In the Shadow of the Mask

Whispers In a Forgotten Village

“So you’re going to be gone for a while,” John sighed down to the water.

“Yes…,” Sparrow admitted, “… Thanks for meeting with me…”

It had been two days since she ran to Bower Lake… to the Chamber of Fate. She had come back to Bowerstone to collect her few worldly possessions and pay for her nights at the Cow & Corset. The bartender was a little sad that she was leaving. He, if not a little overboard, praised her up and down for her marvelous job as a bartender. She didn’t think she did an extraordinary job… considering she dropped four mugs just a few nights ago. After her nights were paid for, she didn’t have much money left over. Maybe just enough to get basic supplies, but not much.

“So while I’m gone,” she didn’t want to ask too much of John, “Could you look after some of my stuff? And maybe,” she whispered, “my dog?”

The dog growled lowly.

“I would prefer that he stayed with you… and so would he,” John could sense the dog’s feelings, “As for your stuff… yes, I would be honored to hold your items until your triumphed return,” he bowed.

“Oh get up,” Sparrow straightened him up.

He laughed, “Sorry,” he stood up, “I’ll put them in my father’s treasury for safe keeping.”

“Thank you,” Sparrow hugged him, “I promise I’ll be back real soon.”

“You better,” he took the bag she had prepared, “I’ll be waiting and watching for you every day.”

“Just remember to eat and bathe,” she joked as she started to walk away.

John smile, “Oh you want me to bathe now too?”

“I knew that smell wasn’t the river,” Sparrow smiled, “Farewell,” she waved goodbye.

“For now,” he blew a kiss in her direction, “Take care of her boy,” he called out to the dog.

The dog barked as if he was saying “I will!” Sparrow waved goodbye one more time and went running through Bowerstone’s gates. So many times she had passed through those towering gates, often running about on some quest. This time was no different. Once again, she was running for the fate of Albion. She was running to find old friends… well some were friends. She had done this once before; in search of three people like herself; those that possessed abilities that were forgotten long ago. Once again, she had to gather the heroes to save the world and bring a sense of peace to Albion and herself.

“Only if I knew where everyone was,” Sparrow mumbled to herself as she slowed her pace.

She knew where the others went… basically, but she didn’t know exactly where they were. Hannah had written to her, but never stated what village or temple she was living in. Sparrow knew that Garth and Reaver headed to Samarkand; for Garth, it was returning home; for Reaver it was about the exotic scene and women. This was quite a dilemma. Sparrow had never traveled that far north or at least to a point where there were fighting monks. And she had only heard of Samarkand from merchants and explorers.

I have found Garth and Reaver… though I could not directly speak to them…, it was Theresa, something is interfering… but that is not important now. They are on their way back from Garth’s home… they travel by sea… Bloodstone… the ship is headed for Bloodstone. Garth is not happy about it, but Reaver wishes to see his home port again. Use the Cullis Gate in Brightwood and go through Wraithmarsh. They should arrive in five days… go now… as for Hammer, she added, she does not seem to want to be found…

There was one thing that Sparrow didn’t miss for the last year; Theresa’s demanding voice. Though she could understand the urgency… that vision…

She shook her head, “I have more important things to do than think about a vision I don’t understand…,” she looked down the road that lead to Bower Lake.

From Bower Lake to Brightwood and on to Wraithmarsh, she knew the path well. She had been to Brightwood several times. As she ran down the road, her thoughts went back to when she first went to Brightwood and its Tower. It was funny that she was going to go and try to meet up Garth and Reaver and here she was doing it again, taking the same path. Pushing through so many Spire Guards, failing to reach Garth in time, the Commandant taking him away; her first visit to Brightwood was not the best.

The second time around was not any better. Ten years after being locked away in the Spire, performing difficult, unloved and heart hardening tasks, she had to travel the road once more to get to a Cullis Gate that Garth had built from ancient texts and blueprints. The road was filled with not only Spire Guards, but with more of Lucien’s Commandants and Spire Shards. The first time was difficult, but the second was almost impossible. Hannah and she had fought so long and hard to defend Garth from the onslaught that Lucien sent to stop them. Even after all that, the Cullis Gate was only able to send her to Wraithmarsh along with her faithful friend. From there, things only got worse. No, the road to Brightwood held little, if any, good memories.

“Sorry to say this boy,” she looked down at the dog, “But we’re going to Bloodstone first to meet up with Garth and Reaver.”

The dog growled lowly at the mention of Reaver’s name. Like Sparrow, he didn’t much care for the two hundred year old pirate. She thought he was arrogant, egotistical and above all just plain cold hearted. He nearly killed her old friend Barnum; thankful Reaver gave him what he called a ‘warning shot’. It was also lucky that someone checked the mansion after Lucien’s assault on Bloodstone and was kind enough to help him. Sparrow was really relieved to hear that Barnum was doing well on another of his business ventures.

“Thinking of Barnum,” she dug around in her bag, “He wanted me to give this to Reaver if I saw him again,” it was the photo that he had taken.

Even though it was Reaver, the picture was actually good. For some unknown reason, Reaver looked like a decent character, even a little sad in the photo.

“It’s too bad,” Sparrow thought out loud, “That Barnum couldn’t have taken a picture of all of us before everyone left,” she sighed, “It would have been nice to able to look at them once and awhile.”

She gently placed the picture back in a pouch; debating on whether or not to give it to Reaver. Her fingers brushed up against something else in the pouch. She knew what it was, but she wouldn’t bring it out… she couldn’t look at it… not again. It was the picture of her and her sister, Rose, from when they were children. Rose’s death still haunted her to that day. There was nothing that she could have done… not then, but she still felt guilty.

Sparrow pulled her hand away from the pouch and out of her bag. Guilt, like other things, had to be put aside. Instead she must concentrate on the difficult road ahead. There were Bandits, Highwaymen, Hollow Men, Balverines, Banshees and Trolls to look out for. There was definitely more to worry about than her personal problems. Now she wished that Theresa had found Hannah first; she was one on the few people that understood Sparrow and what she had been through. She could always cheer her up when she was feeling down. Hannah also was the only one that Sparrow could truly call a friend. She really missed her and wished that Hannah had stayed.

“That’s okay,” she sighed, “we’ll be seeing her soon enough. For right now,” she looked at the slowly sinking sun, “we have to go to Brightwood Tower…”

Three days later…

“You would think that bandits would run in fear of you if they knew who you were,” Sparrow grumbled to herself as she climbed the stairs of the dilapidated Tower.

Three different groups of bandits tried to ambush and kill her. Bandits really weren’t all that tough, especially if the leader is killed. Luckily, she didn’t have to take any lives this time around. She tried not to since the death of Lucien. It was not her decision or her right to take another human’s life. Now a days she just injured and stunned any one that tried to attack her.

“There it is,” she growled as she came up to the second level, “and it’s still working… or it looks like it is anyway,” she shuttered at the memory of her first time through that particular Cullis Gate.

The Gate was swirling and glowing with blue energy, much like the one in the Chamber of Fate. There was a subtle difference to this one though; Sparrow could sense it. The one in the Chamber felt more in tuned with the energy of the place. This one was erratic and didn’t feel like the energy that came from the Tower. Maybe that’s why Sparrow was so uneasy to use it, but it was the only way to get to Wraithmarsh and then to Bloodstone before Garth and Reaver made port.

Taking in a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Sparrow stepped into the swirling energy. Her dog leaned up against her, almost pushing her over. She put her hand on his head to say “I know, I’m nervous too”. Closing her eyes, Sparrow concentrated on the energy that started to fill her body. It became one with her Will and was waiting for her command. With one thought of Wraithmarsh, the sunny scene of Brightwood disappeared and was replaced by the foggy, gloomy swamps of Wraithmarsh. No sun ever penetrated down to the moors of the marsh, not for the past two hundred years. Not since the villagers of Oakvale disappeared; the place was considered to be cursed.

The first thing that hit Sparrow was the smell. The bog gases, the odor of decaying flesh mixed with the overall dampness of the place overwhelmed her senses. She fell to her knees, wrenching with disgust at the smell. Even her dog was whining and covering his nose. The smell was much worse than the first time she came. She felt the contents of her stomach come to the back of her throat. She fought hard to keep it down, but eventually lost the battle. Her head was spinning as she staggered to get up. Standing next to her, the dog helped her by acting as a steady place to put her hand. She was grateful that she had decided to bring him along. With her stomach settling down, Sparrow looked around for any signs of life or the undead. Luck seemed to be on her side as there were none in sight.

“Doesn’t mean they aren’t out there,” she scanned the area while she drew out her crossbow and summoned a fireball to light her way.

The water was cold as she stepped down from the Cullis Gate. With one more step, the water was up and passed her knees. She was thankful that shopkeeper talked her into the thigh high boots. She was also thankful that they seemed to be waterproof. The dog whined as he gingerly pawed at the water.

“It’s okay boy,” she went back to comfort him, “I’ll carry you.”

Sparrow dismissed her fireball, bent down and draped him over her shoulders. She wore him like a shawl… well a wiggling furring shawl. Summoning another fireball and placing her finger over the trigger of the crossbow, she waded through the cold, murky waters of the marsh. Wisps followed her overhead, but they did not rush into the ground to form Hollow Men. When she first arrived in Wraithmarsh, the wisps were flying into the ground right and left. But that was over a year ago and these wisps only seemed interested in observing Sparrow as she sloshed through the mud. They even playfully flew ahead of her; teasing her by acting like they were going to become Hollow Men, but then flew back up into the air.

Sparrow didn’t really mind Hollow Men, except maybe for the smell. With their brittle bones and tatter clothing, one fireball could easily take them down. It was the Banshees, Balverines and Trolls she was worried about. Banshees were only troublesome if their darkling children spread out and had to be taken out one by one. Balverines were quick, but with a constant attack and a little bit of silver, they weren’t too back. Trolls, on the other hand were just plain difficult. The only good thing about them was that there didn’t seem to be a lot of them. She had only faced them four or five times. Still, she hoped that she wouldn’t run into one along the way.

“Looks like there is a dry patch up ahead,” she was relieved to see dry land.

Not that she minded carrying her friend; she owed him more than she could ever repay. She just didn’t want to get caught off guard in a place like this. Reaching the dry area, she set her old friend down and he seemed as relieved as she was. There was still no sign of anything moving in the swamp, except for her and the dog.

“I would say something about our luck,” she smirked, “but that’s when things usually go wrong… terribly wrong.”

The dog bark as to say “I agree ho heartily!” Sparrow smiled and gave him a good rub on the head as she continued down the path. She had been down here before, it looked like it use to be the main road that went through Oakvale at one point. Decaying building or least what remained of them lined and surrounded Sparrow as she made her way through the curse village. She had fought many Hollow Men here before and maybe a Banshee… but she wasn’t quite sure.

“You still hear Rose’s death cry when you try to sleep at night, don’t you…,” a voice echoed through a gather mist.

Her dog started to growl and bark at an unseen enemy. Sparrow raised her crossbow; there was a Banshee in the area.

“You bring only despair to this world. It is better off without you…,” it came again.

“Here we go,” she whispered.

“You are worthless, let me take your life now and put you to rest…,” came another

She couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from and it soundly like there might be two of them.

“I will bring you peace…,” it sounded closer.

“It is all over. After your death, awaits the Void. You will cease to exist completely…,” came yet another.

“How many of them are there,” Sparrow scanned the area, but the fog was growing thicker and thicker.

“You should just let her take you… peace by her embrace is better than the one I’m going to offer you,” a smooth deep voice penetrated the fog.

“Who’s there?!” Sparrow called out, “Reveal yourself!”

She released her fireball into the air and it dispersed. It burned off some of the fog to show hints of three Banshees waiting for her. However, she did not see where their shadowy children were.

“Make it easy on yourself… give into the Banshees’ wishes… die and give your pathetic soul to the endless Void…,” the strange voice came again.

“I’ll repeat myself,” she tried to see who was speaking while keeping an eye out for the Banshees, “Show yourself!”

“As you wish… oh Hero of Bowerstone,” the voice hissed.

From the fog walked the outline of a man. She could see no details except for the highlights of a faded white mask.

“It’s… it’s … it’s the Mask,” she recognized it from the vision.

“I see… the old blind Seer has already given me away,” the figure stopped just before they could fully reveal themselves.

“Who are you?” Sparrow took aim at the Mask.

The figure laughed, “I have only one name and it is still whispered today amongst all of Albion and beyond… even after five hundred years or so…”

Sparrow was starting to get annoyed.

“I see that you don’t like evasiveness my dear,” the figure started to back away, “but if you happen to survive this test, I might tell you my name. If you do,” they had completely disappeared, “come to the Northern Temple of Susanoo… I will be waiting… with an old friend of yours… ta ta for now,” the last part echoed through the fog.

“What do you mean by that!? You better not go after Hannah!” she started towards the figure, but the three Banshees blocked her path.

“Nothing you do means anything and when you die you will be forgotten,” their voices started inside her head.

She tried to ignore their words and concentrate on where the ghostly children would emerge, but there was no sign of them. The Banshees stayed where they were and continued to whisper dark thoughts into her head.

“He despises you… John hates you with all his heart…”

“You bring only despair to this world. It is better off without you…”

“I will bring you peace… I will bring you peace… I will bring you peace,” all three were chanting in her head.

Sparrow could barely stand it. Taking aim at the middle Banshee, she fired a bolt straight through its hollow hood. It sailed through it without any sign of damage. They were invulnerable. She had to find their children and destroy them; only then could she take them down to follow the masked man.

“Succumb to my embrace… Succumb to my embrace… Join us… Join us… Join Us…,” they moved in closer.

She could feel herself getting weaker as they moved in. There was only one thing she could do. Summon forth all her Will, perform a powerful surround spell and hope that the ghostly children didn’t stray too far from their whispering mothers. Numbing her mind to the insulting jeers and invites of the Banshees, Sparrow began to concentrate on the fire that was whelming up inside of her. Blue cracks of energy began to form on her skin as the spell she called forth growing in power and force. Embers danced about in the air as the spell seemed to reach its maximum. She prayed it was enough; the Banshees were almost upon her and the outline of ghastly children could be seen in the fog. It was now or never; she released her spell. It surged passed the Banshees and set the dark little ones on fire. The children screamed in pain as they withered away into ashes. Their Banshee mothers shrieked as their hollow eyes watch their children burn into nothing. Sparrow tried to pull up her crossbow to finish them off, but her area spell left her quite strained.

“Come on Sparrow… pull it up,” she managed to take aim and shot one Banshee.

The bolt hit its mark and the tattered robe faded as it fell to the ground. Pulling enough strength from somewhere she didn’t know, she pierced the second where a heart, if they had one, would be.

Two down, one to go, she cheered herself on.

The Banshee came closer and closer. Sparrow felt weaker and weaker. She fell to her knees in pain and sheer exhaustion. Her faithful friend jumped in between them and started to bark and growl at the approaching apparition. The Banshee screamed with such force, it blew the dog over and away from Sparrow. One Banshee was hard enough, but three was seemingly impossible. She took in a deep breath trying to raise her bow for one more shot. The Banshee bent down and placed its cold, unseen hands on her shoulders. They went numb under the depressive, cold weight; the chilling breath of the Banshee felt like it would suck her very soul out. It screamed causing her ears to ring and her head to spin. She couldn’t believe this was happening. So many quests, so many battles, so much blood… she had so much to do… it couldn’t end like this.

“I will bring you peace,” the Banshee whispered.

“Not today you don’t!” a silver flash blinded Sparrows eyes.

The hood the Banshee separated from its body as it faded like the supernatural fog.

“Hey there, you alright?” a figure shook her, “Just take in a few deep breaths. You’ll be alright… or not…” was the last thing Sparrow heard as world turned black.

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