In the Shadow of the Mask

An Ocean Breeze Brings Old Friends

Slurp… slurp… a warm tongue licked Sparrow’s face. She pushed the dog away; his breath was a little less than tolerable. She shot up and seemed to have awoke in a strange room. Her dog was standing up on the bed and whining.

“It’s okay boy,” she rubbed his head, “At least… I think it is.”

She looked around the small, lightly decorated room. There was a nightstand next to her which sat an oil lamp that provided the only light in the room. There was an old oak wardrobe that had its doors partially opened. Her thigh high boots and bag were sitting in front of it along with her coat hanging from one of the knobs. She quickly looked under the covers to make sure those were the only articles of clothing she was missing. Luckily, she was still fully clothed. Gingerly, she climbed out of the bed and tip toed over to her things. Pulling up her boots and grabbing her bag and coat, she quietly opened the door and headed for the stairs. There was a hallway with several other doors.

“I must be at an inn,” she assumed.

Going down the stairs, her assumption proved to be true. Like many other inns she had stayed at, there was a tavern on the ground floor.

“Hey there!” the bartender called out to her, “Good to see you awake. Weren’t sure you going to wake up… well… I wasn’t… the one that brought you in said you’d wake up in two days… looks like she was right,” he set down the mug he was cleaning.

She remembered someone coming up to her in the marsh, but she couldn’t remember a face. That person must have been the one that slay that last Banshee and brought her here… wherever here was.

“Excuse me, but where am I?” she asked.

“You’re in Bloodstone of course,” the bartender laughed, “At the Leper’s Arm.”

“Bloodstone,” Sparrow sighed with relief, “thank goodness.”

“Yeah, she said that she found you out in the marsh… don’t know why a young lady like you would be out there,” the bartender scratched his head, “of course… I don’t know why she goes out there every time she comes into Bloodstone.”

She ignored the man’s comment and tried to think back to what happened in the marsh. The last thing she remembered was a silver flash and someone asking if she was alright. After that, she didn’t have any recollections of being brought to the inn.

“That Aja acts like a downright mean, malevolent creature,” the bartender continued, “but she’s always looking out for others… yes, indeed, she is a strange one.”

“Aja?” Sparrow caught the name.

“Oh yes, Aja is a very famous Explorer,” he proudly announced, “I like to advertise that she stays here whenever she’s in town. You know she’s the one that discovered a… a few of them… umm… what is that gate thingy called now?”

“A Cullis Gate,” a familiar voice came from behind her.

“Garth,” she turned around to see the smiling face of an old friend. She could barely contain herself as she threw her arms around his neck, “It is so good to see you!”

“And you too,” he hugged her, but not as tightly, back, “but what are you doing here? How did you know that we would come here?”

“Yes, I’m rather curious myself,” Reaver appeared at the door, “Though,” he looked Sparrow up and down, “I’m glad to have such a ‘nice’ welcoming home committee.”

“Keep trying Reaver,” she rolled her eyes at his obvious flirt, “but I’m not here to say welcome back, I’m afraid… no… there is something I need to speak to both of you… in private,” she looked around the bar.

“I see,” Garth understood, “Do you have a room in which we can discuss matters?”

“I think so,” she looked to the bartender, “How much do I owe for the room and may I use it a little longer? Just maybe an hour or two?”

“The room is paid up until tomorrow,” the bartender answered, “Aja already paid in full for it.”

“Aja?” Garth looked to Sparrow.

“I’ll explain when we get up to the room,” she started to climb up the stairs.

It took some time, more than Sparrow had expected. It didn’t help since Reaver decided to interrupt every five minutes to either ask a question or flirt. Garth, though annoyed with Reaver, listened intensely as she explained the vision the Theresa showed her. She trembled as she told of the last part of the nightmare. The burning sensation of the mask tingled through her skin as she concluded her story.

“Hmm…,” Garth went into deep thought.

“So what does that old crone expect us to do?” Reaver snorted, “From what you said, we don’t really even know who or what we are fighting. Let alone know how to fight… whoever.”

“There are clues,” Garth must up thought of something, “I recall something from my early research of the Old Kingdom. It involves a man named William and a masked man called Jack of Blades.”

“Masked man… oh,” Sparrow forgot to tell them what happened in Wraithmarsh, “I saw a masked man… or at least I thought I did in the marsh. He was concealed in the mystical fog that surrounds Banshees. He said something about a temple in the north,” unfortunately her memory was still a little fuzzy from that day, “He said he would be waiting… with an old friend,” she hinted at dark intensions.

“So Hammer is in danger?” Garth seemed a bit concerned.

“She prefers to go by Hannah. In her last letter, about four months ago,” Sparrow pulled out the note, “she said that her fighting days were over and that she found peace amongst the… ‘Trickling Rocks’… not sure what that last part means.”

“Trickling rocks eh? Hmm… she was transported to one of the temples of the fighting monks, right?” Garth asked as he looked over the letter.

“Yes, but she never said which one,” she huffed, “but the masked man from the marsh said something about a Temple of Susanoo.”

“Susanoo… that is in a place called Towers of Might… just south of the Principal Mountains I believe,” Reaver commented casually.

“Have you been there?” she asked, still somewhat surprise that he contributed information without asking for something in return.

“Yes… once,” he thought for a moment, “I had heard that the head monk of the temple was over two hundred years old. I was rather curious about to how one man can live so long… I was hoping that it didn’t have a price,” he muttered to himself, “Anyway, it turns out that...”

“Do you know how to get there?” Garth interrupted.

“No need to be rude,” Reaver snorted.

“Sorry Reaver,” Sparrow didn’t want him to be offended, “but Hannah and all of Albion are in trouble. So please, if you could help us once more?”

He liked the way she begged, though she really didn’t mean it.

“I suppose I could show the way… not that I care for that barbarian of a woman,” he shuttered, “but it is a long trip from here.”

“How long?” Sparrow asked.

“At least five weeks,” he answered.

Both Sparrow and Garth released a heavy sigh. Five weeks was a long time; especially when the world had so little. They were in tough spots before, but they were facing something they didn’t even know. Theresa hadn’t contacted since she started out of Bowerstone, but then again, she did say that something was inferring. And what of that man in the marsh? He seemed to be wearing the same Mask that appeared in the vision. Could he be the one that they should be on the lookout for? Maybe they should try to track him through Wraithmarsh? He couldn’t have gotten far.

There is no point in chasing a shadow, Theresa’s voice seemed so far away.

“There’s a voice I was hoping never to hear again,” Reaver groaned.

“Be quiet,” Garth hissed.

Thank you Garth, but there is no time, she sounded serious, I feel his presence growing ever closer. My visions are becoming foggy… I cannot find Hammer… you must get to her as soon as possible.

“But how?” Garth went into deep thought.

There is a Cullis Gate…, her voice faded.

“Theresa? Theresa,” Sparrow waited for an answer, but none came.

“That’s not good,” Reaver stated the obvious.

“No… it’s not,” Garth agreed as he stood up.

“So… what do we do now?” Sparrow sighed.

“I don’t know,” Garth looked out the window.

Reaver stood up suddenly, “Are we not heroes? Were we not the ones that defeated Lucien? Do we not descend from noble blood? Do we not possess skills that no other has? Here we are,” he walked up to them, “whining and sniveling like children, when we should be finding the quickest way to save a fellow hero. Come, let us take up all that is within us and fight once again,” he raised his fist into the air.

Garth and Sparrow looked to one another, both in surprise and determination. Though he was an egotistical pirate, Reaver knew how to rally people. His words stuck deep and renewed their spirits.

“Thanks Reaver,” she got up and hugged him.

She probably shouldn’t have done that. Suddenly she felt a pair of hands move up her posterior.

“Reaver!” she pulled back and slapped him across the face.

“It was worth it,” he smiled.

Garth shook his head, “You never give up, do you?”

“As long as I breathe,” he still was smiling, “As long as I breathe.”

“You might not be breathing much longer if you do that again,” Sparrow warned him, “Anyway, we need to get up north and find Hannah and get to Theresa.”

“Yes,” Garth agreed, but he shuttered slightly at the thought of returning to the Spire.

Reaver rubbed his chin in thought, “Didn’t the bartender mention something about a Cullis Gate and a woman named Aja?”

“That’s right,” she remembered him mentioning something, “Aja was the one that brought me here when I passed out. He said she was famous for finding a few Cullis Gates.”

“Maybe she can lead us to one that will take us within range of the Temple of Susanoo,” Garth felt a hint of hope in his heart, “But is she still here?”

“Let’s go ask the fellow,” Reaver exited out of the room.

Garth and Sparrow quickly followed after him down to the tavern to see where this explorer name Aja could be.

“Excuse me, sir,” she got the bartender’s attention, “but is Aja still here? I wanted to thank her for saving me and pay her back for the room.”

“Aja? She just walked in,” the bartender pointed to a figure making their way down to the docks, “and right back out. She said something about Oakfield and she had to catch the next ship out… which leaves,” he looked over at the grandfather clock, “in about five minutes.”

“We better hurry then,” Garth suggested.

Without another word, they hurried out of the tavern. Sparrow yelled a quick thank you to the bartender. The figure, Aja was up ahead of them and they just couldn’t seem to catch up with her. As they made their way to the docks, the crowd of people got larger and harder to get through.

“Last call,” a voice rang out over the crowd, “last call for Oakfield! All passengers for Oakfield last call!”

“I do believe that is our ship,” Reaver pointed to the figure going up the gangplank.

They pushed through the crowd, up the ship where two rough looking men were guarding the gangplank. As they came upon them, the two men stepped in front of the walkway.

“Excuse us,” Garth tried to get by, “but we need to get on that ship.”

“Sorry, but you need to pay before you get on,” one of the men held up his hands.

“Don’t you usually pay up top there,” Sparrow pointed to a sailor that was staring down at the scene.

“Ha ha,” the other laughed, “do you work the docks every day? No. We do however. So pay up or get out of here.”

“Dear sirs,” Reaver approached them, “you must not recognize me. It is I, Reaver.”

“Reaver?” the two men looked to one another.

“He disappeared a year ago,” the first laughed, “and good riddance to him.”

“Yeah, he was nothing but trouble for Bloodstone,” the other agreed, “He spent all his ill gotten money on himself and never looked out for us. Bloodstone is better off without him.”

“Is that so?” Reaver reached for his pistol.

Whack! Krr-splash! Both men were knocked into the water.

“Talk about ill gotten money,” the woman exclaimed, “You two are no better than that thieving Reaver! Stopping people and making them pay twice. Shame on you! Tsk,” she clicked her tongue, “Now go and get a real job! Stop your cons and live like decent folks,” she looked over at the staring group, “Well, are you going to get on or are you going to stare all day long?”

Sparrow shook her head and hurried up the gangplank after the grumbling woman; Garth and Reaver followed after her. The sailor up at the top greeted them and asked for 25 gold per traveler. Each paid their way, though Reaver did argue with the sailor for a moment. Garth’s harsh piercing stare made him change his mind. With a sigh, he handed over the money. The sailor called up to the captain that everyone was on and paid their fee. The captain started to call out orders as the gangplank and ropes were pulled up and secured. The sails were unfired and the ship was pulled from the dock with a jolt. The sailors ran about the deck, securing ropes and anchors for their long trip across the sea.

“Ah,” Reaver took in a deep breath, “there’s nothing like being out at sea.”

“We just got in this morning,” Garth took hold of the railing.

“Are you alright?” Sparrow asked in concern.

“The sea doesn’t seem to agree with him,” Reaver snickered.

“I would say something, but I fear what would come out of my mouth,” Garth lend over the railing.

“Looks like someone hasn’t gotten his sea legs yet,” a gravelly woman’s voice came from behind them.

They turned around to see the same woman that had helped them with the two con artists at the docks. She was tall slender woman with graying hair. Wrinkles lined her eyes and lips, but there still was the shine of youth in her face. She wore a simple sleeveless long black coat that covered a silver vest with a white shirt underneath. Her black trousers were held up by a tan leather belt that was decorated by large golden buckle that looked very familiar. Farther down, the trousers disappeared behind a pair of calf high boots.

She pulled the long clay pipe from her mouth, “You young ones are more trouble than you’re worth. Especially you,” she pointed at Sparrow.

“You must be Aja,” Sparrow didn’t pay any mind to her comment, “I wanted to thank you for saving me,” she held out her hand.

Her eyes narrowed and she released a heavy snort that had trails of smoke coming from her nostrils, “Don’t extend a hand in gratitude when you haven’t concluded your business.”

Sparrow didn’t quite understand what she meant by that; Garth noticed her confusion, “She knows that we were following her,” he stood up slowly, “I’m sorry if we seemed rude. We meant no harm,” he half bowed, “but we need to speak with you on an important matter.”

“And that would be?” she released another trail of smoke from her nostril.

“It’s about some Cullis Gates that you found,” Garth whispered.

“Cullis Gates, huh?” a smirked appeared on her face, “What would young ones like you want with the ancient roads of long forgotten heroes?”

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