In the Shadow of the Mask


“Maybe we should go in?” Hannah looked to Garth.

“There’s nothing we could say,” he answered, “She’s the only one that can make this decision. We… well,” he eyed Reaver, “most of us would choose to go and rescue Theresa… that is if she needs saving.”

“Yes… this John character that Sparrow mentioned,” Reaver polished the barrel of his pistol, “He must be her lover or one of them,” he hinted.

“Sparrow isn’t like that,” Hannah warned him, “John is probably a very good friend of hers.”

“I would say more than just friends by the way she looking looked longingly at that… common little flower,” Reaver chuckled.

“It doesn’t matter,” Garth said something before a fight could break out, “Right now Sparrow has an important decision to make.”

“More important than you know,” Brother Anshu interrupted them.

“How so?” Reaver asked, though he really didn’t seem interested.

“We should go somewhere else. Somewhere quiet,” he indicated to the room across from Sparrow’s.

They all headed into the room; Brother Anshu closed the door behind them. They made themselves comfortable as possible, but it was difficult with all that was running through their minds. Garth was right, if they were to choose who to save, Theresa would be the first choice. She was the one they knew; John was just a name to a person they didn’t know. John meant something to Sparrow and they would have to let her decide on what to do.

“I should not be telling you this,” Anshu whispered, “but I listened in on a conversation between Master Jiva and Sister Aja about the masked man.”

“What did they have to say Brother Anshu?” Hannah asked excitedly.

“Well,” he leaned in closer, “Sister Aja was telling Master Jiva that she was really worried about the whole thing. She was very pale,” he commented, “She said the appearance of that man would only bring dark times. He is evil incarnate.”

“Rather strong way to put it,” Hannah observed.

“That is not all,” Anshu looked around, “She called him Jack of Blades.”

“I know that name,” Reaver showed some interest in the conversation.

“All of Albion knows that name,” Garth growled.

“No, no,” Reaver insisted, “It was a name that everyone in Oakvale would say in a hushed voice… I think,” he pondered for a moment, “Yes, he was behind the destruction of Oakvale.”

“I thought that was you,” Hannah glared at him.

He ignored it, “That was the second,” he acted like it was nothing, “He was the first I believe.”

“That is when the Hero of Oakvale was just a boy and brought to the Guild,” Garth seemed to remember something, “It was in that book I was reading at Aja’s… The Hero of Oakvale as I recall. Oakvale was attacked by a group of bandits and burned to the ground. It was discovered later that Jack of Blades was the one behind the attack.”

“If it’s true that this Jack of Blades character was around the time the Hero of Oakvale lived, then how could he have been standing in front of the temple only an hour ago?” Hannah made a good point.

“Sister Aja said,” Anshu lowered his eyes, “it is because he is a man… but not a man. He is something else… something ancient from long before Albion was Albion…”

“A man that is not a man…,” Garth mumbled to himself.

“Like in the prophecy… like Master Jiva said,” Hannah heard him, “this Jack of Blades must be that man… but why has he appeared now?” she wondered out loud.

“Sister Aja believes it is because the Hero of Oakvale’s descendant has awakened their sleeping blood. As she put it,” he cleared his throat and did the best Aja impression he could, “He has crawled from the depths of the Void to seek his vengeance. His soul will not be satisfied until he holds his blood forge sword in his hands once again and he needs that descendant to do so.”

“Rather dramatic for her age,” Reaver rolled his eyes.

“She said something before about a sword needing blood,” Hannah tried to recall, “The Sword of Aeons… the sword needs the blood of those who descend from William Black.”

“But who did she mean by ‘that descendant’?” Garth wondered.

“I could not hear the rest of the conversation,” Anshu seemed disappointed with himself, “but the feeling I got from their expressions on their faces, they were deeply troubled. I fear if Miss Sparrow doesn’t make a decision soon, Albion might run out of time.”

There was silence amongst the group. It was a lot to take in. It sounded bad when Sparrow explained it, but to see and feel it themselves… it was overwhelming. This man… this Jack of Blades was a mysterious character. Was he looking for a sword… the Sword of Aeons? Was the blood of one that descended from the original Hero needed to summon it? Who was this one that bares the blood of ancient Heroes?”

“It may seem obvious to you all,” Reaver spoke up, “but Sparrow must be the one that has relations to this William Black.”

“What makes you say that?” Hannah asked.

“She’s the obvious target,” Reaver snorted, “he sent Banshees after her in Wraithmarsh. He threatened… a ‘dear’ friend,” he looked to Hannah, “and now he apparently has or is going to take Sparrow’s beloved guardian and her lover. She must be the one that Jack of Blades truly desires… or at least her blood.”

“But why go to all the trouble of doing this to her? Why not just try and kill her out right?” Hannah wondered out loud.

That was the question. Why would he what to kill her? Was he waiting for the right moment? Was he trying to break Sparrow down so she would be easier to kill? What was his game?

A light rapping came at the door that broke everyone’s concentration.

“Come in,” Brother Anshu invited.

The door slowly opened; it was Sparrow. She looked tired.

“I’m sorry if I’m interrupting,” she apologized as she entered, “but… I think I’ve come to a decision… but I want to know what everyone thinks.”

“Sparrow,” Hannah stood up, “whatever you decide, we will follow. We’re all in this together.”

“She does not speak for all of us,” Reaver quickly inserted, “However,” he smirked, “she does at the moment.”

“The same goes for me,” Garth nodded his head in agreement.

“Thank you,” Sparrow smiled, “I’ve been thinking about what the masked man brought and if someone was in more danger at the moment, I would say it is John. The dried daisy,” she held it out, “was in a book that I gave to John for safe keeping. He was keeping it in his father’s safe. I know that the masked man had to be in John’s home at one point or another.”

“And what about Theresa?” Hannah questioned.

“She left most of her things in her caravan at the Gypsy Camp,” she seemed uncomfortable, “She could have left it in one of her many boxes… So we should go to Bowerstone and check on John first, then figure out a way to secure passage to the Spire.”

It was a plan, though she didn’t seem confident in it.

“I will inform Master Jiva of your decision and prepare supplies for your departure,” Anshu stood up and bowed to the group as he exited.

Hannah looked to Sparrow, “Are you okay?”

“No…,” Sparrow answered truthfully, “I’m not sure of myself. There are too many feelings attached to Theresa and John. I don’t know if my emotions are getting in the way or if they’re pointing me in the right direction. Do you think I’m doing the right thing?” she raised her sad eyes to the group.

“Emotions are fickle things,” Reaver huffed, “After so long of being a slave to them, you learn to let them go. I advise you do the same.”

“That’s not helping,” Hannah growled.

“Speaking from a logical view,” Garth gave his own opinion, “Since there is no easy way of getting to the Spire; it would be best to head to Bowerstone.”

Sparrow smiled, “Thank you Garth,” she wrapped her arms around him for a hug.

He was never use to signs of affection or being touched, but he tried his best to respond by wrapping his arms around her. Though it was only for a second or so.

“If the mushy stuff is done with,” Reaver stood up and stretched, “I do believe that we should prepare for our journey.”

“Agreed,” Garth pushed off the floor.

“We should go find Aja and tell her what’s going on,” Hannah suggested, “and see if she could tell us anything more that she might have thought of.”

“Sounds good,” there was a little bit more confidence in Sparrow’s voice, “and find my dog,” she added, “I thought he might be with you.”

“No,” Hannah shook her head, “I thought he was with you.”

“He’s probably with Aja,” Sparrow headed for the door, “He really likes her.”

They all agreed to meet in half an hour. That would give everyone enough time to gather what they need and find whoever they needed to. Hannah said she had to go to her room to collect a few things and would be waiting at the front doors for her. Sparrow, on the other hand, searched for Aja and her missing friend. She asked several monks along the way, but nobody seemed to know where she was.

“Oh yes, I saw her and your furry friend,” the last monk she asked reported, “They went left about an hour ago. I think they were headed for the Cullis Gate that you and your friends travelled by.”

“Thank you,” she bowed her head to the monk as she hurried for the front door.

Running through the hallways of the temple, Sparrow was constantly excusing herself as she tried to avoid the endless numbers of monks. Finally she came to the great chamber that lead to the outside world. Garth, Reaver and Hannah were standing there with packs on their backs or in Garth’s case, hanging from his shoulder. Hannah was no longer wearing the robes of a monk, but her armor that Sparrow had last seen her in. the hammer that was slung over her shoulder appeared to be different too. It was no longer made out of stone, but on iron or steel. It was sleek and smooth, but it still appeared to weigh a lot. The head looked like that of a normal hammer, but larger and had a sharp spike adorning its top. Hannah seemed proud to be carrying it. Brother Anshu was waiting respectively with Sparrow’s bag, sword and crossbow.

“Couldn’t find them?” Hannah asked as Sparrow approached.

“Apparently they headed for the Cullis gate some time ago,” Sparrow huffed out.

“Do not worry about Sister Aja,” Anshu assured her, “She can take care of herself and I imagine that your companion is watching over her,” he held out her things.

“I’ll worry less when we find them safe and sound,” Sparrow took her things.

Slinging her bag over her back, placing her sheathed sword on her belt and locking her crossbow in place, Sparrow took in a deep breath. She didn’t know what she would be walking into. Would John be there when she arrived in Bowerstone? Was the masked man with him or had he already taken him to some place unknown? What about Theresa? Was she safe in the Spire? Too many questions swirled in her head. She had to concentrate on what was now. And right, she just needed to know where Aja and her faithful friend where.

“Master Jiva would have come and said farewell himself, but it would have taken too long,” Anshu smiled, “He sends his fond farewells and will pray for your safety until he hears of your victory. He also sends this special blend of tea and herbs,” he held out a little burlap pouch, “It will help settle your nerves.”

“Tell him thank you for everything,” Sparrow bowed to him.

He returned it, “I will. I also give my farewell to you. Safe journey.”

“Thank you Brother Anshu,” Hannah held out her hand for a handshake.

He took it and she pulled him in for a giant bear hug. She lifted him off the ground with her massive hug. Setting him down, she let him go. He staggered for a moment, but regained enough composure to bow to her respectively. She bowed in return. Garth gave a nod and Reaver just headed for the great wooden doors. They opened before them to a scene that hadn’t changed. White snow still covered the ground in a thick blanket. Their footprints, though filled in a little by drifting snow, still showed where they had been. There were fresh footprints though. One step was that of a woman with average size boots and the other were paw prints that were right next to them.

“They haven’t gone too far,” Reaver remarked.

“What? Are you a tracker too?” Hannah sarcastically asked.

“I’ve been all sorts of things over the years,” he seemed rather proud of that.

They followed the prints down what appeared to be a path on the side of the snow covered mountain. Sparrow would have loved to stop and look at the lovely view, but she had more important things to do.

“There! I see the Cullis Gate,” Hannah pointed up the path, “and I think I see a person waiting there as well.”

“I see you finally made it,” Aja smirked as they group approached.

“There you are,” Sparrow looked down at her dog that was getting a belly rub from Aja.

“I told him to stay, but he wouldn’t listen,” Aja sighed, releasing long trail of smoke, “You really need to train him better,” she commented as she pushed herself off the ground.

“You should be out here,” Hannah scolded her, “with your wounds and all. You should go back to the Temple and rest for a while longer.”

Aja only snorted, “I’m well enough. I’ve got other things to do than lay around a Temple all day.”

Sparrow put out her hand towards Aja, “Thank you for everything. We wouldn’t have made it here without you… not as quickly anyway,” she added after Reaver cleared his throat.

Aja just looked at her hand; shifting her pipe from one side to the other, “Our business isn’t concluded yet”

“What do you mean?” Sparrow dropped her hand in confusion.

“You think I’m just going to go on my merry way after seeing what I saw? Hmph,” she shook her head, “I’m coming with you. You’re going to need all the help you can get.”

“Aja… I don’t think…,” she started to say.

“No arguing,” Aja turned her back to Sparrow, walking towards the swirling energy of the gate, “I’ve made up my mind and I’m going whether you like it or not.”

“Aja, it’s going to be dangerous,” Sparrow explained, “I think it would be better for you to go back to the Temple or to Oakfield and rest.”

She looked over her shoulder, “plenty of time to rest when I’m dead.”

Sparrow clinched her fists, “You’re not coming with us.”

“Is that so?” she turned back to her.

Aja had already suffered enough; she didn’t need to be coming into unknown dangers. Sparrow wasn’t even sure what they would be walking into. She couldn’t risk Aja’s life… two lives where already at risk because of her. A third would be too much to bare.

“Yes, it’s so,” Sparrow had a hint of anger in her voice.

“Too bad,” Aja looked her dead in the eye.

“Aja… go home… we can’t look after you on this journey,” Sparrow didn’t back down, “we have enough problems to worry about. We don’t need to be worrying about you.”

“Worrying about me?” she sounded offended, “I’ll take care of myself.”

“We don’t need you,” Sparrow shifted her tactics, “Thanks for what you’ve done, but your services are no longer needed.”

If Aja wouldn’t respond to reason, maybe she would to anger and insults.

“We don’t need an old woman to worry about,” Sparrow hissed.

SLAP! Sparrow’s cheek started to sting from Aja’s hard smack.

Aja’s face turned red as she stomped to the gate, “Fine then. You don’t have to worry about ‘this old woman’ any longer,” she pulled her belt buckle off, “but I’ll at least give you a hint before I go… so you don’t waste any of your precious time waltzing through Rookridge,” she placed the belt buckle in the swirling light, “This old tool was used by Heroes to get all over Albion, even when there was no Cullis Gate available. You all have one. Figure it out,” she disappeared in a ray of light.

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