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Sparrow's Journey
Series The Journey by Azaelia Silmarwen
Chapter 7
Chapter Chronology
Previous Sparrow's Journey: Chapter Six
Next Sparrow's Journey: Chapter Eight
Sparrow's Journey: Chapter Six Chapter Chronology Sparrow's Journey: Chapter Eight

WRITTEN: 23 May 2012

Chapter Seven: Competing in the CrucibleEdit

Sparrow awoke to Hammer’s cheerful singing. At first he was a little disorientated as to where he was, but he was soon back to normal as he sat up, groaning.

‘How can anyone be that cheerful first thing in the morning?’ he groaned, looking over at Hammer who was cleaning her hammer.

‘Maybe because it’s afternoon,’ Hammer said, without looking up from her work as Sparrow stretched.

‘Good, you’re awake,’ Theresa said, walking over to Sparrow and giving him some food. ‘We thought you were going to sleep through another day.’

‘Another day?’ Sparrow repeated, freezing in the act of putting some bread into his mouth. ‘How long have I been asleep?’

‘Three days,’ Hammer replied, getting to her feet. ‘Now that you are awake, we can get down to business. Meet you by the bandit road in Brightwood!' She headed towards the cullis gate, before yelling out, ‘The last one there is a rotten hobbe!’

She then disappeared in the cullis gate, leaving a very confused Sparrow behind.

‘Why am I meeting her in Brightwood?’ he asked.

‘How much of our conversation did you hear before you fell asleep?’ Theresa inquired.

‘I vaguely remember Hammer saying something about Westcliff being a dump, but that’s about it,’ Sparrow replied, shoving some fruit in his mouth. Theresa never allowed him to eat meat around her. ‘Why?’

‘We now know how to get to Garth,’ said Theresa.

‘Really? How?’

‘You and Hammer have to enter the Crucible in Westcliff and emerge victorious,’ said Theresa. Sparrow’s eyes lit up. He’d always wanted to compete in the Crucible, ever since his father told him stories about it. ‘Lucien is recruiting the winners as guards.’

‘Sounds like fun,’ Sparrow said, finishing the last of his food.

'Remember, this is our only chance to get Garth back. One of you must emerge victorious. Do not do anything stupid!' Theresa said seriously.

‘Can’t you just trust me for once, Theresa?’ snapped Sparrow.

‘I do trust you, Little Sparrow,’ Theresa replied gently. ‘You just act impulsively sometimes.’

‘Whatever,’ Sparrow grumbled, before heading to Brightwood to meet Hammer. He did not notice the sad look Theresa gave him.

By the time Sparrow arrived at the bandit road in Brightwood, Hammer was already there waiting impatiently.

‘What? Did you get a job? Buy a house?’ Hammer asked sarcastically when he stopped in front of her. ‘I’ve been here for ages!’

‘Don’t exaggerate!’ Sparrow snarled, leading the way to the bandit coast. ‘Besides, you wouldn’t have been waiting here as long if you had waited for Theresa to fill me in. She also told me to tell you not to do anything stupid which would result in us not getting into Lucien’s guards.’

‘Are you sure she wasn’t talking to you?’ Hammer asked teasingly.

‘She was talking to both of us,’ Sparrow grumbled. ‘She thinks we’re as bad as each other.’

Hammer chuckled.

Lucien's writings are fascinating. There is much in them that may interest you, when you have time. For now, press on to Westcliff, Theresa said as they entered the Bandit Coast.

'Sounds like a good bit of light reading,' Hammer said mordantly.

‘Maybe, except only Theresa can read it,’ said Sparrow.

‘Good point,’ said Hammer, 'though I prefer the idea of a little action. '

‘You and me both,' Sparrow grinned at her, 'and we’re likely to get some action here too. It is said that this place is swarming with bandits. I am yet to hear of someone who has made it through alive and with all their belongings.'

'Neither have I,’ admitted Hammer, ‘and speaking of this place being swarming with bandits, where are they?’

'Maybe their hiding, like the cowards they are,' Sparrow shrugged. ‘That or they are waiting to ambush us when we least expect it. They will need all the help they can get if they are anything like the Rookridge bandits.’

‘I heard that they don’t like you very much,’ Hammer said conversationally. She was going to take advantage of Sparrow’s chatty disposition. She had never seen him so willing to talk before.

‘I did kill one of their leaders –‘

‘No, it’s more than that. Rumour has it that they have hated you since before Dash’s death.’

‘They had numerous run-ins with my father and they hate my entire family… well, just me since I’m the only one left… at least I think I am,’ Sparrow said, becoming cold and defensive once more. ‘That’s what happens having a Hero for a father. His enemies will seek revenge on you.’

Silence fell between the two Heroes. Hammer knew that she wouldn’t get any more information out of Sparrow. She made a mental note to stay away from conversations to do with his family.

'Charming architecture,' she said disdainfully, five minutes later, unable to bear the suffocating silence any longer. All along the side of the road were sharp logs sticking out of the ground. 'Looks like sharp pointy logs are the edge around here.'

‘You do know that they’re not just there for decoration, right?' Sparrow nodded at a blood stained log.

‘I wish they were just for decoration.' She sighed as she looked around, frowning; at the small, empty bandit camp they had just entered. 'Where is everyone?'

‘Didn’t we just have this conversation?’ Sparrow said, stopping next to a large barrel.

‘I know, but I thought we would have seen a bandit by – what are you doing?’

Sparrow was currently controlling a large ball of energy in his hands. He opened his eyes and smirked at Hammer before giving a yell as he sent the energy flying everywhere. Several screams could be heard from the bandits he just killed.

‘Does that answer your question?’ he asked, before continuing on as though nothing had happened.

‘How did you know that they were there?’ Hammer asked, quickly catching up with him.

‘Shadow told me an enemy was nearby, so I just took more notice to everything around us,’ Sparrow shrugged.

‘He told you?’ Hammer looked down at Shadow, who was walking happily alongside Sparrow. How could the dog have told him?

‘Yep. While you were talking, Shadow began to growl, telling me that there was someone around who wished to hurt me.’

‘Helpful.’

It turned out that it wasn’t just the Rookridge bandits who hated Sparrow. It was now all bandits. He had gotten a bad reputation among them due to all the bandits he had slayed, though he was convinced that it was their own fault. After all, it wasn’t his fault that they had no skills and always got in his way.

'I've always wanted to draw blood from this lad,' one of the bandits said gleefully as Hammer and Sparrow fought off a bunch of bandits at a slave camp.

'Too bad that you won't succeed,' Sparrow growled, blocking his attack. In the background, he could hear the other bandits laughing.

'Two kids against a bunch of bandits?' one of the bandits snorted, while the others laughed.

‘Hey! We’re eighteen!’ yelled Hammer. ‘And you’re not fighting a defenceless villager this time!’

‘That’s right,’ Sparrow growled. He hated it when people treated him like a child. ‘Come on, Hammer. Let’s show these morons what these kids can do!’

‘I’m with you on that!’

Together, Hammer and Sparrow showed the bandits what they were made of. The fight only lasted roughly two minutes.

‘Pity they cannot learn from their lesson,’ Sparrow said sarcastically.

‘But maybe it’ll teach their friends,’ Hammer said as they continued to Westcliff. ‘Maybe this will send them a message.’

‘Doubt it. They never got the message with my father and sure haven’t gotten it with me. They’re just too bent on revenge.’

‘Good point,’ said Hammer. ‘Hey, we made a pretty good team then, didn’t we?’

‘I guess we did,’ Sparrow laughed, smiling at her for the first time. She could see no coldness in his eyes, but what Theresa had always seen in him. Gone was the arrogant jerk she had first met and in his place was a cool guy. However, what she saw disappeared moments later when he said, ‘Not that it matters. It’s not like it will happen very often. I don’t need anyone else. I’m strong enough to deal with any threat by myself.’

Hammer was about to retort, when she remembered what Theresa said back in the Guild.

‘Huh, I guess he wasn’t lying about being tired,’ Hammer said, looking down at Sparrow’s tired figure. ‘You know, he actually looks like a nice guy when he’s not scolding or speaking. He doesn’t seem like an arrogant, heartless jerk.’

‘He’s not, even when he is awake,’ Theresa said quietly as she pulled a blanket out of a nearby chest and covering Sparrow with it. ‘He’s just misunderstood and lost.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘In time, you will see. Just… don’t be too hard on him.’

Was this what Theresa was talking about? Was his coldness actually a mask? A barrier? Was it something to prevent people from getting too close to him? And if so… why? Why was he afraid to let someone in? Did it have something to do with his family? His past? All these questions churned around inside her mind as she gazed at the silent young man next to her. She was that lost in thought she never realised that they had stopped, though she did begin to wonder why a thoughtful look appeared on his face.

‘Looks like we’ll have to climb over it,’ Sparrow said eventually.

‘Climb over it?’ Hammer repeated, confused, looking around. They had come to a bandit barricade.

‘There is no way around it,’ Sparrow said seriously. ‘I could use my Will to set the gate on fire, but doing that will probably drain me of energy. Most likely wouldn’t reach its goal, either.’

With a final sigh, he sheltered his sword, told Shadow to stay with Hammer and began to climb the fence.

‘Once I’m on the other side, I’ll open the gate,’ said Sparrow when he was half way up the fence.

Hammer stood there watching him with Shadow patiently sitting by her side, before turning her gaze upon the gate.

‘Hmm, doesn't look that tough,' she said to herself moments later, walking towards the gate.

Just as Sparrow reached the top of the fence, Hammer swung her hammer into the gate with tremendous force, smashing it into pieces. This startled the bandits so much that they froze in their attempt to shot Sparrow.

‘Or you could just batter down the gate,’ Sparrow said, shocked, but he made sure to quickly hide his surprise as the bandits regained their senses.

'Charge!' Hammer yelled dramatically. She ran towards them and knocking them of their feet, while Shadow attacked the fallen. Sparrow, however, took on the remaining bandits and their highwayman leader.

'Overall, I think that was a nice warm up fight,' Sparrow commented as he looked around at the sea of corpses.

‘”Warm up”?’ Hammer repeated. ‘I wouldn’t call that a warm up.’

‘That’s because you’re nowhere near as good a warrior as me.’

‘Thanks,’ Hammer replied resentfully, before following the path to Westcliff with Sparrow calmly following her.

The road to Westcliff was uneventful, but when the Heroes entered the region, they both became alert and spoke in whispers. The atmosphere was uninviting.

'I've heard a lot of stories about Westcliff,' Hammer whispered to Sparrow as they walked carefully down the wild path. 'Place is supposed to be infested with balverines.'

‘Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from them,’ Sparrow said mordantly, though he had no idea what a balverine was.

'That makes me feel loads better,’ Hammer said with a slight laugh, before coming serious and alert again. ‘I heard this one story about these traders who got attacked. 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, makes me think that these balverines will be a great challenge for us,’ said Sparrow.

‘That wasn’t what I meant.’

‘I know what you meant.’

Moments later, Hammer grabbed Sparrow’s arm, preventing him from continuing and pointed at a creature sitting on top of a stone arch, short distance away.

'There's one of the bloody things right there!' she whispered

The balverine was the ugliest and scariest creature Sparrow had ever seen. Its fur was blacker than the midnight sky, teeth sharper than broken glass, and overall it was one of the most deadly creatures in Albion, as Sparrow soon discovered.

‘And here I was hoping that we wouldn’t see any,’ Hammer groaned.

‘What? Are you scared?’ Sparrow asked, slightly surprised. He had never seen Hammer afraid, except in the Wellspring Caves, but that was only because she was defenceless.

‘No, just wary.’

‘Why?’

‘You know nothing about balverines, do you?’

‘Why would I?’

‘Don’t you listen to guard reports and read the news?’

‘Why would I want to do that?’ Sparrow couldn’t think of anything more boring.

Hammer sighed.

‘Sparrow, balverines are the deadliest creatures in Albion, besides banshees,’ she explained. ‘They are fast moving carnivals that very few people ever survive an encounter with them. If you stand and fight, you’ll be ripped to shreds by their razor sharp claws. If you run away, they will chase after you, catch you - they are faster than the average human-being - and rip you to shreds. Overall, you can see why they are classed as the deadliest creature in Albion.’

‘Then we’ll just have to be quicker,’ Sparrow shrugged, before looking back at the balverine. ‘Where’d it go?’

‘It must have run off!' Hammer muttered as they continued down the path, weapons at the ready.

‘Pity.’

‘Pity?’ Hammer looked at Sparrow as though he was insane, though sometimes she thought he was. ‘What do you mean, “pity”? You actually want to fight it?’

‘Of course! I need something to practice on. It’s not like I can get much of a challenge from bandits… plus we need to warm up for the Cruc – ARGH!’

'SPARROW!' yelled Hammer, running towards him as the balverine that had knocked him painfully to the ground began to howl. 'Are you alright?'

'I'm fine,' he growled, getting to my feet, sword in hand, 'but the bloody balverine won’t be once I’ve finished with it. Your dance partner is behind you, by the way.’

‘Dance partner?’ said Hammer, perplexed, turning around as Sparrow began to play with the balverine. She soon saw what Sparrow meant by dance partner. Another balverine was coming towards her.

As it got closer to her, she swung her hammer at it, but it dodged her attack easily and before she knew it, she was on the ground covered in claw marks. In the background she saw Sparrow fall to his knees as his balverine attacked him. His back was to her.

When she felt sharp claws slice the side of her face, she began to pay attention to her “dance partner”. Hammer knew that it was too fast for her so she did the next best thing. She concentrated on blocking. She knew that it would eventually tire and when it did, she would attack. The only problem with this plan was whether it would tire before her; the second problem was the creatures speed. It was too fast for her to block. In the background she heard Sparrow scream, but she didn’t dare look at him. If she did, the balverine would have her at its mercy. Then, just as it was about to attack, a vault of lightning hit it and before her eyes, she watched as it became nothing more than a skeleton.

‘That was fun,’ Sparrow said indifferently, handing Hammer a healing potion when he saw all the claw marks in her skin.

‘You found balverines nearly killing us fun?’ Hammer said loudly. She was seriously beginning to question what went through his head. ‘Are you insane? No, let me guess. You’re going to find all the other balverines we have to fight to be fun and games too!’

‘Why would I find that fun?’ Sparrow inquired in a bored tone. ‘It’s not a challenge anymore.’

‘What are you on about?’ Hammer demanded, getting to her feet. ‘You’ve defeated two balverines and now you think you’re an expert?’

‘You should know better than anyone that I’m a fast learned. Remember the hollow men in the Wellspring Caves?’ Sparrow said, leading the way down the path, his sword sheltered at his hip. ‘Everything has strengths and weaknesses, and in that exciting fight, I have discovered the balverines strength and weakness.’

‘And what is that?’

‘The balverine relies on its speed to destroy its enemies,’ Sparrow explained. ‘Being one of the fastest creatures alive gives it the best advantage seeing as there is no one alive as fast as it… except perhaps the Hero of Skill. As a result, its skin is weaker, which means it can be easily wounded.’

‘Sparrow, you aren’t making any sense.’

‘Lightning can move faster than a balverine which can then kill it,’ Sparrow said bluntly. ‘So all I have to do is use my Will when they attack and they will be dead in seconds.’

‘But doesn’t your Will take time to accumulate?’

‘Shadow will warn me when they are around… like he is doing now. So I start gathering it now, which means-’ Sparrow broke off as two balverines appeared and he sent a wave of lightning at them ‘- that I’m ready for when they appear.’

‘If you weren’t here, I doubt I would make it very far,’ admitted Hammer.

‘Was that a compliment?’ Sparrow asked, amazed.

‘No, it was a fact,’ Hammer said stubbornly, looking anywhere other than Sparrow.

‘Ah, but coming from you, it is a compliment. Hence, I will take it as one.’

‘You’re impossible,’ Hammer said, shaking her head fondly. 'Well, this is an inviting part of the forest, don't you think?' she added sarcastically, before jumping, along with Sparrow – though he denied ever jumping - when at a high pitched scream that sounded around the forest.

‘What on earth was that?’ Sparrow said, looking around. ‘It definitely wasn’t a bird –‘

‘Don’t be so stupid!’ Hammer snapped, running off. ‘Someone's in trouble! We've got to help her. Come on!'

‘Hammer, think about it. Why would someone be out in this part of the forest? Who would be stupid enough to walk through a balverine infested forest?’ Sparrow tried to reason as he ran after her.

‘Besides you and me?’ Hammer snarled. ‘I don’t know. Maybe someone who didn’t know that balverines lived here… like you didn’t.’

Sparrow had no argument for that. What she said made sense.

Eventually they came to a halt in front of an ancient tower, and saw a middle class woman, standing over a dead body crying.

'Are you alright?' Hammer asked gently, walking over to her. Sparrow followed her looking like a moody two year old. He knew what Hammer would end up doing.

'Balverines attacked us!' the woman cried, while Shadow growled. No one paid him any heed. 'They killed my husband! They killed my Fredrick!'

'It's alright,' Hammer said soothingly. ‘You're safe with us, er...'

'Lilith,' said the woman, 'but, they took my son!'

‘They took your son?’ Sparrow said coldly. ‘Why would they do something like that? Did they take him as a little snack? Or are they like hobbes? Do they turn children into them?’

‘I don’t know!’ Lilith cried.

‘Sparrow, you are not helping!’ Hammer growled, before turning her attention back to Lilith and saying quietly, 'Can you show us where they took him?'

‘Hammer,’ Sparrow said warningly.

'I-I think so,' Lilith sobbed. 'Oh, my poor Robert.’

'I'm sure your son is alright. We'll find him,' Hammer promised.

‘No, we won’t,’ Sparrow said firmly. ‘Hammer, our task is to get to Westcliff’s capital, not to go looking for a kid that is already lost!’

‘Sparrow!’ exclaimed Hammer. ‘How can you be so cold? We’re going to find Robert and that’s final!’

‘You’re not the boss of me, Hannah!’ Sparrow growled. ‘You can go locking for the brat, but I’m going to Westcliff!’

‘Fine!’ Hammer yelled, before walking off with Lilith.

Sparrow stood there resentfully, watching Hammer go.

‘Stubborn girl!’ Sparrow muttered to himself, not paying any attention to Shadow, who was tugging on his pants. ‘She’s going to get herself killed!  ... Maybe I should go after her and make sure she doesn’t end up getting herself kill – Ow – shi… what was that for?’ Shadow had just bit him. However, Sparrow anger – over the bite – soon disappeared when he saw how agitated the dog was. ‘What’s wrong, boy?’

Shadow focused on Fredrick’s corpse and growled, hoping that his master would understand what he was saying.

Sparrow looked down at the corpse. He couldn’t see anything dangerous about it. He looked back at Shadow.

‘It’s just a corpse of a stupid man, Shadow. Come on, let’s find Hammer.’

The moment Sparrow’s back was turned; the corpse jumped up and sent Sparrow flying into a nearby tree… painfully.

‘What the -? Sparrow couldn’t believe his eyes. The man he believed to be dead was alive and seemed to have the same strength as Hammer.

He drew his sword and pointed it at Fredrick.

‘Why are you attacking me?’ Sparrow demanded, while Shadow revealed his teeth, crouched low to the ground, and growled.

‘You killed my children. Now you must die,’ Fredrick growled.

Sparrow then watched in horror as Fredrick changed into a large white balverine.

‘This cannot be good,’ muttered Sparrow, quickly drawing upon his Will.

He had to admit, this was definitely a major challenge for him as he tried to gather his Will while being attacked by the leader of the balverines. It was worth it in the end, however, for he was able to gather enough energy to incinerate the creature.

Sparrow sat there panting as he watched the fearless creature become nothing more than a pile of bones.

‘I cannot believe balverines can take on human forms,’ Sparrow panted, patting Shadow’s head, before he hurriedly jumped to his feet and tore after Hammer. If Fredrick was a balverine, than that meant Lilith was too. It also meant that Hammer was in greater danger than he had initially thought.

As Sparrow ran through the forest, he prayed that he would be able to find Hammer in time. He didn’t even notice that no balverines had attacked him.

He eventually arrived at some ancient ruins with balverines sitting in its arches, watching as he ran past them and into an underground passage. He didn’t even see them.

Sparrow ran through the underground corridors and when he heard Hammer scream, he picked up his pace. When he reached the end of the corridor, he destroyed the locked door blocking his way, and looked around. In the middle of the large hall he was now standing in was Hammer, fighting off ten balverines. His eyes widened when he noticed that the pack was winning and he automatically sent vaults of lightning at them. Due to his fear of losing Hammer, his Will gather extremely quickly.

‘Sparrow, what are you doing here?’ Hammer asked as she ran and embraced him. She was grateful to see him.

‘There’s no time for explanations,’ Sparrow said awkwardly, trying to get out of Hammer’s embrace. ‘Where’s Lilith?’

‘I don’t know,’ Hammer replied, letting go of him. ‘She disappeared after leading me here. Sparrow, she’s –‘

‘A white balverine, I know. Fredrick was too. But that doesn’t matter now. What matters is getting out of here alive.’

‘How’d you get in here?’ Hammer asked, looking around. ‘Lilith locked the door.’

‘I destroyed it.’

‘Then let’s go –‘

‘No. We have to go forward, not back. That’s the only way we can get to Westcliff,’ Sparrow said firmly.

‘But there is no other way out of here, except the other side of that spike pit.’ She pointed to the other side of the room, across a spike pit. ‘There’s no way across the pit without killing or seriously injuring ourselves.’

‘There’s always a way!’ Sparrow said forcefully, going over to the pit and looking around.

Maybe if we could climb up one of the pillars we would be able to find something, Sparrow thought as he looked up at one of the pillars close by.

It was then that he saw it. The top of the pillar was crumbling.

'What are you looking at?' Hammer asked, looking up in the pillar too. '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.

Meanwhile, Sparrow kept his eyes open for any more bloodthirsty balverines, with one in particular… and she soon appeared.

'You should have stayed hidden, Lilith!' Sparrow snarled, walking calmly towards the white balverine.

'No. I have come to revenge my children and mate!’ she replied maliciously. ‘You killed them, so now you shall suffer! You killed my mate, so I shall kill yours before killing you!’

‘Hammer’s not my mate. She’s not even my friend. She’s only an acquaintance,’ Sparrow said calmly, while calling upon his Will for what he hoped to be the last time. He was starting to grow tired again.

‘Then why do you care about her? Why did you come here to save her? Why have the two of you shown affection for each other?’

‘I don’t know what you are talking about in regards to affection, but I’m only here to save her because my guardian told me to. Now leave, before you join your mate and children.’

‘Never!’ Lilith roared, before charging at him.

Sparrow had expected this and was ready for her. He allowed her to knock him to the ground and just as she was about to rip out his throat, he sent a powerful surge of energy at her. Moments later he was brushing a skeleton off him. He heard the pillar collapse behind him.

When he turned around, he saw Hammer on the ground and a stone bridge across the pit. He then watched as she got to her feet and said to him coldly, ‘Let’s go, we’re leaving!’

Shocked by her sudden coldness, Sparrow mutually followed her across the stone bridge and through the dark corridors.

‘Is it true?’ Hammer demanded suddenly. ‘What you said to Lilith?’

‘Which part?’

‘The part where you said that we were only acquaintances and you only came for me because Theresa told you to.’

‘What? You actually though I came for you because I care for you?’ Sparrow laughed cruelly. ‘Once Rose has been revenged, I never want to see you again.’

Hammer’s eyes narrowed and she hit him, hard, knocking him to the ground. She then stormed off, leaving Sparrow and Shadow behind.

Sparrow –

‘I don’t want to hear it, Theresa,’ Sparrow said firmly, yet sadly as he went after Hammer. ‘It has to be this way.’

By the time Sparrow left the balverine den, the sun was beginning to rise and Hammer was waiting for him impatiently. She didn’t seem as angry with him now.

‘Come on, let’s get this over and down with,’ she said quietly as she led the way to the town of Westcliff.

As the Heroes approached the town, their eyes were met with the slight of a huge building built into the side of a mountain.

Many die in their attempt to win the Crucible, but win it you must if we are to rescue Garth, said Theresa.

‘We should be able to handle it,’ Sparrow said confidently. ‘We’re stronger than anyone else in Albion.’

You don’t just need strength, Sparrow. Wit and instinct are also needed, as well as other skills.

‘I was trying to be optimistic.’

No, you were being over confident, which is one of your weaknesses.

Sparrow paled slightly, and Hammer’s eyes soften slightly, as they arrived at the Westcliff capital. Outside the sad little town were two thugs fighting playfully.

'Whoa, look at these two,' said one of the thugs, stopping the fight when he saw Sparrow and Hammer. 'Are you lost little girl?' he added to Sparrow, completely ignoring Hammer.

‘Er, I think it’s a bloke, Ron,’ the other said uncertainly.

‘Yeah, that’s what makes it an insult, Biff!’ Ron growl. ‘Now shut it!’

'Hold on. I think we've found the brains of this operation,' Hammer said satirically.

'Wow, you trained your pet troll to speak,' Ron insulted, making Sparrow’s eyes narrow even more. In his eyes, Hammer looked nothing like a troll. He thought she was extremely beautiful, independent and intelligent, not that he would ever admit to it.

'Come on, you've got time to play with us, ain’t cha?' Ron asked as Sparrow and Hammer walked past them.

'Yeah, let's play a wee game,' Biff said excitedly.

'I have an idea for a game, using my hammer and your head!' Hammer said hotly. ‘Now get lost before I put my hammer to good use!’

'Then why don't you show us what've got?' Ron suggested. 'Or ain’t cha you got nothing?'

'Yeah show us!' Biff echoed.

‘Trust me; you don’t want us to show you anything!’ Sparrow growled, dangerously.

Hammer, upon seeing the murderous look in Sparrow’s eyes, quickly led him away saying, 'Let's just ignore these idiots. They’re not worth it.'

'You two "intimate" are you?' Ron asked with a horrible laugh.

'Yeah, are you two int - what does that mean, Ron?' asked Biff.

'Ah, wit, intelligence and looks. Is there anything these two don't have?' Hammer grinned at Sparrow.

Ron heard what she said.

'Why don't you two get back to your cosy little homes?' he growled. 'You don't belong here.'

‘Okay, you two are really starting to piss me off!’ Sparrow growled, turning to face the two idiotic thugs.

‘And what are you going to do about it?’ Ron laughed. ‘A pretty boy like you probably wouldn’t even last a minute against a giant beetle.’

Sparrow’s lips twitched into a dark smirk, making the smile from Ron’s face disappear. Then, before everyone’s eyes, Ron and Biff’s facial features became all dreamy-like. They then linked arms and happily skipped off.

‘What was that all about?’ Hammer asked bewildered.

‘Chaos spell,’ Sparrow replied as he walked towards the Crucible. ‘This is only the second time I’ve used it. The first time I had bandits cleaning the ground. It was rather entertaining.’

When the Heroes arrived at the crucible entrance, they were greeted by two men; a skinny man who looked like he had never held any weapon before, and a broad man who looked as though he had seen his share of fights, if the scars on his face were anything to go by.

'Look who it is! A Crucible contender whenever I saw one!' exclaimed the skinny man, grinning broadly at Sparrow.

'Been causing quite a commotion, haven't cha?' said the other,

'You know who he is?' Hammer asked suspiciously.

'Everyone knows who he is,' said the scarred man. ‘He’s becoming a very well-known adventurer.’

'Right. And who are you?'

'Me? Everyone knows me! I'm Mad-Dog "The Strangler" McGraw.'

'Best Crucible fighter there was back in his day,' said the skinny man.

'Bit redundant, isn't it?' said Hammer.

Mad-Dog's eyes hardened.

'Look, if you want to compete, get on with it,' Mad-Dog told Sparrow 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.'

Sparrow glared at Hammer.

‘Theresa won’t be happy,’ he told her. ‘Now I have to do everything!’

‘I don’t see the problem,’ she shrugged. ‘I recall that you prefer to work alone.’

‘Ha ha, very funny,’ Sparrow spat. ‘Shadow, stay with Hammer and make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid.’ He then walked into the crucible, leave an offended Hammer behind.

When Sparrow entered, he went and signed his name on the contenders list and read the rules, before going over to wait with the four other contenders. One looked like some sort of mage, another was a bandit, a woman and... a little girl! Sparrow stared at the little girl, unable to believe that they were allowing a child to compete in something so dangerous.

'Ah, a new person joins our party,' the mage said, when Sparrow had taken his seat. '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,' the bandit grumbled. 'I'm Meatbane the Bandit, laddie,' he added to the Hero. 'And this is Bessie,' he indicated to the woman, 'and Gorgoron.' He indicated to the little girl.

'And who might you be, handsome?' asked Bessie.

'Sparrow.' He watched Meatbane closely when he said his name, curious to see what his reaction would be.

Meatbane’s eyes darkened.

‘I know exactly who you are, Bandit Killer,’ he growled. ‘You are as bothersome as your father!’

‘Don’t you dare compare me to that man,’ Sparrow said dangerously. ‘Besides, it’s you comrades’ own fault. If they didn’t attack me, I would have happily left them alone.’

‘Dash and Thag never attacked you! You went looking for them!’ Meatbane yelled.

‘Only because they were standing in my way,' Sparrow replied calmly as screaming echoed around the room from inside the arena.

‘No! NO! ARGH!’

'Gorgoron wants his mummy!' said a deep male's voice from next to Sparrow.

Startled, Sparrow looked at the little girl sitting next to him. Looks definitely could 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.'

‘Wow, those were big words for a bandit,’ Sparrow snickered. ‘Sure you know what they mean?’

‘Shut it!’ Meatbane growled.

'Ah, um. I would certainly embrace this opportunity but, I, um... still waiting for my lucky robes to come back from the cleaners,’ Zachary invented, making Sparrow roll his eyes.

'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!' Sparrow snorted, while Bessie glared at him.

Marlin turned to Gorgoron.

'Do not look at Gorgoron. Gorgoron has an ingrown toenail right now. An evil toenail!'

Marlin sighed and turned to the young Hero.

'You! The new lad! It's you're lucky day. Get your ass in there,' he said. ‘Or do you have some farfetched excuse too?’

‘No, my crossbow doesn’t have a cold anymore and I made sure my lucky robes were ready before I came, so I’ll happily get in there,’ said Sparrow, making Martin laugh, and Bessie and Zachary glare.

-----SPARROW’S JOURNEY-----

When Sparrow walked into the first arena, he noticed that most of the dirt was stain with blood. He began to wonder if it was the blood of unskilled competitors or the blood of the fallen enemies. In the end he decided that it was both.

'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.' Sparrow recognised the voice of the skinny guy who had been standing at the entrance with Mad-dog.

As the skinny guy began the countdown to the first round, Sparrow felt a twinge of excitement as he drew his sword and gathered is Will, ready to face his dangerous opponent.

'Round One: First Wave: Three... Two... One... GO!'

And here came Sparrow’s foes. Blue light surrounded them as they appeared in the arena. When Sparrow saw who they were, all his excitement vanished and a look of disappointment graced his handsome features.

Giant beetles. Giant beetles were the first round of creatures he had to fight. He had to fight the very creatures he had mastered to kill when I was a little boy. Sparrow began to question the blood that was staining the room. That blood wasn’t beetle blood – did beetles even bleed? – which meant that people were actually injured by beetles… unless it was there just to scare people.  

'He's just standing there Mad-Dog!' the skinny man said, laughing. 'The might adventurer is frozen in fear at the sight of beetles!'

The crowd started laughing.

‘As if something as pathetic as beetles would scare me,’ Sparrow huffed, drawing his gun and shooting each beetle with a bored look on his face.

'Argh, those ruddy, grubby beetles I hate them,' Mad-Dog commented.

'Well, let's see how the new boy likes them, now that he is unfrozen,' said Mad-Dog’s commentating partner. 'Can our lucky new comer keep our bloodthirsty audience entertained?'

‘A better question would be if the Crucible can entertain me,’ muttered Sparrow as the second wave appeared, which he dispatched of just as unenthusiastically as the first wave. Then he did the same thing with the final wave.

He yawned as he sheltered his pistol.

‘Oh, I think the adventurer found this round boring, Murray,’ Mad-dog laughed.

‘You would too if you had been killing them giant beetles since you were a child!’ Sparrow yelled up at Mad-Dog and Murray, before heading to the next arena, leaving a very impressed crowd behind. It was abnormal for a child to be able to fight a creature which could harm many adults.

-----SPARROW’S JOURNEY-----

'And here comes our challenger, waiting to impale!' Murray said enthusiastically, when Sparrow entered the second arena.  'Round Two: three... two... one... go!'

Sparrow calmly watched his new opponents appeared, but he soon became very curious. He had never seen these creatures before. They were short, plump creatures with toad-like faces and sharp pointed teeth.

The moment the creatures saw Sparrow, they charged at him. Sparrow calmly dodged and blocked their attacks before running them through with his blade.

'Dead hobbe alright,' Sparrow heard Murray say. 'Oh please, Mad-Dog. Stop crying.'

‘So that’s what you are,’ muttered Sparrow, using the trap in the middle of the room to kill several hobbes at once.

Theresa told him, on many accounts, that if he didn’t behave the hobbes would come and get him. He had also heard the stories about hobbes stealing children and turning them into more hobbes.

‘Another perfect round!’ Murray yelled when Sparrow had slayed the final hobbe. ‘Did you use to fight them as a child too?’

‘No, this was the first time I’ve ever come across one!’ Sparrow yelled back, before heading to the next arena.

The first thing Sparrow noticed when he entered the third room was that there was a huge hole in the middle of the room and several containers of explosives located around the room. Sparrow was glad that these two traps were in the room for he ended up enjoying shooting the explosives which then sent the hobbes he was fighting flying. He also enjoyed kicking the hobbes down into the hole to their deaths.

In the end, Sparrow had made another new record and he had the crowd sitting on the edge of their seats.

The fourth arena turned out to be some sort of fog swamp, which told Sparrow that he wouldn't be fighting any beetles or hobbes.

'Oh, this place brings out the old romantic in me,' said Murray. 'Cold dead trees.'

'You've never been married, have you, Murray?' asked Mad-Dog.

‘I would rather die, Mad-Dog, old friend,' replied Murray. 'And speaking of death, I think I see something stirring in the waters down there.'

He was right. Hollow men began to appear and headed straight for Sparrow.

Sparrow could have yawned with boredom. Hollow men were easy to deal with... if you knew how to, and of course, he knew exactly how to deal with them. Did he not protect Hammer from hollow men in the Wellspring Caves? And did he not defeat one hundred hollow men in the Bowerstone Cemetery? If he couldn't fight hollow men by now, there would be something wrong with him.

With a plan in mind, Sparrow stood there calmly and watched as the hollow men began to surround him.

'He's just standing there, Mad-Dog. Wonder why he hasn't shown us any more of his expert gun and blade skills?' Murray commentated.

'I don't know, Murray,’ Mad-Dog said curiously, ‘but he better do something soon, otherwise the hollow men will have him.'

Sparrow smirked and watched as the hollow men were slowly moving closer to him. Then, when they were almost upon him, he used the Will he had been gathering and the crowd watched in wonder as a roaring wild fire appeared around Sparrow, destroying all the hollow men around him.

'Did you see that, Mad-Dog? It seems as though we have a Will-user in our presence!'

'He’s more than a Will-user, Murray. He is a very talented and powerful one. Most people would be tired after that display, but not him,’ said a very impressed Mad-Dog. ‘Murray, your eyebrows are on fire,’ he added calmly.

As Murray put out his eyebrows, Sparrow continued to use his Will to destroy all the hollow men, which helped him achieve another perfect round. He also got bonus gold from the crowd. Apparently none of them had seen an expert Will-user before, only weak Mages.

Round five went by smoothly, with it only being bandits. Sparrow had enjoyed using the Chaos spell on them as did the audience. Round six went equally smoothly with more bandits and several highwaymen. The seventh round turned out to be balverines. Sparrow was grateful for his time in the Westcliff forest. He knew exactly how to defeat them.

The crowd was definitely impressed with Sparrow using Will again, and they were extremely impressed when he killed the blood-thirsty creatures in record time with lightning. Turned out that out of all seven rounds he had completed, this round was Sparrow’s best time. This proved how weird he was. Murray and Mad-Dog found it funny as they yelled out the times to the audience, while Sparrow went to the final arena.

‘I don’t believe it, Mad-Dog! He’s made it to the final round. I don’t think we’ve had anyone make it to the last round – in record time - except for that Hero twenty years ago!’ Murray exclaimed.

‘What Hero?’ Sparrow asked sharply.

‘The Hero of Southcliff… King Matt, though I don’t know if you can call him that seeing as he abandoned his kingly role.’

‘Yeah, that’s not the only thing he abandoned,’ muttered Sparrow, preparing himself for his next opponent. He paled when he saw what it was.

‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ Sparrow groaned as his eyes fell upon the rock troll.

It had to be the one creature Sparrow was hopeless at fighting as the crowd soon discovered. Then, to make matters worse, hobbes appeared. Everyone watched as Sparrow was thrown about and by the time Sparrow had defeated everything, he was covered in blood, and was very moody and sore.

‘Unbelievable! Incredible! It’s an extraordinary superhuman feature of inconceivable proportion!’ Murray yelled out to the excited crowd. ‘Unprecedented I might say if they were unaware of the presidents.’

'He's a worthy competitor to ever compete in this competition, alright,' Mad-Dog said approvingly. ‘Especially for someone so young.'

'Indeed,' Murray agreed. '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!'

-----SPARROW’S JOURNEY-----

When Sparrow arrived in the waiting room of the Crucible, he saw that Zachary, Meatbane, Bessie and Gorgoron were still sitting there, along with Hammer, Mad-Dog and Murray.

'Congratulations!' Murray said, handing Sparrow a bag of gold and the Crucible trophy.

'That was something else,' Mad-Dog said. 'Best Crucible in years! We were beginning to think that the Hero of Southcliff would be our last entertaining Champion.’

‘Just out of curiosity, did he do better or worse than me?’ Sparrow asked, hoping he sounded casual.

‘His time was better than yours,’ Mad-Dog said thoughtfully. ‘Just like you, he was a skilled fighter, though unlike you, he was much better at fighting trolls. The one thing I do remember distinctly about him was his uncanny skills against balverines. He was fast enough to kill them with only a sword. I’ve never seen anyone move so fast.’

'Indeed,’ Murray agreed again. ‘It was a classic performance that will be remembered for all time. Or at least as long as there are people around to remember it. Much like your own performance.'

'Anyway, best of luck, son,' Mad-Dog said, clasping Sparrow’s shoulder. 'Hope to see you around here again sometime.'

'Certainly. As long as you don't suffer some agonising death on your travels,' Murray said thoughtlessly. 'Bye bye now.' He walked off.

‘Ignore him,’ said Mad-Dog. ‘He says that to everyone.’

‘Well, I’ll definitely be back. The Crucible is a good place for me to train… especially when it comes to trolls,’ said Sparrow.

‘Then I shall see you again!’ Mad-Dog laughed, before going after Murray to scold him again about how he says goodbye to contestants.

Sparrow looked at Hammer, who stood up and walked over to him.

‘They’re right, you know,’ she said. ‘That was fantastic! I listened to the commentary every step of the way. I even got in to see a few rounds. That one with the hobbes, blood brilliant!’

‘Of course it was,’ Sparrow said as they exited the Crucible, ‘because it was me fighting in there!’

‘Yeah – alright… Don’t get a big head. You won’t fit in the boat!’ Hammer laughed.

Well done, Theresa congratulated. Not many people make it through the Crucible alive.

‘Both you and Hammer praising me… wow, never been this popular,’ Sparrow joked.

Very funny, Sparrow.

‘The Spire’s not going to be a lot of laughs,’ Hammer said serious. ‘You should take some time out before you go. Anybody you want to see… now’s the time. Anyway, I’ll be waiting in the tavern, so you know where to find me when you’re ready to go.’

‘Hammer, I might not be back here for days, weeks, months, even. Are you sure you wish to sit in a tavern waiting for me. Wouldn’t it be best if we just said bye now?’

‘Nope. You can’t get rid of me that easily. And don’t you dare try and sneak away!’ she warned, before heading towards the tavern. Sparrow watched her go with an odd look on his face.

Hammer has a good point, Theresa commented. 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.

‘He wouldn’t want to be going anywhere,’ Sparrow grumbled as an awful yodelling met his ears.

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