In the Shadow of the Mask

Wash Away Your Troubles

Click, click… heavy steps echoed through the glowing blue hallways.

“What’s this I hear?” Scythe turned his head slightly, “The sound of pathetic false Heroes returning from their failed quest?”

Tink… tink… something rolled across the stone floor and stopped at Scythe’s feet.

“Well… it appears as if the children have been playing in the snow,” Scythe laughed as he picked up the object, “And with a troll no less.”

“We were playing alright,” Hannah snorted.

“This troll’s eye is a nice little trophy,” he held the red unblinking eye up to his face, “and it is circular in shape, but it is not what is needed to reactivate the Oracle.”

“Here,” Sparrow held out the still dripping Glyph, “Here is the Glyph. It’s a little dirty, but I’m sure you don’t mind.”

Scythe smiled, “Good… though… it does need a little cleaning up… as do you,” he eyed her bloody clothes, “I will take care of the Glyph and call for you when the Oracle is ready to speak. The girl has your two companions set up in a nearby house. I would see to them if I were you.”

“What about Jack and his furry buddies? Shouldn’t we go and look for them?” Hannah was still ready for a fight.

“You didn’t take care of the Balverines?” Scythe eyed her suspicion.

“I did… at least one of ‘em,” she held out her hammer, “That’s Balverine and troll blood on the head there. Believe me when I say those creatures will not be getting up anytime soon.”

“Well,” Reaver puffed out his chest in pride, “I finished off the Troll… One shot by the way.”

“Yes you did,” Sparrow answered before anyone else could rebuke him.

“So the narcissi prince of thieves can work with others?” Scythe started to mock.

“Don’t even start,” Sparrow warned him, “All you’ve done since we’ve met is mock and berate us. Sorry we don’t live up to your expectation, but we’re all the world has. So unless you want to face Jack of Blades yourself or find someone that is worthy enough in your eyes, then shut up and get the Oracle working so we can get on with the quest that has been given to us,” all her emotions came bursting forth.

He laughed, “I see that a hot fire does burn in your heart. Good. You’ll need that to face Jack. Remember though,” he warned as he headed into the Oracle’s chamber, “Keep not the anger in your heart, but the purest thought.”

Both seemed satisfied by their words and decided silently to leave it at that. Reaver, on the other hand, spoke up.

“Just so you know,” he growled, “I am not the Prince of Thieves. I am the King of Thieves.”

Scythe stopped, “I think not.”

“Oh really?” Reaver crossed his arms, “Who could possibly be a better thief than me?”

“Time,” he answered in a flat stern tone.

“Come on Reaver,” Garth pushed him down the hallway.

“I didn’t mean all deep and philosophical,” Reaver commented as he was pushed down the hallway.

They all walked back towards the entrance. There was no point in waiting around. The Oracle would be ready when it was ready. Sparrow wanted some time anyway… to clean up and check in on Theresa and Aja. The doors were still open as they approached. A bitterly cold wind blew through the hallway that caused the blood on Sparrow’s clothes to freeze to her skin. She shivered and rubbed her hand up and down her arms to get some feeling back in them. Ignoring the cold, she looked down to greet her dog. He wasn’t where she left him.

“Woof! Woof!” he walked up to her with a wiggling tail.

“Someone looks better,” Hannah bent down and patted him on the head.

“I gave him some Dog Elixir,” a little voice came from the doorway, “I hope that was okay.”

It was the young girl in the red robe.

“It’s fine and thank you,” Sparrow smiled down to her.

“Your friends are over here,” she pointed to a stone building that still looked to be intact, “Aja has prepared a lovely stew.”

“Stew?” Reaver turned up his nose, “What a common dish.”

“I don’t think they have Lobster or Quail up here,” Garth snorted.

“Really?” Reaver seemed somewhat surprised.

“This way, please,” the girl started to walk towards the building.

“Come on boy,” Sparrow was glad to see that he was feeling better.

He bounced once or twice and was soon at Sparrow’s heels. The group of Heroes walked across the abandoned street. The wind blew hard once more and picked up a few pieces of cloth and paper. They played about for a few moments, and then raced through Sparrow’s legs. They flew high into the sky and disappeared into the gray sky. The sight would have been so common, save for the fact that it was happening in a deserted village.

The building they were heading to had only a torn brown tarp for a door. The building itself seemed to be in good condition. There were a few missing bricks and some cracks in the wall, but it looked sturdy enough. The little girl pulled the tarp aside and motioned for them to come in.

“Thank you,” Sparrow bowed her head to her.

The others, except for Reaver, thanked her. Even Sparrow’s companion gave her a kiss on the hand to say thank you. She smiled and patted him on the head. Sparrow ducked her head as she entered. She came into a large room with countless lit candles strewn about. The stone chimney was wide and had a huge black cauldron sitting over the fire within. Steam was escaping from the lid on the cauldron as the liquid inside boiled. A delicious smell of rabbit with mushrooms, greens and vegetables filled the air.

“Something smells good,” Hannah took in a deep whiff of the delectable aroma.

“It will be done in a minute,” a voice greeted them from behind them.

It was Aja and she had a pile of wood in her arms.

“Let me help you,” Hannah leaned her hammer against the wall and grabbed the wood from Aja.

“I’m fine,” she didn’t seem too happy to be helped.

“How are you feeling?” Garth asked.

She released a heavy sigh, “I’m fine. Just a little tired. Oh…,” she looked over at Sparrow, “Looks like someone could use a bath. Good thing I just drew one,” she lifted the lid on the cauldron, “The stew should be done by the time you finish. Well go on,” she shooed Sparrow, “You’re starting to sink the place up.”

Sparrow’s cheeks turned red, “I didn’t think I smelled that bad,” she looked down to her furry friend.

He whined as he put his paw over his nose.

“Fine,” she sighed.

“It’s that way,” Aja pointed to a doorway.

“I could use a bath myself,” Reaver raised his brow as he came up next to Sparrow.

In one swift move, Aja was at his side.

Holding his ear tightly, she shook her head and sighed, “Really? You’re really going to try that?”

“Ouch,” Reaver’s face twitched as she twisted his ear.

“Sparrow go on and get cleaned up,” Aja snorted, “Dinner will be ready when you’re done.”

“Thank you Aja,” Sparrow weakly smiled.

“I’ll come along too,” Hannah offered, “I could use little bit of cleaning up myself.”

Reaver pulled himself from Aja’s grip, “I guess I’ll stay here,” he shivered as he took a glance at Hannah.

“Wise decision,” Garth sarcastically applauded him.

“Go on you two,” Aja shooed them towards an interior doorway, “The stew will be done before you know it and down in some hungry bellies.”

“Thank you,” Sparrow smiled as she pasted through the doorway.

“We’ll be back in a little bit,” Hannah was right after her.

They walked into a narrow hallway that seemed to be mostly intact. Some of the walls were starting to crumble and crack. The wood eaves above their heads looked worn, but strong enough to hold. Candles that hung on the wall were lit, but looked like they would flicker out at the slightest breath. At the end of the hallway there was an old heavy door with a large brass handle.

“I suppose it’s through here,” Hannah shrugged her shoulders as she pushed the handle down.

It creaked and moaned under her grip, but gave way. The door opened slowly and a bright light engulfed them. Covering their eyes, they let them adjust to the ungodly bright light. Lamps and candles sat lit around a blue pool of water. A few bubbles popped on the surface of the glass like surface.

“Hope it’s warm,” Hannah bent down and dipped her hand into the water, “It’s like a freshly drawn bath!” she exclaimed.

“It must be a hot spring or something,” Sparrow recalled reading a book about such things.

“It’s going to be rather pleasant then,” Hannah started to take off her clothing.

“Agreed,” Sparrow sighed as she too began to strip.

They both cautiously stepped down into the bubbling water. The warm water tingled across their still cool skin. Slowly but surely the warm entered their bodies as they eased into the bath.

“Aaaahhhh,” they both released as they let the water lap against their necks.

“Just let all your troubles melt away,” Hannah smiled.

“That and the troll blood,” Sparrow giggled.

The warm water soothed their sore muscles and aching bones. Sparrow could feel the filth that had accumulated on her body loosen and float away. She took in a deep breath and pulled her head under the water. Her hair floated in the water like they were suspended by unseen strings. The clotted troll blood lifted from her clumps of hair and dissipated into the water. A few bubbles escaped from her nose and her lungs started to cry for air. Slowly she let her head break the surface and she took a breath as her mouth came out of the water.

“Thought I would have to go in after you,” Hannah giggled.

“Sorry,” she took another breath, “That just felt so good,” Sparrow pulled her wet hair from her face back into a loose ponytail.

“I bet,” she smiled back, “It feels so good, I never want to leave,” she leaned her head back against the edge of the bath.

“Agreed,” Sparrow followed her.

“Don’t stay in there too long,” Aja’s voice rang back to them, “You’ll get more wrinkled than me.”

“Like that’s possible,” they could Reaver commented rather loudly.

THWACK! “OUCH!” he exclaimed loudly.

“You were asking for it,” Garth remarked.

“I suppose Sister Aja is right,” Hannah sighed, “Let’s just scrub our backs and other places.”

Sparrow turned to her, “Let me do yours and you do mine.”

They were like sisters getting ready for bed. They giggled as they took turns washing each other’s back. Talking about really nothing, but it seemed important to them.

“Let me do your back,” Hannah turned to her, “I also take a look at your wounds. The bandages have been changed in a few days.”

Sparrow looked down at her arm. The once tightly wound bandages were now soggy, rust in color and becoming unbound.

“Sister Aja?” Hannah called out.

“They are in the white box just behind you,” she didn’t even let Hannah ask.

“Oh…,” she looked behind her, “How did she…? How did she know?” she looked to Sparrow.

She could only shrug her shoulders.

“Rather spooky if you ask me,” Hannah shook her head as she pulled the box closer, “she always seems to be a few steps ahead. She probably figured that we would be hurt when we got back. Though that would also mean that she thought that we wouldn’t be able to handle ourselves out there. I shouldn’t take that as an insult… I suppose…” she continued in her usually fashion as she unwrapped Sparrow’s bandage, “Oh…,” she sounded surprised, “It looks like it’s nearly healed. Best to leave it open at this point.”

“Really?” Sparrow glanced at her arm.

The claw marks weren’t as deep as they were before. The scar tissue was starting to form and looked darker than the tone of her natural skin. It was just another scar that lined her body and it wasn’t the first from a Balverine. It probably wouldn’t be her last either.

“Are you two done in there yet? You didn’t drown, did ya?” Aja was starting to sound annoyed.

“Out of the tub I suppose,” Hannah remarked as she pulled herself out of the water.

“Well, I am getting pretty hungry,” Sparrow was hoping that she couldn’t hear her stomach growling.

Hannah took a deep sniff, “Yeah and that stew is smelling delicious.”

“Let’s grab some before it’s all gone,” Sparrow grabbed a nearby towel and dried herself off.

The two ladies dried themselves, but soon realized that they didn’t have clean clothes to change into.

“Aja,” Sparrow wrapped the towel around herself, “We don’t…”

Thump, thump, thump… hurried footsteps came down the hallway, “Here,” Aja appeared in the doorway, “I got them from your bags. Hope you don’t mind,” she handed them a fresh set of clothing.

“Um… thank you,” both of them answered somewhat surprised.

“Hurry up,” Aja gave them a stern look, “The stew is ready. You need to eat something hardy to build your strength back up. Hopefully Scythe will have the Oracle up and running by the time you’re done,” she turned to walk away, “Can’t stay in this frozen wasteland forever… I’m frozen to the bone…,” she mumbled as she went down the hallway.

“Again she…,” Hannah looked down at the nicely folded clothes.

“It’s probably best not to ponder on such things,” Sparrow shook her head as she pulled her undergarments on.

Dressing as quick as they could, Sparrow and Hannah headed back down the hallway to the main room. The sweet aroma of rabbit and vegetables simmering in a rich broth was stronger than ever.

“That smell delicious,” Hannah smiled as they entered the room.

“It is,” Reaver put a spoonful of stew into his mouth.

“No use in stopping him,” Aja sighed as she handed Garth a bowl, “Come on and get some.”

They sat down on some still suitable chairs. Aja handed them their bowls filled to the brim with the thick, hardy stew. Without a word, they all dug into the stew, save for Reaver who asked for seconds. Aja only sighed as she filled his bowl and gave it back. Filling one more bowl, she placed in on the ground in front of Sparrow’s furry friend. He looked up at her with a wiggling tail as if he was saying thank you.

“Aren’t you going to have any?” Hannah asked as Aja sat down on a stool next to stove.

“Later,” Aja yawned, “I just want to warm myself for awhile… that and check on Theresa.”

“How is she doing?” Sparrow felt guilty for not asking or checking on Theresa sooner.

“She’s fine,” a little voice came from the doorway, “She awoke for a little while and I gave her something to drink and she feel back to sleep.”

“Must you really sneak up on us like that?” Reaver growled over at the girl.

“Leave her be,” Aja growled back.

Sparrow smiled at the hooded girl, “Thank you for looking after her, but I’ll sit with her.”

“You don’t have time,” a chill blew through that room that nearly put out the fire.

His robe blew about as the snow twirled about his feet. Scythe appeared with a grave look on his face, but yet his lips were curled in a smirk; a rather creepy combination to see on a sunken in mummified face.

“Close the tarp!” Aja snapped, “You’re letting in the cold!”

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