
Garth, well, I assume it was Garth seeing as he had blades around him for protection, was standing near the balcony with a strange man in black with a bald white head advancing on him. With all the fire around, there was no way I could get to him. I watch on helplessly.
'I'm never going back there, you hear me?' Garth said stubbornly to the enemy.
'You're wrong!' said the other, with an air of confidence.
'You think I'm scared of you?' demanded Garth with a laconic laugh. 'You're a freak! Lucien's failed experiment - nothing more!'
'You left to soon, Garth.' The man replied. 'Lord Lucien's experiment was a radical success.'
This statement surprised Garth and as a result, his guard falter for a brief second, but that was all his attacker needed. In that split second, he attacked, and Garth fell to the ground.
'You are coming with me,' the man muttered to the unconscious Garth, before the upside down Pyramid beamed them up.
I stood there, just staring at the place Garth had been.
If only I had gotten here sooner, I thought bitterly.
Theresa, as though reading my thoughts, spoke to me through the Guild Seal.
'There was nothing you could do,' she said gentle.
'I know, but that doesn't make it any easier.' I replied. 'Who was that man? He seemed different from the others.'
'That was Lucien's Commandant, and apparently he now commands a Shard.' said Theresa gravely.
'Shard? You mean that upside down pyramid?' I asked.
'Yes, it is an ancient device of great power.' Theresa explained. 'Lucien's strength grows ever more formable, as does his knowledge of ancient machinery and the Old Kingdom.'
'That's comforting,' I muttered sarcastically.
'Come back to the Guild.' Theresa ordered, ignoring my sarcastic remark, as she always does.
* * *
When I arrived back at the Guild, Hammer was standing impatiently, tapping her foot while Theresa looked thoughtful.
'It sounds like you needed my help after all. I knew I should have come!' said Hammer, the moment I came through the Cullis Gate, this didn't improve my mood.
'I doubt it would have made any difference.' I said coldly. 'We could have had a whole army of Heroes, and still wouldn't have succeeded. Things would have been different if we had found out about him earlier.'
Just as Hammer opened her mouth, no doubt to remark on what I had said, Theresa spoke.
'We cannot allow Lucien to keep Garth,' she said, interrupting our argument. 'You must get him out of there.'
'"There" being the Spire?' asked Hammer. 'We don't even know what's inside that thing; let alone how to get there.'
'Hammer's right.' I said. 'True we could get there by ship, but Lucien would probably see us and order that the ship be destroyed or have us captured the moment we get inside, and even if we do get inside, we won't know where to look and we'd probably end up being captured regardless.'
'True, but there's one who might know how you could get inside.' Theresa said, before explaining, 'When Lucien left for the Spire, he essentially abandoned his staff. His old butler, Jeeves, now spends his days at the Cow and Corset.'
'His butler?' repeated Hammer. 'I bet he saw his fair share of dirty dealings. Well, if it means a trip to the pub, we'll just have to make that sacrifice.
I snorted. I knew that Hammer would be at home in any region of Albion as long as it had a local tavern. It also meant that I would always have a good idea where to find her.
'The task requires tack and delicacy.' Theresa said calmly. 'Something I believe you are unfamiliar with, Hammer.' There was a few moments of silence, before Theresa said, 'Why are you staring at me?'
'This is the part where you say, "no offence".' Hammer said bitterly, before turning to me. 'Humph. Looks like you're on your own again.'
'There is no time to waste.' Theresa said. 'Go now. Go to the Cow and Corset and talk to Jeeves.'
I nodded and headed back to the Cullis gate, wondering when I would ever get a break and rest.
'Guess I'm to stay here.' I heard Hammer say bitterly to Theresa. 'I'll just stay over here being tackless and indelicate.'
Theresa did not reply as I used the Cullis Gate.
Once I was back in Bower Lake, I ran like the wind to Bowerstone. I knew that I had to move quickly if there was any hope to rescuing Garth. Even once I was in Bowerstone, I did not stop running. I didn't even pause to say sorry to someone when I accidently bumped into them. I would probably regret not saying sorry, but I didn't care. All that was on my mind was Jeeves.
Outside the Cow and Corset, I straightened up my clothes, fixed my hair, and walked calm into the inn, heading straight to the barman.
'Ah, what an honour it is to have the Hero of Bower Lake in my inn once more. What can I do for you, Sparrow?' said the Barman, giving me a bow.
'I'm looking for a man named Jeeves and I heard that he spends a lot of time here. Have you seen him?' I asked, with a pink tinge to my cheeks. I hated it when people bowed or acted weirdly towards me.
'Yes, go up the stairs and he is in the second room to the left.' answered the barman.
'Thank you.' I replied, before going to Jeeves room.
Stopping outside Jeeves room, I could hear his voice from within.
'...with a thousand, I could by a house, and where does one even find Concubines? Is there a shop?' He said as I opened the door and closed it behind me quietly, before standing there waiting for him to notice me as he looked at himself in the mirror. 'I could buy a new wing, something without mice in it. So many options! So many....I see you!' he added, whipping around to face me.
'Jeeves, I need to ask you some questions about the actions of Lucien...' I began, but he cut me off with a greedy gleam in his eyes.
'Well, well, well. Another offer?' he began, his eyes practically dancing with greed. 'Dear me! So many inquisitive minds! So many who wish to know all Lucien's dirty little secrets! Well, everything you want to know is all written down, and I know where. And here's something else that's written down: my price!' He said business-like, before handing me a note. 'Don't let anyone else see it!'
Sighing, I looked down at the note, which read:
One Thowsande Goldde Peeces and Notte a Panny Less!
I should have known that he wouldn't exchange the information for nothing, I thought bitterly. And instead of buying a wig and house, he should buy lessons on how to write! This spell is atrocious! Even a child could spell better!
'It is my final offer.' Jeeves said quickly, when I looked up. 'Take it or leave it. Lucien's diary is a riveting read, I assure you. I'm sure some private investor will make a nice little spot for it in his equally private home. Now unless you want a proposition, I suggest you leave me to my whisky.'
Growling slightly, I went into my bag and pulled out my money bag.
'You have the money?' Jeeves asked eagerly as I counted it out, and handed it to him. 'My thanks! It's a juicy little collection, I assure you, you won't regret it! I buried Lucien's diary for safe keeping. Here's the map,' he added, handing it to me. 'I would show you where it is myself, but I have some money to spend.'
'Uh huh.' I said, raising my eyebrows. 'If I find out that you have double crossed me, Jeeves, you will have wished that you were never born!' I threatened, before leaving the room and leaving behind a trembling Jeeves.
'He is far too cowardly to double cross you.' Theresa stated.
'He would be a fool to do such a thing.' I grumbled, ignoring the startled and nervous looks I was getting from the other people in the inn. They all thought that I was talking to myself. 'And you owe me one thousand gold pieces!' I added.
'The map will lead you to the diaries,' was all Theresa said.
I just grumbled again and took out the map to examine it. It wasn't a map at all, instead it was a list of directions:
Lest the fire waters I am so fond of imbibing these days burn the memory from my mind, here are the instructions for finding Lord Lucien's diaries. Perhaps I can sell them one day and make a profit off the old tyrant.
In Bower Lake, lying in the shadow of the hill named after the Heroes, are the stumps of three trees. In that spot have I buried his diary.
'Back to Bower Lake we go, Storm.' I mumbled, before putting the instructions in my bag and running to Bower Lake. I was starting to think that by the end of this quest, I would be over running and would sleep for a week.
Upon arriving in Bower Lake, I ran, with storm right beside me, to the "hill named after the Heroes" where the Cullis Gate to the Heroes Guild was located.
At the base of the "hill", I myself would call it a mountain, I looked around for three stumps and I soon saw them. In the middle was a big mossy boulder.
That's strange, I thought. I don't remember that being there this morning.
Shrugging it off, I started to move towards the boulder and Storm started growling.
'What is it, boy?' I asked, bending down to Storm. He was looking at the mossy boulder.
I slowly stood back up and drew my rifle, before shooting randomly at the boulder. I have to admit, that wasn't the most intelligent thing I have done. Turns out, that boulder was in fact a forest troll. It also turns out, that it had been asleep. This taught me one useful fact; never shoot a sleeping troll, for it makes them furious. Actually, I think furious was an understatement. It wasn't at all happy to see us and it started throwing boulders at me (I don't know where it got them from) and made rocks charge at us from the ground. Quickly, I shot all of its nerve points and eventually I ended up killing it.
'I've done my exercise for the day,' I said lightly to Storm, who barked happily besides me, before barking again, running to the spot the troll had been and began to dig. I went over to him, drew my spade and began to dig with him. It was then that we found it. It was then that we found Lucien's diaries. I bent down, picked up the book, and began to flick through it, but I could not read anything within it. The book was filled with strange sigils and odd runic characters.
'Theresa, I found the diary, but it's filled with strange sigils and odd runic characters.' I said, through the Guild Seal.
'Good, but it will do you little good without a translation,' replied Theresa.
'Funny enough, I kind of figured that out on my own.' I said cheekily.
'Bring it back to the Guild,' said Theresa, ignoring my remark...again.
'Sure thing, I said, before putting it in my bag, along with my shovel, before running up to the Cullis Gate with Storm.
* * *
'Welcome back,' Theresa said, as I stepped out of the Cullis Gate and headed towards Hammer and Theresa. 'I trust finding the diary was not too difficult.'
'No, but I have a question.' I replied. 'Is it normal to have trolls in Bower Lake?' I asked.
'I've never heard of a troll living in Bower Lake before.' Hammer replied thoughtfully. 'Trolls like dark places. Why do you ask?'
'Oh, no reason really. It's just that I had to fight a forest troll to get to the diary.' I said.
'Bring the diary to me.' Theresa interrupted as Hammer was about to open her mouth to eagerly ask about the details. 'I will translate it for you.'
After exchanging an annoyed look with Hammer, I stepped forward, and gave her the dirty diaries. Theresa accepted them and began to read through it.
'You can read that?' Hammer asked, sounding a little sceptical. 'But your eyes are...you know...'
'I see other worlds than this one,' replied Theresa mysteriously.
'And in other worlds you can see?' questions a confused Hammer. 'I don't understand.'
'Shh.' said Theresa.
Hammer's eyes narrowed. Somehow I got the impression that she didn't like being told to be quiet. But I was with Hammer. I didn't understand what Theresa meant when she said that she saw other worlds. I mean, there's only one world, isn't there?
My thoughts were interrupted when Theresa spoke once more.
'Westcliffe.' she said. 'Lucien is recruiting guards from Westcliffe.'
'Oh come on, Westcliffe is a dump full of thugs and brawlers.' Hammer scoffed, forgetting that she was meant to be annoyed with Theresa. 'The only thing there is that arena.'
'What arena?' I asked.
'The Crucible.' answered Theresa, not that it helped. How was knowing the name suppose to help me? 'Those who win it and physically tough, but mentally weak. Lucien is recruiting the winners as guards. You are to enter the Crucible in Westcliffe and emerge victorious. It is the only way into the Spire. The only way to Garth to rescue him.'
'At last, some action!' Hammer said eagerly, picking up her big hammer. 'Meet you by the bandit road in Brightwood!' she yelled out as she ran to the Cullis Gate, probably wanting to get out of the Guild before Theresa could tell her that she had to stay. 'The last one there is a rotten Hobbe!'
Theresa and I watched in silence as she disappeared through the Cullis Gate.
'This research will prove invaluable.' Theresa said, turning to me. 'Now, you should go after her, before her enthusiasm wears off. Though I wonder if it ever does.' Theresa added thoughtfully, making me laugh. 'Remember, this is our only chance to get Garth back. One of you must emerge victorious.' she added seriously.
'So, in other words, no pressure.' I said nervously.
'You will emerge victorious. I am sure of it.' Theresa said confidently.
I gave her a small smile, before I too, left through the Cullis Gate to head the Bandit Road.
When I arrived at the bandit road in Brightwood, Hammer was already there waiting and she looked slightly impatient.
'What? Did you buy a job? Buy a house?' Hammer asked when I stopped in front of her. 'I've been here for ages!'
'Patience is a virtue, my friend. Besides, I think your exaggerating just a bit.' I said lightly.
'Right,' replied Hammer. 'Come on, let's go!' she added eagerly.
I couldn't help but laugh at her enthusiasm. Maybe Theresa was right. Maybe it would never run out.
When we arrived at the Bandit Coast, Theresa spoke to us, well, mostly to me.
'Lucien's writings are fascinating. There is much in them that may interest you, when you have time. For now, press on to Westcliffe.'
'Sounds like a good bit of light reading,' Hammer said mordantly. 'Me, I prefer the idea of a little action. '
'Well, you likely to get some.' I replied, looking around. 'We're at Bandit Coast. I have yet to hear of someone who has made it through alive and with all their belongings.'
'Speaking of which, I thought this area was completely over run with Bandits.' Hammer commented as we walked done the path.
'Maybe their hiding, waiting to ambush us.' I suggested. 'It wouldn't surprise me. They enjoy doing that to me in Rockridge.'
We walked in silence for a few moments before Hammer spoke again.
'Charming architecture.' she said disdainfully, staring at the sharp logs sticking out of the ground around the road. 'Looks like sharp pointy logs are the edge around here.'
'Somehow I get the feeling that they aren't just there for decoration.' I said, looking closely at one of the logs, as I passed, and saw that there was something on them that looked suspiciously like dried blood.
'You probably right.' agreed Hammer, before looking around, frowning. 'Where is everyone?' she added.
'I don't know.' I said, also looking around, and glancing down at Storm. 'I think the bandits are cleverer than we give them credit for.'
'What do you mean?' asked a confused Hammer. Clearly she thought that all bandits were just plain dumb.
'Think about it. When travellers travel this road, they are tense and alert, because they know that they are likely to be attack. But as they go on down the path, they begin to relax seeing as there's nobody about. This is when the bandits attack, later down the road, for the travellers are now confident that they won't be attacked and they don't have time to defend themselves.'
'That actually makes sense.' admitted Hammer. 'Though, I think the bandits do it by accident.' she said firmly, not willing to admit that some bandits are in fact intelligent, as we walked through into a small empty bandit camp.
It was then that Storm started growling. Hammer, looked over at me and I nodded discretely to a pair of bandits hidden not too far away from her. Hammer answered with a knowing wink, and casually walked over to where they hid, while I did the same over to the spot where I spotted another bandit. Then, without warning, we swung our hammers at the un-expecting bandits, which was quite ironic seeing as they were meant to surprise us instead of the other way around.
It took us less than two minutes to deal with the small group of bandits, before we were walking back up the path, talking casually as though we were on a shopping spree in Bowerstone Market.
It turned out, that I had gotten a bad reputation among the bandits. They hated me for what they did to their bandit leaders Thag and Dash, and because of all the bandits I had killed that had tried to kill and rob me.
'I've always wanted to draw blood from this lass,' one of the bandits said gleefully as Hammer and I fought off a bunch of bandits at a slave camp.
'Too bad that you won't succeed,' I growled out, blocking his attack. In the background, I could hear a number of bandits laughing at our attempts.
'Two women against a bunch of bandits.' one of them laughed, before Hammer delivered a deadly blow to his head, making all the bandits shut up.
'You're not fighting a defenceless villager this time!' Hammer said deadly, and the bandits knew that they wouldn't have an easy time robbing us, and we proved them right.
'I have to agree with you, Hammer.' I said as we head back along the path, leaving the dead and bloody bandits behind.
'Agree with me about what?' Hammer asked.
'Bandits aren't intelligent.' I answered simply.
'Took you long enough to realise it.' she laughed good-heartedly. 'What made you realise?'
'The fact that they never ran away from us even though we were slaughtering them like pigs.' I said, stopping outside a big wooden gate. 'What's with the fence and gate?' I asked.
'It must be the infamous barricade,' replied Hammer, walking over to examine it. 'It doesn't look that tough.' she said thoughtfully, before swinging her hammer into with great force.
Who needs a battle ram, I thought as the gate was smashed to pieces, revealing a number of shocked and nervous bandits on the other side, along with an angry highwayman.
'Boss, we can't stop them. They're still coming!' one of the bandits yelled, backing away.
'Stand and fight, you cowardly naves!' snapped the highwayman, before leading the charge at us.
'Charge!' Hammer yelled dramatically as she ran towards them and knocking them of their feet with her hammer, while Storm jumped on the fallen and attacked.
'Overall, I think that was a good little fight,' I commented as I looked through one of the bandit chests.
'It's proven that nothing can stand in our way.' Hammer agreed, as I pulled a highwayman's coat out of the chest and put it on. Hammer raised an eyebrow.
'What? It's getting colder.' I said.
'Then why don't you wear your crop top jacket?' Hammer asked. 'You look like a highwayman with that coat and hat on!'
I shrugged. I knew that Hammer wasn't bothered by what I wore. She was only making a fuss due to the way other people would react to me. She didn't want my feelings to be hurt or anything.
Seeing that I wasn't about to take the coat of, Hammer sighed and said, 'Westcliffe, here we come.'
The road to Westcliffe was uneventful, but when we entered the region, we both became alert and spoke in whispers. The atmosphere was not welcoming.
'I've heard a lot of stories about Westcliffe.' Hammer whispered to me, as we walked carefully down the wild path. 'Place is suppose to be infested with balverines.'
My hand absently went to my hammer.
'I heard this one story about these traders who got attacked.' continued Hammer. 'Balverines killed both parents but the kids survived. A slaver found the poor things, took them back to his camp and locked them in a cage. That night, the kids turned, broke out of the cage and ripped every slaver in the camp to shreds. It makes you think, doesn't it?'
'Yeah. It makes me think of horrible pictures.' I said seriously, tightening my grip on my hammer handle. This place was really freaking me out. Why did we have to arrive here at night?
'There's one of the bloody things right there!' Hammer said suddenly, pointing to the top of a stone arch.
Sitting on the arch was the ugliest and scariest thing I had ever seen. It's fur was blacker than the midnight sky, teeth sharper than broken glass and over all it was one of the most deadliest creatures in Albion. Giant beetles are easy another to handle (I haven't heard of anyone who has been killed by them), Hobbes are a light tougher and every now and then there are reports of people being captured and eaten by them. Bandits you hear stories nearly every few day, trolls are few and most people are quick enough to get away from the slow moving creatures, but balverines...balverines are the worst. They are fast moving carnivore that very few people ever survive an encounter with them. If you stand and fight, you are likely to be ripped to shreds by their razor sharp claws, and if you run away, they will run after you, and knock you to the ground (seeing as they are faster than the average human-being) and then rip you to shreds. Overall, you can see why hardly anyone survives their attacks.
'Bugger, it ran off!' Hammer cursed when we arrived at the spot we had seen the foul creature.
'But why?' I asked, looking around as though I expected an attack any second.
'Maybe it was afraid of us?' suggested Hammer.
'Why would it be scared of us?' I demanded, walking back along the path. 'Hammers and rifles aren't likely to scare these blood thirst hunters. If anything we should....ARGH!'
'SPARROW!' yelled Hammer, running towards me, as the balverine that had knocked me painfully to the ground began to howl. 'Are you all right?'
'I'm fine,' I growled, getting to my feet, hammer in hand. 'But the blood thirsty beast in front of me won't be!' I said before added, 'There's one just behind you, by the way.'
Hammer whipped around, before raising her hammer, ready to meet the attack of the slowly approaching balverine, while I took on the one that had knocked me to the ground. It was then that I feared that our quest would come to an end. Hammer and I were in big trouble. Our powerful hammers were just too slow to fight and block the attacking balverines. We needed quick moving swords, but even though I had a few in my bag, I didn't have time to find them and pull them out, and I knew that Hammer wouldn't appreciate having to fight with a "flimsy toothpick" as she calls them.
Behind me, I heard Hammer give a shout as the balverine jumped and at the last moment, swung her hammer behind her, whacking the balverine in the middle. It was then that I realised that when the balverines jumped, they went and landed behind you. It was this realisation that saved us. Once I had pointed it out to Hammer, we would concentrate on blocking the advancing beasts, and when they jumped, we would swing our hammers behind us and hit them once they had landed. Eventually, we were the ones that became triumphant, exhausted, but triumphant all the same.
'That was something, wasn't it?' Hammer exclaimed as I handed her a bottle of water. 'I've spent my whole life praying; meanwhile, the world is just as dangerous as ever. But now, this little stretch of road is a little bit safer because of us.'
'Then I hope the people appreciate it.' I said uncaringly. 'Those beasts are worst than trolls! I hope there's no more of them out there, cause I don't know with we will be able to survive another lot of attacks, especially if there is more than two.'
'You're over reacting.' Hammer said confidently as we continued down the path. 'We aren't going to die here. We now know how to fight the bloody things with hammers, and as time goes on, it will become second nature to us, especially for you. You seem to pick up killing deadly creatures quite easily.' she added, thinking back to the Hollow men in the Wellspring Cave.
We then continued to walk in silence, before our path was blocked by two more balverines. In unison, we held our hammers in front of us, ready to block, with Storm growling behind us, when I suddenly had a brilliant idea. I quickly put my hammer on my back and began to gather my will, ignoring the slowly advancing beasts in front of me.
'Are you mad?' hissed Hammer. 'What the hell are you doing? Arm yourself!'
I ignored her gathering more and more will power before sending a large amount of electricity at both the balverines, electrocuting them until they were nothing more than skeletons.
'You're right.' I said, turning to the gobsmack Hammer. 'I do seem to pick up how to defeat monstrous beasts quickly.' I said, before continuing down the path slowly, waiting for the still shocked Hammer to catch up. She had seen me use Will before, but she had never seen me use it with that much power and force. To be honest, I had never used it like that before.
When Hammer caught up, she looked around at the surrounding forest.
'Well, this is an inviting part of the forest, don't you think?' she asked sarcastically, before we both jumped at a high-pitched scream that sounded around the forest. 'Someone's in trouble!' Hammer gasped, running off in the direct the scream had come from. 'We've got to help her. Come on!' she added, when she saw I hadn't moved.
Shaking my head, I ran after her. I was confused. Why would someone be out in this forest? Most travellers travel by sea to get to Westcliffe these days, for the forest track was too dangerous, as Hammer and I had found out.
Hammer and I came to a halt in front of an ancient tower, and saw a middle class lady, standing over a dead body crying.
'Are you all right?' Hammer asked gently, walking over to her.
'Balverines attacked us!' The lady cried, while I bent down to examine the dead body. 'They killed my husband! They killed my Fredrick!'
'It's all right.' Hammer said soothingly. You're safe with us, er...'
'Lilith.' said the lady. 'But, they took my son!'
'Can you show us where they took him?' Hammer asked. I still hadn't looked up from the dead body.
'I -I think so.' Lilith sobbed. 'Oh, my poor Robert. What if they've already...?'
'I'm sure your son is all right. We'll find him.' promised Hammer, frowning down at me.
I had finished my examination and was looking suspiciously at Lilith. Next to me, Storm was growling at her.
'Sparrow? Is something wrong?' Hammer asked, looking between Storm, Lilith and me.
'No.' I said slowly, not taking my eyes way from Lilith's tear stained face. 'Let's go. We should get moving if we are to save...Robert.'
'Right. Let's go then.' Hammer said, leading the way with Lilith right behind her, and Storm and I at the back of the pack.
Something wasn't right. I could feel it. It didn't make sense for her to be out here with her family, in the middle of Westcliffe's forest. Surely, Lilith and her husband new the dangers of walking to or from Westcliffe on this path. Why risk the life of their son? And why didn't the balverines kill her? Why did they only kill her husband? And why would the balverines take her son? Why not kill him along with the father? Another thing that didn't make sense was the fact that the body of Fredrick looked as though he had been dead for a few days, instead of having just been killed. Then there was the fact that Storm had not stopped growling at Lilith since we met her. What did this all mean? Was she an enemy?
My thoughts, however, were interrupted once more by Hammer and more balverines.
'Come on, let's get them!' Hammer called over to me. 'Miss, you better stay back and let us handle this!' she added to Lilith.
Lilith nodded, but she didn't stay back.
I mentally noted this strange behaviour, but didn't have any time to muse over it. Gathering my Will once more, I sent more shocks of electricity out to barbecue the balverines that were foolish enough to attack us.
In the background, I could hear Lilith screaming, but it was the scream of fear, instead it was the scream of pain. I glanced over at her and saw that she was clutching her heart. Did I accidently give her a little zap?
'Are you all right?' Hammer asked Lilith.
'Yes. I'm fine,' she replied. 'Please, let's go find my son.
'Sure,' Hammer said, leading us back along the path.
'How is it that you know where they have taken him?' I asked Lilith curiously, falling into step beside her, ignoring Storm's warning growls and him pulling on the back of my coat to try to pull me away from her.
'A mother's instinct and intuition,' she answered.
'Uh huh.' Was all I said as we walked up the path to the ruins of an ancient castle. 'Hammer! Balverines!' I called quickly, spotting them in the arches of the ruins, looking down at us.
'Why aren't they attacking us?' Hammer asked as we slowly walked with caution inside.
'I don't know,' I replied, with another glance at Lilith. She didn't seem too concerned about them. In fact, she seemed to be getting happier.
'This is where they took him!' she said leading us down a flight of steps to a large door. 'They took him here, to Howling Halls.'
'Hmm, they got the name right.' Hammer muttered, pushing open the door, well aware that the balverines were still watching us.
'You won't let anything happen to him, will you?' Lilith asked, the moment Hammer shut the door and started down the dark corridor. 'You'll save him?'
'Yes, just don't get too far ahead.' Hammer told the desperate mother firmly. 'You need to stay with us!'
'Oh, but my poor little Robert!'
'I know, but you won't be able to help him if you get eaten, will you?' Hammer said bluntly. 'Who knows what's waiting for us down here?' she added, and it was at that moment I saw the shadow of a balverine. I was about to point this out to Hammer but it had disappeared.
'We've got to be careful,' continued Hammer. 'Why the road has to go to a place like this is beyond me. Couldn't they have cut down a few trees instead?'
'The tree cutters are probably killed before they can,' I told her quietly. Something wasn't right here.
'Good point.' she said as we walked through a pair of doors, which slammed shut behind us. 'What is this place?' Hammer demanded, immediately preparing herself for battle.
'It's nothing good, I can tell you that.' I replied, getting ready to gather my Will at a moment's notice. I knew something didn't feel right. If only I had done something earlier to avoid us walking straight into this trap.
Hammer and I stopped looking around when Lilith spoke, but her voice was different now.
'Children, I bring you flesh.' she said, before jumping away with the strength of a balverine.
'Children? What children?' Hammer asked nervously.
'The hungry carnivorous kind,' I replied, catching sight of a number of balverines approaching us. 'Let's try and get to the other side of the room. We might find a way out of here over there.' I added, as I electrified a number of the bloodthirsty beasts.
'Good idea,' Hammer said as she whacked one of the balverines in the head, before following me to the other side of the room.
Unfortunately, it did us no good. Right in the middle of the room was a big pit full of spikes. If we were to try and cross it, we would be impaled.
'We've got to find a way out of here or we are dead!' Hammer grunted as she fought several balverines away from her.
'She's right. Show no mercy and get out of that place quickly.' Theresa told us in a worried voice.
'I think we realise that, Theresa!' I snapped. 'And we haven't been showing mercy in the first place!'
'Why would we?' I heard Hammer agree. 'But how are we to get out of here? I can't see any way across that pit!'
She was right, but I knew that our only chance for survival was getting across the pit. The only question was how.
Maybe if we could climb up one of the pillars we would be able to find something, I thought, looking up at the pillar we were standing next to. It was then that I saw it. The top of the pillar was crumbling. Maybe if Hammer wacked it or something, we could push the pillar into the pit and then we would be able to cross.
While I was looking up at the pillar, Hammer had been fighting off another two balverines by herself. When she had finished, she looked over at me, wiping sweat away from her face. 'What are you looking at?' she asked, before looked up in the same direction as me. 'Oh, I see it! That pillar looks weak! Right. One bridge coming up. Keep those buggers off me.' she added, before turning all her attention to the stone pillar before her, while I looked around for anymore hungry balverines.
It was then that Lilith reappeared.
'You should have stayed hidden Lilith.' I snarled.
'No. I have come to revenge my children. You killed them, so now you shall suffer!' She replied maliciously.
Then, before my very eyes, she transformed in to a huge, white balverine. The mother and leader of the balverine pack in Westcliffe. She was the most deadly of all balverines, and I was the one that had to fight her. I wasn't even going to try and fight her with my hammer - (mostly because I struggled with her children) - so I gathered all my will energy and sent the most powerful electric shock I could master at her, and it worked. With a terrible scream, I watched as Lilith was reduced to nothing more than a burnt skeleton.
Behind me, I heard a thunderous crash, and Hammer cursing. She had managed to knock the pillar down and there was now a bridge across the razor pit.
'Let's go, we're leaving!' Hammer yelled over her shoulder, leading the way across the bridge and out of Howling Halls with Storm and me right behind her.
When we arrived back out in the open air of Westcliffe, where the sun was starting to arise in the horizon, Hammer and I stopped running and sat down on the ground, before taking one look at each other and starting to laugh. Of course, there was nothing remotely funny about what we just did, but we couldn't help it.
'We made it!' Hammer said, lying back against the side of a cliff. 'I don't think that they will follow us into the light. We made a pretty good team back there, didn't we?'
'I think we were better than a "pretty good team", Hammer.' I said, lying back in the grass.
'True, but this is what I've been talking about! We just did more good then than all the prays I've ever said in my life!' she sighed, before turning to me looking serious. 'You knew, didn't you?'
'Knew what?' I questioned back. I was a bit startled by her sudden seriousness and question
'You knew that Lilith was the Mother Balverine.'
'No, I didn't. I knew there was something funny about her, the way she acted and a few other clues, but I never thought that she was one of those beasts.' I replied, looking back at Howling Halls. 'Storm knew though.' I added, pulling a dog treat out of my bag and chucking it at him. 'But sadly he wasn't able to communicate to us, telling us that she was one.'
Hammer and I sat in silence after that, watching Storm run around chasing strange bugs, before Hammer sighed.
'We should get to the Crucible. Might as well get it all over and done with.' Hammer sighed, as she rose to her feet.
'Might as well,' I agreed, also rising to my feet and leading the way to the gates of Westcliffe, where we were met by two thugs.
'Wow, look at these two.' One with jet black, oily hair, yellow crooked teeth and oily looking skin said, we he caught sight of us. 'Are you lost little girl?' he asked me, completely ignoring Hammer. 'Shouldn't come 'round here. You might ruin your stockings.'
'Yeah, your stockings.' laughed the other thug, with hair equally oily and a long face.
'Hold on. I think we've found the brains of this operation.' Hammer said in a loud whisper to me, before turning to the two idiots in front of us. 'If you cared to notice, she isn't wearing stocking.'
'Wow, you trained your pet troll to speak.' The first insulted, before turning his attention back to me. 'Come on, you've got time to play with us, haven't cha?'
'Yeah, let's play a wee game.' said the second, moving closer to me. He smelt worse than a Hobbe's disgusting breath.
'I have an idea for a game, using my hammer and your head!' Hammer said dangerously, moving up and standing close beside me.
'Then why don't you show us what've got?' The first said, accepting the challenge. 'Or haven't you got nothing?'
'Yeah show us.' The second said eagerly.
Hammer began to raise her hammer, ready to take a strike, when I put my hand gently on it.
'They're not worth it, Hammer.' I said firmly. 'Let's just ignore these idiots.' I added, walking inside the gates to Westcliffe, with Hammer grumbling beside me.
'You two "intimate" are you?' The leader of the two thugs asked us, not taking the hint to leave us alone. Most men would have got the hint when Hammer had her hammer ready to smash some heads open. Even I would have run away quickly.
'Yeah, are you two int...er...what does that mean, Ron?' asked the second, making me snort.
'Ah, wit, intelligence and looks. Is there anything these two don't have?' asked a sarcastic, but an amused, Hammer.
Ron heard that comment.
'Why don't you two get back to your cosy little homes?' he said coldly. 'You don't belong here.'
Okay, he was really starting to annoy me by this point and I was going to put an end to it.
'Really? Oh that's dreadful.' I said to him, surprising Hammer. 'I wish someone had told us that before we travelled through Bandit Coast and Howling Halls to get here. We could have spared the lives of so many bandits and balverines, especially the white balverine.'
'You - you fought the white balverine. Impossible.' said Ron, though he was eyeing our weapons nervously.
'Not impossible.' I disagreed. 'All you need is a little electricity.' I said, showing him my hand, which suddenly was holding a small ball of blue electricity. He paled, and I turned smirking to Hammer. 'Let's go to the Crucible, and leave these idiots to annoy someone less...dangerous.'
Hammer nodded and followed me to the Crucible entrance.
'I wonder if there are any special entry conditions, to the Crucible I mean.' Hammer said as we walked past the so-called Westcliffe inn. 'Do you think that we'll have to sign some sort of wager?'
'No idea. This is the first time I've ever heard of the Crucible.' I admitted.
'Really? Wow, I heard stories about it when I was a little girl, and since them, I had always dreamed of fighting in it.' said Hammer. 'I never dreamed that it would come true.'
'Hmm, it really doesn't surprise me that this is a fighting arena, especially since you like it.' I said with a sidewards glance at my friend. 'What do you fight?'
'No idea,' replied Hammer.
'I thought you said that you were told stories about it.'
'I was, but I was never told what the competitors had to fight.' Hammer shrugged, unconcerned.
'Wish I had your confidence,' I mumbled. If neither of us won this, how would we get to Garth?
'Listen, we can handle anything that's in that arena. How bad can it be?' Hammer said confidently as we walked up the stairs, before adding, 'Here we go, right? At least you have to die for something.'
I nearly stopped dead. First, she says nothing's going to happen and then she says something like that! As much as I loved her, I had to question what goes through her brain.
'Look who it is! A Crucible contender whenever I saw one!' exclaimed one of the men at the entrance as we approached.
I didn't know if he was talking to me or Hammer. In my opinion, Hammer looked more like a competitor than I did. She had big muscles and looked really intimidating with her hammer, compared to me; I looked like a fragile middle class lady who insisted on playing dress-up as a highwaywomen. But I was wrong. He was talking to me.
'Been causing quite a commotion, haven't cha?' said the other man, looking over at me.
'You know who I am?' I asked them in disbelief.
'Everyone knows who you are.' said the second man, waving a dismissing hand.
'And who are you?' Hammer asked rudely. Somehow, I don't think that she appreciated being ignored.
'Me? Everyone knows me! I'm Mad-Dog "The Strangler" McGraw.'
'Best Crucible fighter there was back in his day.' said the other.
'Bit redundant, isn't it?' Hammer said.
'Hammer,' I groaned, hiding my face with my hand and shaking my head.
Mad-Dog's eyes hardened.
'Look, if you want to compete, get on with it.' Mad-Dog told me bluntly. 'There's the door. No way am I letting that friend of yours in though. She can stay out here and make fun of my name all she likes.'
Brilliant. I thought bitterly. Now it's up to me to win this.
'Eh,' Hammer shrugged. 'They only let one contestant in at a time anyway. I'll wait out here. Good luck.'
'Thanks,' I said as she walked off. 'I'll need it,' I added as a mutter.
'Anyway,' Mad-Dog said, turning back to me looking much happier now that Hammer was gone. 'Make sure you're properly prepared before you go in. The crowd get's ever so upset when our contenders die too quickly.'
'I did not want to know that,' I told him.
'But if you live - you'll become a legend and you'll be a shoe in to join Lucien's army.' said the other. 'I don't think any winners have turned down that opportunity yet.'
'Right. No dogs allowed inside.' Mad-Dog said, looking down at Storm. 'Health and safety, you'll understand.'
'Right,' I replied, bending down to Storm. They say having Storm inside is a health and safety issue when they seem to have people butchered inside, unbelievable. 'Storm, go find Hammer and stay with her, okay boy?' I said to Storm, handing him a treat.
Storm barked sadly, accepted the treat and walked off to find Hammer.
I watch Storm go before walking into the Crucible. Our only hope to save Garth.
When I enter, I went and signed my name on a list of contenders and then went and stood with four other contenders. One looked like some sort of mage, another was a bandit, a woman and then...a little girl! Why the hell did they let a little girl into this competition?
'Ah, a new person joins our party.' The mage said as I approached. 'Welcome. I am Zachary, the Silver-Tongued Mage. We are all awaiting our chance to go, but we'll have to pass the time the best we can.'
'Got the Silver-Tongued part right.' grumbled the bandit. 'I'm Meatbane the Bandit, lovely.' he added to me. 'And this is Bessie,' he indicated to the women, 'and Gorgoron,' he said, indicating to the little girl.
'And who might you be?' asked Bessie.
'Sparrow.' I replied, watching Meatbane out the corner of my eye, waiting to see his reaction.
'Sparrow?' Meatbane repeated. 'Sparrow as in the Hero of Bower Lake and Rockridge? The Defender of Light?'
'I didn't think Sparrow was a very common name.' I replied.
'Hmm, it's not.' The bandit grumbled, now eyeing me warily, as did the others.
I ignored their looks and went and sat down, waiting patiently, but I did jump when I heard loud screaming.
'Gorgoron wants his mummy!' Came a deep male's voice from next to me.
Startled, I looked over and saw that the voice came from the little girl. Looks definitely can be deceiving.
'Right. Who's next then?' asked Marlin, the Entrance Keeper.
'Oh, well. Love to, wouldn't I?' said Meatbane. 'Yeah, but I've still got this whole critical entanglement to mould over. Yeah.'
I stared at him. One, those were big words for a bandit, and two, so much for being a big tough guy, but I then turned my attention to Zachary when he came up with a lame excuse too.
'Ah, um. I would certainly embrace this opportunity but, I, um...still waiting for my lucky robes to come back from the cleaners.'
'Well, I can't possible go on next.' said Bessie. 'My, um, crossbow's got an awful cold.'
'How can a crossbow have a cold? It's a piece of wood.' I snorted.
Bessie glared at me, but I swear Meatbane and Zachary were trying not to laugh.
Marlin turned to Gorgoron.
'Do not look at Gorgoron. Gorgoron has an ingrown toenail right now. An evil toenail.'
Marlin sighed and turned to me.
'You! The new lass! It's you're lucky day. Get your ass in there.' He said. 'You might want to read up on the rules. Not that many people can read.'
'It's a good thing that I can.' I told him, accepting the rulebook off him, not that it was much of a book. It only had one page in there, besides the title page. Why I was waiting for them to get the rooms ready for me, I sat back down and began to read the one page of rules:
All contenders are invited to read the following rules.
If you cannot read, please ask another challenger to read them for you. If they cannot read, please refrain from asking the Entrance Keeper to read them for you, as he cannot read either.
I paused at this part, before shaking my head. Why write that down telling people if they can't read not to ask Marlin, when they won't be able to read not to ask him?
Shaking my head again, I began to read the rules:
Rule one: The Crucible is an arena of violence, death and finally, entertainment consisting of eight rounds.
Rule two: Each round will begin when you walk into the starting position and is made up of increasing difficult waves of creatures.
Rule three: Score a Perfect Round by beating the target time. You will earn extra rewards for doing so. Achieve five Perfect Rounds and you will walk away with our highest gold reward.
Rule four: You are here to entertain. Never forget that. Make sure you keep the crowd's excitement levels up and it is likely to reward you for your efforts. The bloodthirsty buggers are especially fond of contenders who make full use of the traps and pits some of the rounds contain.
Rule five: should you need to stock up your supplies, you will encounter a trader after every third round.
Rule six: If any of the above rules had too many syllables or was otherwise too difficult for your brain to comprehend, just remember this: KILL EVERYTHING AND KILL IT FAST!
'Sounds simple enough.' I muttered, pocketing the rules.
'But it's not simple.' Bessie said. 'Not many people are able to win. And those that do, none of them have been able to win the ultimate prize.'
'And what is the ultimate prize? More gold than you can carry?' I asked, handing my bag over to marlin to keep it safe.
'No. It's Mad-Dog's legendary weapon, the Chopper.'
'Right.' I said, walking away disinterested. All I wanted was to win and be accepted into Lucien's army of Spire Guards.
* * *
When I walked into the first room, I was that most of the dirt was stain with blood, and I started to feel nervous again. What if it was a creature I had never fought before? What if it was much stronger than I was? I was barely aware of Murray and Mad-Dog commentating.
'So, here we are again, Mad-Dog, posed once again at the gates of bloodshed and greatness as another competitor faces the challenge of the Crucible.'
Holding my breath, Murray began the countdown to the first round to begin, wondering what monstrous creatures I would have to face.
'Round One: Three...Two...One...GO!' yelled Murray. 'First wave.'
And here they came. The blue light surrounded them, as they appeared and at the sight of them, I dropped my hammer with a loud thud.
Beetles. Beetles were the first round of creatures I had to fight. I had to fight the very creatures I had mastered to fight when I was five years old. I couldn't believe it. Maybe the blood in the room was that of the beetles or it was just there to scare the contenders, for nobody could be killed by something as pathetic as beetles, could they?
'She's just standing there Mad-Dog.' I heard Murray say, bringing me back to reality. 'The Hero of Bower Lake and Rockridge, who has defeated two horrible bandit leaders and who has helped defend the Temple of Light, has frozen at the sight of beetles!' Then he started laughing.
I sent a glare upwards, and grabbed the small pistol I kept hidden in my boot and shot the beetles without breaking a sweat.
'Argh, those ruddy, grubby beetles I hate them.' I heard Mad-Dog comment.
'Well, let's see how the new girl likes them, now that she has unfrozen.' Murray said. 'Can our lucky new comer keep our bloodthirsty audience entertained? She better, or they won't be throwing any gifts down to help her out. Second wave. Three...two...one...go!'
The second wave then came and I got rid of them just as easily as the first wave, and then the same with the third wave, even though I had to fight red ones in this.
'Perfect Round. Well, we promised butchery and butchery is what we delivered. And there are seven rounds to go!' cried out an ecstatic Murray.
Then I causally put my pistol away and walked out of the room onto the second round, feeling much more confident.
'And here comes our challenger, waiting to impale!' I heard Murray say as I walked into the second room. 'Round two. Three...two...one...go!'
The second round consisted of three waves of Hobbes. Again, it was a bore for me. How many Hobbes had I fought on my travels? I had fought that many that I had lost track ages ago.
'Dead hobbe all right.' I heard Murray say at one stage. 'Oh please, Mad-Dog. Stop crying.'
At the end of this round, I could hear and sense that the crowd was starting to lose interest with my continuous perfect shooting, regardless of the fact that I got another Perfect Round.
Well, as long as I was here, I might as well have a little fun and try to impress the crowd. Show them that I'm more than just a pretty face. I thought, as I made my way to the third room.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the third room was that there was a huge hole in the middle of the room. How could you not notice it? However, Murray felt the need to point out the obvious.
'Someone's put a big hole in the ground!'
Shaking my head, I walked to the starting position and Murray counted me in.
‘Round Three, in three...two...one...GO!’
And it was...Hobbes again. Only these Hobbes had learnt magic. I knew that I could easily have shot them, but I knew that I should entertain the crowd. If word got back to Lucien that one of his guards had thought in the Crucible that was an expert shooter...it might blow my cover.
This time, I didn’t use my pistol, instead I used my rifle, and I heard the crowd groan. They all thought that I was going to shoot them...how wrong they were. I had spotted kegs of explosives. As the two magic Hobbes ran past the explosives, I shot at the explosives and the two Hobbes went flying into the seemingly endless pit. This got the crowd’s attention, as I knew it would.
In the end, I had achieved another Perfect Round and the crowd was beginning to become interested once more.
'What a fantastic massacre and we have five more rounds to come!' Murray yelled out as I headed for the fourth room.
The fourth room, was some sort of fog swamp, which told me that it definitely wouldn’t be beetles or Hobbes. I did not like it one bit. In fact, it gave me the creeps, though Murray didn't seem to agree with me.
'Oh, this place brings out the old romantic in me.' Murray said. 'Cold dead trees.'
'You've never been married, have you Murray?' Mad-Dog asked.
I would rather die, Mad-Dog old friend.' Murray replied. 'And speaking of death. I think I see something stirring in the waters down there.'
I whipped around and saw that he was right. Apparently, the rest of the rounds would begin without a count in, I noted as hollow men came towards me.
I could have laughed in relief. Hollow men were easy to deal with...if you knew how to, and of course, I knew how to. Did I not have to protect Hammer from hollow men in the Wellspring Cave? And did I not have to defeat one hundred hollow men in the Bowerstone Cemetery? If I couldn’t fight hollow men by now, there would have to be something wrong with me.
The hollow men ran at me and encircled me, just as I wanted.
‘She’s just standing there, Mad-Dog. Wonder why she hasn’t shown us some more of her expert shooting skills?’ Murray was saying.
‘I don’t know, Murray, but she better do something soon, otherwise the hollow men will have her.’
I grinned, and watched as the hollow men were slowly moving closer to me. When they were nearly on top of me, I used the Will that I had been gathering and sent out an enormous burst of Will, which turned in to a wild fire, destroying all of the hollow men that surrounded me.
‘Did you see that, Mad-Dog? It seems as though we have a Will-user in our presence!’ Murray exclaimed.
‘She’s more than a Will-user. She is a very talented one. Most people would be tired after that display, but not her.’ said Mad-Dog. ‘Look, she’s sending more fireballs at the hollow men that just appeared.’
It was true. Every hollow men that I saw was immediately engulfed with flames and was shortly destroy afterwards, and I wasn’t feeling tired. I knew that I would probably be tired later, but at the moment, I felt as though I could go on like this forever.
‘That landed right where she wanted it,’ I heard Mad-Dog say as I throw a fireball straight at a particularly savage one.
‘Where she Willed it, you mean.’ I heard Murray joke badly.
Yet again, I achieved a Perfect Round, but this time, I had the crowd’s attention to the max. From what I could make of it, none of them had seen a Will user before now.
Round five went by smoothly, with it only being bandits and the sixth round went equally smoothly with it being bandits and highwaymen. It was the seventh round that I began to worry. The seventh round was balverines. Out of all the creatures in the world, it had to be balverines. I swear, after this was all over, I never wanted to see another balverine as long as I lived, but I was grateful. I was grateful that I had a lot of practice fighting them on the way here, which meant, I knew how I could defeat them.
The crowd was definitely impressed with me using Will again, and they were extremely interested to see me electrocuting all of the balverines. Turned out, that why I still got a Perfect Round, defeating the balverines was my best time, out of all the rounds so far, including the beetles, which was really sad. I could fight one of the most dangerous creatures easily, but I struggled with the easy creatures. Hmm, that just proved how weird I was. Something that Murray and Mad-Dog found funny too as they yelled it out to the audience, as I left the room, turning red.
Finally I had made it to the last event, and I was extremely nervous again. What creature would I face this time? What creature was worse than a balverine?
I was barely aware of Murray's excited cries about making it to the last round, but as soon as I heard the word troll, I began to relax. I could handle trolls. The troll I had to face was a huge rock troll, but that didn't bother me. I just continued to shot at its nerve points. In fact, that's all I was concentrating on that I didn't see a group of Hobbes sneak up on me.
'She let her guard down there for a second,' I heard Mad-Dog say when one of the Hobbes hit from behind me.
'Yeah, and she better put it back up quick.' Murray agreed.
Grumbling to myself, I quickly electrocuted them, and went back to shooting the troll's nerve points. In the end, I had achieved another Perfect Round. It turned out that I had smashed all of Mad-Dog's old times and, as a result, I had won a heap of cash and Mad-Dog's legendary Axe, the Chopper.
'Unbelievable! Incredible! It's an extraordinary superhuman feature of inconceivable proportions. Unprecedented I might say, if they were unaware of the presidents.' I heard Murray yelling out to the excited crowd.
'She's as worthy competitor to ever compete in this competition.' Mad-Dog said approvingly. 'I have never seen the Crucible finished in less than ten minutes before.'
'Indeed.' Murray agreed again. 'All that remains is to congratulate our glorious winner. We hope that you have enjoyed this most bloody and most compelling of Crucible editions. Fair the well, gentle spectators. Until the next time!'
I was positively shaking when I left the arena. I had done it. I had made it into Lucien's army, made it into the Spire, and made a path to rescue Garth.
* * *
'Congratulations!' Murray yelled as I walked down the steps leading out of the Crucible. 'Three cheers for the new Crucible Champion!'
'That was something else.' Mad-Dog said, handing me a bag of gold, the Crucible trophy and the Chopper. 'Best Crucible in years!'
'A classic performance that will be remembered for all time. Or at least as long as there are people around to remember it.' said Murray.
'Best of luck, old girl.' Mad-Dog said, clasping me on the back. 'Hope to see you around here again some time.'
'Certainly. As long as you don't suffer some agonising death on your travels.' said Murray thoughtlessly. 'Bye bye now.'
Mad-Dog and I exchanged a look before a continued down the stairs where Hammer was waiting.
'That was fantastic!' Hammer exclaimed when I arrived down the bottom. 'I listen to the commentary every step of the way. I even got in to see a few rounds. That one with the Hobbes, bloody brilliant.'
'Oh course it was. Because it was me fighting in there. ' I joked.
' Yeah – all right. Don’t get a big head. You won’t fit in the boat.' laughed Hammer, knowing that I was only joking, as we walked away from the group of congratulating citizens of Westcliffe.
'Well done. Not many people make it through the Crucible alive.' Theresa congratulated too, though I didn't really want to hear that last part.
'The Spire’s not going to be a lot of laughs either.' Hammer said, becoming serious. 'You should take some time out before you go. Anybody you want to see or anything, now’s the time. Anyway, I’ll make my way to the docks. So you’ll know where to find me when you’re all set to go.'
'But Hammer,' I argued. 'I could be away for days.'
'Well apparently patience is a virtue.' Hammer said, quoting me from before. 'So, I'll just practice having that virtue.'
'You're a good friend, Hammer.' I said gratefully.
'I know. I'll see you when you are ready.' Hammer said, before walking towards the docks.
'Hammer has a good point.' commented Theresa. 'Once you are in the Spire, leaving will be difficult. And there are those that still need your help. If you abandon them, they will surely come to harm. Don’t get on that ship until you are truly ready. Garth isn’t going anywhere.'
'You're right, as always.' I mumbled, before walking through Westcliffe.
Next chapter link: http://fablefanon.wikia.com/wiki/Goodbye_Albion,_Hello_Tattered_Spire
Written: 22 August 2011