I’m a free man after three years in Bargate Prison. All I want to do is go home to my wife Myra. But there’s one more errand I need to run first. Jack of Blades is after the Sword of Aeons and to get it he needs some sort of key, which is in Hook Coast. The only way to get there in this apparently boatless world is by Cullis gate — specifically an ancient, disused one in Darkwood. Home is going to have to wait a little bit longer.
As I head south I decide to skirt Bowerstone; I don’t know if Jack knows I’m free, but the fastest way to alert him is to go flashing my face around town. Even a few days of obscurity would give me a head start. Instead I make for the Heroes Guild, where I’m more confident that I’ll be among friends who can keep their mouths shut.
The guildmaster also spots me a set of clothing. He lets me know that my mother’s here as well, which is unexpected; I thought she was planning to track down Theresa. He last saw her heading over to Maze’s tower to borrow a book.
It’s strange being back here at school. It’s strange being out in the world. No guards, no bars. Sunlight. I’m still bewildered sometimes, momentarily afraid that I’ll be caught at whatever I’m doing.
I find mom in Maze’s tower, but she’s not alone.
And just like that, she’s gone again. Snatched right from Maze’s study within the walls of the Heroes Guild by Jack’s minions, brazen as you please. I’m more stunned than anything else. My mother’s life of freedom was shorter than a Blackadder series.
I find what I presume to be the book she was shouting about open on the table.
It’s in some incomprehensible dead language. It’s like, French or something. Better take it to somebody who actually has an education concerned with more than poking monsters with sharp objects.
Before I set off, I take a moment to write a letter. I don’t know when I might get another chance.
I’m alive and coming home to you soon. I can’t imagine what these past three years have been for you. I have dreamed of seeing your face every night since I left home. I will return as soon as I am able, but now my mother and sister are endangered and I must come to their aid. This will all be finished soon and then I will explain everything.
I ask the guildmaster to have it copied in triplicate and that the copies be handed off to any merchants or Heroes heading through Darkwood. I pray at least one makes it through.
I hustle south. My plan is to recover that key that Jack wants so badly, maybe use it as leverage to get my mother back. Then spring some sort of trap or something. Look, by now you should know I’m not great at plans. But it seems like having the key would be a good idea.
While I’m carving my path through Greatwood it occurs to me that I’m not restrained by the prison’s magical wards anymore. I decided to try out some of the Will expressions I spent so much time practicing at fruitlessly on the inside.
Finally I reach this ancient Cullis gate that can take me to Hook Coast.
When I step onto the dais, the undead spring up all around. I know how this goes. Kill the zombies, power up the device.
Finally the machine is sated with the souls of the damned. This is so much more reasonable than chartering a boat.
I arrive in Hook Coast intact. When I’m finished throwing up, I set out for town.
I’ve barely reached it when I see a crowd of people running for their lives. Something tells me I haven’t beaten Jack’s agents here.
Soon enough I’ve cleared out the phantoms and reached the ruined abbey at the north end of town. It’s blocked by one of Jack’s red barriers.
I must have misremembered. Luckily the guildmaster is able to read the correct invocation over the guild seal and dispel the barrier.
And who should my eyes behold:
Good old Maze, my distant father figure and mentor. Here to lend a hand, no doubt.
So, Maze, old buddy. Why’s my sister trapped in a magic bubble over there?
Theresa, any truth to this?
You know what? I think Maze might not be on the level here. Unfortunately, we’re disturbed before I can press him further.
Before I can even find the source of the other voice I’m hit with some sort of magical energy.
Of course, I’d know that voice anywhere. It’s Jack of Blades: my jailer, my mother’s kidnapper, sword enthusiast.
Maze completes the ritual. Above the fountain, something like a little scepter appears suspended in the air.
Jack takes the key and splits. I guess he’s got better stuff to do, like conquer the world or whatever. So now I’m stuck with Maze and Theresa, two competitors for biggest buzzkill in the world.
Theresa is apparently as uninterested in hearing Maze’s Bond villain monologue as I am, so she reaches out and somehow dispels the magic bubble entrapping me. Which is apparently a thing you can just do. I knew I should have studied harder in school.
Theresa teleports away, because fuck teamwork, I guess. It’s just me and Maze now. My mind leaps back to our duel back at the guild, so many years ago.
I decide it’s time to deploy my new Will techniques.
He summons more of those specters to harass me, but I keep my focus on the old man. Because I’m realizing throughout this fight the degree to which I’ve been taken for a ride by this bastard. When he saved me as a boy, he wasn’t a Hero arriving to stop the Oakvale raid — he was part of it, right beside his master, Jack of Blades.
So why did he save me?
Finally he falls. I stand over the man who has loomed so large in my life, watching as his life stains the snow. And more than anything I want to know why.
Maze is gone. I don’t know how I should feel about it. I don’t know how I do feel. And I don’t have time to process it all right now, because somewhere my mother, my sister and Jack are struggling over the fate of the world.
So long, Maze. You were a bad mentor and a worse father figure, but you saved my life and made me a Hero. Whatever I have, I owe to you. I just wish I knew why.
Next time on The “Heroic” Adventures of Hood…