The Hero’s Journal, Entry Twenty-Five: Mazes and Monsters

Age: 32
Alignment: homesick
Family: damselled

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.

On the road south.
Footsore and fancying a shirt.

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 map table.
Like old times.

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.

Hood at the Guild.
Maybe I shouldn’t have worried so much about being recognized.

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.

Hood enters Maze's tower to find Scarlet a captive of Jack's minions.
Hey mom, the guildmaster said you were looking for oh sorry, didn’t know you had company.

I find mom in Maze’s tower, but she’s not alone.

Scarlet Robe: The book!  Don't forget the book!
WTF? Mom, we’ve been free for like four hours!
Minions teleport away with Scarlet.
Does no one in this game walk anywhere?

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.

Hood is left alone in Maze's tower.
Well that was a waste of three years and my innocence.

I find what I presume to be the book she was shouting about open on the table.

The book, I guess.
I hope she meant this book. There are lots of books in here, but this is the only one I can actually interact with.
Arban's Thaumaturgica
Wow, the book just told me I’m too dumb to understand it.

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.

Guildmaster: This is terrible.  Jack has captured your mother again.
I know! It’s like this game can’t stand leaving a female ally Hero loose in the world.
Guildmaster: I spoke to her briefly today.  She told me about the Sword and the existence of a Key to unlock it.
Blah blah blah, Sword of Aeons, tell me about it when I get back from breaking my mom out of jail again three years from now.
Guildmaster: Jack can never be allowed to succeed.  You must stop him getting the key from Hook Coast.
So you’re saying I should continue doing what I was already in the process of doing, except now with additional, redundant motivation.

Before I set off, I take a moment to write a letter. I don’t know when I might get another chance.

Dearest Myra

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.

Forever yours,

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.

Hood slaughters bandits in Greatwood.
They don’t make bandits like they used to.

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.

Hood practices force push.
I call this technique “Step Off”. It makes a really satisfying “bwomp” sound as it sends every fool nearby flying.
Whereas I call this one “Think Fast”.

Finally I reach this ancient Cullis gate that can take me to Hook Coast.

Hood in Darkwood.
Ugh. “Ancient” implies that the technology wasn’t even perfected yet.

When I step onto the dais, the undead spring up all around. I know how this goes. Kill the zombies, power up the device.

Hood charges the gate with undead souls.
Amazing! The Old Kingdom discovered an abundant source of clean, renewable energy: souls!
Hood kills a lot of undead.  Like, a lot.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: How many undead does it take to turn on an ancient Cullis gate?

Finally the machine is sated with the souls of the damned. This is so much more reasonable than chartering a boat.

The ancient Cullis gate activates.
So long, Darkwood. Hello again, breakfast.

I arrive in Hook Coast intact. When I’m finished throwing up, I set out for town.

Hood arrives in a snowy land.
Welcome to Hook Coast. Population: banshees.

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.

Villager: We've got to get out of here!  It's after us!
Look folks, the naturally occurring wildlife in this world seems to include balverines and enormous trolls. You’re seriously going to lose your shit over a ghost?
A banshee.
Not even, like, an especially scary ghost.
Hood kills one.  Easily.
Look, it is harmed by normal weapons. It’s not even a TOUGH ghost.

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.

One of Jack's red barriers.
Alright, what were the magic words the guildmaster told me to say? Oh yeah: “Le Capot est un trou du cul!

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:

Maze, the key, and Theresa in a force field.
Hey, Maze. Haven’t seen you since you sent me to kill a bandit king who had nothing to do with the Oakvale raid, which you were conveniently present for. How’ve you been?

Good old Maze, my distant father figure and mentor. Here to lend a hand, no doubt.

Maze: You're alive!  I was worried when you disappeared.
That’s sweet.

So, Maze, old buddy. Why’s my sister trapped in a magic bubble over there?

Maze: Your sister... I know.  I had to tie her up.  Jack is controlling her somehow.
Uh huh…
Maze: That's why I'm here.  I'm trying to stop him.

Theresa, any truth to this?

Theresa: He's lying.  He's the one working for Jack.
She says you’re lying, Maze. Are you lying?
Maze: No, she's trying to confuse you.  She's...
I’ll be the first to admit to being easily confused, but I think I can work this one out on my own.

You know what? I think Maze might not be on the level here. Unfortunately, we’re disturbed before I can press him further.

Jack: There's really no time for this, old wizard!
I’m sorry, was I interrupting something?

Before I can even find the source of the other voice I’m hit with some sort of magical energy.

Hood is enveloped in green light.
WHY does this keep happening to me?

Of course, I’d know that voice anywhere. It’s Jack of Blades: my jailer, my mother’s kidnapper, sword enthusiast.

Jack: Finish the ritual, Maze.  I'd like my key now.
So, just to be clear here, is this magical attack you hit me with giving me a ton of experience like the other times I’ve exploded in green light?
Maze: It's almost over.  And it will be easier with the boy here.
Hey, shot in the dark here, but since I’m helping you get this key, how about you release my mother from wherever you’ve got her stashed?
Jack: So you escaped my little cage.  I'm surprised it took you so long.
I needed time to grow this bitchin’ beard and that apparently takes three years.
Jack: I trust you didn't lose too much of that precious blood of yours getting out.
If I invented a drinking game that triggered on the words “Sword” and “Blood” I would have died of alcohol poisoning by now.

Maze completes the ritual. Above the fountain, something like a little scepter appears suspended in the air.

Jack: The Septimal Key... You've hidden from me far too long.
So my family’s bloodline was the key… to unlocking the key… that unlocks the sword…?

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.

Maze: Surprised?  You shouldn't be.  Only an idiot would oppose Jack.
Man, only an idiot would be surprised at your betrayal.

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 dispells Hood's force field.
If you could have done this at any time, why not before Jack took the key? Why didn’t you dispel your OWN barrier? You know what? Not gonna question it, just gonna beat Maze senseless instead.
Maze: You can't win, boy.  The world belongs to Jack now.
Maybe, but I can still kick your ass up and down the block, right?

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.

Hood and Maze do battle.
Picked up a few tricks since my final exam. Also became Arena Champion. Maybe you heard about it.
Maze unleashes fire.
Ok, so, you were holding back last time, too. I get it.

I decide it’s time to deploy my new Will techniques.

Hood fights dirty with the Slow Time spell.
Changed my mind. I call this one “Slow Down Time and Stab My Old Mentor In the Back”. What do you think?

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?

More fighting
Contemplating the duality of man while beating seven shades of shit out of him.

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: I was wrong.  Maybe you are strong enough to defeat Jack.
Put me in, coach.
Maze: You haven't got much time.  He's using the key to activate the focus sites all over Albion.
Focus sites? Oh, those great big Trackballs of Doom?
Maze: You want to know why I did it, don't you?
YES, and I am so glad you asked because I’m a silent protagonist.
Maze: I suppose I'm just an old coward, boy.  We don't all embrace death.
Refreshing honesty, but why did you bother rescuing me?
Maze: For some of us the quest, the only quest, is to escape death, whatever the cost.
Sure, fine, but what why did you save me as a child and then set me on the path to undoing all your master’s work?
Maze: Looks like I failed...
Maze decomposes.
God damn it.

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…

Jack: I thought you weren't going to make it.
Hood attends Jack’s birthday party, but forgets to bring a gift!

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