In the Shadow of the Mask

Over the Seas...

Bowerstone did not wake with its usual vigor that morning. Everyone walked about in a stupor. The Town Crier didn’t call out his announcements in his customary booming voice. The shop keeps and vendors just stood around, not even bothering the passersby. No child could be seen running about or playing their games in the streets. The bard that was usually in the pub had apparently gone to the cemetery to sing of those that were lost the day before. The city was in mourning that day.

“I thought yesterday was bad,” Hannah commented as she looked out at the daze townspeople.

“It’s going to be bad for a little while,” Sparrow agreed.

“Such somber moods this morning,” Reaver huffed as he exited the pub, “The bartender wouldn’t even sell me a bottle of fine wine.”

“I asked him not too,” Sparrow wasn’t really paying attention to him.

“Why not!?” he demanded.

“Your skills are going to be called upon today,” Aja cut through the crowd, “We need you sober for the trip.”

Reaver smirked, “So you need me? Here I thought that you didn’t care for me.”

“Inflate your ego if you will,” Aja snorted, “but we need your seafaring skills to get us to the Spire and back… preferably.”

Sparrow could tell that Reaver was enjoying the fact that getting to the Spire was dependent on him and him alone. It was true in a sense. The only way that Sparrow knew how to get to the Spire was by sea. Reaver had the most experience when it came to matters of the sea.

“How so delightful,” Reaver smiled, “This little quest comes down to me. My superior skills as a pirate on the high seas are needed to safely fare our group to the Spire,” he continued, “It all comes down to me. Of course… you haven’t been the kindest to me… why should I help when I’ve been looked down upon and only viewed as a secondary character in this play we call life? Tell me…,” his lips curled, “why should I do you any favors?”

Aja rolled her eyes, “You do have to forgive this old woman for her past rudeness against you. I’m old and tired. My bones hurt and my eyes grow dimmer everyday… So I guess I’m trying to say…”

“Yes?” Reaver smiled as he knew what she would say next.

Aja roughly grabbed him by the collar, “I’m tired of playing this game, I’m tired of your attitude and I’m tired of you. If you don’t want to come then fine,” she let him go, “I’m done my fair share of sea travels. I can take care of a boat and a crew,” she turned away from him, “Here I thought you would come along for the excitement of it all. I mean… how often do you get to face a being of such legend like Jack of Blades? Facing and surviving… even defeating him would truly be a Hero’s tale… get many people’s admiration… so many would fling themselves at you…”

Sparrow looked over to Hannah. They both knew that Aja was playing to Reaver’s massive ego. She was stroking it carefully. Letting him ponder the possibilities to obtain greatest… or at least more that he thought he had.

“It’s a pity,” Aja winked at Sparrow and Hannah, “Even I couldn’t dream of such fame… I’m too old and grey to play in such games… but…,” she turned back to him, “to even say that I was part of it would be my greatest story ever. Of course… you obviously don’t want anything more to do with this little quest,” she sighed, “You have done so much already. Faced many a Balverine and a white one none the less, that should catch a few people’s eyes. Go on,” she shooed at him, “go back to Bloodstone as a triumphed hero.”

Reaver thought for a moment, “I see… well, since you put it that way,” he lightly rubbed his chin, “I do believe that I should go with you. I mean, I am the best shot in Albion and I did dispatch many of the Balverines that night. It did get my blood pumping once again,” he thought fondly, “It has been so long since I have gone on a good adventure… and my tales of the seas are getting old,” he mumbled the last part, “Though I do wonder,” he raised his eyebrow, “How are we going to secure a ship? Mine is… hidden in Bloodstone and that’s too far to go and unless you own one, I don’t see a way or means to charter one.”

“Glad you asked,” Aja smirked, “I’m expecting an old business partner of mine to come into town today. He took out a loan from me about eleven years ago and he owes me my dues… he was trying to turn around Westcliff and needed a financial backer. I gladly lent him the money.”

“His name,” Sparrow interrupted, “was it Barnum?”

“You know Barnum?” Aja was a little surprised, “He’s a very dear friend of mine. He’s always been a tad… off,” she put it politely, “but he has a good heart and a keen mind… well he does now,” she admitted, “Anyway,” she remembered the point of bringing Barnum up, “he owns a few ships in port and I know that he’ll let us borrow one. He has in the past when I’ve gone on a seafaring adventure.”

“My ears must be burning, because someone is talking about me,” a familiar voice announced itself.

“Barnum!” Aja opened her arms and flung them around a man’s neck.

There he was, Barnum, an odd fellow that Sparrow met as a child in the streets of Old Bowerstone. There were a few more wrinkles in his face and a few more grey hairs on his head, but he still looked the same. He always wore a smile on his face and seemed the happiest man in the world. Save when he made a bad choice in life… which seemed to be many times. It never got him down though.

“Well do my eyes deceive me?” he noticed Sparrow, “If it isn’t you. You still look as good as ever.”

“It’s only been six months,” Sparrow giggled, “but it’s good to see you again.”

“Oh and Mmmaster Reaver is here as well,” Barnum stuttered as he took a step back, “I pray everything is going well and your received your photograph.”

“Photograph?” Reaver didn’t even look at him, “I never did receive anything from you. I suppose that warning shot wasn’t enough.”

“Warning shot?” Aja narrowed her eyes, “You were the one that shot Barnum?! And over a photograph?”

“It’s nothing my dear Aja,” Barnum tried to assure her.

“Nothing my arse!” Aja snorted, “You shot my dear friend because you couldn’t wait three months for a photograph to develop?!”

“Well,” Reaver laughed lightly, “three months is a long time to wait and see how it turned out.”

Aja’s cheeks turned red and the wrinkles in her forehead grew deeper. A flash of fire entered her eyes as she glared intensely at Reaver. Short little puffs of smoke escaped her nostrils with each breath. It was strange though, Aja wasn’t even smoking her pipe.

She took in a deep breath and released it slowly. Little trails of smoke coming out, but just a little.

“My dear,” she looked to Barnum with a smile, “Where is the photograph now?”

“I gave it to our young Hero here,” he pointed to Sparrow.

“Yes,” Sparrow reached into her bag, “He asked me to give it to you if and when I saw you next,” she held it out for Reaver, “I forgot about it with all the excitement.”

“Forget about it?” Reaver grabbed it from her hand, “How could you forget to…. Oh my!” he looked down at it, “What a lovely creature this little piece of paper has captured. So refined and dignified. What a strong chin and a masculine figure. A rather dashing specimen if I do say so myself,” he admired himself, “Truly there has never been such a man as this.”

“I take it that you are pleased with it Master Reaver,” Barnum smiled.

“It will do,” Reaver continued to smile down at the photograph.

“Let me see,” Aja took it from Reaver, “Hmm… that is a good picture. You really have mastered that machine,” she commented, “Certainly one of your best I say.”

“He had a magnificent subject,” Reaver puffed out his chest.

“Barnum, please don’t think this is directed at you,” she apologized, “but it simply must be done.”

She the photograph by the corners and ripped it down the middle. Reaver’s eyes went wide as she started to tear it into smaller pieces.

“There you go,” she let the pieces fall to the ground, “That is for shooting my dear friend… since I can’t rip you in half myself, something is dear to you will do,” she ended with a nod.

“How could you?” Reaver bent down to pick up the pieces of paper, but the breeze picked them up and blew them across the town square.

“It was only paper,” Aja answer casually, “Now, Barnum,” she turned to him, “I know that we came here to settle some business.”

“Well… I have,” he was still a little stunned by what Aja did, “been holding you money for quite some time now. I really should give you your money back… plus interest of course,” he added.

“You keep the interest for business ventures… on my behalf,” she added right before he could object, “There’s always something worth investing in. Right Barnum?”

“Well,” he thought for a moment, “Yes there is. I have a young man from Samarkand that is wanting to deal on a project…,” he left it at that.

Aja understood, “I see. You never do stop. That’s what I like about you Barnum. Now that old business is settled, I have some new. Come with me to the docks please? Sparrow, Sister Hannah, please gather up our supplies, find Garth and your companion and meet me and Barnum at the port.”

“Of course,” Hannah agreed, “Though I don’t know where Garth got off too.”

“He went into Old Bowerstone to find some ginger pills and herbs,” Sparrow remembered seeing he go off early in the morning, “My dog is with him.”

“Strange,” Hannah commented, “I didn’t think that Garth cared much for dogs… or much of anything else, other than his books and such.”

“Your right,” Sparrow smiled, “I think my old companion was just keeping company. Whether he wanted it or not.”

Aja giggled, “Good then. We’ll see everyone in a little bit. Don’t be late and take what you need,” she waved good bye as she and Barnum headed towards the docks.

“I suppose we should collect him as well,” Hannah indicated to Reaver.

“Reaver? Are you okay?” Sparrow bent down to him.

“She… she… she torn it to bits,” he stared off into nothing, “She took it and tore up my perfect portrait… it was so beautiful… it was me perfectly… and she,” he lowered his eyes, “tore it up like it was nothing.”

“Maybe if you ask really nicely, Barnum will take another of you,” Sparrow suggested.

“She tore it up,” Reaver repeated, “She’s so cruel… she will pay,” he pulled out his pistol and took aim.

“REAVER!” Sparrow pushed his weapon down, “A destroyed photograph is nothing to kill someone over.”

“Maybe not for you!” Reaver tried to raise his weapon, but stopped.

“Reaver! Reaver! Reaver?” Sparrow noticed that he was staring.

She looked to see where or whom his eyes were locked on. They were at Aja, who had turned around to see the commotion was about. She was glaring at him, like she was daring him to shoot. Her glare was so intense, that it made Sparrow’s spine quake. Aja held up one finger and waved it back and forth as a warning. Turning back to Barnum, they started to walk down the street again.

“If looks could kill,” Hannah shook herself.

“I know,” Sparrow did the same.

“There’s something not right about that woman,” Reaver holstered his weapon.

“We… we should get our stuff together,” Hannah started to head into the pub.

Sparrow nodded her head, “We’ll wait for Garth too, so he knows what’s going on.”

Reaver released a heavy sigh, “I don’t know if I have the strength to go on… This day has been rather traumatic. If only I had a glass of fine wine to bring up my spirits,” he hinted at Sparrow.

“Fine,” she gave in, “One glass before we go and that’s it.”

“What about the trip? I usually enjoy a glass before I lay my head down for a night’s rest,” he was hoping that she would allow it.

She was rather tired of him, “Fine, but only one bottle.”

“So generous,” Reaver smirked, “If only one bottled is allow, then the Tenebrous is the only one that will do. That is if this little hole in the wall has one,” Reaver mumbled as he entered the pub.

“Has it been like this the whole time?” Hannah giggled.

“A little banter here and there, somebody not wanting to come, but came along…,” Sparrow sighed, “Coming along gave him a reason to shoot things… actually,” she thought for a moment, “Reaver doesn’t really need a reason to shoot things… or people… not good reasons anyway.”

“True,” Hannah agreed, “Well, shall we?”

“We shall,” she smiled.

There weren’t many things for them to gather. They hadn’t unpacked the night before, so everything was already together. They came down to the main floor to find Reaver bartering with the bartender over a bottle of wine. Sparrow knew that the bartender would never give up such a precious wine for so little. He looked up to her to see what she thought. She signed that she would work off whatever Reaver didn’t pay. He smiled and nodded. They made an agreement and Reaver walked away a smug man; only if he knew.

It wasn’t long after that Garth and her furry friend showed up. Garth had found what he needed and more. Apparently he could find the herb shop at first. He had checked all over Old Bowerstone for one herb shop that Aja had told him about. He was about to turn back when Sparrow’s companion pulled at his coat. Ignoring the animal’s whines, Garth looked around the main square without any luck. Her dog pulled at him one more time and indicated to a back alley. He was a little skeptical at first, but he figured that the dog wouldn’t give up until he followed him. To his surprise, when he entered the alley, he came upon several small shops and one of them happened to be the one that he was looking for.

Sparrow could only smile. It was a nice little story for the morning. Rather innocent in nature and sweet to the ears.

She looked down to her friend, “Good boy,” she patted him on the head.

“Yes… good boy,” Garth praised him as well.

“If we are all done here,” Reaver appeared, “I do believe that we have to meet… that woman at the docks.”

“Has Aja secured us passage to the Spire?” Garth asked.

“Yes… of sorts… she has a friend with a ship or two that she is sure that he’ll lend her one,” Hannah explained, “Well at lease he certainly seemed like the sort too… Sparrow even knows him.”

“That does bode well for us,” Garth seemed a little relieved by this news.

“Indeed,” Sparrow agreed.

There was nothing else for them to do, but head to the docks. It was a lovely day to scroll through Bowerstone, save for the somber mood. The sun was shining and a salty breeze refreshed Sparrow’s nose as they drew closer to the docks. The seagulls called out and bickered over anything that resembled food. Their dropping laid everywhere. The docks were one place that Sparrow really didn’t visit. It was the seeder part of Bowerstone that uncouth and rough characters hung around. It was true that it was a major point of commerce, but it was still not a place to be after dark. Luckily the sun was shining and high up in the sky and the men were working hard to load and unload ships.

This is it… we’re going out across the sea to the Spire…, Sparrow thought as she looked for Aja or Barnum, None of us have been there for nearly a year. I wonder if it still feels the same, she shuttered internally, I’ll just have to deal with it… so will Garth, she looked to him, if anything this will be harder for him… considering the torture he experienced in there… Then again, she tried to block memories of that time, I didn’t exactly have it easy in there either… all the things I saw, heard… did… I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life… Aja was right… those that are the greatest, often have the greatest problems.

She didn’t think of herself as great, but many often used that word when they were describing her. It always made her feel funny when people talked about how wonderful her deeds were. She suppose many Heroes of the past felt the same way when they were just starting out, but she would never know. She did wonder if her ancestors went through the same thing or if they even thought about it. Maybe she was just being self-conscious or selfish even.

She shook her head. There was no time to think about such things. She was going back to a place that held terrible memories and her mind needed to in the present. She didn’t know what she was walking into or who would be there.

She smiled, Sounds like any other situation I’ve gone into… no worries then, she told herself.

Taking a quick glace to the sea, she saw the Spire. A place that she never thought she would return too. The Spire… a place of her nightmares come to life.

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