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Chapter One


It wasn’t often these days that you could hear arguing from the Donnelly household, but tonight, that proved to be false.

“Mother, please, this is what I’ve always wanted to do!” Marcus shouted as he jabbed his finger at the paper, a poster signed “Hero Wanted”, that he held in his hand. “Ever since father told me of his adventures when he was my age, I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps. Spielburg’s not far from here and I’ve done my research. I’ve read all I can from the Famous Adventurer, I’ll be fine! Mother, this is my one chance to finally make something of myself! I’ve always wanted to become a Hero, and now’s my chance!” You’re begging now, Marcus. Don’t do that! Be a man! Marcus thought.

“Being the son of the Captain of the Guard isn’t enough?” Sarah Donnelly said to her son, shaking her head disapprovingly. “I said no, Marcus Donnelly, and that’s final! It’s too dangerous! You may have graduated from that… Correspondence School, but that’s just books! You need to rest and think about this!” Her voice was steadfast like his, and she inwardly sighed. She knew where he got his stubbornness from. “I just don’t want you rushing into something you cannot handle yet! I… I…” she let out her sigh, “Oh, Marcus…”

Marcus let down his guard and hugged her gently. “Mother, I’ll be fine, I promise. I won’t be alone, you know. Finn and Rico are going as well.” He smiled and his mother sighed again, defeated.

Marcus looked up on the wall behind his mother as something caught his eyes. There, shining in the light of the fireplace, were a sword and shield. The pair had once belonged to Marcus’ father before his death, and now they were displayed here in tribute to him. Sarah steadied herself, took them down and looked at them, holding back her tears just barely. Ehren… it should be you doing this, not I! She took a deep breath, then looked at her son and said, “Come, Marcus. We should go to the Temple to pray.” Marcus smiled and nodded, then rushed after her.


Meanwhile, in the Willowsby Library which also functioned as the home of the Dillon family, things were a bit quieter.

Finnegan Dillon sat alone in one of the library’s chairs, reading a book as he often did. This one in particular was a rather special one, for it was a gift from Marcus. He said it was something called F.A.C.S. which stood for Famous Adventurer’s Correspondence School, a subject that Marcus wouldn’t shut up about once he got wrapped up in it.

Finn smirked to himself at the thought of Marcus reading much of anything, really. “I’m a man of action!” he once said, and the few times Finn did manage to catch him actually in the library, he always had his nose stuck in books about adventures and the lore of the land like it was going out of style. He never read anything practical, like how to take care of books or the fundamentals of psychology, but Finn thought no lesser of him despite that, even if he did tease him on occasion about being a “witless Fighter” it was all in good fun.

So Finn was quite touched when, not long after Marcus graduated from F.A.C.S. that he’d saved up the extra money, and bought both him and Rico the first course of lessons pertaining to their skills. For Finn, that happened to be the art of the arcane; the practice of wielding the power that held the very world together, and summoning it from the depths of their minds and fingertips at will.

Finn was so engrossed in his book that he didn’t even take notice of the person sitting across from him until they made their presence known. A small magical lasso suddenly wrapped itself around his book, yanking it out of his hands and placing it onto the coffee table. Finn saw his papi, Keenan, looking at him silently with his arms crossed as the Fetch spell dissipated.

Finn held his gaze for a couple seconds then looked away, his eyes flicking about in utmost confusion. They both had their ways of telling the other that they wished to be left alone. For Keenan, it was him smoking his pipe, and for Finn it was whenever he’d gotten his nose stuck in a book. Could anybody blame him, really, since this place had served as a treasure trove of knowledge just waiting to be discovered for as long as he could remember?

“Finnegan,” Keenan spoke softly, making Finn finally look at him, “I think I’d rather have you practicing.”

“Instead of studying?” Finn asked, cocking his head like a curious dog. Keenan nodded and gave his son a little smile. Finn couldn’t help but eagerly smile back as they both stood up and went to the cellar where they often practiced their Magic.

There wasn’t much in the cellar aside from some barrels lined up in all corners of the room, which served as a makeshift “arena” for practice. If Finn looked closely, he could see the tiny shadows of mice darting about.

The most prominent feature, however, was an immense book sitting on a stand against the back wall. An ancient tome from long ago, it had been in Finn’s family for longer than anyone could remember. This was the Book of Runes. It was a magical book that contained all sorts of spells. Or, at least, that’s what Finn had heard. Sadly, the only way one could even see the letters in the tome was casting Detect Magic which Finn did not know. Not yet anyway, Finn thought, but perhaps someday. Someday, I’ll be a powerful Wizard just like him! It’s about damn time too!

“Give me your dagger, Finnegan,” Keenan told him. Finn handed it to him, and his father looked it over. Keenan muttered, “Yes, very fine looking steel. Simple yet effective. Small blade, but can hold a nice little…” his eyebrows bobbed and his grin widened, “’spark’ of power.” He looked back at his son and said, “Finnegan, I am going to teach your first actual spell.”

“Really, papi?” Finn asked, his eyes widening in excitement.

Keenan nodded. “It is a spell called Leyden's Latent Lectrical Discharge, or more simply, ‘Zap.’ Allow me to demonstrate.” Placing two fingers on the blade, he threw his arm backwards, dropped into a fighting stance. The dagger glowed for a moment, and when it faded, Finn saw sparks of lightning trailing along the blade accompanied by a faint buzzing sound.

“Now then, what to test this on?” Keenan wondered aloud. Just then, a mouse crept over his shoe. Keenan, who hated mice, leapt back with a cry of mixed fright and frustration, “GOTTS VERDAMMEN!! UGH!!” The Wizard shuddered in disgust, his leg raised in the air rather like a spooked horse.

Finn knew better than to laugh at seeing his Wizard father being afraid of a tiny little mouse. Not only was it incredibly rude and disrespectful to his elder to laugh at him, but Finn had also seen what the basement mice could do. Their favorite thing to gnaw on wasn’t the cheese in the cupboard, but the pages of various musty old books upstairs in the library. Keenan had already lost several old texts to their teeth, and had always feared that one day he’d come down here to find the Book of Runes destroyed beyond repair. So, he put a spell of Protection on the tome, but that did little to alleviate his fear of the little pests. He felt there was always a chance that he’d missed a spot somewhere, or that the spell would eventually wear off.

Keenan attempted to step on the mouse’s tail, trying to trap it, but it kept rushing away. Quickly, realizing his feet just weren’t fast enough, he opened his hand and muttered an incantation quickly under his breath, thrusting it towards the rodent. A soft white glow came from the mouse. The mouse’s paws slowed from a panicked run, to a walk and then stopped entirely. It sat up on its hind legs and looked at Keenan with glassy black eyes, twitching its nose.

Keenan breathed a sigh of relief and picked up the pest by the tail, and winced as he held it by the tips of his fingers. The mouse just stared at him blankly, not struggling at all. He held up the dagger, gulped, and looked at his son. “Allow me to demonstrate, Finnegan.”

He poked the mouse gently and there a tiny ‘fzzt!’ sound as the dagger drew blood. The sparks then faded and the dagger was ordinary steel once more. With the sudden harm, the mouse finally had a reaction and gave a startled squeak of pain. It vainly struggled in Keenan’s grip as he set it down carefully on the floor again. The mouse scurried in panic and dashed back into the corner where the shadows were.

Turning back to his son with his hands behind his back, he said, “As you could see, Zap allows your weapon to gain a bit more power when you cast it. It’ll wear off as soon as it makes contact with your enemy. Now, we Magic Users and Wizards typically don’t like to get up close and personal with our enemies. Why should we? After all, when we can hit from a distance with Flame Dart,” he opened his palm and conjured a ball of fire, “or Force Bolt,” his other hand now held a glowing ball of pure Magic that glowed and flickered from dark to light blue and back again, “or Lightning Ball,” he dispelled the fireball and now a crackling, sparking ball of electricity sat in his palm, “or any other sort of ranged spell? But, when things get rough and your back’s against the wall, sometimes literally, you have to defend yourself in any way you can.”

Finn nodded and took the dagger back. Keenan ended his spells and rubbed his neck, then looked away from Finn. “I apologize for that, Finnegan. I just really hate those mice.”

“I know, I know. What was that spell you first used on the mouse, though?”

“Ah, that was a spell called Calm. As you saw, it stops the target in its tracks briefly. Quite useful if there’s something dangerous after you, and you’re either too wounded or exhausted to do anything but run away.” Finn nodded.

“Now then, hold still please.” Finn did so, relaxing his body where he stood. He closed his eyes, and breathed deep, letting his mind relax to be ready for knowledge. Keenan touched his hand briefly to his son’s head, and his voice reverberated in Finn’s mind.

“By the gifts given to me by the Gods,

and by the strength of my Will and our ancestors,

I grant this spell to you, the power of Zap.”

Finn let out a gasp and tensed as the knowledge of the spell entered his mind and stuck there like glue. Though the warmth and tingle he felt all over was familiar to him, as he’d been learning Magic for the past decade, this time it felt stronger, more intense than anything he’d felt before, and he hadn’t been expecting it. The sensation soon faded, and Finn smiled a little. He always had looked forward to learning new things, whether it was from his father, or from the multitude of books that was held within their library. Now, he knew he had the opportunity to put that knowledge to good use while on his journey, which both excited him yet it also frightened him as well. Mostly the latter.

“And now,” Keenan told his son, “I wish for you to consult the Book of Runes.”

Finn looked at him puzzled. “But… I cannot read it, papi. I see nothing but blank parchment.”

Keenan answered that by opening the tome and turning to the first page of the manuscript. As Finn said, it had no mark of a quill’s ink on it all. He crooked his finger at his son to come beside him, then placed a hand on the page. “If you truly seek knowledge, Finnegan, then I suggest you learn.”

Finn’s eyes widened as the page gave a sudden flash of light, and an excited smile spread across his face as the writings of arcane text spanning back centuries were finally revealed to him at long last.

~ Every little hamlet has at least one shadier part of town. A part of the town that most with half a brain avoided venturing into unless they had some specific reason to be here. Particularly on nights like this, when the moon was shining and cast long, dark shadows over the area. Set up near the eastern town wall, the oldest part of Willowsby was home to ramshackle houses, most of which were beginning to crumble from both age and neglect.

It would have been the perfect time of night for someone of a more… dubious profession to go skulking about.

However, one of those people of the shadows wasn’t taking that opportunity. Instead, he had other things to worry about.

Rico Larron was sitting on his small bed with arms crossed, and an attentive expression as he hung on to every word his dad, Gustav, told him. His mother, Helen, stood leaning against the wall, letting her husband have his say as the head Thief in the family.

“Stick to the shadows, because the darkness is your best friend.” Gustav told him. Rico nodded. I know, he thought. “Listen closely to the clicks you hear when you’re picking a lock. If you hear a snick, then you’re in. But you must remember not to push it too hard, for the springs can only take so much before your pick snaps in your hand. Know your strength.” Rico nodded again. I know, I know…

A happy meow from below briefly drew their attention. Helen smiled as she saw that their cat, Astrid, had pounced and slaughtered a rat that had dared to show itself in their house. She picked it up in her mouth, and climbed her way up the ladder to where Rico’s bed was. She dropped the carcass at his feet and meowed again, looked up at him, then nudged it against his toes. He just scratched behind her ears and listened to her purring. “Did you hear her?” Helen asked. “Did you see how deftly she scaled your ladder?”

“Yeah, I saw her,” Rico replied, not looking at either of them. “But did you hear her hunting that rat?” Rico shook his head, still not looking at them. I know this! I know what you’re going to say… “That’s what I want you to learn. While those adventuring books Marcus showed you may have spoken of the Way of the Rat, the Cockroach, the Three Toed Sloth, and the Dive Bomber Beetle,” Helen found her eyes rolling at the unnecessarily complex advice from the book, when it really wasn’t supposed to be, “So can the Way of the Cat teach you these things as well. A cat’s paws tread silently across all surfaces, her eyes always alert to everything around her. She never makes her presence known to her prey, for if she did, then they’d scamper off back to their little holes where they know her deadly claws and fangs couldn’t reach them. A cat is limber as well, and if they must climb in order to reach their goal, then they shall.”

Gustav smirked at his wife. “I prefer the Way of The Mouse… you slip right past the Cat unseen.”

Helen laughed softly, “But the Cat can catch The Mouse in her paws and play with her meal if The Mouse is not paying attention…”

Rico said nothing, though his eyebrows sunk down as he blinked. Stop. Please… just stop! I don’t need you rubbing it in!

Silence passed for a moment as they turned back to their boy. “Rico, are you listening?” Rico nodded. Gustav frowned. “Son, look at me.”

Rico’s head whipped around so quickly you could hear his neck crack. “It’s bad enough that I messed up without you constantly reminding me!” he snapped.

Gustav wasn’t fazed and now it was him who was crossing his arms. “How else are you going to get better by not being aware of your mistakes? And besides, it's not like you're the first in our family to flub the heist. It happens to everybody eventually." Rico snorted. “It happened to me, it happened to your grandfather, and his father and so on.” He sighed and shook his head, “But you know what they did when that happened? They certainly didn’t act like you are right now! For the love of all that is divine, you’re acting like a petulant child! You’re acting as if the world, or at least yours, is going to end just because you screwed up!” He blinked and gestured in bewilderment, “Why? Why are you acting like this?!”

By this point, Rico sat hunched and silent with his head in his hands. His fingers clutched at his black hair in frustration and he muttered something to himself.

“Hm? What was that?” Gustav asked.

Rico looked up wearily. “Because if I can’t do things right here, what’s going to happen in Spielburg? I’ll be boned, dad!”

Rico’s dad replied gently, “No you won’t, Rico,” he knelt down and put his hands on his shoulders. “You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t. Believe me, son, this trip will do wonders for you! I myself went on a journey just like it with Ehren and Keenan when we were your age, and we came home stronger and better men for it. Even if you weren’t, uh, having problems with the law right now, I’m so glad that you’re going out into the world at last.” He gave a mischievous smile, “And besides, aren’t you excited about all the potential loot out there? Doesn’t the lovely sound of jingling coins in your pocket make it worth it despite it all? Stay in one place for too long, and either the guards will get suspicious or you’ll bleed the place dry of anything potentially valuable, especially if it’s a town like this. So this trip will be valuable in more ways than one.”

Rico’s frown still didn’t go away as he listened to his father’s words. He looked down and twiddled his thumbs, trying not to think long on the perilous journey ahead.

Gustav’s eyes fell to the direction of the nightstand next to the bed he shared with Helen, which he knew was right underneath the wooden floor of Rico’s room, and came to a decision, which he conveyed to Helen with a nod that she returned and smiled knowingly. It’s time.

“What are you looking at, dad?” Rico asked. Gustav didn’t answer; he just headed back down the ladder and opened the top drawer. Inside, Gustav found a small square wood box that was firmly locked up. To most, it wouldn't have seemed like much at all, but to the long ancestry line of Larrons, inside was their greatest treasure. The thought of Rico’s reaction to unlocking this beauty made him smile.


Willowsby’s Temple had been around for as long as the town had which meant it was several centuries old. What had once been simply a sacred hill of stones had now had walls of wood built around it, and a hole in the roof to let the sunshine and moonlight in. This lit up the middle of the room where the sacred stones lay with an offering bowl on the center-most stone. The scent of candle smoke mixed in with the aroma of nature, as well as the faint tinge of sacrificial blood. It certainly wasn’t as extravagant as the Temple found in the capital city, but for a small town like this it was enough for just this and the altar where little statuettes of the two pantheons of the Gods of the area known as the Aesir and Vanir.

The walls and roof had presumably been put up for protection from the elements, but Keenan snorted at the thought, since in researching the town’s history revealed that there were Magic Wards around the area, making them utterly pointless. Yet he knew exactly why they were erected, and it just made him sad.

There was a very good reason why Keenan kept the Book of Runes was in the cellar. There was a very good reason why Keenan and Finn practiced only there. There was a very good reason why they hid their spells from prying eyes. That very good reason was this: Magic was shunned by the people of Willowsby. Throughout the years, it had become taboo, and any traveling Magic User or Wizard wasn't trusted. It was something that was hammered into each generation by the generation previous for as long as anyone in Willowsby could remember. Healing Magic, like what the town Apothecary, Janan had, was tolerated out of necessity. Though she still didn’t go into town often, lest she get stared at.

Magic though, as Keenan's father had told him, it ran through his family like their blood. It was tradition, no matter how hard it was for them, for every generation in their line to learn and master the arcane arts.

With a deep breath, Keenan gestured to the offering bowl and simply said, “Well, you know what to do.”

Finn nodded and brought out their usual offering. Though most of Keenan’s time was spent running the library, on the slower days he often wiled away the hours and managed to brew his own alcohol. He’d asked Healer Janan if she’d offer him any herbs that went in Mana potions, using them to brew his “Spell Ale” and “Magic Mead” as Finn called them due to the familiar taste that anybody Magic-inclined would recognize.

He figured this would be a suitable offering since, after all, the Aesir and Vanir had given the world the gift of Magic eons ago. He figured he might as well thank the Gods for blessing them for this gift by giving a little of it back every once in a while. It had been quite a few months since last he’d been here to pray, and he felt a trip like this was way overdue.

If this had been any other night, he would have been very surprised to see who came in through the doors next.

The Larron family stepped through the doors, all three of them looking rather out of place. Rico’s eyes darted about, and a feeling of awkwardness permeated him. They greeted the priest and priestess tasked with running and protecting the area, and Rico walked up to the altar with his own offering. Keenan briefly saw that he was carrying a small basket of fresh apples. A good choice, he knew. The Gods favored apples, a symbol of immortality to them.

Marcus and his mother came in shortly afterwards. He held a plump old hen in his arms, and were it not for the snapped neck, he’d have said it looked rather healthy. Another good choice. The Gods favor those who give their best livestock as well.

Marcus clearly had been here much more often, as he didn’t even really take in the surroundings like they had, simply because he didn’t necessarily need to. To Marcus’s eyes, nothing was new. The same wooden walls, the same smell of smoke, wax, and blood, and if he looked up he’d see the same stars through the hole carved into the roof as he always did. What this sacred place looked and felt like had been burned into his mind since he was just a boy. The caretakers of the Temple gave him a warm smile as he passed them by and he smiled back in familiarity, for he knew this place very well. It didn’t bother Marcus that everything was the same however as, in no more than a week they’d be saying goodbye.

With a confident stride, he came up beside his friends and knelt before the offering bowl with his friends doing the same. He placed the corpse of the hen in the bowl, took the dagger he had off his belt and sliced the bird open. Finn popped off the corks on the bottles he carried, pouring them out. Rico sliced the apples he carried in half and placed them in the bowl, letting them float. As the scent of blood became stronger and mixed with the smell of alcohol and apple juice, all three of them bowed their heads with closed eyes in reverence and in their minds, they spoke these words, ‘Accept these offerings, great Allfather, and should you find these gifts worthy, please guide me on my journey.’

Marcus asked, ‘Steady my sword arm and make my feet swift so I can protect both myself and my friends.’

‘Keep my mind clear, my thoughts focused, and my fingers from trembling’ Finn requested.

‘Keep my eyes and ears as sharp as my blade and my footsteps as light as your raven’s feathers.’ Rico prayed.

After a few moments, all three of them rose. Though Finn and Rico went back to their families, Marcus stayed where he was in front of the stones, turning around to face his mother and nodding.

Sarah took a deep breath and walked towards her son, the sword at her side and the shield tucked under her arm.

She didn’t know if she should smile or cry. By the light of the candles, when she looked at Marcus, she didn’t see him but Ehren instead. He’d grown up to look so much like his father, that it was almost uncanny. He had the same brown hair, the same green eyes, and he’d been trained in the same swordplay since he was young just like Ehren had. He loved his father dearly, and she knew that he’d been trying to emulate him even more after he died, for her sake. After all, if he acted enough like Ehren, perhaps it would ease the pain of their loss and it’d be like he never left.

As much as she appreciated the sentiment however, she wished he wouldn’t do so. He may look like his father, yes, but there was no need to become his twin.

Yet, here she was, about to fulfill a family tradition that had been in their family for who knows how long, passing down not just Ehren’s legacy, but the legacy of their entire family line. History was repeating itself once more, and Sarah wished that it wasn’t. But there was no backing out of this. Just get it over with! She thought.

And so, as she looked into Marcus’s eyes, she did. “My dear son…” she began, her voice soft and threatening to tremble already, “I cannot keep you here any longer. You are now grown, and you must forge your own path. Whether you do so alone or with companions is your choice, but regardless, it must be done.” She looked down briefly at the cargo in her arms, “This is the sword and shield of the Donnelly family. With the Aesir and Vanir’s blessings upon us,” She briefly glanced at the Larrons and Dillons who stood nearby and saw both Keenan and Gustav nod at her to tell her to keep going, “and with our family as our witness, I continue our tradition and pass down this sword and shield to you as we have done so in generations past and shall do so forevermore, until Ragnarok consumes us all. Marcus Daniel Donnelly, do you accept this sword known as Shamgar, and this shield named Donnelly’s Resolve, and do you swear this oath to wield them in honor and courage?”

Marcus smiled wide and gave his mother a deep bow. “With my ancestors’ legacy and my descendants’ future upon my shoulders, so I do swear this oath, mother.”

Sarah nodded and resisted rolling her eyes. He could have just said yes, but he has to go over the top. Just like his father. At least I’m supposed to be this formal. “Very well. May you never stray from your oath, Gods forbidding, and may the fire within your heart rival even Sol’s glory.”

With that, the heirlooms changed hands as they should have years ago. Sarah didn’t want to start crying, but she just couldn’t help it. Marcus strapped Resolve to his back and Shamgar to his left hip, and then embraced his mother. Sarah didn’t sob, but he heard her sniffling. He whispered comforting words privately in her ear, rubbing her back as he did so, and the crying soon ceased. After being reassured that she would be fine, Marcus left her side to rejoin his friends.

As soon as he did so, Keenan and Gustav embraced him happily. “You’ll make Ehren proud, I know it,” Gustav told him. Marcus gave them a big goofy smile. It was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Sarah stood there for a moment and just breathed. It was over. Their sword and shield had been passed down to the next of kin, as per their tradition. Her boy would soon be heading off into the world, and while yes, he had his friends with him, still she worried for her son. She was his mother after all; it was her job to worry.

She worried about what sort of monsters were up there in the mountains, and down in that valley. Marcus was strong, he’d proved that since he was nine when he asked to learn the sword and again at eleven, when he refused to weep at news of the death of his father, but still she worried. She worried about the people he’d meet there, whether or not they could be trusted. Marcus was clever, she remembered the nights she found him and Ehren playing chess and using said game to work out strategies for the patrols of the town guards which surprisingly Marcus’s ideas actually worked, but still she worried. She worried about what to do if he came home and there was no medal around his neck, or worse, if he came back with a sword or any sort of weapon she could think of engulfed in blue flames like his father’s had been, what she would do then. Marcus was noble, always willing to help anyone no matter who they were, but still she worried.

What if he ended up like Ehren had, dying in some far away land?

Sarah shook her head. None of that now. Now it was time to put her worries away for just a little while.

Stepping outside the Temple doors, the widow found Keenan, Gustav, and Helen chatting nearby. Politely clearing her throat she asked them, “Would any of you want to join us in a bit for a bonfire?” Of course, they all agreed.


As soon as the first logs were lit in the Donnelly’s backyard, the air of formality and seriousness that hung over the three families dropped as quickly as a live coal in someone’s hand. Soon, the night was filled with the sounds of casual, happy chatter and laughter. As time went by, things quieted down, allowing for them to be more personal. Huddling close together gave the three families warmth that was deeper than the fire. For as long as anyone in this town could remember, they’d stuck together through thick and thin, no matter what.

This event in their lives would be no different. By this point, it was practically a tradition to have their children go out into the world, with their various skills being tested, and go off on adventures lest they go stir crazy. This applied in particular to the Donnelly family, who seemed to be natural born adventurers anyway, almost with an instinctive wanderlust. Marcus was proud to finally be fulfilling that part of family history at long last. It’s about damn time too! He thought as he smiled to himself.

Sarah sat close to her son, silently wishing that this generation would have been the one exception. She’d been wishing that he’d look at what happened to his father and that would have discouraged him from leaving at all. Unfortunately for Sarah, it had actually done the complete opposite. “Father told me that he’d done so much good in the world when he was my age. I want to continue that legacy! If I don’t do it, then who will?” she remembered Marcus telling her recently. As much as she realized that he was right, it still bothered her.

She must have not been as subtle about hiding it as she thought, because Marcus noticed it easily. “Mother… are you alright?” he asked her, concerned. She only looked down as a response. Marcus held her close and she rested her head on his shoulder. “Mother, I just want to say I’m sorry for arguing earlier tonight. And I know my decision isn’t making things easier for us, with father gone. But, if it really does---!”

She clapped a hand over his mouth and shook her head. “No, Marcus. I’m fine, really, I am. I just have to get used to it. Just give me some time. You go and achieve your dream, son. I give you my blessing.”

Marcus nodded and replied with a smile, “At least you won’t have to stress out on cooking huge meals anymore with us gone. It’s going to be much quieter around here, I’m sure.”


Keenan sat smoking his pipe, occasionally giving Finn an awkward glance from the corner of his eye. “What’s it like, papi?” Finn asked, the silence between them now broken. Keenan looked at him questioningly, still puffing away. “What’s it like to live in a place without us being restricted?”

His father blew out a smoke ring into the air before answering with a nostalgic smile, “Wonderful. Simply wonderful, son. Some of my fondest memories are from when I was your age, during my days in Gaul. I learned more there than I ever did here, and I won’t lie that it hurt to return home afterwards.” His smile faded and smoke escaped from his nose as he sighed. “Sometimes, I miss the days I spent wiling away the hours with my mentor, studying the Clever Craft underneath him.” He winced. “He was like the father I wished I had. And what I wish I could be.” He looked down with his head in his hands and said nothing more, getting lost in his memories of better days as he smoked his pipe.

Finn looked at him sadly. He remembered what had happened between them not too long ago, and ever since then, both had tried to be better from the incident. But that seemed to be easier said than done, with neither of them really knowing what to do. They both loved eachother, that much was certain, but it wasn’t often that they showed it. Or at least, that applied to Keenan more so than to Finn.

“You are, papi. No matter what happened, no matter what grandpapi told you, I think you’re a good man and I’ll love you always, alright?” Finn considered the irony of this situation. He remembered the days back when he was a boy, still learning his way around in Magic, and that he had his own troubles. Harboring such power within himself stressed him out mentally and emotionally, and that did wonders for his self-esteem. After all, what’s the point of learning something if you cannot show it off? But his father was always there to encourage him, subtly, during their lessons together and he told his son that perhaps someday he would be able to show his powers to people and be free. There would be times however, where little Finn just couldn’t get the hang of something no matter how hard he tried. But Keenan never pushed him, never forced him, and rarely if ever scolded or yelled or raised a hand to strike him.

Now it was his turn to give something back. Finn leaned over, putting a hand on his shoulder and whispered in his ear, “Perfect stick. Remember?”

Keenan nodded and replied wearily, “Anybody would have done that, Finnegan.”

“You still carry the scars, don’t you? The fact that it was you who saved me, well that sealed the deal about you in my eyes. That you’re not a horrible person, as you claim. So you screwed up, so what? I’m not angry, and nien, don’t start apologizing either for what happened. I’m the one who should be apologizing, not you.”

“I lost my temper. I never lose my temper.”

“And I told someone our secret because I was frustrated and foolish, what’s your point?”

Keenan looked at him then, with one of the saddest expressions Finn had ever seen. “I don’t wish to think about it, Finnegan.” Finn took the hint and just hugged him. Keenan accepted his son’s embrace, and for a while they were just quiet in each other’s company.

Rico sat staring into the fire, and was being unusually quiet. It pained Gustav to see his son so out of sorts. On any other night, he’d be the one to talk people’s ears off, cracking jokes and spinning yarns about anything just to make everyone laugh and have a good time. But not tonight. Tonight he just sat there, occasionally looking at his companions, and saying hardly a word.

Gustav ran his hand over the intricate details that were carved into the box in his lap. He smiled to himself as he surveyed his handiwork as a woodcarver. It’d taken nearly a month to create the container, and a week to carve out the details in the wood, but he was quite proud of it. He whistled to Rico to get his attention, and thankfully he looked at him, albeit with a dull expression. Gus smiled and said singsong, “I have something for you to cheer you up!”

Rico didn’t respond except for a blink. Gustav saw his eyebrows twitch ever so subtly however, and knew he was catching his interest at last. Good.

Gustav showed the box to Rico and he continued, “This box contains something very special, Rico. This box contains our family heirloom, and I now pass it on to you.” Rico looked away, but he kept going. “I know what you’re thinking, ‘I don’t deserve it. I deserve to rot in jail for my crimes. I am worthless as a nightstalker.’ Am I correct?” Rico didn’t answer. Gustav proceeded to then grab Rico’s chin and twisted his head around so he was looking him straight in the eye. “Look at me when I’m talking to you,” he said seriously, but not raising his voice as to scare him. “Answer the question: Am I correct?”

Rico blinked, and his eyes shined wet as he silently nodded. He whimpered, and for just a moment, Gustav felt himself pity him and thought to himself, Am I being too rough on him? This is clearly affecting him badly and I’m not helping things… but he shook himself out of it. No! He needs to suck it up and move on with his life! I’m through babying him! “Well…” Gustav looked down at the box, “Regardless of whether you think you deserve it or not, whether you succeeded in your heist or not, and whether you like it or not, it is now yours.” He handed it to his son.

Rico took it and looked down at it in his hands. “What’s in it?” he asked, finally starting to perk up again.

Gustav shrugged. “Open it and find out for yourself, kid.”

Rico set to work right away. He tried to open it outright by prying open the lid, but that resulted in nothing. On the top of the box was carved a mouse, the eyes looking shiftily about and its nose to the ground as if sniffing out cheese. Its tail spiraled around the back feet, and its ears were pressed down as if it were afraid. The sides were nice to look at, with little intricate carvings of shadowy cloaked figures skulking about alongside owls, foxes, cats, snakes, weasels, and of course, rodents here and there, trying to keep out of the moonlight that was being covered by clouds. He ran his hand gently over the carvings, mentally praising his dad for all the nice details he put into the piece, with them looking more like paintings than wood. I think it’s called woodburning? He thought. Then he noticed another detail. “Hmmm… some sort of poem?” he mused aloud. He looked at the small words carved into the sides closely and recited:

“Tiny paws in black of night, who is that of ladies' fright?
Feline jaws 'twould be demise, if not when I run and Hide.
Teeth so sharp, like razor's sting, if need to fight, begin gnashing.
Creep in holes and climb through walls, treasure I find in many a Hall.
neak around in any town, when unseen I see no frown!
Sharp eyes peer from the dark, await the time to make their mark.
A flash of memory and something more, and then I hurriedly dash across the floor!
o my hole I make my run, yet as much as my heart races, dear Gods is it fun!
I return with sack heavy and heart light, then go to rest til comes the chilling night.
For once it comes, again I strike, to ‘borrow’ any crumbs that I happen to like.
If I am to be found, search through every nook and every house, for who am I?
Crook or Mouse?"

Rico couldn’t help but share a smirk with Gustav as he read the last line. “Clever, dad. Very clever. I think I remember this one.”

Gustav nodded. “I should hope so. Any ideas on the answer here?”

Rico’s smirk widened into an actual genuine- not to mention cocky –smile at the challenge before him, and he nodded as he looked at the top of the box again. He noticed that there seemed to be a dial and four places on the border where it looked like he needed to enter some sort of code. Or… judging from the pattern I see here: A familiar poem, Dad’s mark of a mouse on the box, his eagerness on getting me to open it… there’s really an obvious answer. He found himself chuckling. Really? You call this a challenge, Dad?

He turned the dial, listening closely to the clicks as if it were a lockpick in his hand. With each successful telling click of turning letters and whirring of gears, the mouse moved bit by bit. The tail uncurled, the ears perked up, the eyes shifted to look at him and lastly the head came up with the nose now sniffing the air. With a much louder click, the deed was done and Rico felt the bolts and locks on the lid come unfastened as the code was transcribed.

A Great Thief is as Quiet as a Mouse.

His father’s motto was the answer. Gustav beamed with pride and clapped Rico on the shoulder. “See? What did I tell ya? You got this.”

Rico lifted the lid at long last, it making not even a squeak from its hinges, and then tilted his head slightly as he observed his prize. “What’s so special about a dagger, Dad?”

This isn’t to say that it was a terrible weapon, mind you. No, it was very lovely looking. The silvery blade was crafted from what looked like the purest steel and the handle was wrapped in the finest leather. Engraved with ancient runes along the blade, there was not a hint of rust or sign of age anywhere on it. Yet, Gustav called it their family heirloom, so Rico surmised it was very old regardless of the lack of wear and tear. “Some sort of Magic?” he thought aloud.

Gustav just shrugged. “I naturally assume so, otherwise how could it have lasted so long in this state without ever having to sharpen it or polish it or whatever? That’s not to say I didn’t polish it regardless. Ehren always told us to familiarize ourselves with our weapons. Anyway, the dagger is called Slice.” Rico cocked an eyebrow at the rather generic moniker. “Hey, don’t look at me! I didn’t name it, one of our grandfathers did. It is now yours as it was once mine.”

Rico nodded and thanked him with a smile. He grasped the dagger, turning it over in his palm and watching the shadows of flames dance along it.

And so, the night continued on as the flames of the bonfire slowly faded into dim embers. Still, that did nothing to calm the mixture of excitement and nerves and camaraderie that hung among the three families.

No, a family of seven.

Not by blood, but it might as well have been. And that's all that was needed, for they talked long into the night until their throats were sore and their eyes exhausted about all that their boys planned to do on their first adventure together.

As their eyes droop closed in sleep, all three future adventurers smiled.