In the Shadow of the Mask

The Explorer

“Here,” she handed Garth a little pouch, “Take these before you pass out… or worse.”

“What is it?” Garth opened the pouch, “Pills?” two little red capsules rolled out onto his hand.

“Ginger pills,” she leaned back in her seat, “It’s an old Samarkand seafarer remedy… though,” she raised her eyebrow, “you should know that.”

“I don’t care much for the sea,” Garth swallowed the pills, “but for as I was saying about the Cullis Gate,” he cleared his throat, “We are interested in researching it.”

It was an interesting white lie that Garth was weaving.

“You see, I’m interested in the Old Kingdom,” he explained, “They have invested interest in my work.”

“Yes, I finance his research and expedition,” Reaver added, “Sparrow here works for the Archeological Society… a Field Worker. You know someone that gets down and dirty.”

“Really?” she seemed bored.

“Yes,” Garth continued, “We already know of at least four other Gates, but more would certainly benefit us.”

“Is that all?” Aja sighed, “Are you done?”

“Ah… yes,” Garth was put off by her attitude.

“Then here is my response,” Aja held up one finger, “First of all Cullis Gates are from the days of Heroes. Yes it’s true that they seem to have Old Kingdom technology,” she explained before Garth could interrupt, “Two,” she held up another finger, “you don’t have any ‘invested interest’,” she pointed to Reaver, “because you are a two hundred year old thief and don’t even think of saying anything,” she warned him, “And you,” she looked over at Sparrow, “are the one that everyone is talking about, ‘The Hero of Bowerstone’. You… you’re that Mage that lived in the remains of Brightwood Tower.”

“Well… you’re certainly well informed,” Reaver was impressed.

“I’ve been around the world a few times,” Aja snorted, “Now, are you going to tell me why you’re really interested in finding a Cullis Gate? And if you already know where four are, then why do you need another? The Cullis Gates can go anywhere where there is a Gate.”

“They can go anywhere?” Sparrow looked to Garth.

“Supposedly,” he answered.

“They’ve lost some of their ‘luster’ over the years of nonuse,” Aja explained, “Heroes use to use them to go where ever a quest was located… many of the gates no longer work or only have enough power to go to certain ones. So,” she gave them a hard stare, “why are you interested in the gates?”

They all looked to one another, not quite sure what to say. She seemed to know a lot about them and about the gates. They could try telling her the truth, but would she believe them?

“It is true,” Reaver started, “I am indeed the illustrious pirate, Reaver,” he puffed out his chest, “and yes, they are whom you say they were,” he acted like they were nothing, “You see,” he leaned in over the table, “we need to find a Cullis Gate that can take us to the north. We have business to attend to and it’s possibly a life or death situation… I don’t really need to know…”

“It’s,” Sparrow growled, “because our friend is in trouble. We need to get to the Temple of Susanoo. Do you know of any Cullis Gate or quick way to get there?”

She leaned back in the chair, subtlety shifting her weight with the rocking of the boat. She was in deep thought. The bartender said that she acted mean, but she still looked out for others. Hopefully, his description was more accurate than her current demeanor.

“Temple of Susanoo, eh?” she finally spoke up, “A friend in peril? Those who look for danger often find it. You’re lives have been filled with it…”

“I never looked for danger…,” Reaver mumbled, “it just kind of happened.”

“I just preferred to be alone and study,” Garth didn’t agree with her statement.

Sparrow, however, remained silent. She knew that deep down both Reaver and Garth had looked for danger, whether they acknowledged it or not. Reaver sought eternal youth and it brought him before the Shadow Court with their terrible price. Garth, though he was the quiet sort, sought knowledge of a long forgotten kingdom that brought only pain and suffering to all those that lay in its shadow. She knew that from that day that she had awoken in Theresa’s caravan, she would not lead an easy life. The screams… the pain… the loss of that fateful night still haunted her.

“Deny if you wish, but you’ve chosen your path,” she sighed, “either way, we share a similar fate.”

“How’s that?” Garth asked.

She seemed to be a little annoyed by his question, “Danger is the common thread between us. Each of us is a thread in the Great Tapestry of Life. The main ones that bound us together,” she intertwined her fingers, “are love, hate, peace, danger, life… and death… We are all bound to one another by these threads and why some seek comfort in the past, because they sense the connection of the past, present and future,” she eyed Garth, “Others wish to extend their thread to see where they all go… if they end,” she turned to Reaver, “Others still only want to make sure the Tapestry doesn’t end so abruptly,” she looked at Sparrow, “Now, please tell me if we do not share a similar fate.”

Her accuracy was disturbingly good.

“Well… can’t argue with that,” Reaver nonchalantly agreed.

“So… you’re going to help us?” Sparrow asked shyly.

She blew out a long trail of smoke, “… I suppose I could. I am an adventurer after all. Danger… exploration… lands that few have seen… though,” she seem to have second thoughts, “this would just be a tourist trip.”

“I bet your pardon,” Reaver objected, “but I am not a tourist. I am… I mean,” he noticed Sparrow’s and Garth’s hard stares, “We are on an important quest. You said it yourself, ‘A friend in peril’. Friends are truly what are important in life… or something like that.”

“Are you mocking me?” she was offended by Reaver’s comment.

“No, no,” Garth excused Reaver’s behavior, “he doesn’t mean… he’s just trying…”

“I think we’re done here,” Aja stood up from the table, “Find your own Cullis Gates.”

“Please wait Miss Aja,” Garth pleaded with her.

“Don’t,” she glared over her shoulder, “I don’t appreciate being misled nor do I appreciate my words being thrown back in my face.”

“He didn’t mean to do that,” Garth continued to apologized.

She turned around and faced him, “He’s a jaded two hundred year old pirate that drowns himself in brew and flesh. He sold Oakvale to the Shadow Court for youth… no, the only things he has left are twisted views and opinions that suit him and only him. He doesn’t care about your friend, just how it benefits himself. I would rather eat troll eyes then assist him.”

“I beg your pardon,” Reaver slammed his fist on the table, “but I do wish to save the barbaric woman’s life! She may have been uncouth, vulgar and not all that attractive, but at least she was honest with me,” he stared down at the floor for a moment, then back up to Aja, “Most people just throw themselves at me… only to get in my good graces… agreeing to whatever I say or doing whatever I say… she wasn’t afraid to let me have it…”

Aja raised her eyebrow, “So the man that deceives everyone only wishes for honesty?”

“No. I just want to be the one that kills that woman,” Reaver seemed to come back to himself, “She said many hurtful things and I didn’t like it. So, I wish to be the one that does her in… not that strange masked man Sparrow was babbling on about.”

“How kind of you Reaver…,” Sparrow’s glare could have burned a hole in him.

“Masked man?” Aja asked.

“He was in Wraithmarsh and seemed to be the one that unleashed those Banshees on me,” Sparrow explained.

Curling her lips into a sinister smirk, Aja approached Garth, “What an interesting group after all. I’ll forgive his offenses,” she indicated to Reaver, “and lead you to a Cullis Gate I know of in Rookridge. From there,” she added as she continued to the door, “you’re on your own.”

They waited for her steps across the wooden boards of the deck to lessen. Garth, meanwhile, sat down, somewhat in confusion.

“That was… unusual… and I’ve seen a lot in my life,” Reaver mumbled to himself.

“At least she’s agreed to help us,” Sparrow sighed as she rubbed under her faithful friend’s chin.

“No thanks to a certain thief,” Garth hissed.

“Don’t be like that Garth,” Reaver nonchalantly brushed his harsh stare, “We have secured the services of Miss Aja and luckily enough there is a Cullis Gate in Rookridge.”

“Lucky yes,” he had to agree, “but we don’t know if it is operational or even if can take us where we need to go.”

“You’re as bad as that Aja woman,” Reaver sighed, “Right now we should be thankful for a small bit of luck.”

“Was he this short sighted in Samarkand?” Sparrow asked.

“I wouldn’t know. The moment we got there, he went looking for a more exotic scene,” Garth snorted.

Sparrow stood up, “I see… If you two don’t mind, I’m going off to find my room. Come on boy,” she motioned for her dog.

With a wiggle of his tail, he was at her heels.

“I’ll escort you and keep you company for the evening,” Reaver offered.

“We’re sharing a room,” Garth bluntly answered.

She didn’t really didn’t want to hear what Reaver’s complaints would be to sharing a room with Garth. Though she just got back together with them, she wanted a few moments to herself. There were so many things running through her head at the moment. The threat to Albion was still unknown as was the safety of Hannah. She didn’t know if there was a Cullis Gate that could possibly put her within reach of the Temple of Susanoo. Then there was the man in the mask.

“Garth said something about Jack of Blades… could he have been…? No,” Sparrow shook her head as she leaned up against the rail, “Garth said he was from the Old Kingdom. There’s no way he could be the one from Wraithmarsh.”

“Don’t be so sure,” a voice whispered.

Sparrow gave a small jump, “oh… Aja… it’s you.”

“Indeed,” she let loose a long trail of smoke, “Jack of Blades is a notorious character throughout the history of Albion. There’s even a cult dedicated to him.”

“How pleasant,” Sparrow remarked.

Aja smirked, “Indeed.”

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