In the Shadow of the Mask

Deep in the Spire

The shadow of the Spire had loomed over for them past hour. They had taken refuge in a small cove just outside the entrance. The small trader’s ship bounced and bobbed as the waves pounded against the silver and black walls. They dared not enter while the sea was so anger.

“Why don’t we just go on in?” Hannah was growing impatient.

“Are you that eager for a fight?” Aja smirked in her direction.

“No… I just thought… I mean we do have to check and see if Theresa is okay,” Hannah calmed herself down, “Beside, I don’t think that I could swing my hammer at anyone even if I wanted too.”

“Then why did we bring you along?” Reaver was bored.

“…,” Hannah didn’t have an answer.

“Doesn’t matter,” Garth popped another ginger pill, “Right now we have to decide on a plan. We still are not sure if Jack of Blades is in there or not. And if he is,” Garth sighed, “we don’t know how to take him on.”

“We don’t,” Aja snorted, “We aren’t ready to take him on. Now, what we should do is find your friend and high tale it out of here. That’s our plan,” she seemed make the choice for everyone.

“I am still curious to how you know so much,” Reaver raised his eyebrow.

Aja gave him a flat look, “I’m old, I’ve read many books and I’ve been to faraway places that you have never seen or heard of. I know countless things and it’s none of your business to why I know them.”

“No need to be grumpy about it,” Reaver grumbled

“Excuse my aggressions,” Aja somewhat apologized, “something about this place makes me… unsettled.”

“Wait until you get inside,” Garth shuttered.

“Anyway,” Aja got back on topic, “the seas will be settling down in a bit. Right Reaver?” she looked to him.

Reaver looked to the seas then to the skies. He seemed to be looking for unseen signs that might lead him to a conclusion. Pulling off his soft leather gloves, he wet the tip of his fore finger and held it up in the wind.

“Reaver?” Aja waited for his answer.

“In just a little bit the storm should die down enough,” he put his glove back on, “we can sail into the Spire without worrying about being smash into rocks… but our time is limited…” he stared passed the Spire.

Sparrow glanced back to where his eyes seem to concentrate. She didn’t know much about the sea or what signs to look for. However, she understood what he meant by ‘our time is limited’. The clouds overhead were dark, but some sunlight managed to push through. No… they were nothing in comparison to what was coming. The clouds were bubbling and boiling. Flashes of lightning illuminated demonic faces within in the clouds. A curtain of rain poured forth from the dark storm to a point where the sea and the clouds appeared to be one entity.

“That doesn’t look good… not one bit…,” Hannah stated the obvious.

“Reaver,” Aja leaned next to him, “Can you navigate that.”

“Possible,” Reaver rubbed his chin in thought, “It will be rough… but with my skills, we should be alright.”

Aja rolled her eyes and decided to reserve her comments for later.

“Sparrow… you okay?” Hannah noticed that she had gotten pale.

“Just a little nervous about going back in there,” Sparrow shook her head.

“Not the most pleasant of memories there,” Hannah understood, “You just have to not think about it… You know… just pretend it’s a new dungeon… or cave… not the Spire.”

“She needs to keep her mind in the present and not on other things,” Aja rudely passed through the two friends.

“Is is just me or has she gotten cranky,” Hannah watched Aja disappear below deck.

“I believe it is a permanent state for her,” Reaver commented, “She is old after all… old people are usually cantankerous… she probably is in a hurry to die or something to that effect,” he added.

“How rude,” Hannah glared down at him.

“Leave her be Reaver,” Sparrow scolded him, “She has been a big help to us and I don’t think we’ll ever be able to repay her for what she’s done. Besides,” Sparrow huffed, “you should respect your elders.”

“So all of you should be respecting me,” he turned it on her.

“Elders that are full of wisdom,” Garth shook his head, “I advise that we get ready for who or whatever may be in there. Reaver get ready to take us in.”

“I’m the Captain of this ship and I decide when we go in,” Reaver asserted.

“Get us into the Spire NOW Reaver!” Aja yelled from below deck.

“She has good hearing for an old woman,” Reaver commented.

Reaver headed for the helm while Hannah and Sparrow went to raise the anchor. Garth headed below to gather his gear. Taking hold of the wheel, both Hannah and Sparrow started to wind the heavy chain to pull the anchor from the bottom.

“The sails ladies,” Reaver leaned on the helm.

“He’s enjoying this, isn’t he?” Sparrow asked as she secured the anchor.

“A little much,” Hannah agreed.

Without another word they both pulled the sails up. They instantly caught the wind and the little ship started to move forward. The ship creaked and moaned as it trudged towards the open mouth of the Spire. The sun said its finally farewells as it slipped behind the massive structure. A cool breeze hit their faces as the stone cavern began to engulf them.

It was just like Sparrow remembered… deep… hallow… empty… Sparrow grabbed her chest. She could feel the pulsating energy of the Spire. It went down her spine and penetrated her heart. Her heart started to match the beating of the energy.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, “Be strong Hero,” Garth smiled, “If we survive here for ten years, we can stand it for an hour or so.”

“Right,” Sparrow nodded her head weakly.

“Woof!” her dog wagged his tail as if he was saying ‘Come on! We can do this! That’s go save Theresa!’

“You’re right boy,” she gave him a good rub on the head.

“Get ready to dock!” Reaver’s voice echoed in the hallow space.

Hannah waited until the ship had slowed down enough for them to jump down. Sparrow, taking the heavy mooring rope, threw it down to her. Hannah quickly tied it off rope. The ship stopped with a jolt.

“That could have been a little bit smoother,” Reaver strolled down the stairs.

“Live with it,” Aja suddenly appeared from below, “We have business to attend to.”

“What’s the rush?” Reaver smirked.

Aja snarled, “Get the plank down and let’s move.”

“Are you alright? Is something bothering you?” Garth questioned.

Aja took in a deep breath, “I feel something and it makes me feel uneasy.”

“I know,” Sparrow grabbed her chest again, “This place takes hold of you and it’s hard to escape. You start to lose yourself the beating of the heart of this place. It fills you, but you have to keep your mind forward and know why you are here… It’s difficult… but Garth and I did it for ten years.”

Aja lowered her head in shame, “I’m sorry… but even you have to agree that being here for long periods of time is not good for one’s health.”

“Agreed,” Garth nodded his head.

“Maybe you should stay on the ship,” Sparrow came over to Aja and whispered.

“No…,” she rubbed the bridge her nose, “I’ll be fine.”

“Someone needs to stay and watch the ship,” Garth thought out loud, “We’re not sure if anything or one is here.”

“Woof,” her furry friend volunteered.

“Thanks boy,” Sparrow thank him, “Make sure no one but us gets back on. Okay?”

He bowed down and wiggled his tail back and forth saying he was ready and willing to go.

That was it. Sparrow and Garth grabbed the gangplank and lowered to the stone dock. Hannah secured it. Reaver pushing passed Sparrow and Garth was the first to descend the gangplank followed by Aja, Garth and finally Sparrow.

Everything was the way Sparrow remembered it from when she first stepped into the Spire. The slowly upward sloping ramp lead to the deeper chambers where Lucien once reigned. A bright light still shone through the giant opening, but it didn’t seem to call to her or blind her as it first did. It was where they had to go if they were going to reach Theresa. Their footsteps echoed up to the open skies that seemed so far away. No other moment seemed to be in there.

“Seemed empty enough,” Reaver hated the silence.

“That’s when things usually jump out and get you,” Aja scanned the area.

“I take it you have experience in such matters?” Garth asked.

“You do,” Aja retorted, “Remember the ruined city?”

“Things made noises before they jumped out,” Sparrow pointed out.

“Not everything does…,” she trailed off.

“Oh but knowing something is there and not knowing when it will come is one of the scariest things in the world,” a sinister voice echoed through the air.

“He’s here,” Hannah tried to find the origin of the voice.

“There’s no point in looking for me Monk,” the voice laughed, “I’m not down there. I’m up in the altar… the very place where that fool of a man Lucien tried to steal your powers for his own means… ignorant little man… I suppose you want something heroes?” the voice mocked.”

“Where is Theresa?” Hannah asked in an authoritative tone.

“She’s with me of course… Don’t you have something to say my dear?”

“… Go… Heroes… I’m lost to this world,” her voice sounded so weak.

“Hang on Theresa! We’re coming!” Sparrow was filled with determination.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha,” the voice laughed again, “Come, please.”

The light from the center of the Spire faded, but there was still a strange glow that surrounded them.

“Nothing else to do,” Aja stepped forward, “but to meet him.”

“Doesn’t feel right,” Garth didn’t like the situation, “He most likely has set a trap for us.”

“And I don’t really feel like dying today,” Reaver whined.

“Are you two giving up?” Hannah was surprised, “It’s Theresa we’re talking about. Sure she doesn’t exactly know how to humor people, but at least she’s honest with you. And she did hide many things from us, but it all worked out in the end.”

“I’m not saying that we shouldn’t go forward,” Garth defended himself, “But I’m just saying that we should proceed with caution.”

“And,” Reaver smiled as he raised his pistol, “ready for anything.”

“Then let’s go,” Sparrow hurried up the ramp.

They all followed her lead. Scanning the area to make sure nothing was going to pop out at them. It seemed so straight forward: Walk until they hit the center of the Spire and enter through the now dead light. Though, none were sure if was going to be such a straight line to get there. They carefully made their way up the stairs and still nothing had happened. The familiar voice had continued to mock them and Theresa was silent.

“Never gone through the front door,” Hannah frowned, “Just remember waking up in there,” she indicated to the darkness ahead.

“Not the worse place I’ve ever woken up in,” Reaver commented nonchalantly.

“I don’t even want to know,” Garth shook his head.

“Shh… I hear something,” Aja moved out ahead of the group, “Something moving in there…”

“I hear it too,” Sparrow came up next to her.

WHOOSH! A solid stone wall separated the group into two.

“SPARROW! SISTER AJA!” Hannah started to slam on the thick wall.

“We’re fine!” Sparrow called back, “Are you all okay?”

“Yes,” Garth answered, “But it appears that we are cut off from you and the altar room. Is there another way around?”

“No…,” Sparrow sighed, “There’s only one way in…”

“And one way out…,” a voice hissed.

“You,” Sparrow knew who it was, “Where is Theresa…?” she turned around.

The room was completely dark save for ray of light that shined down into the center of the altar. There sat a lone figure on the symbol that was once meant for Sparrow. Four heavy chains came from the floor and bond the figure to where they were. One was wrapped around their body. Another chained their hands together, while the last two attached to a metal collar around the person’s neck.

“Hero…,” the figure called weakly, “Turn back… he’s… he’s too strong.”

“Theresa!” Sparrow ran to her side, “Are you okay?!”

“Go… now Hero,” she looked up at her slowly, “Only death awaits you here…”

To Sparrow’s horror, she saw that Theresa’s eye was blackened and trials of dried blood stained her mouth and nose. Her eyes seemed dead. She was barely there, but enough so to warn Sparrow of what was to come.

“You must leave this place before he gathers his strength,” she rambled, “He is drawing upon the Will that collects here… it is the Will of the world… it feeds him… I knew he would return… I was hoping…”

“Shh,” Sparrow soothed her, “It’s okay. I’m getting you out of here. Aja…,” she looked back to her, “help me with these chains.”

“I think you should look up first,” Aja growled.

Following Aja’s glare, Sparrow looked to the wall. Sitting in one of the windows was a man in black armor and a red cloak with his hood covering his head. His white mask was unmistakable… it was…

“Jack of Blades,” Aja growled once again.

“I see that I am well known,” he bowed, “It is an honor to have such fame amongst those that only know tales and myths.”

“How dare you hit a defenseless woman!?” Sparrow didn’t care what he had to say.

“Defenseless,” Jack chuckled, “She is anything but. Her abilities are magnified here… that is why she wanted to stay and leave the real world. Here, her heroic abilities can extend out and reach far beyond that of even you.”

“Heroic abilities?” Sparrow didn’t understand.

“She never told you?” Jack seemed surprised, but he really wasn’t.

“Told me what?” she narrowed her eyes in suspicion and anger.

“He is stalling Hero…,” Theresa spoke up, “The longer he stays here the more strength he gains. Strike now while he is still… GAH!” she grabbed for her throat.

She made all sorts of wheezing and coughing noises like she was being choked.

“Theresa!” Sparrow grabbed onto the collar thinking that it was tightening, but it was still the same size.

“Release her,” Aja warned Jack, “Don’t you have other people you could be picking on?”

“Are you volunteering?” Jack’s mask seemed to smile.

“It’s me you want!” Sparrow straightened up, “Release her and I will fight you. As you wanted.”

“Ha, ha, ha, ha,” Jack started to laugh, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!” he waved his hand.

Theresa took in a deep breath of air. She could breathe again.

“What’s so funny?” Sparrow was relieved to see Theresa breathing.

“It humors me to think that you could take me on,” Jack stood up, “You are so weak in comparison to others that have faced me. I thought you would have grown since the last time I saw you… But,” he started to walk down the wall, “I see that you need more pushing… I was hoping that it would only take one life to get you where you need to be to take me on,” he jumped down to the altar, “So… the old woman… must die,” he raised his hand.

“No,” Sparrow stepped in front of Theresa, “I won’t let you take someone else.”

“She’s already mine,” Jack whispered, “Just as you will be…”

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