In the Shadow of the Mask

By DuskStarDragon

Action / Fantasy

Snowspire

“Do you see anyone?” Hannah scanned the shore and rotting dock.

“Hmm…,” Reaver looked through the spyglass, “nothing is moving over there… nothing that I can see anyway.”

“Allow me,” Sparrow wanted to see for herself.

“Don’t trust me,” he seemed hurt.

“No, you have lost my trust after what you tried to pull,” she took the spyglass from him, “No movement… no signs of lights in the buildings…”

“It looks dead,” Hannah shivered.

“There used to be a thriving village here,” Garth sat down on the stairs, “At least five hundred years ago. It was completely separated from Albion for no one knows how long and hasn’t been heard from in four hundred years or so.”

“Wow,” Hannah stared in amazement, “This place was separate from even Lucien?”

“Because it has been dead for quite some time,” Reaver snorted.

“Let me guess… you’ve been here,” Sparrow continued to survey the empty port.

“Yes,” Reaver puffed out his chest, “It was about fifty years ago. I had heard of an Oracle in a place called Snowspire. I was hoping for… some… answers…,” he left it at that.

“I suppose we shouldn’t ask,” Garth didn’t really seem interested.

“Oracle is someone or something that can tell the future, right?” Hannah looked to Garth.

“Yes,” he nodded his head, “the Oracle was also sought as a source of wisdom and guidance. It knows much of the world seen and unseen. Theresa was right to send us here. We need advice…”

“Yes,” Sparrow agreed as she handed the spyglass back to Reaver, “we should probably get over there as soon as possible.”

“One problem,” Reaver held up his finger, “That is a city of the dead. Many Hollow Men run about the alleys and streets… lost a few men to them…,” he thought for a moment.

“Hollow Men,” Hannah never really like Hollow Men, “Those poor souls, bound to this world and unable to pass on to the next. May they be able to find peace,” she folded her hands in pray.

“Or in pieces,” Reaver traced his finger over his pistol, “Of course that’s just problem number one…”

“And the others?” Garth didn’t like the sound of that.

“There are Balverines of particular sorts,” Aja came from below, “Frost Balverines to be exact.”

“Frost Balverines?” Hannah shared Garth’s feelings about the growing situation.

“Creatures that descend from purer lines of Balverines,” she sat down next to Garth, “How are you feeling? You look better.”

“Yes,” Garth smiled, “A tad weary, but my strength has returned,” he pulled up one of sleeves to reveal his glowing blue lines.

Sparrow bent down to her level, “What do you mean that by they descend from purer lines?”

Aja smiled as she pulled her pipe from her lips, “Garth you should know this. About the Northern Waste that is.”

Garth scrunched his eyebrows and narrowed his one eye in thought, “I know that this land use to have people, but they only were in contact with Albion for a hundred years or so. And there is an Oracle supposedly. Other than that, I don’t know too much than that.”

She threw her head back and laughed, “For a man that claims to know much about the Old Kingdom you don’t know much. Sorry Garth,” she apologized after noticing his angry stare, “but you will find this place very interesting. This place is where the Old Kingdom once stood. It is the place where the Archon use to sit in power…”

“This place,” Garth looked over at the dilapidated building, “Was where the Old Kingdom originated? This is the place where the Archon stood before his Kingdom and ruled,” he stood up and went over to the railing, “This is the place that the Old Kingdom was born…”

“Indeed,” she simply answered.

“One day you’ll have to tell us all your stories about Albion and beyond,” Hannah smiled down at her.

“I would die before I would get half way through them,” she smirked.

“That is all very fascinating, but how does that help us get to the Oracle?” Reaver rolled his eyes, “The last time I was here, swarms of Hollow Men descended upon me and my men… killing most of them and if there are Frost Balverines… well… I don’t have any silver bullets left.”

“Here,” Aja dug into her vest, “I was going to use them, but since I’m in no condition to leave the ship, you might as well,” she threw a pouch in his direction.

He opened it with suspicion, “Hmm… more silver bullets?”

“If you don’t want them,” she held out her hand, “I’ll take them back.”

“I’ll keep them,” he proceeded to load him pistol with the shiny bullets, “but I wish you would give me something a little bit more… I don’t know… fitting for someone of my status.”

“You’re Albion’s greatest marksman, what else do you give a marksman?” she gave him a flat look, “And don’t answer that question,” she warned him.

He just answered with a snort.

“The other problem is the dock,” Sparrow joined Garth at the railing, “It didn’t look too sturdy and if there are Hollow Men and Balverines, I would rather leave the ship out here… so nothing would get to Theresa or Aja.”

“That would be appreciated,” Aja mumbled.

“I do believe that I’m the captain of this ship or at least that’s the impression that I got when I was asked to steer this little dingy,” Reaver puffed out his chest, “As the captain, I get to make the decision on how we proceed.”

“Alright then,” Sparrow leaned her back against the railing, “How do you suppose that we get over to the docks without putting the ship, Theresa and Aja in harm’s way?”

Reaver stepped towards the railing and looked to the side of the ship, “We take the life boat and land on the shores. It looks fairly safe.”

“Everybody already thought of that,” Aja laughed, “Sparrow was just letting you have your say.”

Reaver growled, “I don’t see what’s so funny. Anyway,” he calmed himself down, “we should leave as soon as possible… before the sun sets.”

“Agreed,” Aja nodded.

“We should gather our things and get over there,” Garth agreed, “How far is the Oracle from the town?” he asked.

“It should be to the northeast,” Reaver thought for moment.

“Did you even make it to the Oracle?” Aja asked.

“Well… no…,” he admitted quietly, “There were too many Hollow Men and I lost too many men to continue on.”

“That’s because the Oracle is directly north,” she snorted, “In a place that has been called Necropolis… as it sounds it is the city of the dead. It is there that the Oracle lies.”

“Have you been there?” Reaver raised his eyebrow.

Aja looked up at him in a smug manner, “Yes. I have.”

He grumbled as he headed down below deck.

“That boy needs to be put in his place,” Aja inhaled deeply and exhaled a long plume of smoke.

“I think you’re doing a good job,” Hannah giggled.

“Thank you Sister Hannah,” she smiled, “You all better get ready,” she shooed them, “Necropolis and Snowspire are dangerous places and you need to be on your toes.”

“We will,” Hannah headed down below.

“Aja… if I may ask,” Garth approached her, “How long ago was it that you were here?”

She thought for a moment, “About thirty years ago… why?”

“I was curious to know if the Oracle was still in one piece and that we aren’t wasting our time and risking our lives for something that can’t help us,” Garth was concerned, “Did you actually see it?”

“Yes… and it seemed to be in working order,” she recalled, “I got to the chamber that held the Oracle, but I didn’t ask it any questions…,” she seemed disappointed with herself.

“I see,” Garth didn’t want to pry.

“My advice is to move quick and only kill what is close,” she slowly stood up, “The longer you stay in one area the more the hordes of the undead will descend upon you. And when the Hollow Men come out, so do the Balverines.”

“No stops then?” Sparrow understood.

She released long trails of smoke from her nose, “Indeed.”

“I only hope that the wisdom of the Oracle can help us with our current situation,” Garth rubbed the bridge of his nose.

Sparrow looked out on to the shores of the once living city. It looked like the place that maybe people use to roam. Where children once played in the cobblestone streets. Where vendors would yell at the top of their lungs about their marvelous selection of products and produce. But now it was dead. There were no sounds or whispers, just the wind whistling through the broken shutters and hallow building. A chill went down her back, but she shook it off. There was no time for that.

“Be very careful my dear,” Aja took her pipe from her lips, “Follow the main street until you see a great stone building. It will most likely call to Garth. Wherever he feels the Will the strongest, go in that direction. You understand?”

“Yes,” Sparrow nodded her head as she headed below deck.

A small boat ride later…

“It smells so stale,” Hannah wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“That is to be expected,” Garth tried not to let it bother him, “This place probably hasn’t had another human being stand on its shore in a long time.”

“Still,” Hannah rubbed her nose with her finger, “it still smells funny.”

“Let’s keep as quiet as possible,” Sparrow moved up the sandy, snowy bank, “The sun is still up, but we don’t know how long it will take us to get to the Oracle.”

“Or if we’ll even find it,” Reaver stepped out ahead of her, “This is a big island and all we have to go by is an old explorer’s memory.”

“Don’t be putting down Sister Aja,” Hannah hissed, “Her information has been very reliable. We can’t rely on you because you never even got to see where the Oracle was being housed,” she pointed out as she rolled her hammer onto her shoulder.

“I beg your pardon,” Reaver was obviously offended, “I was the one that has been up for the past three days navigating that tiny little ship across rough water and has brought everyone on board to safety. It is because of me that this quest is able to continue and I have yet to hear a thank you from anyone,” he hissed in her face.

“Well excuse me,” Hannah huffed, “But you have been making it a little difficult with you behavior and self-importance.”

“Why you barbaric woman!” Reaver reached for his pistol, “We should have left you in the North with your precious Monks and Sisters. You haven’t done anything that has contributed to the group’s survival. I doubt that you can even swing that hammer anymore. You should have stayed on the ship,” he pushed passed her.

Hannah’s cheeks turned red and her grip tightened on her hammer.

“Hannah,” Sparrow put her hand on her shoulder, “Don’t pay any attention to what he says. You’ve been a great help and I’m glad you’re here.”

“How…? How have I been a great help?” Hannah asked.

“You’ve been there for me when I needed you,” she answered without hesitation, “Whether it is with your hammer or you words, you are needed here.”

“Thank you Sparrow,” Hannah threw her free arm around Sparrow’s neck and gave her a hug.

“Oh yes just coddle the big peaceful brute,” Reaver mumbled to himself.

“Leave it be Reaver,” Garth sighed, “We have business to attend too and I rather not make it more difficult by having to fight hordes of the undead and packs of slobbering werewolves.”

“I have to agree with the mage,” Reaver let it go, “I like adventure, but this one is growing tiresome.”

Hannah was about to say something, but Sparrow stopped her. There was no point in arguing with Reaver. He was the way he was and there was nothing to be done about it. Sparrow was just thankful that Garth was level headed and logical enough to point out what was needed. As for Hannah, Sparrow was glad to have her. She may not been the most eloquent of people, but she spoke the truth and always expected others to do the same. It was an odd group of Heroes that had come together, but it was their different skills and personalities that made the journey all the more interesting.

No more words were spoken as they made their way into the deteriorating city. It was a familiar scene. It was like the city of Balverines where the ancient Cullis Gate lay dormant. Through here, everything seemed to be frozen in time. It could have been from the fact that it was so cold and the snow held everything in place. Mounds of the fluffy white stuff formed near windless sides of the buildings.

Sparrow smiled. She could imagine her companion playing about in the snow. He loved the snow. He would roll and burrow until his coat would be full on it. he would then look at her and seem to ask why she was doing the same.

“Well what do we have here?” Reaver bent down to the ground, “Balverine tracks and they are fresh,” he drew his pistol.

“We should keep moving,” Sparrow looked around and listened for anything.

Everyone was in agreement. With only the snow crunching underneath their feet, they picked up the pace and headed down what appeared to be the main street.

Rumble… rumble… rumble…

“Oh no,” Hannah knew that sound.

The sound of shuffling feet and rattling bones echoed off the buildings and seemed to funnel down their ears. It filled the air and sent shivers down the spine. The dragging of rusting metal weapons could be heard and it sounded like it was getting closer.

“Hollow Men,” Sparrow spotted them.

They were coming from every side street. Stumbling over one another, they spotted the group of Heroes. They roared and moaned as they hurried their shuffle.

“There’s too many!” Garth summoned fireballs.

“We’ll just have push through,” Sparrow did the same, “NOW GARTH!” she waited for a lot of them to bunch up.

Both releasing fiery attacks, the huddled Hollow Men were set ablaze. They didn’t feel the fire burned through their ragged clothes. Their bones started to crackle and snap as the blaze grew. It was an eerie sight to see all the Hollow Men glow in the red blaze. The front ones started to crumble and fall to the ground in ashen heaps. The others behind them started to fall and crumble as well.

“Come on!” Sparrow urged them, “Before more come!”

They ran towards the dying fire. There was a small opening where the Hollow Men weren’t so thick. The fire had burned out enough for all of them to jump through. Luckily there were only a few Hollow Men on the out and they moved sluggishly towards them. They didn’t bother to attack them; it would have been a waste of time.

“At least there are no Balverines,” Hannah tried to catch her breath as the group slowed down.

AAAA-WWOOOOOO!

A long howl pierced the air.

“You had to say that,” Reaver growled.

“Let’s hurry before they find us,” Garth summoned several Will blades that formed a twirling crown around his head.

“Too late,” Sparrow gritted her teeth as she stared up at two large, furry creatures.

A-WOOO! The Balverines howled in unison.

“At least there are only…,” Hannah started to say.

“Don’t finish that sentence,” Reaver warned her.

“Can you two finish this later?” Garth poised his Will blades for an attack.

“Come on then!” Sparrow challenged them.

The two creatures looked to one another and smiled. Sparrow could see the glints of their teeth as they turned their attention back to the group. One going right and the other left, they pounce of the sides of the buildings with ease and astonishing speed. They were much faster than any Balverine that Sparrow had seen. They were like white blurs as they jumped overhead and bounced off every surface they could.

“Backs together,” Sparrow order, “That way they can’t get between or behind us.”

“Good idea,” Hannah brought her hammer around.

The Balverines danced above their heads looking for a place that was unsecure. They finally landed in front of Sparrow and growled lowly. Sparrow raised her sword to a defensive position just in case they charged her.

“They might as well lined up for a shot,” Reaver came over Sparrow’s shoulder to take aim.

“No!” Sparrow had to lower her sword.

They saw the opening and took advantage of it. They rushed at them with astonishing speed. There was no way that Sparrow could counter their attack. Taking hold of Reaver’s arm, she force pushed Hannah and Garth aside while falling; Reaver coming with her.


“I do believe that this is not the most appropriate time to get frisky,” Reaver landed on top of her, “Maybe some other time.”

“Not in your lifetime,” Sparrow pulled herself from under him.

One Balverine headed for Garth while the other focused on Reaver and Sparrow.

“Garth,” Sparrow wanted to run and help him but the Balverine blocked her path, “Hannah! Garth needs help!” she held out her sword to keep the beast at arm’s length.

“I… I…,” she raised her hammer, “I… don’t… I can’t,” she stuttered.

Gritting his teeth, Garth pushed his summoned blades towards the advancing creature.

It held its arms in front of it face while the blades whizzed by. Four of the Will blades stuck in the Balverine’s arms. It brought down its arms and sniffed the fading blades. Blood started to flow, but it didn’t seem to mind. In fact, it seemed angered by the attack. It growled as it came closer to Garth.

“HANNAH!” Sparrow yelled once more.

She stood there like she was made of stone, unsure of what to do or what she could do.

Sparrow looked on in horror as the Balverine raised its arm and extended its claws.

“GARTH!” Sparrow screamed.

“Ahh,” Garth pulled something from his coat and stuck it into the beast’s chest.

It screamed and howled out in pain as it fell backwards. It took in one breath and exhaled its last. A small silver dagger protruded from its chest where its heart was. It was the same dagger that Aja had giver Garth at the being of their adventures.

The remaining Balverine looked over at it deceased companion and ran over to it. Bending down, it smelled the dagger and pulled away with a growl. Placing its claws in the face of the dead Balverine, the other threw back its head and howled an angry howl. It snapped its head back in Sparrow and Reaver’s direction. Growling and snarling, it started to approach them one step at a time.

Reaver click his tongue and took aim, “Too easy,” he fired a single shot.

The bullet ricocheted off the side of one of the buildings and flew back towards Hannah.


She grabbed her side, “Watch where you’re aiming!”

“Where did it go?” Reaver was stunned that he missed the shot.

“ROAR!” it was behind him all of a sudden.

SWOOSH! A silver slash sailed through the air.

The Balverine stopped and became silent. The head came forward and fell to Reaver’s feet while its body slumped to the left.

“What pathetic Heroes that have come here,” a man stood where the Balverine once did, “Can’t even take care of a few pups. How disappointing to see Heroes fall so low.”

Sparrow stared at the mysterious man. He wore a deep blue robe that went all the way to the ground. A large worn leather sack hung around his waist. In his right hand he held a large golden scythe with intricate patterns and designs. His face… looked like that of a dead man’s.

“Pathetic,” he smiled as he mocked them.


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