The verdant, sheltered grove atop the mountains between the Burnt Desert and Vasquer was not an especially large place, but it was teeming with creatures thought long dead or shrouded in myth. It was like a little microcosm atop the mountains. Though the winds were harsh and the air cold outside, a pleasant, temperate atmosphere persisted here.

In ‘Heroes of Berendar,’ this place was a hotspot for players seeking out rarer herbs for potent alchemical potions. Its only superior was Princess Elenore’s greenhouse, but getting there involved a fairly long questline.

Argrave was hit with a wave of nostalgia as they stepped towards the pavilion of jade stone. He had come here so many times, and now he was back again, physically present. The brightly colored, beautiful flowers, belying their poisonous nature… the animals cries, some of which he recognized…

And flashes of gold, flying through the air and disappearing so quickly they appeared to be an illusion. They were far too fast to track with the eyes. At a point, one of the flashes ceased just above the jade pavilion. It was a small bird no larger than a tennis ball seemingly crafted of gold, wings fluttering so fast as to be nigh invisible. The moment it moved again, it vanished like an illusion.

“I saw it!” Anneliese said excitedly, pointing a finger at where it once was. Once she processed it had already vanished, she amended, “It was just there, I swear it.”

“Sounds like crazy talk to me,” Argrave acted ignorant, but he couldn’t fool Anneliese, who gave a small huff of amused annoyance and kept looking around.

“Fastest thing I’ve seen,” Galamon adjusted his helmet. “Can’t track it.”

Durran placed his glaive upon a rock and hefted himself up a bit. “A Starsparrow… Closer kin to a hummingbird, no?”

Argrave made it to the pavilion and put his hand on one of the jade pillars holding the roof up. “Just what they called it,” he said idly.

“Who’s ‘they?’” Durran followed up.

“The subterranean mountain tribes that conquered this place,” Argrave answered at once, only to frown upon further introspection. In the past, his first thought would have been ‘the game’s developers.’ His way of thinking was changing. It was paradoxically comforting and unsettling. He was integrating with his new life.

Shaking it off, Argrave continued, “Most people that leave behind a treasure, we’re talking gemstones, gold. For the people that lived underground, they preserved the beauty of the surface, and the tools they used to conquer. In this case, the golems…” Argrave stepped away from the pavilion, eyes wandering. “And these sanctuaries. Those are the things they hold precious.”

Everyone drank in the rich atmosphere of the place. Argrave could swear that even the air tasted better. Steam rose from the pools which the waterfalls fed, marking them as heated springs. It was an intoxicatingly peaceful place.

“You have any notion on how you plan to catch light?” Durran was the first to bring them back. “These birds… unless we’ve got steel-wired nets and hands quicker than lightning, I can’t imagine we’ll have much luck.”

Argrave took a deep breath and nodded, steeling himself to keep going. “It could be quite simple, provided we get lucky. Otherwise, we’ll be shepherding a bird into a trap for some hours.” Argrave pointed to the waterfall. “There’s a small cave behind that thing that shelters some pools. Some birds might be drinking from it, or there might be a nest in there. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

Durran frowned but gave an acquiescent nod. “Considering we had to cave in the place to get here… I imagine you haven’t been here before. Yet you know all of this.”

“All things with time,” Argrave assured Durran, patting his shoulder. The golden-eyed tribal followed him as he walked away, lost in thought. Eventually, he shook his head and proceeded.


As it turns out, they were not lucky.

The cave behind the waterfall was small, possessing only one entrance and amounting to no more than a thousand square feet at best. Anneliese conjured a ward at the entrance to prevent escape and investigated but could not find any Starsparrows within.

As a consequence, they began the laborious process of trying to force the bird to go into that place. Anneliese remained by the cave, standing by to ‘put the lid on the jar,’ so to speak. The three others were relegated to bird-herding duty. Galamon was adept at spotting the Starsparrows, and so Argrave followed his lead.

The vicious plants of the sanctuary proved to be cumbersome, and Argrave was forced to watch the path they took for dangerous things. Some of them had acidic liquid on their leaves that could eat through steel. Others were genuinely carnivorous. Though Argrave had a solid grasp of herbology even now, he was not perfect. Galamon’s fast reaction times was the only reason he was never genuinely hurt while leading them.

The first hour was utterly fruitless. Even ignoring the dangerous flora, some of the fauna proved to be quite aggressive. Everything in here was beautiful, true enough, but everything was equally deadly. Simple butterflies spewed poisonous mists when threatened.

The second hour proved a little better. They chased a Starsparrow for a time, but it was hardly ‘herding.’ It was more along the lines of ‘annoying it until it moved a little.’ Argrave fell into a poisonous bush chasing after it. He had panicked a great deal at first, before recalling he was Black Blooded and poison meant little to him. Forget being poisoned—he didn’t even get a rash.

The third and fourth—or was it five?—hours, their disorganized pursuit began to resemble a coordinated effort. Argrave took the role of commander, directing Galamon and Durran to go to certain locations to receive the oncoming bird. Meanwhile, he directed his Brumesingers to conjure warriors of mist at key locations, further limiting its escape options. He was glad it wouldn’t simply leave the sanctuary and go somewhere else.

Finally, just as the suns neared the point of setting, the bird finally headed towards the cave… and zig-zagged about, evoking nervousness from all of them. As if told to do so, the bird quickly darted down and disappeared into the cave. Anneliese conjured her ward and entered through it.

Argrave and Durran cheered loudly, and even Galamon seemed quite pleased. They celebrated with each other as Anneliese proceeded into the cave. Argrave tried to pick up Durran, but he hadn’t improved to the point of being able to do that, and only succeeded in embarrassing himself.

When Anneliese emerged without a golden bird in hand, their pleased expressions froze. The bird had escaped before she conjured the ward. None, not even Galamon, had seen it.

Spirit broken, Argrave called a break to watch the suns set with Anneliese. He would never break this tradition of theirs if he could help it. After, dejected beyond compare, they once again sought out the devilish Starsparrow. The suns fell behind the mountains, but they pressed on. They needed to capture that bird to regain their honor.

When the moon reached its midpoint, they once again succeeded in herding a Starsparrow towards the cave. Durran must’ve got a prophecy from heaven, because he aimed magic just above the cave’s overhang, striking it with lightning. The bird was frightened and sought the cave for cover, and Anneliese once again conjured her ward.

With bated breath, all watched her enter and search out the cave. They crouched a good distance away, battered and hopeful. Argrave’s heart was beating fast when he saw a flash of white hair emerge out from the cave. She let down the ward…

And a little golden flash darted out from the cave, taking its place on her shoulder.

Even Galamon joined them in a primal roar of triumph at that moment.


“Gods… I think I twisted something…” Durran complained, stroking his ankle.

“Should have learned healing magic,” Argrave reprimanded, then used a C-rank spell of his own near the man’s ankle.

It was the morning of the next day. Despite the strenuous yesterday, Argrave still felt ready to go. Durran and Galamon did more physical work than he did as they lacked the support of the Brumesingers. Even still, the effects of becoming Black Blooded were obvious every day. All it took was a night’s rest, and though he was a bit sore, he was ready to go.

Anneliese sat in the jade pavilion, seemingly meditating. Argrave and Durran sat on the stairs leading up to the pavilion, guarding her. She was using druidic magic to control the bird directly. Meanwhile, Argrave sat with another little creature in his lap—Anneliese had surrendered her Brumesinger to him, unable to maintain more than one direct bond. With this, he now had four of the little foxes.

“Whew…” Anneliese let out a sigh as she fell back, supporting herself with her hand. A flash of gold entered Argrave’s peripheries, and then a golden bird settled on her shoulder. The Starsparrow was a cute thing, a sparrow of solid gold, yet Argrave could not look at the little monstrosity kindly.

“It flies… so quickly. It feels like my heart will stop every time I move possessing it. If I wish to be somewhere within sight, I can reach it within seconds. And it can see for miles,” she described wondrously, eyes still closed.

The description brought some curiosity from Argrave. In ‘Heroes of Berendar,’ bonding with the Starsparrow just maximized the player’s perception, enabling them to see everything on the mini map far in advance. For attacking, it did decent damage, and could dodge nearly everything… but one hit would kill it, and so most players kept it protected.

Argrave was somewhat envious, but he supposed grass was always greener on the other side. Anneliese could only bond with one animal at a time, but it enabled her complete control over that animal. Conversely, Argrave’s [Pack Leader] allowed him control over multiple animals, though with a lesser degree of control. It was further limited to creatures of the same species.

“It should be able to see ants on trees atop other peaks, what with all the trouble we had,” Durran muttered.

Argrave’s Brumesingers strode towards Anneliese, showing affection towards her. His druidic bonds always mirrored what he felt, Argrave was coming to find. The golden Starsparrow jumped atop one of them, and they played in harmony.

“Well…” Argrave grunted as he rose to his feet. “My Brumesingers are getting peckish, and they can’t eat here. There are no lingering souls.” He looked around the secluded grove. “We got what we needed. Now, we need to harvest some food for the Starsparrow and get out. It’s a picky eater—needs to eat the seeds of magic plants. We need to get what we can while we can. Fortunately, there’s plenty here.”

Argrave stepped off the jade pavilion, already moving to do as he’d described. Durran looked at him, clearly exhausted, and sighed. He shook his head, dispelling tiredness, and then gave himself a slap to wake himself up.

“Hunt it for hours, now we get its food.” the tribal muttered.


With the matter of the Starsparrow settled in a relatively timely manner, they departed from the mountain sanctuary and back onto the road of golems. Though the beginning was rough for Durran and Anneliese, who were weary, soon enough they caught their stride, and the remainder of the journey through the tunnel was uneventful.

They exited from the narrow tunnels abounding with stationary golem traps back into the fast-moving mountain winds. The path continued onwards for a time, still surrounded by rusted statues, before opening up into a large central square. This square branched off into several paths.

Most importantly, one could see over the mountains, beyond into Vasquer territory. There was no clear path down, but that it could be seen was evidence enough their journey across the Burnt Desert was very nearly well and done.

Durran rushed across the square, gazing out across the land with wonder. “There it is. The lands beyond the northern mountains.”

Argrave stepped up beside him. It couldn’t exactly be called a land of endless green—they were in the heart of winter, and the fields had changed accordingly.

“Look. You can see some snow further north,” he pointed. “I told you about it earlier, it’s—”

“I know what snow is, you damned imbecile,” he laughed. “You think I’ve never flown to a mountain’s peak with a wyvern?”

Argrave tried his best not to laugh. Elsewhere, Anneliese called out, “They were spears!” as though enlightened.

Argrave turned his head, following her line of sight. Indeed, at the edge of the square, one of the golems still had its spear intact. The spearhead was strange—it resembled a knife.

“Indeed they are,” Argrave nodded, stepping up to her. “The subterranean people, they had a mythical figure they revered. He was a master thief. Allegedly, he fought a great commander from Vasquer, and during their battle, he cut off the man’s spearhead. After, he used that weapon as a knife, and led his people to conquer the mountains.”

“Then, these statues… the reason they are missing their spearhead… they mimic the warrior that thief overcame? They stand as a symbol of pride?”

“Sort of,” Argrave nodded. He retrieved the last of the coins minted in the Burnt Desert—they’d have no value in Vasquer, so he was disposing of them one by one. “Galamon, hit the one we’re looking at,” he called out, handing the vampire the coin.

Galamon took the coin, gaze jumping between Argrave, it, and the statue. Eventually, he flourished the coin between his fingers, then flicked it towards the statue. Instead of being struck down, the flying coin struck the statue squarely on the face. Steam blew out of its nose, further exaggerating the angry expression on its face.

And then, it stepped forward.

“They’re a test. A trial. Each and every one.” Argrave watched as it approached, each step jerky. The ground shook as it walked. Everyone seemed panicked, but Argrave held his hand out, casting a druidic spell. His Brumesingers emerged from his clothing, scattering across the ground.

Mist spread out from their fur, consuming the square. With another spell, Argrave focused his will on the spearhead. As the brume consumed the square, the warriors conjured by the small foxes appeared, battering at it relentlessly. They took the form of the southron elven warriors slain in the battle against Brium. They hacked just beneath the spearhead, and eventually they succeeded in cutting through the metal. The spearhead clattered to the ground.

The titanic golem halted, grinding and clicking to a stop.

Argrave walked over to the fallen spearhead and picked it up. It was a nice knife, even despite enduring the elements all these years. Even still, it couldn’t be compared to the two that Argrave came here to get.

“Fortunately, there’s a reason I went so far out of my way to get my little friends,” Argrave concluded, holding the knife up.


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About the author


  • Buried on a hill overlooking a little river with pinecones all around
  • Esquire

Bio: Author of the #1 'Heroes of Berendar' fan-fiction. Vicar of Crust. President of the Richie Aprile fan-club.

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