The Hero’s Journal, Entry Twenty: The Ninth Round

Age: 28
Alignment: soft-hearted
Family: famous

Knothole Glade throws a big celebration in my honor the night before I’m to fight in the Arena. They’re real celebratory people, the Knotholes.

Pictured: respectful observance of local custom. (enlarge)

Of course, it’s possible to take the celebrating too far.

Pictured: regretful observance of personal overindulgence.

Naturally, the party segued smoothly into another proud Knothole tradition: bareknuckle boxing.

No fair, there are two of you.

Come over here and I’ll knock off both your heads.

Even the chieftain got in on the festivities.

I’m not entirely sure why this seemed like a good idea on the night before a big exhibition.

NOW will you put on a goddamn shirt?

The Knotholes named me their champion, which seemed redundant given the white balverine and Arena nomination, but I’m not one to turn away adulation.

Applause and admiration are the appropriate response upon beholding my abs.

Scarlet Robe disapproves.

Come morning, after much drink, several beatings and no sleep, I gear up and set out for the Witchwood Arena.

Presentation is everything.

On my way inside, a chatty guard wants to tell me all about the statues of famous heroes from ages past, but I’m starting to feel my hangover coming on and don’t listen that carefully.

I’ll take whichever one comes with advil and a big glass of water.

I’m shown to a waiting area, where a scarred barbarian named Roth is explaining the rules.

What are you going to do, turn loose a pack of balverines on me?

I’m semi-pleasantly surprised to run into my old pal Shadow.

So, do you already have a partner, or…?

Oh, you do? No, it’s cool. I’ll figure something out.

Also, there’s this guy:

Hey pal, do you already have a- You know what? Nevermind. Sorry to bother you.

The concession stand inside doesn’t sell pain killers, but at least I can get a hair of the dog that bit me. Soon enough my turn comes.

I’ll go, death seems like a pretty attractive alternative to this headache.

The system here is fairly simple. Eight rounds, each consisting of successively greater challenges for ever greater reward. Try to survive as long as possible.

They’re never going to let me forget that Orchard Farm debacle, are they?

Yeah, just like I went to Disneyland and got my picture taken with “Mickey Mouse himself”.

Wow, I’m more famous than I realized.

Alright. Let’s give these fine folks a show to remember.


Round 1: Wasps

Aww, they did their research! I’m touched.

The first round is no sweat.

I am gonna swell up like a cabbage patch kid in a minute.


Round 2: Hobbes

Casters die first.

Next come the Hobbes. Nasty little bastards who fight dirty, but I’ve faced them many times before. I get through with just a few scrapes and a ringing in my ears.

My hate for caster Hobbes burns like a tiny sun.


Now that the easy stuff is out of the way, they team me up with my Hero partner. So let’s see, who would be the worst partner I could possibly be paired wi-

Ding ding ding!

Of course it’s Whisper. Of course it is.

I’m so happy to see you that there are actual tears in my tear-track scars!

Whisper has come to literally rain on my parade.

Yeah, wonder how that happened. Somebody check the dumpsters for bodies.

Showoff.


Round 3: Balverines

At least they’re just normal balverines.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME

Where in Avo’s name did they get TWO white balverines?! Yesterday it seemed like just one of these things was the end of the world!

But with Whisper’s help, we manage. I find myself actually kind of glad she’s here. For once we make a good team, and put these terrible beasts down.

Not without taking a few hits in the process, though.


Round 4: Undead, I think?

Is it Halloween again already?

I honestly barely remember round four. I guess there were some zombies. They had no ranged attacks and shuffled very slowly toward me, so they were not an especially fearsome threat for an accomplished archer.

Heh, Shocktober.


Round 5: Bandits

Yawn.

Way to throw a curve ball guys.


Round 6: Earth Trolls

Big deal, a troll.

At this point it’s starting to seem like the organizers are going to have a hard time topping those balverines.

OK, two trolls is a slightly bigger deal.


Round 7: Rock Trolls

And now two rock trolls. Great.

This round shouldn’t have been as hard as it was. Rock trolls are tough, sure, but if you stay light on your feet you can dodge faster than it can throw and get in some hits when it stops to laugh at you. Unfortunately, this was the round that Whisper decided to turn on me. Things had been working well up to this point, but maybe she figured that she didn’t want to have to split the prize money at the end. Who knows.

In any event, when the Rock Trolls came up out of the ground, they both initially fixated on me. I had to run and dodge for my life; two trolls throwing rocks at staggered intervals is very different challenge than one. All I needed was for Whisper to hit one and draw its attention away, and I could have handled the other one. But she didn’t. She stood off to the side, trying to look inconspicuous, and left it all to me.

Good hustle out there, Whisper.


Round 8: Giant Scorpion

Anachronox? I thought I was the only one who had even heard of that game.

I am still seething about Whisper’s dirty tactics here, but the crowd is watching. Just one more round to go. I’ll be watching my back carefully. Let’s get this over with.

Somehow still less buggy than Anachronox.

An enormous scorpion erupts from beneath the sand. (I don’t have a chance to wonder how they load the sand underneath this arena with undead corpses, two kinds of trolls and enormous scorpions, all while the crowds are watching and cheering, until after the fight is done.) I’ve never seen anything like it, but I decide right away that I don’t want to get near those pincers.

Got him right where I want him!

It gets better. The creature has some sort of seismic attack that it can execute at range, but it takes a moment to charge up. I exploit the opportunity to its fullest.

Let me know what you see on the other side of this wormhole.


It’s over. We’ve won. The crowd roars in adulation. They love us. They worship us. We are gods today.

Here’s a crazy idea, how about we split it.

But it seems we’ve made history today. Two partnered Heroes have never made it to the end together before. (If at least half of them were like Whisper, it’s no wonder.) Apparently this presents some issue with the prize rules. But they have a special guest to arbitrate for them.

Oh look, it’s Mickey Mouse himself.

Yeah, I’m not buying it. Don’t get me wrong, the getup looks great. But a mask and a tattered robe are not hard to mock up. I wonder what out-of-work actor they have on payroll to show up and goose the crowd like this?

Still, I’m not going to lie. I like this guy’s style.

Called it! Thunder owes me five bucks.

Fake or not, we’ve just been told by the man the crowd thinks is Jack of Blades to kill each other. Neither of us can quite believe it.

This goes against every principle this brutal bloodsport was founded upon!

Thanks for making this easy then.

She says she can’t kill me, and I’m not sure how to take it. Two rounds ago it seemed like she was ready to let those rock trolls pound me into hamburger. Is she saying she can’t kill me in a straight fight, as history has so repeatedly shown?

Not pictured: scars of any shape or kind at all.

Or is she saying that she refuses to kill me, period?


Round 9: Whisper

Ranged attacks sure are handy.

It’s over very quickly. My head’s still reeling from what Whisper said. I aim low to put off making my decision for just a little longer and take out her legs.

They want blood.

Well gee let me think about it.

Actually I do need a minute to think about this.

Whisper’s been a pain in my ass for most of my life. And Avo knows I could use the money. But in the end, I just can’t do it.

I just know I’m going to hear from Thunder about this.

But I don’t want to give that goddamn demon door any more evidence against me.


I head back into the waiting area and immediately run into Thunder.

If you say “farmboy” I will end you.

Also present: Lady Grey, Mayor of Bowerstone.

Sure, but could you write me a note or something? The guards there kind of have a problem with me.

Thunder is not happy to see me, and not happy that his lady friend here is fawning all over me.

YEAH, Thunder. Why don’t you give the lady some SPACE, Thunder?

The lady departs. Leaving me with my old pal, Thunder.

I already left a few pints on the sand out there, actually.

So that was fun. I’m shown out by the same chatty guard from before.

When do I pose for my statue? Oh, right, Fable 2.

He gets to talking about my prowess out there in the Arena, particularly against the balverines, and says I remind him of a Hero he saw fight here some years ago.

As a matter of fact…

I want my statue to be at least this big.

And there she is. This statue isn’t nearly as weather-worn as the one in Knothole Glade. The features are still sharp, still clearly recognizable.

I’m floored by the fact that we both ended up being named for articles of clothing.

There’s no mistaking here; that’s mom.

Look, just because I declined to kill my childhood friend for money…

It takes me a moment to realize that the voice doesn’t belong to the chatty guard.

Oh look, it’s “Jack of Blades”. I thought you’d be taller.

What a suspicious statement! If only I weren’t a mute protagonist, I’d love to follow up on that!

It doesn’t occur to me until too late that he might not have been speaking metaphorically about the status of my dead mother.

Again with the blood, it’s always the blood with these people.

Yeah alright, I’ll get right on that, creepy Arena mascot guy.

“Jack of Blades” is weirding me out so I step outside. I feel like my brain has been turned inside out today. The Arena. Whisper. Mom. This hangover. It’s all too much. I just want to go home now.

Does she now.

A bandit stops me outside the gates and delivers a message. Apparently my sister is still consorting with their kind. It makes my blood boil, even knowing that Twinblade wasn’t behind the Oakvale Raid. She wants to see me. Well, isn’t that special.

Grey House, huh? Think I’ve seen a sign for that off the road to Barrow Fields. It’s on my way home. I guess it couldn’t hurt to see what she wants.

Next time on The “Heroic” Adventures of Hood…

Lady Grey has skeletons in her closet. Well, technically in her cellar.

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