In the Shadow of the Mask

No Looking Back

“Cheers to the most generous people that Bowerstone has ever known,” bar patrons were saluting the murdered couple.

“Cheers,” everyone raised their glasses in honor.

“Truly a great loss Bowerstone has experienced today,” Aja sighed, “I only pray that John is okay.”

“The guard said they couldn’t find a trace of ‘em,” Hannah sipped her tea, “Most of the men in Bowerstone looked inside and outside the walls for anything.”

“Strange how his parents are dead and he’s disappeared,” Reaver commented casually.

“Don’t you dare assume that John would do something like that,” Aja glared at him, “John is a kind and sweet young man and would never harm anyone. Especially his parents.”

“Sounds like you know him,” Garth raised his brow.

Aja nodded her head, “I do,” she released a heavy sigh, “He’s my godchild. I’ve known his parents for quite some time. John’s grandfather was a financial backer of mine when I was first starting out as an Explorer. After he died, John’s father continued to finance my trips across Albion and its seas. I was quite honored when they wanted me to become John’s godmother.”

“Oh you poor thing,” Hannah frowned, “You must so worried for him. I’m sure he’s alright,” she tried to assure her.

Aja snorted, “I doubt that. His parents were murdered and he’s probably been kidnapped for ransom.”

“The sheriff said that the safe in the house was open and rummaged through,” Garth recalled, “If they have the money, why take John?”

“Why not just kill him there with his parents?” Reaver brought up a good point, “That’s what I would do at least. I wouldn’t want to have some stupid brat begging me not to kill him around; that would be rather annoying.”

“SHH!” Hannah hushed him, “Not in front of Sparrow.”

Sparrow… could have cared less. She was numb from the inside out. It was too late. John was gone and his parents were dead. For all she knew, he was already dead too. She chose wrong or maybe both were wrong. She didn’t know. Now because of her, two innocent and kind people were dead and two people she deeply cared for… well she didn’t know their fate. It was eating her up inside not knowing what happened to John or if Theresa was safe. She hadn’t heard from her in so long. Maybe he had already gotten to her. Maybe he already had her within his grip. Maybe she was already…

“My dear,” Aja pulled Sparrow’s pint from her hand, “I don’t want beer, blood and glass all over my clean floor.”

“Your floor?” Hannah was a little confused.

“Yes,” Aja poured Sparrow’s beer into hers, “I own the pub… and half of the buildings in Bowerstone…,” she whispered the last part.

“So does that mean the drinks are on the house?” Reaver smiled at her.

“Drinks on the house for everyone!” Aja called out.

Everyone raised their glass in her honor, but no one was in the mood to become rowdy.

“How generous of you,” Hannah tipped her glass to her.

“It’s the least I could do,” she shrugged her shoulders, “Unfortunately one does not find a solution at the bottom of a pint, but the liquid between the top and bottom helps,” she took a long drink.

“You’re still injured and shouldn’t be drinking,” Hannah remained her.

“Being depressed isn’t helping me heal any faster either,” she growled.

Depressed… that word had little meaning to Sparrow. There was no spoken work that could possibly describe how she felt at that single moment. Hannah tried to cheer her up. She tried to convince her that John was still alive. No body was found and there were no hints that he had been killed. It was possible that he could have been kidnapped. Still… he wasn’t anywhere to be found. Was it that Jack of Blades had spirited him away and was now doing unspeakable things to him?

“Thinking like that won’t solve your problems,” Aja whirled the remainder of her beer, “You’ve had a lot of hard decision in the past while, haven’t you?”

“…,” Sparrow didn’t answer.

“No more fire left inside of you?” Aja leaned in, “You just going to give up in despair? I think Jack was expecting you to be more like your ancestors, but,” she leaned back in her chair, “you’re not. Might as well hand yourself over to him now and let him do with you as he pleases…”

“That’s enough,” Hannah slammed her fist down on the table; “I mean to say…,” she softened her voice, “that Sparrow is going through a tough time. This man has taken someone very close to her and killed two innocent people. Give her some time to grieve.”

“There’s no time to grieve,” Aja stood up, “There’s only action… don’t stop… keep going forward… don’t look back… this is all in the past… the future is still ahead and,” she grabbed Sparrow by the chin, “It is not written in stone. I’ll see you all in the morning,” she let go of her and walked to the door.

“She can’t hold her liquor too well,” Reaver took a big swig of his drink, “Talking such nonsense. Though, she is correct about taking action.”

“Are you okay Sparrow?” Hannah asked in concern.

“…,” she sat in silence.

“I suppose our next stop this the Spire,” Garth broke the silence, “There is still a chance that Theresa is safe. The Spire is a powerful place and the one who controls it controls its power. I don’t think Theresa would allow someone like Jack into her Spire.”

“You’re probably right,” Hannah had to agree, “She is a very tough woman… mysterious as well,” she added, “If anything, she could tell us where John is. That’s something to look forward to… Right?”

Numbness had taken Sparrow’s voice. She wanted to answer, though she wasn’t sure what she would say. Hannah was right. If Theresa was safe, she could possibly see where John was. It was a long shot, but so were many things in her life.

There she was sitting in the Cow & Corset pub feeling sorry for herself. She felt like a child again… like the night that Rose died. She wasn’t sure how she would continue on without her. Rose was her life and she had always taken care of her. When she was gone, she was sure that there was no reason to live, but then Theresa and her furry friend entered her life. They gave her hope that the world doesn’t end with death, but continues. That’s what gave her her strength all those years. She didn’t have Theresa at the moment, but she did have her friends. And if John was still alive, then she would have to live so that he may too.

“I think I need some fresh air,” Sparrow excused herself.

Hannah smiled, “I’ll join you. I forget how smelly a pub could be,” she scrunched her nose.

“And I think I’ll retire to the room,” Garth pushed his chair in as he stood up, “Good night all.”

“Good night Garth,” both Sparrow and Hannah bid him.

“I think I’ll be up for a while,” Reaver deviously smiled.

Sparrow just rolled her eyes. There was nothing that she could say that would affect Reaver’s behavior. He was the way he was and that’s the way it was. He would likely regale his tales of the high sea, embellishing the exciting parts to the get the women and men to swoon over him. Not that his life wasn’t exciting or that it needed the extra action, but he would add it anyway to make his shots more impossible or the fight bigger than what they were. That was just the way Reaver was, a self-important show-off that demanded to be the center of attention. Though, Sparrow thought for a moment. He didn’t seem as bad when she first met him. He did kill many people and injure poor Barnum, but Sparrow often thought it was just a ruse that he put on… to hide his other life. Where others drowned their sorrows in rum, Reaver hide his in murder and worldly possessions.

“I hope Sister Aja hasn’t gotten too far,” Hannah scanned the town square, “I wanted to ask her a few things.”

“Like what?” Sparrow looked too.

“The way she talked to you just before… I don’t think that was the beer talking. I think she knows more than what she’s revealing,” Hannah had suspicions, “I mean to say that she knows a lot about the history of Albion and the myths and legends that surrounds it. I want to ask her more about this Jack of Blades. She was so general last time… but I can feel it in my bones that she knows more. Right now,” she smiled down at her, “we need to know everything we can… especially if we’re going to get your friend back… and see if Theresa is alright… Which I’m sure she is.”

Hannah was right. They did need to know everything they could if they were going to have any chance of rescuing John… that is… if Jack of Blades was behind his disappearance. For she knew, John disappeared for other reasons… kidnapped by some other person or persons. She could have been going down the wrong path and never see him again.

“Stop thinking like that,” someone yelled.

“Oh Sister Aja,” Hannah headed to the voice, “There you are.”

Leaning up against one of the stone legs of the clock tower, it appeared that Aja had been waiting for them to come out. Her pipe hung from her lips, the end of it glowed as smoke plumed out. Her eyes were narrow, almost like she was angry or disappointed.

“I was wondering if I could ask you a few things… that is if you are up to it… I don’t want to be a bother,” Hannah asked as politely as she could.

“Only if she’s willing to stop thinking of all the terrible possibilities that may or may not be,” she pointed to Sparrow.

“I can’t help what I think,” Sparrow admitted, “but I can try to at least consider the good with the bad.”

Aja snorted, “I’ll live with that. What did you want to talk about Sister?”

“I’m not sure if we should…,” she looked about.

“Trust me… nowhere is safe to talk,” she sighed, “Ears are all about us.”

“Jack of Blades… the one from the temple… how much do you know about him?” Sparrow asked bluntly.

Aja lowered her head. A small smile formed on her face.

“My dear…,” she looked back up to them, “Jack of Blades… you know a little about him already.”

“That’s the problem,” Hannah pointed out, “we don’t know much.”

“Not much is known about him,” she puffed on her pipe, “I could tell you all sorts of tales of him, but they would be no use. No… what you need to know is how to defeat him,” she stared at Sparrow, “He has been suppressed in the past. By William Black and The Hero of Oakvale… his name has been lost in time,” she shook her head.

“My ancestors,” Sparrow recalled the strange vision.

Aja nodded her head, “Yup… You are the only one that can put Jack back where he belongs and he knows that. That’s why he’s targeting you. He’s trying to break you down before you come to blows… if it even gets to that point. That’s what he does to ensure that the victory is incomplete.”

“What do you mean?” Hannah asked.

“For example,” Aja sighed, “the Hero of Oakvale had much tragedy growing up. His village was destroyed; his father killed before his eyes, his mother and sister taken… his adult life was no better…”

“But he became one of the greatest Heroes to ever live,” Hannah remarked.

“Those that are the greatest, often have the greatest problems,” Aja retorted, “The Hero had to suffer much to obtained his status. His mother was killed by Jack and his sister, whom he thought lost, was blinded. Jack tried to kill her too, but the Hero stopped him. Eventually the Hero did win out… Jack was destroyed… but not completely… Jack has a way of surviving. He knew that if the Hero had any darkness in his heart, he could be reborn… This is a troubling time for you,” she blew out a long trail of smoke, “but you have to keep your mind focused and don’t look back. John’s parents’ death is terrible and his disappearance is upsetting,” she sniffed, “but we won’t any use to him if we sit around deepening our sorrow. He’s a good of yours, but he’s my godchild. So,” she came up to Sparrow’s face, “I’m coming with you this time. Don’t call me an old woman, don’t say that I can keep up with you and don’t think that I need you to protect me.”

Sparrow looked to the ground in embarrassment, “I’m sorry,” she looked back to Aja, “You know that I didn’t mean any of that. Right?”

Aja smiled, “Yay… I know… That’s why I used my left hand instead of my right. Now, I’m heading to bed. I advise you do the same. Good night Sparrow. Good night Sister Hannah,” she started to walk away.

“Wait,” Hannah tried to stop her, “How do you know these things? I mean, how could you possibly know about this Jack of Blades and Sparrow? You would have to be a Hero or something…,” she thought for a moment, “An old Hero at that… well definitely older than you say you are.”

Aja only looked over her shoulder, “Ha… a Hero? I don’t have the heart to be a Hero… I’m too human for that. Nope,” she released a heavy sigh, “I’m just an old explorer that been all over the world and has seen everything that there is to see. Nope… I’m just… well… I’m something… Good night you two. Oh,” she turned back to them, “make sure that Reaver gets to bed tonight. We’re going to need his seafaring skills.”

“Why is that?” Hannah asked.

Aja snorted, “We’re going there. Aren’t we?” she pointed towards the port.

Sparrow and Hannah looked to where she was pointing. The darkness of the night hid if from view, but they both knew what she was pointing. The Spire was there across the ocean and that’s where they needed to go. Sparrow needed answers for what happened in Bowerstone, but she knew they weren’t there. Aja was right when she said that sitting around wasn’t going to help anyone. Strange how Aja had to keep saying the same thing over and over again to her. She was probably just making sure that Sparrow got the point.

She still felt unsure about everything that had happened. She still had knots in her stomach about John’s disappearance. She still… she needed to know a lot than what she did. But she was going to take Aja’s advice, there’s no looking back. There was only forward and that’s what she was going to do.


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