The Hero’s Journal, Entry Twenty-Four: Pressure and Time

Age: 32
Alignment: institutionalized
Family: scattered to the winds

Inmate #61354, they call me. Had it tattooed on my shoulder — so they can identify the body in case of any “mishap”, supposedly. But it’s really a means of control, just like shaving my head was. It’s part of a program to break down who I am and build something else in its place.

My head is cold. (enlarge)

I pace this tiny cell like a caged animal. The hours crawl past unbearably slow. The stupid thug in the next cell never shuts up. I can’t even tell if it’s night or day down here.

Nobody knooooooows the trouble I seen.

Day by day the walls keep getting closer. I pace and pace but it takes fewer steps each time. Is it magic at work or just psychology?

At least they let me keep my own underwear.

The worst part is knowing that while I’m in here, Jack is out there somewhere. He wants something from my mother: some key, something to do with that damned sword. And he’ll get it, sooner or later. After all, now he has me to use as leverage.

And there’s nothing I can do. Nothing but wait for an opening, and opportunity to break free.


Day 10

Race time? I don’t understand, we are all super white.

Today is a special day, I’m told. Once in a while, a cell block gets let out for a foot race around the prison grounds. It’s a chance for the guards to blow off some steam. The guard lets me know that, being a former Hero, I’m the favorite barracks betting pool, and that if I don’t win there are going to be a lot of unhappy turnkeys around this place. That’s fine by me, because the prize is an audience with the warden. This is my chance.

On the one hand, having a longer stride gives me a pretty significant physical advantage here. On the other, these other prisoners all have trousers and boots for some reason.

Psst. Where did you get those trousers? And how can I get some?

The race is brutal. There are so many goddamn stairs in this place.

Huff. Huff. Is the race over at the top of the stairs?

Nope.

It’s a close thing, but I win. No torture chamber today.

Wait, I thought that if I won it meant that I DON’T get tortured.

My reward, it turns out, is to hear the warden recite some of his awful poetry.

Oh god it’s worse than I could possibly have imagined.

This is it. Alone with the warden. If I can get the drop on him, I can turn this office upside down, get the master key, recover my gear and get the hell out of this place.

How is it possible that all the points I’ve poured into Guile mean nothing here?

Poetry slam!

I would swear that I haven’t made a sound creeping up on this creep, yet when I haul back and swing, he tenses up and guards against the blow. We struggle for a moment before his shouts draw the guards. This whole attempt is botched. Before they take me away, the warden tells me that he’ll have new poetry for me next time.

THIS IS INHUMANE.

I end up in the torture chamber after all.

Still better than more poetry.


Day 409

Despite appearances I have not been marking time by cutting myself.

Race day again. Guess my cell block is out of the dog house. Heard the cheers for other blocks a couple times since my ill-fated escape attempt, but mine hasn’t been given the chance. Because they knew I’d win, and knew I’d try to take the warden’s head off again.

But plans have changed. I’ve spent a year inside, rotting in a cell, with nothing to do but scheme. And I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to get the warden’s master key first was folly. Get a sword first, then I can take whatever keys I want off the bodies I leave on the ground.

Like the tattoos? We had a guy in here for a while who was quite an artist. He colored over my number; made me an individual again. I was thinking of getting full sleeves but the guards killed him two months ago because they were bored and he was scrawny. I think his name was Mark.

Hard to keep your chin up in this place sometimes.

This past year feels like a lifetime. I can’t remember what the sun looks like anymore. I’ve only been out of my cell a handful of times, and only at night. I think about Myra a lot, and what she must think happened to me. Has she already buried some token of me and shed her tears? Or does she wait for me still, hoping each day is the one I come walking back into Oakvale?

I think about that day, too. Sometimes it’s all the keeps me going.

You guys go on ahead, I’ll catch up.

The whistle blows. The other prisoners sprint off. But I’m not in a hurry. I wait until they’re gone, taking the majority of the guards’ attention with them. Then I strike.

Step 1: beat up guard.
Step 2: take his gear.
Step 3: figure it out from there.

Been working on this plan all year.

While I still believe the plan was sound in principle, it does not fare well in execution, thanks primarily to the fact that I chose to attack the guard with the whistle. Rookie mistake.

Yeah, I could probably have thought this through better.


Day 762

So am I allowed to shave in here, or am I supposed to believe that this is two years of wild beard growth?

I think I’ve been in here two years now. But honestly I’m not sure anymore. There have been periods of weeks and weeks where the despair got to me and I stopped marking time entirely. When I came out the other side, I’d just have to estimate as best I could. It’s not possible to stay human in this place and keep your mind. When the choices available are go crazy or go feral, being an animal seems like the sane response.

Counting the grime layers on my pants is an inexact science.

Sometimes I take my quarterly walk along the ramparts and I breathe in the night air and I think, yeah, this is nice. And that’s the worst part of this life: knowing that this is as good as things get now. These bastards make you grateful for the night air. You actually want to thank them.

This is my world now.

Being an animal is just easier. And never easier than on race day. The guards cheer when you push and shove and hit your fellow inmates, and you think: maybe they’ll let me out for another walk if I push a little harder next time, knock somebody down.

Look buddy, we all know the way by now.

My legs ache and my lungs burn but I win the race. My reward is another trip to the warden’s office.

Fastest runner in the guild.

They’re wise to my tricks. My two previous escape attempts have me pegged as a violent one, so the warden is wearing a bell that will summon the guards if it so much as jingles. But I don’t have violence on my mind tonight.

Shhhhhhh.

While he’s reading his wretched poetry, I start poking around the office, looking for where he might have hidden his master key.

There’s got to be something worthwhile in these sparkling books.

Unfortunately, I’m a little too quiet. Expecting some sort of attack, the warden gets suspicious that he hasn’t heard me sneaking up on him and peaks me just as I’m rifling through his desk.

No really, I was super interested, the way you rhymed “arrow” and “sparrow” really moved me.

As they lead me down to the torture chamber I feel the blackest despair of my life settling into my chest.


Day 1191

I’ve had a lot of time to work out.

Ever since I arrived here I’ve been looking for a way out. Even at my lowest points, that goal has never left my sight. I’ve spent my waking hours honing my body, my mind and my Will to that purpose alone. But despite my best efforts, the security design of this prison presents insurmountable barriers. My strength is useless against the steel bars that cage me. My mind may understand the mechanism that locks me in, but without tools I cannot manipulate it. And the magical wards inscribed throughout the cell block suppresses my Will, despite my best attempts to recall my guild training and focus my Will without the use of weapons.

This all leads to one inevitable conclusion: this prison is inescapable, except on race day.

Move aside, grizzled badass coming through.

Today is race day again. And I know what I need to do.

How is it possible I have failed to acquire some trousers and shoes in the past three years?

I win again, of course. And once again, I’m in the warden’s office. This time he’s locked the three books on his desk. Combination locks. An interesting choice. I suppose it makes sense, as a keyed lock would just mean that he needed another place to hide the key. But I know for a fact that the warden is not a man with a great memory. I’m betting he’s written the combination down.

Sparkly cork board message, here I come.

Alright, now I just need to figure out how I’M going to smuggle this key out of here.

The key feels heavy in my hand. It weighs three years of my life. When the warden’s recital ends, I’m escorted back to my cell.

Be seeing you soon.

It’s mayhem time.

I’m free. It’s something I feel physically. I may still be in the prison, I may be a long way from safety, but from this moment until the day I die — hopefully not today — I am no longer where or what they want me to be.

We’re in this together, boys.

I spring the rest of the killers and bandits in this cell block. We will attack as one. We’re making our way to the guard barracks for gear, and then we’re going to blaze a bloody trail out of this hell.

That was the plan anyway. But a few minutes later there are alarm bells sounding and crossbow bolts whizzing through the air. My compatriots fall one by one as we push forward, some wounded, some dead. With a sword I’ve taken from one of the guards I hack my way through, not stopping to look back.

There is one man still with me when we reach the barracks.

It’s just you and me now, anonymous prison neighbor. The rest of those guys didn’t want freedom badly enough.

In addition to the trousers and boots from a guard’s uniform, I find my bow and sword, apparently taken for use by some of these bastards. I suspect they will soon regret keeping these souvenirs profoundly.

Sorry, I need both the sword and the bow. Don’t whine, you had shoes for the past three years.

When I emerge from the barracks, the guards out in the yard have finished off the other prisoners and regrouped. My last companion falls with several bolts in his torso but I roll, draw and fire.

Any qualms I once had about killing guards are long gone.

I kill my way through to the cell where I found my mother so long ago. There she is, just as she was before. There’s no time for talk. The chaos I’ve sown gives us the element of surprise, for the moment at least.

Let’s bust out of this joint, for real this time.

We’re leaving this hellhole; it’s up to you guys whether we’re going past you or through you.

We reach the cistern, which my hazy memory tells me means that we’re almost clear. So of course there is a giant tentacled monster living in it now.

I don’t remember this being here last time.

I can only presume that this is Jack’s way of closing the security gap I used to enter the prison. What a guy. But when you get right down to it, slaying big-ass monsters is sort of the family trade. Granted, both mom and I are a few years out of practice. But on the other hand, if we don’t do it we’re both going to die in a stinking sewer. So we get to it.

Mom’s contribution is to criticize my technique.

So what does it eat when there aren’t adventurers trying to sneak through the sewers? You know what? Nevermind, I don’t want to know.

Why do all giant boss monsters need a devastating green charge-up attack?

Go fish.

It isn’t easy but we kill the beast. I think we’re finally in the clear. At the gates to the graveyard, we stop a moment to catch our breaths and talk.

Oh? You think losing three years of my life rotting in a cell is doing pretty well?

The Sword, the Sword, where’s my goddamn hug?

Thanks.

As ever, this reunion proves disappointing. All mom can talk about is the Sword. Jack wants it, Jack will do anything to get his hands on it, etc etc. I do not doubt at this point that this is very serious business. But I just lost three years of my life to spring my mother from jail. A “how have you been” would not be out of line here.

You blabbed?

Sounds cold, can I find a shirt first?

I suppose it’s on my way south anyway.

Mom has a mission for me. I need to secure some sort of key hidden in Hook Coast, a town on a little island up in the frozen north. She, meanwhile, will go find Theresa, who needs to be protected from Jack now that he’s lost us. I decide that between freezing my ass off in the snow and tracking down Theresa, I’m getting the better end of the deal.

Oh no, is this going to be another green zap because the last one hurt like-

OW.

You know I already have more experience than I care to spend!

How much more ripped do I really want to be?

It feels like you replaced all the water in my cells with listerine.

And then she leaves. And I’m left with the familiar hollow feeling that I have gone to extraordinary effort to reconnect with a family member who really hasn’t missed me one tenth as much as I have them. If in a month or two it turns out dad’s still alive, I’m honestly going to have to think hard about whether I even want to go after him.

She seems nice. I bet we’ll reconnect now and catch up on all the years we’ve been apart.

I start walking south toward Bowerstone. As I walk, I’m writing the letter in my mind that I’ll send ahead to Myra to tell her I’m alive and coming home to her soon. There’s just this little errand in Hook Coast I have to run first.

Next time on The “Heroic” Adventures of Hood…

Hood reconnects with his distant surrogate father figure and mentor, Maze.

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