In the Shadow of the Mask

Journey of a Thousand Questions

Three days at sea…

Sparrow leaned up against the railing. So many questions were buzzing around in her head. What transpired in the Spire still haunted her heart and soul. She could still feel the caress of Jack up and down her cheek. She closed her eyes; she could see him. His unblinking, emotionless mask was there every time she closed her eyes. It wasn’t like before though. To even think of him would send chills down her spine and anger to build in her heart. Now… she couldn’t wait to see his mask…

She shook her head violently. She couldn’t understand why she felt that way. Jack was nothing to be admired or longed for. But still… she wished she could see him again. To feel his touch on her skin… to hear his words in her ear… She wanted it. She wrapped her arms around herself. Chills were running up and down her spine, but it wasn’t out of fear or anger. No…

“Sparrow,” Reaver suddenly took hold of her.

“Huh!? What!?” she opened her eyes, “What happened!?”

“You were about to fall in,” Reaver pulled her off of the railing, “I thought I was being rather selfless in rescuing you from a watery grave.”

She looked over the railing down the sea. Though it was a small ship, it still would have been a long fall.

Turning back, she took in a deep breath, “Thank you Reaver,” she thanked him.

“You were far off there,” he brought her over to the stairs that lead up to the helm, “You never did say what happened in there… the Spire that is. And with the old women passed out below, we are rather curious about the situation. Of course,” he made her sit down, “I am also curious why the blind seer told us to head to a wasteland that only the dead reside in. Nothing north of here but an old dilapidated tower and ruins.”

“Sorry Reaver,” Sparrow buried her head in her knees, “I just can’t talk about it. I’m not even sure what happened. I just know that I wasn’t nearly strong to take on Jack. Theresa was right; he was too strong.”

Reaver sat down next to her, “At least you got out there in one piece and you did save Theresa and the old woman.”

“… I… Aja saved me…,” Sparrow rested her chin on her knees, “Theresa and I would probably be dead if it weren’t for her. She was able to resist him… I wasn’t…”

“Resist?” Reaver’s curiosity was peaked, “He made an offer you couldn’t refuse?”

“No,” she couldn’t look at him, “He… did something to me… I felt such despair and darkness surrounding me… but then he… he… he…,” she couldn’t say it.

“What?” Reaver had to know.

“He touched my cheek… and all my negative feeling disappeared,” she wiped away some tears, “His touch was… so soothing… I wanted it again…,” she buried her face again.

“My dear, dear Sparrow,” Reaver placed his hand on her back, “It is a difficult time for us all. Poor Garth is barely able to stand. Hannah won’t lift her hammer to save her life. You are obviously in terrible pain because of events at the Spire. The seer and explorer are incapacitated. But, we must push forward and do what we can. We are Heroes after all.”

Sparrow looked over to him in amazement, “That was rather inspiring Reaver and it was what I needed to hear. Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome,” Reaver smiled as he leaned in, “If you wish to thank me,” he place his hand on her thigh, “I can think of some way,” his hand started to wander into private places.

SMACK! Sparrow let him have across his face.

“Reaver!” she shot up, “You never will change!” she slammed the door shut to the cabins below.

“Ah… what vigor!” she heard him exclaim.

She huffed and grumbled as she descended below deck. She couldn’t believe that Reaver would try such a thing. No… she could. Though she really couldn’t understand why he pursued her. It was the last thing she needed at the moment.

“It’s because you refuse him,” a meek voice came from an open cabin door.

“Aja,” Sparrow was relieved to see her awake, “Do you need something? Are you hurting anywhere? Do you… mmm,” Aja put her hand over mouth.

“My pipe… please,” Aja looked up at her with tired eyes.

Quickly Sparrow rummaged through her bag and gathered what was needed. She tried to hand the items to Aja, but she only sighed.

“Can you please…?” she looked embarrassed to ask.

Sparrow smiled, “Of course.”

She carefully took out a pinch of herbs and placed them in the pipe. Taking a piece of flint, she struck it and a small ember formed and the pipe began to smoke.

“Thank you,” Aja took the pipe from her with a shaky hand, “It’s embarrassing for me to ask another to do such a simple thing,” she took in a long breath through the pipe and released a long trail of smoke.

“It was only three days ago that you sliced a mythical man in half,” Sparrow leaned up against wooden wall, “And I imagine that summoning a ball of lightning is very taxing on one’s body,” she hinted.

Aja coughed, “I… well…,” she sighed to the floor, “I suppose you want an explanation.”

Sparrow rubbed her arms nervously, “I want a lot of explanations for what’s been going on, but…”

“One thing at a time?” Aja finished for her.

Sparrow nodded her head.

Her lips twitched and she wouldn’t look Sparrow straight in the eye.

“Aja… you are a Hero… aren’t you?” Sparrow sat down next to her, “Please tell me.”

Aja still wouldn’t look at her directly, “I’m not a Hero and I stand by that, but I can do things… or at least I use to be able to do things that were associated with the old Heroes… That,” she looked down at her hands, “was the result of years of buildup. I doubt I could do it again.”

Sparrow took Aja’s hands in hers, “It’s because of that that Theresa and I survived.”

“Indeed,” she nodded her head, “But as you said before,” she brought a lantern closed, “it is very taxing.”

Aja’s face seemed different than before. It was more than just a tired look, but there appeared to be more wrinkles in her face. Her hair, which was salt and pepper, now looked more grey and wirer.

“You see… calling upon Will… at least for me, is very difficult. But I will recover in another day or so,” she place the lamp back on its hook, “My Will is not like it was in my youth.”

“You’ve been able to use Will for a long time?” Sparrow asked.

Aja snorted, “Of sorts if you will. Tell me, where you able to do such things when you were younger?”

She shook her head, “No. My blood had to be awakened.”

“And the others?” She asked.

Sparrow shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know for certain, but since they have mastered their given abilities… it is possible.”

“I see…,” Aja blow out another trail of smoke, “It sounds like myself when I was younger.”

“How so?” Sparrow looked to her.

Taking in a deep breath and releasing it in a sigh, Aja shook her head, “It is strange thing to wake up one morning and everything is so different from the day before. It has been a long time, but I shall remember for the rest of my life. Waking up one day… and being able to lift things that no human should be able to and push back the strongest of men… Waking up one day and being able to jump higher, move quicker and able to shoot the nose off a fly… Waking up one day and feeling the ancient energies of the Earth flowing and come forth from you,” she snorted, “Indeed… that is a truly strange day to wake up on.”

Sparrow understood how she felt. When she had awoken in Theresa’s caravan, she knew she was different than before. She felt it in her little body. She knew that she would never be the same after that day. Before, in the streets of Bowerstone, she was always a little different from all the others. She could swing her toy sword with such force. She could hit any target with precision. Though, she could never remember a time when the energy of the Earth flowed through her. No… that didn’t happen until she entered the Chamber of Fate and stood upon the Guild Seal symbol in the floor. The world seemed to open to her. She could see and feel things she could before. She certainly was different from her youth.

Sparrow smiled over at her, “I understand. It strange to wake up and be able to do things that others cannot.”

“But that’s not what you wanted to know about. Is it?” Aja could tell that Sparrow had deeper questions.

“Jack… you know him… and he knows you… How?” Sparrow asked in broken words.

“That is a long story one for which I care not to explain or delve deep into,” Aja snorted, “All I can say… is that Jack once played the same games with me as he is you.”

There was a hint of sadness in her eyes. It was duller and had been with her for some time. It was a kind of sadness that one carries for a long time and is unable to be rid of. Something the effects the very soul of a person even when they are dead.

“Who… who did he take from you?” Sparrow sensed her loss.

Aja turned her stare away from her, “Someone very precious to me… Someone that I thought would be there for the rest of my life… but because of him,” she hissed, “he was not and I have been forced to live with the haunting memories that were once joyous… but now,” she clinched her fists, “mock me with every waking moment.”

“Aja,” Sparrow wrapped her arms around her, “You’ve been through a lot in your life, haven’t you? But yet here you still are. You must have found something that keeps you going. Something that makes you get up every day and live life on the edge.”

“Indeed,” Aja answered lowly.

“What is it?” Sparrow asked.

“Revenge,” Aja sighed, “I continue to live because I want to make sure that Jack of Blades never does what he did to me to anyone else again,” she sighed even heavier, “but I can see that I have failed… It is because of my inability to slay Jack that you now suffer… I should have never taken him on… I wasn’t prepared for him… I didn’t have the right equipment…”

“Right equipment? What do you mean?” Sparrow probed.

“It is the reason I became an Explorer in the first place,” Aja explained, “After my encounter with Jack I made a vow that I would find the means to extinguish the fire that burns in his heart forever. When I took him on… I merely suppressed him… he had yet to regain his strength after his battle centuries ago with the Hero of Oakvale…”

“You’ve been looking for something that would kill Jack,” it started to make sense to Sparrow, “You’ve gone into places that no other would go because you were looking for something to kill Jack. You could survive due to you heroic abilities.”

Aja nodded her head, “Indeed.”

“Have you found anything? Is there something that can kill Jack? Where is it? How do… mmm,” Aja put her hand over Sparrow’s mouth again.

“I have some information,” Aja looked at her with tired eyes, “but where we are going, we will find the truth. There is a man… a being… and an ancient Oracle that might lead to Jack’s downfall or,” she had a serious tone to her face, “yours. You may find the answers you seek, but be weary of what you are told,” she warned her, “Just because you have the knowledge doesn’t mean you have the ability to use it. Time is limited… but you must…,” her head started to droop, “take your time and think through your decisions… he will continue to play and try to bring out your darker side… it feeds him and… brings you closer to him… keep…,” he eyes closed, “keep the sweetest… most innocent thought you have in your heart close… most innocent thought,” she fell into Sparrow.

“Aja,” Sparrow lightly shook her.

It was no use. Aja was sound asleep. Sparrow carefully propped Aja up against the wall and stood up. Grabbing a blanket from the bed, she covered Aja and quietly closed the door behind her. She leaned up against the door and breathed a big sigh. All of her questions had not been answered, but she figured that they couldn’t all be answered in one session. At least now, she had some clues to Aja and her past… and her connection to Jack of Blades.

“LAND HO!” Reaver called from the helm.

Sparrow straightened up. Aja said that there were be someone there that could answer her questions… though she would have to know how to use them. It was all confusing, but hopefully this land… a land that Reaver called dead… would shed more light on the enigma that was Jack of Blades…


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