In the Shadow of the Mask

By DuskStarDragon

Action / Fantasy

The Oracle

“It burns!” Hannah complained as Garth held some herbs to her wounds.

“That means that it’s working,” Garth pulled out a length of gauze.

“If you wouldn’t have been standing in my way, you wouldn’t have gotten grazed,” Reaver was checking over his pistol.

“If you wouldn’t have missed,” Hannah growled.

“I didn’t miss,” Reaver defended himself, “The Balverine jumped out of the way.”

“You didn’t hit your target. You missed,” she pointed out.

Reaver cocked his gun and took aim at Hannah, “I don’t miss… ever.”

“Reaver,” Sparrow stepped in from of his line of fire, “Don’t.”

Reaver thought for a moment then holstered his weapon, “The woman lives for now, but no guarantees later.”

Sparrow shook her head in disgust. There was nothing to be done about it. She would just have to keep an eye on Reaver for now.

“Thank you sir,” Sparrow turned her attention to the man in the blue robe, “If it weren’t for you, we have suffered some losses,” she bowed to him.

“Ha, ha, ha, ha,” the man laughed deeply, “I should have let that Balverine kill you. To let such feeble Heroes run about is a sin. No… you lot are nothing like the Heroes of the old days. When being a Hero actually meant something,” he sighed, “No… Heroes are merely myth and legend now. They were the true Heroes… not like you lot.”

“Pardon me,” Garth finished tending to Hannah’s wound, “but we may not be like the Heroes of old, but they are no longer around. We are.”

The dead looking man chuckled, “Is that supposed to mean something Mage? That I should treat you like Heroes when you clearly aren’t. Things are changing once again and if the Heroes of old couldn’t do anything about it, then what hopes do their overly diluted children have? None would be my guess.”

He was odd sorts of man… if he was even that. Sparrow wasn’t sure what he was. His face was shriveled and sunken in like a mummy. The other exposed parts of his body were similar in appearance. He must have been very ancient to look like that or something happened to him long ago. His blue robe draped around his body save for his right arm which he wore a golden gantlet and shoulder armor. Two blue bands were wrapped around his forehead and where his nose would be. Light blue lines and patterns decorated his face and arm. Sparrow could only assume the strange tattoos covered his entire body.

“Sir,” Sparrow started.

“Scythe,” he corrected her, “My name is Scythe and only refer to me as such,” he snapped.

“Scythe if I may ask a question?” she ignored his rudeness, “We are searching the Oracle. We need its wisdom.”

“I know,” he seemed annoyed with her, “You seek a way to destroy Jack of Blades.”

“Oh good, that makes things a lot easier,” Reaver mused.

“There is nothing easy about what you seek,” Scythe hissed, “You seek knowledge that has been sought before and those with it were unable to use it to the fullest. Oh, everyone thought the dark days were over,” he continued his rant, “but with recent events that have transpired, I can see that the efforts of the Hero five hundred years were all for not. He knew what to do, had all that he needed and yet he failed. I’m starting to believe that there is no hope,” he chuckled to himself, “No hope for this world. People aren’t worth saving.”

“A rather dismal view of life,” Hannah commented sadly.

“Life… I am beyond life,” Scythe turned his back to the group, “Life… I once… it doesn’t matter now,” he shook his head, “Turn back now,” he started to walk away, “The Age of Heroes is dead and playing the game you are… you won’t survive.”

“So what are we supposed to do?” Sparrow asked, “Let Jack of Blades run around Albion and do as he pleases?”

Scythe, with his back still turned to them, shrugged his shoulder, “Hide. You’ll survive longer… especially you,” he looked over his shoulder at Sparrow, “He has his eye on you.”

“Because of whom I descend from… right?” Sparrow asked.

He nodded his head.

“What history… has passed between my family and him…? I know a little from what he showed me,” Sparrow shifted uncomfortably, “Please… Aja said that there was a man here and the Oracle that could help us.”

He stopped and turned towards her, “What else did she tell you?”

“That there is the chance we will gain what we need to destroy Jack,” Sparrow swallowed hard, “or me.”

“Are you willing to take the risks? You know you might not survive… not many survive against Jack of Blades,” he smirked.

Sparrow took a step towards him, “Aja did.”

“The explorer faced Jack of Blades before,” Reaver asked quietly to Garth.

He shrugged his shoulders to indicate that he didn’t know.

“Aja has gone up against Jack?” Hannah asked a little louder.

A-WWHHOOOO! A Balverine howled in the distance.

Scythe turned away from them, “This is not the place to talk of such matters. I don’t mind slaying Balverines, but I rather not if it can be avoided. The Snowspire Oracle is up ahead… it will be safe there.”

“Hopefully it’s warm too,” Reaver rubbed his hands together, “I never really did care for the cold… much more liked the hotter weather,” he continued on like someone was listening.

“Here,” Sparrow extended out her hand, “I’ll help you.”

Hannah smiled, “No worries. It doesn’t really hurt that bad. Just stings, that’s all.”

She stood up and showed that she could walk without any problems. Hannah was a tough individual and a little graze wasn’t going to stop her.

Garth and Reaver had already started to follow the dead like man. Sparrow and Hannah, not wanting to be left behind, hurried their pace to catch up with them. They left the main streets of the dead city and headed up a steep, snow covered path. The snow was coming down harder as they ascended. It was getting difficult to see. Sparrow could barely see Scythe just ahead.

“Just there,” he pointed up the snow covered road, “Through the gates is where the Oracle lies… where Snowspire use to thrive.”

The terrain flattened as they grew closer to the broken gates. The heavy wooden doors were bent and broken in like something had slammed against them. It was eerie feeling that held the place. It wasn’t like the city below that they had just come from. The buildings stood as they stood in proper order. Vendors’ stalls looked like they were ready to be opened. Red banners hung from pole with unknown insignias place upon them; they fluttered in the light wind that was blowing.

“That’s strange,” Hannah looked from the abandoned city to out pass the gates, “It’s snowing like crazy out there and it’s doing nothing in here. I’ve seen some odd weather in the mountains, but nothing like this.”

“Yes… very odd indeed,” Reaver agreed with her.

“You’re doing this,” Garth came next to Scythe, “I wasn’t sure of it before, but I am now.”

He smiled, “And what are you so sure of Mage?”

“You are a Will user. I can only feel it just so, but this place… the feeling I’m getting that surrounds this part of the city feels like the energy emanating off of you,” Garth answered confidently.

“Ha, ha, ha,” Scythe laughed, “Yes. You are correct. I have created a bubble of energy around this place using my Will.”

“So you are a Hero then?” Hannah asked.

He stopped and turned around, “No… not in these days and times. Maybe once I was, but I was never called a Hero… not until much, much later. Still… if you wish to refer to me as such then do so.”

“Why keep this… ordinary place… protected?” Reaver didn’t like the looks of the town, “There seems to be nothing of value here… that and it appears to be dead.”

Scythe lowered his sunken in eyes and gripped his scythe tightly, then turned his back, “The day that you must pay the Shadow Court your dues will be a day that I can’t wait to see,” he starting walking away.

“What do you think he might by that?” he pondered out loud.

“I think he means that you should keep your mouth shut,” Garth followed after Scythe.

“I guess everyone is going to be rude today,” Reaver snorted.

“You deserve it,” Hannah whispered under her breath.

“What was that barbarian?” Reaver eyed her.

“Come on you two,” Sparrow shooed them along, “We don’t want to get left behind.”

They only gave each other nasty looks as they started after Garth and Scythe. Sparrow shook her head, not understanding why they were all snapping at one another. It could have been that all the stress of the journey accumulating and finally venting out. Or it could have been the fact that they had such conflicting personalities. Hannah was an upright individual that believed in the goodness of the world. Reaver only sought things that would bring him pleasure, wealth and frame. Garth looked for knowledge and wanted very little to do with people. Sparrow… well… she found it hard to describe herself. She was often told what she was, but she never really believed what people told her.

“This place may not be snowbound like the other parts of the island due to the energy,” Scythe called out to her, “But that doesn’t mean other things cannot get in,” a sinister smile formed on his wrinkled face.

“Coming,” she hurried along.

Just ahead she could make out a large stone building that seemed different… older than the buildings that surrounded it. As they approached, the wooden doors opened for them, almost like it was welcoming them into a safer place. A strange blue glow came from inside. Garth and Scythe were the first in with Hannah and Reaver right after them.

“Oh…,” Hannah took one step inside, but immediately brought her foot back out.

“What are you going on about…? Oh!” Reaver had the same reaction.

“What’s wrong?” Sparrow stepped into the building, but didn’t feel anything, “Did something shock or sting you?” she looked around for something sharp.

“Of course,” Scythe seemed to remember something, “Your friends, save for the mage, have no access to Will.”

“What does that mean?” Hannah was hesitated to step back in.

“It means that your bodies are not use to feeling Will,” Scythe chuckled at their ignorance, “You’ll just have to hope that you grow use to it or wait outside if it is too much for you.”

“Hmm…,” Reaver thought for a moment.

“I can handle it,” Hannah took a step forward, “Not that bad… just surprised me the first time.”

“Yes,” Reaver followed her, “Just tingles a little bit… and in the right places I might add,” he smiled.

There was no comment that anyone could have made to state how wrong that sounded. Then again, it was Reaver.

Ignoring Reaver, the group continued forth, deeper into the strange place. The walls were illuminated by the bluish glow and lit their path down the wide hallway. Up ahead, Sparrow could see a large set of silver doors. There were all sorts of designs and ancient scripts written upon it. Some it looked familiar, but Sparrow couldn’t remember where she had seen them before.

“Beyond this door lies the Oracle,” Scythe stopped them, “It contains all the knowledge of Albion and before. It knows many things, but,” he warned, “not everything. There are some things that it knows, but cannot reveal them.”

“So how do we know that the information we seek is not something that it either doesn’t know or something that it cannot reveal?” Garth asked in a suspicious tone.

“Ask,” Scythe pushed open the doors.

They slung open with a long ear splitting creak that echoed and magnified through the hallway. Sparrow had to cover her ears as did Garth and Hannah. Reaver, on the other hand, didn’t seem to mind it. Behind the great silver door lay a massive cavern. A long nature stone walkway lead up to an altar of sort. Four faces stared back with a dead gaze. Their hallow eyes seemed to look right through Sparrow. Above each face there was circular disc with yellow symbols craved into them. She took one step onto the stone bridge and felt a jolt of energy through her body.

“You felt it too,” Garth came next to her, “This place is filled with Will… it’s coming from those faces…”

“I would advise the non will users to stay back,” Scythe headed for the altar, “The energy of this place will be too much for you.”

“We see about that,” Reaver boldly took a step forward.

Sparrow was about to tell him to heed Scythe’s warning, but saw him fly back out the doorway.

“Reaver!” she hurried over to him, “Are you alright?” she asked.

“Oh to hear such on concern,” he smiled in a daze, “So refreshing… I think I fancy a nap…” his eyes fluttered shut as his body went limp.

“I’ll watch over him,” Hannah volunteered, “I can’t go any further anyway. Else I’ll end up like him. Don’t really want to know what that felt like.”

“Come to the doorway at least so you can hear,” Sparrow leaned Reaver up against the doorway.

“Well do,” she took her place.

“Hurry you two,” Scythe sounded like he was growing impatient.

Not wanting to make him wait, Garth and Sparrow walked across the stone bridge with a quickened pace. They stopped alongside Scythe and waited to see what would happen. The cavern was silent. Not a single sound could be heard.

A-WWHHOOOO! A howl pierced the quietness of the cavern.

“That sounded close,” Sparrow pulled out her sword.

“It can’t be,” Scythe looked up into the darker areas of the ceiling, “There is no way that they could have passed through into here.”

CHASH! A large white Balverine landed in font on them.

She glared at them and dared them to come closer with each snarl. Both Garth and Sparrow prepared for a fight, but Scythe seemed unconcerned about the creature’s appearance.

“I don’t know how you got in here,” he stepped forward, “But you won’t be leaving.”

“You know very well how she got in here,” a voice echoed through the hallow place, “You are not as strong as you once were.”

“Jack,” Sparrow hissed.

“Why don’t you come out yourself and face me? Instead of sending this drooling beast,” Scythe dared him.

“I would love to, but I have other business to attend to at the moment,” Jack laughed, “I have things to collect and the Glyphs are one of them. My dear,” he seemed to be addressing the White Balverine, “Please have your children gather the stone discs and bring them to me.”

She threw her head back and howled loudly. It was almost deafening as it bounced off the walls and into their ears. The sound of clawing and scratching filled the air as several Balverines appeared from the darkness and clawed their way to the stone faces. Six of them joined their mother while four others proceeded to the discs.

“We must stop them,” Scythe raised his weapon, “They must not get the Glyphs.”

Garth and Sparrow didn’t have to be told twice. Garth pushed two Balverines back into the stone wall. Sparrow released a shock wave into two others; they fell to the ground with electricity still flowing through them. Scythe took one clean slice through the other two that stood in front of their mother. Within a matter of seconds, six Balverines lay dead at their feet.

“So we aren’t Heroes?” Hannah jeered from the doorway.

“They haven’t stopped them from taking the Glyphs,” Scythe raised his weapon to the White Balverine, “You two stop them. I’ll take care of her.

The White Balverine growled and spread her arms wide saying she would let no one pass.

“We’ll have to do this from a distance,” Garth brought up his hands and set them ablaze.

“I don’t mind,” Sparrow mimicked him, “I’ll take the top and left one.”

“Then it is the bottom and right one for me,” he agreed.

They both unleashed their attacks. Three Balverines fell to the floor, but the top one had managed to pull out the Glyph before Sparrow’s spell hit it.

The creature whined and growled to its mother as if it was saying that it was successful. She grinned as she jumped out of sight; her child following her.

“No,” Scythe stared as the empty hole.


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