In the Shadow of the Mask

To Where is All Started

“So where exactly are we going?” Hannah asked shyly to break the silence that choked the group.

“To the Hero’s Guild… where Jack is waiting,” Aja sighed, “It is where he and the Hero of Oakvale face each other for the first time and where the Hero lost his mother… after fighting so long and hard for her life,” she lowered her eyes, “Jack was able to claim the Sword of Aeons… the very sword that William Black took from him and then broke his body with.”

“Broke his body Auntie?” John asked.

She sighed, “Yes… Jack’s body was broken… it is hard for me to explain exactly what Jack is...,” she admitted, “I may have been his servant for many years… more than I care to count,” she winced.

“Yes, please do tell us about your affairs with Jack,” Reaver smirked, “Your master. I’m sure that you know all his secrets.”

Aja stopped and clinched her teeth. Taking in a deep breath, she released it slowly. White smoke swirled out of her nostrils, though she was not smoking her clay pipe.

“Reaver… my dear…,” she turned to him, “Need I remind you that I have explicitly stated that I do not wish to be asked about those times?”

“What did you say?” Reaver teased, “You remember times of you and Jack under the sheets…ACK!” he couldn’t finish his sentence.

“What did I just say!?” Aja had him by the throat and off the ground.

Hints of flames and smoke poured out her nares. Red cracks formed on her whitening skin. Her curling lips showed off her elongated canines. The tips of her fingers came to a sharp point. Swirls of red and blue energy surrounded her body. They twisted and formed shadow images of wings on her back and horns on her forehead.

“Say it again Reaver!” she growl, “Try me once more and you find out how much of a demon I can be.”

“Settle down now,” Hannah tried to soothe her, “You know how he is. He can’t help himself. No matter the threat, he will always push it. Whether it’s a drunkard or a towering troll, Reaver will always stand up, puff out his chest and open his mouth… even though he probably should keep it shut most of the time… or at least not be so rude… I mean some of the things that come out are just plain uncouth,” she had to admit, “Where was I going with this?” she lost track.

“I believe that you are trying to say,” Garth stepped forward, “Even though Reaver is at times is annoying and doesn’t know when to keep quiet, he still has stuck with us… though threatening to leave on several occasions,” he sighed, “He is also the one that navigated us to both the Spire and the Northern Wastes and back,” he pointed out, “His skill with the pistol also slew many Balverines.”

“The very pistol you destroyed I might add,” Reaver managed to choke out.

“Shh,” Sparrow hushed him.

“Auntie…?” John meekly spoke up, “Please? Haven’t you humiliated him enough?”

The energy that erupted about her started to calm down. The wings collapsed. The horns retreated. The elongated sharp canines and fingers returned to normal. The red cracks sealed up and her whole demeanor changed.

“I’m sorry,” she sighed as she set down Reaver down.

He staggered back and nearly fell, but Sparrow caught him.

“As you should!” Reaver growled as he tried to come at her, but Sparrow held him back.

Sparrow’s companion started to growl and bark at him with bared teeth.

“Oh like you’re opinion matters,” he barked back at the dog.

“Reaver,” Sparrow whispered into his ear, “Please don’t push her any farther.”

“Push her? Push HER!” Reaver yelled, “She is the one that we should be thanking for our current situation! The barbarian can barely swing that blunt object she calls a weapon around,” he pointed to Hannah, “And look at him,” he came to Garth, “he is a shadow of his former self…”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Garth had to disagree.

“I’m making a point,” Reaver hushed him, “He can barely stand on his own two feet… and he’s still twitching a little,” he pulled back with a disgusted look, “And look at me! My arm is mangled,” he waved it around, “I’ll be scarred for life. My beautiful unmarred, glowing skin,” his falsely cried, “It shall be forever broken… horrid, horrid scars… each one takes away from my youth… my handsome physique… Oh,” a last minute thought came to him, “Let us not forget what you made poor Sparrow suffer,” he put his arms around her, “She was nearly in Jack’s power…,” his hand was sliding down, “… we nearly lost our hope for this world…,” it hit its target.

SMACK! Reaver’s hand was now on his throbbing red cheek.

“That’s enough Reaver,” Sparrow regained her composure, “Aja…”

“Sephire,” Reaver was still rubbing his cheek.

“Aja,” she growled in his direction, “Could not help what she did. She was under Jack’s control, but was able to come out of it enough to save me from the same fate,” she looked down to her feet, “It’s true that she did injure us… especially you three,” Sparrow looked to each of them, “But she feels sorry for doing that… Don’t you Aja?” she looked to her.

Aja had turned away from the group. She couldn’t face them. Not after what she had done them… all she put them through.

“Aja?” Sparrow put her hand on her shoulder.

“I do feel sorry for what I have done and I do feel sorry that I was not honest with you,” she answered in a low voice.

“Yes,” Reaver rubbed his chin, “Why…?” he started to ask.

“We can only assume,” Garth interrupted him, “That you kept your true identity a secret because of Jack’s presence. He didn’t seem to know who you were when we first met him.”

“It has taken time… but I have been able to over the years to suppress my demonic energies,” she sighed, “I… I thought I was free from Jack after William destroyed the Court… but I always felt him… I knew he would return… Two times…,” she sighed once more, “… two times I have seen him exiled from this world… and now both times he has returned… William nor the Hero of Oakvale could not defeat Jack…”

“But Sparrow can,” John spoke up, “She’s different from the Heroes of the past. Though she has seen so much evil in her young life,” he lifted Sparrow’s hand in his, “She has always spoken of memories so tenderly… so passionately,” his cheeks turned red, “How could someone that has so much passion, possibly lose to someone whose only desire is to destroy the world…”

“John,” Sparrow blushed.

“He is right…,” Aja smiled, “William grew up in the time of the Court… the darkest days this world has ever seen. The Hero of Oakvale watched his father die before his eyes and his village burn in one night… Tragedy followed them their entire life, and so it has you,” she nodded to Sparrow, “But…”

“But I have the one thing that will help me keep Jack from penetrating my thought,” Sparrow smiled, “One pure thought.”

“Keep it close to your heart… where it belongs,” Aja sighed as she looked up the road, “We are here…”

Sparrow followed her line of sight up to an open field that she knew all too well. It was the place where she grew for many summers and many winters. She saw the place change from season to season. The flowers in full bloom; the grasses blowing in the gently breeze; the trees creating a cool place to escape the heat of the sun; summer was alive with the sounds of birds and insects. The fall would be hailed by the brilliant reds, oranges and browns that covered the land. The flowers and tree would give their last hoorah before all their petals and leaves would fall to the earth and they would lie down as if dead. They would not however, it was only winter coming. The lake was quiet during the long cold nights. The snow was like a blanket and silenced everything it rested on. The world would fall asleep for a time; it needed a good rest after being awake for so long. The days would grow longer and the nights a little shorter. Hints of green would start to show through the pure white snow that managed to stay. The white scene would eventually fade and get into the fresh green scenery of spring. A carpet of yellows, blues, red and all the colors in between would cover the land. Sweet smells filled the air during the day and fireflies blinked during the night. It was special place the Sparrow held in her heart. It was her home, more so than the streets of Bowerstone.

But now… there was something different though now… it seemed to roll over the place like a thick fog. It suppressed. It choked. It ran deep. It was cold. It felt like it was twisting the very place that she knew by heart.

“Whimper, whimper,” her dog came up close to her.

“I know boy…,” she comforted him, “I feel it too.”

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