In the Shadow of the Mask

By DuskStarDragon

Action / Fantasy

The Necklace and The Daisy

“So what happened next?” Hannah listened intently.

“The man in the mask said that he would be waiting with an old friend up north,” Sparrow continued, “I knew that he had to mean you. He disappeared leaving three Banshees. They nearly got me, but that’s when Aja appeared and kill the last one. She brought me to Bloodstone where I woke up and ran into Garth and Reaver.”

“Imagine that,” Hannah was amazed, “but what about the masked man? Who is he and what does he want?”

“I’m not sure. From what Theresa showed me, it’s not good,” Sparrow peeked into a room, “not that one either. Either way, he has to be found and stopped.”

“Maybe you beat him here,” Hannah was optimistic, “It’s not exactly easy to get here. You’re lucky that that Cullis Gate brought you so close.”

“Hannah,” Sparrow looked in another room, “I forgot to ask, but how long was I out?”

“You arrived yesterday, just before midmorning mediation,” she explained, “so you were only out for a day or so.”

Sparrow released a sigh of relief, “Thank goodness. Hmm,” she looked at another door, “Maybe this one?” slowly opening it up slowly, she peeked in, “Not this one either.”

“You really can’t remember, can you?” Hannah tried to not to laugh

“No… yes,” Sparrow admitted with a smile.

“What about him?” Hannah pointed down to Sparrow’s dog, “You think he can find her?”

Her dog looked up at them; his tongue hung out of his mouth.

“Okay boy,” she came down to his level, “Can you find Aja? Where’s Aja? Go find her boy!”

He bowed down like he wanted to play and gave a woof. Then putting his nose to the ground, he started to smell the floor. He started off slowly, but soon picked up steam as he found a sent trail he liked.

“He must have bloodhound in him,” Hannah was amazed by his intent.

He sniffed about until he reached a door that was slightly cracked. Looking back at Sparrow and Hannah, he wiggled his tail and gave a small woof.

“What is it boy? Did you find her?” Sparrow peeked into the room.

“First I see a little wet nose and now a big brown eye,” it was Aja.

“Finally found you,” Sparrow opened the door.

Aja was sitting up on her futon. The blanket was covering her lower body and half of her upper body, but her shoulder was exposed. She didn’t appear to be wearing a shirt.

“Close the door,” she growled.

Sparrow, her dog and Hannah quickly entered the room, closing the door behind them.

“Sorry,” Sparrow apologized, “Hey, you’re up.”

It hadn’t been long since she left Aja. Before she could barely move, now she was sitting up, messing with her bandages.

“Yes… I felt better after you left,” she mumbled.

“You weren’t really paralyzed, were you?” Sparrow crossed her arms with a smirk.

Aja snorted, “I just wanted some more sleep… I didn’t feel like getting up.”

Sparrow just shook her head, “I’m glad to see that you’re feeling better. Oh,” she forget, “this is Sister Hannah. The one I was concerned about.”

Hannah bowed, “It is an honor to meet you and,” she looked up and smiled, “Thanks for saving my friends.”

“Pleasure is all mine,” Aja bowed her head, “Would one of you be a dear and hold this gauze over my shoulder while I wrap it? Sister Jain is busy with the youngsters and these…,” she looked at the pile of bloody bandages, “well, you can see for yourselves.”

Sparrow wanted to help, but her body wouldn’t move. She felt guilty that Aja was wounded so badly. She should have been more alert. She has experience against White Balverines, but the one in Rookridge was different. Aja… she knew about her. She even tried to avoid her… That night… it was a full moon. That’s the only time Sparrow ever saw a White Balverine, save in the Arena. If they hadn’t insisted on leaving, maybe they wouldn’t have run into her. That fight… Aja pushed her out of the way before the Balverine struck.

“I’ll help you,” Hannah offered.

“Thanks,” Aja eyed Sparrow as she pulled down the blanket.

There were hints of bruising on Aja’s side. It had to be from when the White Balverine threw her into the stone. She moved with difficulty, but she tried to hide her pain. Sparrow shifted uncomfortably; seeing Aja like that… was just a little much.

“Sparrow… make yourself useful,” she called to her, “Get my pipe out of my bag,” she pointed to the other side of the room where Sparrow was standing, “and the little white bag in there, along with the tinderbox.”

“You shouldn’t be smoking while you heal,” Hannah commented as she pressed the gauze to Aja’s wound, “You really shouldn’t smoke anyway. Not good for your health you know.”

She flinched, “I don’t smoke tobacco; that’s a disgusting habit. I smoke a mixture of herbs, helps with vitality and healing. Something I picked up while I was in Samarkand. That’s when I picked up that Katana… brought it because I forgot I broke my Longsword…,” she thought for a moment, “It got left in the ruins… didn’t it?”

“I think Garth brought it,” Hannah started to wrap the bandage around Aja’s exposed chest; “I remember the Brothers that helped you in were carrying some weapons. It’s probably in the armory.”

“I hope so,” she grumbled, “I paid good money for it and it’s gotten me through a lot. The vendor told me it belonged to a famous warrior or something… wouldn’t tell me who though… I know it’s older than me… or maybe it’s the other way around?”

“Oh, you’re not that old,” Hannah laughed, “slaying Balverines and all.”

Aja snorted, “Not that old? I’m 53 years old. I’ve got such deep wrinkles that they go all the way to the bone. Humph… not that old,” she put done her arm slowly as Hannah tucked the bandage end in, “Mentioning age, how is Master Jiva? I know you went and saw him, probably for one of his prophecies.”

“Yes and it was rather confusing,” Hannah said as she stood up.

“Here,” Sparrow finally found her requested items.

Aja smiled as she took her things. Opening the small white bag, she pulled out a pinch of brown and green dried herbs. Carefully she placed it in the channel of the pipe and struck a piece of tinder. Placing the lit match in the channel, the herbs caught on fire for just a moment, but Aja puffed though the pipe quickly and they began to ember.

Releasing a long trail of white smoke, she looked up at the pair, “Sit down and tell me about it.”

Both Sparrow and Hannah sat down across from her, Sparrow’s dog laid on the futon that she woke up on. Aja dug underneath the blanket and pulled out a grey tunic. She laid it over her shoulder, but didn’t put her arms through the sleeves. Leaning up against the wall, she let a billow of smoke from her mouth. Sparrow took in a deep breath and began to tell of Master Jiva’s vision. Hannah added her comments on the prediction. Finished, Sparrow fell silent to see what Aja thought.

Aja thought for a moment, “That’s an interesting one…hmm…,” she rubbed her chin, “not much to go on.”

“I feared as much,” Sparrow sighed.

“I didn’t say I couldn’t,” Aja smirked, “Just give me a moment.”

She scrunched her brows and the wrinkles around her lips deepened. Shaking her head on the occasion, she seemed to be dismissing thoughts and ideas.

“The girl in the red robe…,” she finally said something, “reminds me of a Hero of old. She was an amazing Hero,” she laughed to herself, “she was known for slaying Balverines… Scarlet Robe was her name. She was the first woman to become the Witchwood Arena Champion. It was similar to the Crucible… I believe that the Crucible was built on its ruins,” she added, “Anyway,” she got back on subject, “she was usually seen wearing a red robe… hence her nickname.”

“Well, she’s obviously dead,” Hannah commented, “I mean if she lived a long time ago, she would have died of natural causes by now.”

“She didn’t die of natural causes,” Aja said in a flat tone, “She was murdered.”

“Murdered?” Sparrow asked.

Aja looked to the ground, the smoke blocking her eyes; she said in a low voice, “She was killed by… Jack of Blades…”

She had heard that name before. Garth… he had mentioned it in Bloodstone when Sparrow told them about the masked man. But how could Jack of Blades kill a Hero of old and still be alive to taunt her in Wraithmarsh? And what about the Jack of Blades from the Old Kingdom? Where they one in the same or a line of men that took on the mantle of the original?

“The story goes,” Aja’s voice was still low, “that Jack of Blades killed her for her blood. She supposedly descended from very ancient Hero blood… the original Hero… William Black. Jack needed her blood to bring forth a blade…,” she thought for a moment, “the Sword of Aeons… a sword that craves blood…”

“That must be the sword that Master Jiva was referring to,” Hannah pointed out, “but what is the other sword? The one that desires a worthy owner?”

“Hmm…,” she thought again, “If I remember correctly… the first Guildmaster… they were in charge of the Heroes’ Guild,” she explained quickly, “Anyway, Nostro was his name. He commissioned for a sword to be made… something as powerful or something that could compare to the Sword of Aeons… oh what was that sword’s name?” she had difficulties remembering, “never mind, either way, the legend of that sword says that only a person judged worthy of its power could find and wield it. That one could be the second sword mentioned in Master Jiva’s vision.”

“We’re making good progress,” Hannah smiled.

“Yes… but what about the rest of vision?” Sparrow thought about the things mentioned.

Aja shifted her position, “Sometimes you can’t unravel a prophecy completely when you first hear it. Sometimes you have to let things fall into place.”

“We really shouldn’t rush,” Hannah agreed.

Sparrow had noticed that Hannah’s personality had changed a little, but it seemed forced. She was always pleasant, except for those who were rude to her. When Anshu had corrected her after she yelled at Reaver, there was a false smile on her face when she apologized. It was like she was trying to be courteous, but she didn’t seem to really want to be. The last time that Sparrow saw her, she was tired of violence and desired a life with people who studied, but only to understand it. She seemed happy there, but she wasn’t quite herself.

GONG! GONG! GONG!

“What’s that?” Sparrow jumped up at the sound of the gong.

Hannah stood up slowly, “That’s the warning signal. The Temple has unwanted guests.”

“Then let’s go greet them,” Aja pushed off from the wall.

The four made their way out the room and down the hallway. From up above, they could hear many footsteps running in the same direction. The hallway in front of them had several monks.

“What’s going on!?” Hannah called out.

“Sister Hannah! There is a man in a mask at the entrance of the Temple,” one of the monks stopped, “He is looking for you and your friends.”

“Looking… for us?” Hanna turned to Sparrow.

“It’s him,” Sparrow knew it in her heart.

“Maybe you should stay here Sister Aja,” Hannah turned to her, “Where… where did she go?”

They thought that she was right behind them. But the only Sparrow’s dog was there.

“Maybe she decided not to come,” Hannah looked back to Sparrow.

“Sister Hannah! Miss Aja!” it was Brother Anshu.

“What’s wrong?” Sparrow asked as he caught his breath.

“The man in the mask… please come to the entrance right away!” he wanted them to follow him.

There was no point in asking any further questions. They quickly followed all the monks to the entrance of the temple. Turning and twisting down the hallways they came to a large room where another group of monks were waiting. Amongst them were Garth and Reaver.

“Sparrow, Hannah,” Garth noticed them, “They said that there’s a man in a mask outside and he’s looking for us.”

“We know,” Sparrow came up to them.

“Shall we go out and greet him?” Reaver indicated he was looking for a fight.

“No,” Anshu answered him, “Master Jiva wants to the first one out. Please stay here until he arrives.”

Reaver snorted, “That will take too long,” he started to head for the door, “I rather see what this masked man looks like.”

“We were told to wait for Master Jiva,” Hannah put her arm in his path.

“Out of my way,” Reaver stepped aside, “Once this masked man is finished, we can all go back to our business. It’s not that I don’t like running all over Albion,” he pulled out his pistol, “but I do have things to do.”

“I said we’re waiting,” Hannah came down to his face.

“Sister Hannah,” Anshu corrected her, “let him pass if he wishes.”

Hannah clinched her fists, then stepped away from Reaver, “You’re right… sorry.”

“That’s better,” Reaver pulled open the heavy wooden door.

The cold mountain air blew through the room. The fires that burned in the great brass basins flickered causing strange shadows to dance about. Sparrow and Garth pushed their way through the monks. They too wanted to see the man in the mask. Sparrow wanted to see if it was the same person from Wraithmarsh. She stepped out onto stone steps; there in the blowing snow stood a lone figure.

“It’s him,” Sparrow confirmed.

It was the same man that let loose three Banshees on her. His white mask was outlined by the red hood robe he wore. Odd swirls of red and purple lined the hollow holes where his eyes should have been. Stitching looked like to be his mouth, though the two lines of threads did not meet. Just below where the red robe end, at his chest, hung two masks. They were similar to the one on his face, but one look angry and the other more malevolent. Underneath his red robe, there was coal black armor that was lined with strange symbols. It was odd, but the armor had a sheen of silver to it. He just stood there, staring at them with his hollow eyes.

“He doesn’t look that bad,” Reaver sounded confident.

“Don’t underestimate him,” Sparrow growled, “He was able to control three Banshees.”

“I wonder what he wants,” Garth joined them on the steps.

He didn’t say anything, just stared… His mask, though it had no life, seemed to smile sinisterly.

“Who are you? What do you want?” Sparrow worked up the nerve to say something.

“… Tell me girl…,” he paid no attention to her questions, “… who matters to you most?”

“What do you mean?” Sparrow gritted her teeth.

“It’s a simple question girl,” he asked again, “Who matters to you the most? Does an old woman who’s eyes do not see this world, but into others? Or does a young boy that has only seen you for the longest of times matter more? Which one means more to you?”

“Do you think he’s talking about the old crone?” Reaver asked to Garth.

Sparrow’s eyes went wide, “You leave them alone. If you have business with me, then leave everyone else out of it.”

The masked man laughed, “What makes you think I have business with you? Although… leaving those Banshees to dispose of you probably sent a very strong message.”

“Just a little,” Sparrow gritted her teeth.

She wanted to charge at him; weapon or no weapon.

“Don’t,” a strong hand gripped her wounded shoulder.

She winced in pain as she looked to see who stopped her. Aja was standing behind her; her eyes fixed on the masked man.

“You don’t have any weapons. You’re not fully healed,” she dug her thumb into Sparrow’s shoulder, “And right now,” she leaned in and whispered into her ear, “he can’t come any closer… the temple energies won’t let him. Do yourself a favor and restrain your temper.”

Aja was right. She was in no condition to fight and getting angry would only make things worse. Aja released her shoulder once Sparrow relaxed.

“Not going to tell me who’s more important to you,” he mocked, “then I guess I’ll have to see.”

He reached underneath his red robe and pulled something out. Holding his arms outstretched, he kept his fists closed tightly.

“Each holds the fate of someone you know,” he explained, “I leave it to you to decide which is more important. When you do choose, go to where they are supposed to be.”

“And what of the other?” Garth asked.

“What does it matter?” he shrugged his shoulders, “They weren’t chosen… so they obviously didn’t matter that much.”

“Choosing one, dooms another,” Reaver put it simply.

“Choose wisely,” the masked man set down the things in his hands in the snow, “I will be waiting to see who you do. Farewell girl.”

The wind picked up and the snow swirled about the masked man. It enveloped him and diminished… he was gone.

Sparrow wasn’t quite sure what to do. She was afraid to see what he left her… though… she had a feeling of what they were.

Garth understood and walked over to where the objects lay.

“What is it?” Reaver called out.

Garth walked back over, still staring at the objects, “Here,” he showed them to her.

Sparrow took them into her hands.

“An old necklace and a dried daisy?” Reaver didn’t sound impressed.

“Theresa,” she looked down at necklace, “… John,” she looked at the daisy.

How could she choose between them?


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