In the Shadow of the Mask

Proof of Merit

There was no time. They had to follow after the Balverines and retrieve the Glyph. Sparrow ran out ahead with Garth on her tail. Scythe walked at a normal pace, not hurried in any sort.

“I’m coming too,” Hannah threw her hammer over her shoulder.

“Will Reaver be safe here?” Sparrow asked.

Hannah and Garth looked to one another, almost in disbelief that she asked about Reaver’s safety.

“I can watch over him,” a little voice came from behind them.

“Where did you come from?” Hannah nearly jumped three feet off the floor.

A little girl no older than twelve or so stood just inside the doorway. Her face was hidden by a red hood that went down in a waist level cloak.

“She is of no concern of yours,” Scythe stepped in front of her, “What is your concern is getting the Glyph back. Without it, the Oracle will not speak.”

“We better hurry then,” Hannah started down the hallway.

“What good would you be?” Scythe asked, “What could you do now that you couldn’t before? You had an opportunity to save the Mage, yet you didn’t. The Pilgrim is supposed to be one that seeks freedom, yet you restrain yourself. You stand upon water, unsure of who or what you are. You thought you knew, but when you treated yourself to the outside world, you fell back into your old ways. You shall never know freedom as long as you constrain your body, mind and soul,” he chuckled to himself, “Did the monks of the north teach you nothing?”

Hannah’s eyes went wide with every word. Her hammer slowly slipped from her shoulders until it fell to the ground with a crash. The stone cracked as the weight of the weapon. There was nothing she could say or think of to counter his statement. She knew in heart that something wasn’t quite there. Whether it had been there or if ever she found it, she couldn’t tell.

“Don’t listen to him Hannah,” Sparrow came to her side, “He knows nothing about you or what you have done or what kind of person you are.”

“But… he does,” she lowered her eyes, “While you were in the Spire, I sat around and indulged in beer and blood. I killed many mercenaries and bandits. I thought I was doing it to keep people safe, but in truth… I just wanted to swing my hammer,” she released her grip from the weapon, “I… I was being selfish… I never was much of a Hero… I couldn’t even save my father,” a tear rolled her cheek.

“Hannah,” Sparrow understood her pain, “For so long you were kept away from the world and finally when you got your chance, you took it. Don’t regret coming out into the world, learn from it. That’s why you went to the north, to learn about fighting. You learned and that’s what’s important.”

“She is right,” Garth spoke up, “Knowledge is a means to opening many paths. To remain ignorant would mean to stay in one place. If we are to evolve and grow, we must move forward, not back.”

“Bravo Mage,” Scythe smirked, “A lot of talk coming from you, but you know nothing. You have spent your entire life dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and what do you have to show for it? Scars from your time in the Spire… the thing that you helped Lucian build? Guilt from the fact that you know what you researched was used to hurt and kill so many, including this Hero’s sister? You amuse me most of all Mage,” Scythe laughed, “you know that knowledge is your liberator and master. It frees you because you are able to feel the world and those who inhabit it in ways that a normal mortal can’t, yet you draw away from everyone and everything. It is your master because you seek more knowledge and you know deep inside of you that there is no end to it. You shall forever be seeking knowledge and will die because of it.”

Garth shook, but only for a moment. Scythe’s words were haunting. Not because he didn’t believe they were true, but because they were true. It was because of him that many things had passed. It was because of his knowledge and studies that Lucian was able to rebuild the accursed Spire. It was because of him, so many had suffered… especially one that he was close to.

“What? Have you no words for me or Reaver?” Sparrow was growing tired of Scythe’s mocks and jeers, “You say that we are not Heroes, but yet we are here. I don’t know if I am a true Hero or what it even means to be a true Hero, but I’m not going to stand idly by while some… some,” she wasn’t quite sure what word to use, “I don’t even know what he is. But that’s beside the point,” she came up to Scythe’s mummified face, “I’m not going to stand around and ask questions that I know I will never be able to answer. No,” she turned her back to him, “I’m going out there and getting that Glyph back and then the Oracle is going to tell me how to defeat Jack of Blades. I will try with my last breath to rid Albion of him… I will, with all my heart, with all my soul, destroy him for good.”

“Impressive speech,” Scythe scoffed, “but it doesn’t get you any closer to getting the Glyph back.”

She stopped, took in a deep breath and released the anger that had built up, “Say what you will,” she glanced over her shoulder, “but I don’t have time to play your mind games. Hannah? Garth? Will you help me find the Glyph?”

“Do you… do you really want a Hero of Strength that can’t swing her hammer?” Hannah asked to the floor.

“Or a Hero of Will that caused your sister’s death?” Garth wouldn’t even look at her.

Placing one hand on each of their shoulders, Sparrow looked to both of them, “We all have a part to play. Just as we did before, we shall take up our roles and do what we can. I couldn’t save John or his parents. I couldn’t save my sister,” she sighed, “But to let those things drive my mind and soul into a dark place would be unforgivable. Aja, a Hero like us, has faced similar circumstances and yet she has found the strength to go on. Hannah,” she turned to her, “You went out into the world swinging not really thinking things over, but now is the time to start again. You know what you have done in the past and I pray that you have learned from it.”

Hannah smiled, “I have.”

“Garth,” she turned to him, “You had nothing to do with the death of my sister or the death of all those people. You desired to learn simply because of academic reasons. Lucian was the one that twisted that and made it into the horrible nightmare that was the Spire. Your knowledge is so valuable. You could do so many wonderful things with it. You just have to get over your fear of people,” she smiled at him.

He smiled back, “Yes… but I do believe no book has been written on that particular subject.”

“Then write one,” Sparrow pulled away from them, “Now I ask you again. Will you help me find the Glyph?” she put out her hand.

“I’m with you,” Hannah placed her hand on top of Sparrow’s.

“I also will help,” Garth place his hand on top of theirs.

“I will too,” Reaver jolted up, placing his hand on top of the pile, “After I’ve finished my nap,” his eyes rolled up into the back of his head as he fell to the floor.

The little girl in the red robe caught him before his head hit the stone floor, “I will care for him while you are gone.”

“Thank you,” Sparrow nodded to her, “We’ll be off then,” she started back down the hallway.

“Wait,” a thought came to the Hannah, “If Jack is here, then he could get to Theresa and Aja. Who knows what he’ll do to them.”

It was something that Sparrow hadn’t thought of. Theresa and Aja were in trouble if Jack was around. He could easily slip into the ship and …

“I’ll go to the ship and protect them,” Hannah quickly volunteered.

“I’ll go,” Garth stepped forward, “I can at least try to fend him off if he comes.”

“Or maybe you should bring them here,” Scythe suggested as he raised his arms to shoulder’s height.

Three pools of light started to form on the floor in front of him. The light swirled upwards and started to take shape. One form looked like it was standing on all fours, while another was lying down and the third seemed to be leaning on something while sitting.

“What the?” the leaning figure fell over, “How did I get here?” they sat up.

“Aja!” Sparrow was both surprised and glad to see her, “Theresa! Boy,” she bent down and rubbed him vigorously.

“What’s going on?” Aja looked around in confusion.

“We’ll explain later,” Hannah picked up her hammer, “Right now we have a Glyph to find.”

“You better hurry,” Scythe chuckled, “Those Balverines are probably half way back to their master.”

“Come on boy,” Sparrow got an idea, “Get the scent of those overgrown wolves.”

He understood what she wanted and began to sniff the floor and bodies of the Balverines. Running back over to her, he seemed to say, “Follow me! I know the way!”

“Good idea Sparrow,” Garth commented, “We can follow those beasts no matter where they go.”

“Come on,” Sparrow chased after her dog.

“Take care of them,” Hannah warned Scythe, “Everybody better be here when we get back.”

Scythe only answered, “If you get the Glyph back, it may prove your merit.”

Sparrow ignored his echoing comment. She had more important things to worry about than some mummified man’s opinions of her and her friends… plus Reaver. Her dog was hot on the trail as he made his way out into the deserted streets of the long forgotten village. He passed through the gate, not really concerning about the suddenly deep snow. He bounced and jumped through it like it was nothing. He was on a mission and he was going to let Sparrow down.

They came down the village by the sea. There were no signs of Hallow Men, save for the one that they had destroyed earlier. Her dog started to sniff the ground furiously and circle about. It was almost like he had lost the scent.

“Come on boy,” she cheered him on, “You can do it.”

The dog ran from alley way to alley way, smelling each path carefully. Three times he stop, each path leading somewhere else.

“They could have split up,” Garth noticed the dog’s distress, “Each taking a path to confuse us.”

“So how do we tell which way the one with the Glyph went?” Hannah looked to each alley way.

“We don’t,” Sparrow sighed, “We each have to take a path and hope that one of us finds the Balverine with the Glyph.”

“Then we take it back,” Hannah tightened her grip on her hammer.

“It is dangerous to split up,” Garth wasn’t too sure, “But it is the only way if we are to succeed,” he finally agreed.

“I’ll take that way other there,” Sparrow pointed, “Garth you take the one on the right. Hannah left. We’ll meet back up in Snowspire.”

“Right,” they all agreed.

They each headed to their designated path. There was no time to say good luck or see you soon. They had already wasted enough time with Scythe’s jeers. Sparrow could only hope that they weren’t too late and that the Balverines hadn’t reached Jack yet. She also hoped that at least one of them choose the right path. She started to leave the ruined city behind and came to a split in the path. Up a foothill, she could make out buildings in the distance, but she couldn’t tell if that was Snowspire or not.

Her dog began to sniff the ground and then jumped up in excitement as if he found something.

“What is it boy?” she noticed his jump.

He started to run up the path were the city lie in the distance. The Balverine must have gone up there or so Sparrow hoped. She had no time to second guess her old friend; he had never lead her astray before.

A-WWHHOOOO! A howl seemed to come from up the foot hill.

“It’s there alright,” she confirmed as she started to run up the path with her dog on her heels.

It wasn’t too steep and the slope was gentle. As she ran, the buildings were growing closer and closer.

A-WWHHOOO! The howl sounded nearby.

She stopped for a moment to see if she could tell where it was coming from.

WHOSH! Something ran passed her with lightning speed.

She was barely able to dodge the beast’s claws. They slashed at thin air as she rolled out of the way. Her dog came to her side and started to growl at the snarling beast.

It was the White Balverine. She stared at Sparrow with hate in her eye. She could never forgive her for what she had done to her children.

“The Glyph!” she noticed the Balverine was holding something.

In her claws she held the stone disc with the yellow carved symbol. She couldn’t believe her luck to have found it so quickly.

“Of course,” she looked to her faithful companion, “I have to get it away from her first.”

The dog barked in agreement, but he wasn’t sure how they were going to do that.

The White Balverine understood by Sparrow’s quick glances, that she wanted the stone she held in her claws. She jumped up out of sight and landed on top of a boulder size piece of ice. She seemed to laugh because she knew Sparrow wouldn’t be able to match her speed.

Sparrow gritted her teeth and drew her sword. She was going to get the Glyph back no matter what.

Just as the beast smiled, the ice block below her feet started to move and quake. The Balverine grabbed onto it to steady her balance. The ice shot up and a deep roar came from it. The Balverine tumbled forward and landed in front of the living ice.

“It can’t be…,” Sparrow stared in horror.

It was troll unlike anything she had seen before. Its face was like that of any other troll with the burning red eyes, but its body was encased in bluish white ice. It stood at least twenty feet tall and towered over her and the Balverine.

Slowly getting up, the Balverine turned to see the troll face to face. Her eyes and mouth went big in horror as the massive creature grabbed her around the waist and picked her up. She started to claw and bite at the hand, but the troll didn’t seem to mind or pay attention to her struggles. It opened its mouth wide and in one swift movement it bit the head off the White Balverine. Her body went limp as the troll swallowed her head. It then proceeded to shove the rest of the Balverine into its mouth. Sparrow watched in disgust as the Glyph disappeared into the creature’s mouth.

“Oh… you have to be kidding me,” she growled.

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