In the Shadow of the Mask


The group was silent as they made their way to the Sandgoose. Aja had found Garth before the ship docked and explained to him that they would leave in two days. He protested, but she made it clear that leaving right away would be unwise. She didn’t give any reasons for the delay, but apparently her glare was enough.

“I swear her eyes turned red,” Garth shuttered, “Either way, we have to stay here for a day or so.”

“And why do we have to stay here?” Reaver didn’t seem too happy about his surroundings.

“She didn’t say,” Garth admitted.

“Will she be at the Sandgoose?” Reaver asked, though he really wasn’t interested.

“She didn’t say,” Garth repeated.

“Well, what didn’t she say?” Reaver asked.

“Nothing, other than to gather what we need for a journey that might last five to seven days,” Garth recalled their short conversation.

“For someone that’s going to be leading us who knows where, she doesn’t give any useful information,” Reaver complained.

“I asked around the ship about her,” Garth said in a hushed voice, “She is held in high regard, though her mannerisms are rough and off putting. But,” he added, “from what I’ve heard, she’s always looks out for those under her care.”

Sparrow recalled that the bartender from Bloodstone said something very similar. What she said on the ship was so hard to listen, but it was so full of truth… it hurt. She made her cry hot tears. She made her say… she made her say his name… what he did to her.

“You seem rather distracted today,” Garth was still trying to find out why she was crying.

“Just thinking about what I need,” Sparrow falsely smiled.

She hadn’t told them what Aja had said to her. She didn’t want them to know how anxious she was or how many doubts and fears she was feeling. She had to be strong. Neither Garth nor Reaver seemed to be showing any signs of fear of nervousness. They seemed to be rather calm about the whole situation. Then again, they hadn’t seen what she had seen.

“Yes,” Garth raised his eyebrow, “I think we should head to the Sandgoose first and make sure we can get a room.”

“An excellent idea,” Reaver rather liked the idea.

“They don’t start serving alcohol until after 3:00 pm in Oakfield,” Garth knew what he was thinking.

“Oh pooh,” Reaver frowned, “Then again,” he eyed some young ladies giggling and smiling over at them, “there are better things to do. Pardon me,” he excused himself.

He took in a deep breath and puffed out his chest. Tipping his head up, he tried to look as regal as possible. It seemed to work. The girls giggled furiously to one another as their cheeks turned the brightest red.

“They should run while they can,” Garth commented.

“Too late,” Sparrow sighed as she watched Reaver begin to work his ‘magic’ on the naïve young ladies.

He introduced himself to them with a bow. They fell for his charm instantly and curtsy with an introduction. Like two flies in a spider’s web, they were now trapped in Reaver’s smile and glittering eyes.

“I’ll see you later,” he yelled goodbye as he wrapped his arms around the ladies’ waist and began to lead them away.

“Poor things,” Sparrow shook her head, “They’ll never know what hit them.”

“Unfortunately we have other things to attend to,” Garth started back down the path, “Those young ladies are on their own.”

“Right,” Sparrow agreed as she followed after him.

It was on to the Sandgoose to see if there were any rooms available. Reaver knew where they would be… if he ever made it to the room… alone.

A crisp breeze kissed Sparrow’s cheeks as she took in a deep breath of fresh air. The air of Oakfield was always so delicious. It didn’t matter what season it was, the atmosphere was light and refreshing. One’s spirits always seemed to be lightened by the quietness of the place. The sun was warm, but never hot. The breeze was always pleasant and never harsh. It was a nice place to settle down and watch the world go by; to stop and think about life and decisions. Maybe it was the perfect place for Sparrow to think.

“Garth,” she asked timidly, “do you think you can get a room for me…? I need to take care of some business.”

Garth stopped and sighed.

Sparrow expected for him to be a little angry. It was a lot to ask him to make reservations for her, but she understood if he refused.

“Go on,” he answered.

“Thank you Garth,” she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a hug.

He cleared his throat, “After the last few days, I could use the rest. I’ll be at the inn if you need anything.”

“We’ll meet you there later,” she looked down at her dog, “or you can go with Garth if you’re tired.”

The dog stretched and yawned. He looked over Garth and lazily sat down next to him; indicating that he wanted to lie down for a while.

“I’ll take good care of him,” Garth assured her.

They said a quick goodbye and went on their separate ways. She needed a little to herself to think and calm down. She had to digest what Aja had told her… about the oaks. It was true that in order for Oakfield to live, a Gold Oak had to die and give birth to an Acorn. Life is death and death is life. It was a hard concept to understand, though it seemed so simple. Her mind started to wander off into deep thoughts as her body just walked through the streets, barely aware of her surroundings.

Life is death and death is life… did that mean in order for her to live Rose had to die that night? Does dwelling on the past truly mean that old wounds will never heal? It was the past that that motivated her to do what she has done. Theresa always reminded her of that night… it was like a knife being twisted in her heart. Sparrow grabbed her chest. There was a pain there, but it wasn’t a physical pain. It just hurt. She looked up to see if anyone was staring at her. There was no one was another. She had wandered out of Oakfield and into the forest.

“I know this place,” she looked around, “Yes… Wellspring Cave is around here,” she started to look for the crumbling wall that hid its location.

It was still there. The wall of white stone with a path cut through it, leading to a sacred cave. It was cave that had echoes of the dead and life giving water. It was strange to see it again after so many years.

It was about ten years ago when she and Hannah had descended into the depths of the earth. Hannah was so excited about having an adventure. Sparrow was not so. She knew that it was just merely a stepping stone in a lifetime of adventures. Down they descended, deeper into the cavern seeking water to give life to the Golden Acorn and to Oakfield. From the earth strung undead warriors to protect the springs. Wisps played about their heads until they decided that Sparrow and Hannah had gone far enough. After all the fighting and the water had been gathered, she thought all would be well… but she really never believed that.

“Down by the reeds,

Down by the reeds,

Swim the sirens of Oakvale,

Out to the seas.”

Someone was singing a familiar song.

“I know that song,” Sparrow looked up to where she first met Hannah.

“Down by the reeds,

Down by the reeds

Float the souls left unbroken by white balverines.”

“Hannah?” Sparrow came around to the other side of the wall.

It wasn’t Hannah. There sat one of the last people she wanted to see, Aja.

“This may be none of my business,” Aja raised her one eyebrow, “but the way you keep talking about Hannah, it almost sounds like… there’s something… umm…,” she didn’t know quite what to say.

“Oh… no… she’s just…,” Sparrow looked for the right words, “she’s just the only best friend I’ve ever had… that’s all,” she added.

“I see,” Aja leaned her head up against the wall, “just curious…”

There was an awkward silence between them.

“So…,” Sparrow wanted to break the silence.

“So…,” Aja answered back, “Did you get commendations at the Sandgoose?”

“Garth is taking care of that,” she answered quickly.

“You might have a hard time getting a room,” she started to pull something out of her coat; “it’s the time of the great harvest. There’s going to be a festival in a few days… and lots of people come for it.” She pulled out her pipe and lit a match, “maybe you all should stay with me,” she thought out load.

“You have a room?” Sparrow asked.

“No… I… have a home here,” she didn’t seem proud of it.

“You were going to make us get a room,” Sparrow put her hands on hips, “and you have a house that we could stay at?”

“Well… it’s not exactly…,” she stumbled for words, “there’s not a lot… the rooms are kind of… my house is a mess… I can’t even find my bed.”

“Oh…,” Sparrow dropped her hands, “So… why did you offer?”

Aja scratched her head while looked to her feet, “I just… this is unusual for me to say… but, I’m sorry about how acted this morning on the ship. I should have… I…,” she sighed, “this is hard for me.”

Sparrow appreciated the effort, “It’s okay. You were just trying to help me. I guess I’ve been acting like such a child lately. I’m just been so worried about… well… everything,” she admitted, “So, I’m sorry too.”

Aja gave a small smirk as a little trail of smoke leaked from the corner of her mouth, “I suppose I’ve just grown hard and cold after seeing so much in my life. I often forget that others haven’t… grown up yet.”

“I guess I grew up too fast,” Sparrow smiled, “I didn’t have much of a childhood… and I just want to go back to that time and maybe… capture a little bit of it.”

“… let’s just say that we’re both sorry for things that are… part of our personality,” Aja put out her hand.

Sparrow put out hers and shook, “Sounds good to me.”

“Well then,” Aja let go, “we should probably go and find Garth and Reaver. Garth before he books a room and Reaver before some over protective father decides to pull out a rifle,” she mumbled as she started down the path.

“I don’t think we’ll have to worry about Reaver,” Sparrow started after her, “He can take care of himself.”

“I’m not worried about him,” Aja snorted, “I’m more worried about the poor son of a gun that tries to take him on.”

“Oh… we should defiantly find him quickly,” she hurried her pace.

They walked down the beaten path that lead back to town. They didn’t say much… if anything at all. People started to pass them as they cot closer to town. They would tip their hats, if they were wearing one, or give a polite nod with a ‘How do you do?’. That’s one thing that always made Oakfield such a nice place. The people always seemed to be in a good mood, they always said hello and were welcoming to strangers. Oakfield would have been a nice place to grow up. The shady trees, the fresh sea breeze and the closest of the people seemed like such an ideal life.

Hannah… didn’t seem happy though, Sparrow thought to herself.

She asked so many questions while they went through the Wellspring Cave. She much desired another life than her own. She wondered about those that might have gone before her in that cave. She had never heard of anyone going in… or at least them coming out… alive.

“Hey Aja,” Sparrow asked, “Have you ever gone into the Wellspring Cave?”

“The one we were just at?” She asked, “Yes, I have. A very interesting place it is. It is very sacred to the Temple of Light. It is where Albert the Luminous found the Golden Acorn and from where the monks must gather water to nourish the new Acorns. It’s a ritual that continues to this day.”

“I know,” Sparrow shuttered for a moment, “I’ve been down there myself. There’s an awful lot of Hollow Men.”

“Really,” Aja seemed surprised, “I saw a lot of wisps, but none of them became Hollow Men.”

“That’s weird…,” she thought for a moment, “Why would the Hollow Men appear with Hannah and I… but not you?”

“This Hannah… she’s a monk?” Aja asked, “And you two were retrieving water for the ritual… right?”

“Yes,” Sparrow confirmed, “her father, the Abbot, asked me to go down instead of another monk going. All sorts of Hollow Men and even a headless one attacked us.”

“That is unusual,” Aja stopped in the middle of the road, “nothing impeded my journey through the cave… curious.”

“Sparrow! Aja!” someone was shouting.

“Garth,” Sparrow turned around and greeted him, “Hey there boy,” she bent down to greet her old friend

“Terrible news I’m afraid,” he shook his head, “There are no rooms available at the Sandgoose. Apparently there is a festival in a couple days and people from around Albion are here to attend.”

“Thought so,” Aja sighed, “I suppose you will be staying with me tonight… and the next,” she added.

“You have a room?” Garth asked, “The bartender said they’ve been booked for a few days now.”

“She lives here,” Sparrow answered.

“And she was going to make us at the inn,” Garth didn’t sound pleased.

“My home,” Aja hissed, “is a tad messy and I can’t even sleep there… too many artifacts and books.”

“But it would be a roof over our head,” Garth pointed out.

Aja was starting to say something, but Sparrow interrupted her.

“We were coming to tell you not to get a room and that we are going to stay at her place,” she quickly explained.

“Oh… I see,” a small smile appeared and quickly disappeared from Garth’s face, “I hope that we won’t be putting you out.”

“You won’t,” Aja falsely smiled, “I just hope you don’t mind a big stone face,” she turned away and started in the direction of the graveyard.

“Stone face?” Sparrow looked to Garth, but he only shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know,” Garth cleared his throat, “but I believe that we should follow her before she gets too far ahead,” he put out his arm.

Sparrow wrapped her arm around his, “I do believe you are correct,” she started to walk along with him, “You coming?” she motioned for her faithful companion to follow.

He had a bound in his step as he bound after Aja. He came up to her and gave a small bark to get her attention. She didn’t stop, but patted him on the head without missing a step. He really seemed to like Aja. They walked ahead of Garth and Sparrow, leading to somewhere unknown.

It was a lovely part of town. It was the most recently developed area. A lot of new homes were built to accommodate all the new villagers coming in and being born. Little children ran about playing all sorts of games that children do. Their laughs sounded like little glass bells ringing. It was a pleasant sight. They were so lucky to live in a place like this. Surrounded by tree’s with green and gold leaves, grass that tickled the nose when tumble in and a breeze that brought fluffy white clouds that played with imagination. The children didn’t know how lucky they were.

“Just passed the graveyard,” Aja called out, “we’re almost there.”

“An interest location for a residence,” Garth looked around at the thickening woods.

“Hello? Hello? Is there someone there?” a deep, gruff voice called out ahead.

Sparrow looked ahead to see where the voice was coming from. The path opened up to an overview of the sea. An old beaten, wooden rail separated viewers from the land from the sea. Of course, it also kept them from falling to their deaths. The sea twinkled like it was made out of a thousand jewels. The greens were like emeralds; the blues like sapphires, the white caps of the waves were like diamonds.

“This is beautiful,” Sparrow pulled away from Garth, “Do you get to see this every day?”

“Not exactly…only when I come out,” Aja mumbled, “Ah, here we are,” she sighed with pleasure.

“Mistress Aja,” the deep gruff voice came again, “It is good to see you… I see you have a furry friend with you.”

“It is good to see you too,” Aja bowed to a stone cliff that was just opposite to the fantastic ocean view.

“Who are you talking too?” Garth came up next to her, “Oh!”

Sparrow came to see what surprised him, “a… a…”

“A stone face,” Garth finished.

“I am a Demon Door my good man,” it announced proudly, “I serve those that figure out how to open me. Within me there are treasures left for those who are clever enough to figure out my needs.”

“I’ve heard of these,” Garth became excited, “There are very few in the world and I get to meet with one. Tell me,” he pulled out one of his plain scrolls and a quill, “how were you created? Who created you? Were you are man or demon?”

“Questions later,” Aja sighed, “home now. Demon Door, if you wouldn’t mind, could you please open up?”

“Anything for you Mistress,” the Door seemed more than happy enough to escape Garth’s questions.

Its face split in two as each side slipped behind the rocky face. A strange swirling energy of blue, purple and white seemed to want them to approach.

“Come on,” Aja pulled them by the collars towards the portal, “You too,” she indicated the dog.

He was more than happy to jump right in. He disappeared in a swirl. Before Sparrow or Garth could say anything, Aja pushed them in. The world went dark for a moment, but then a bright light greeted and kissed Sparrow’s cheeks. She slowly opened her eyes.

“Wow…,” is all that escaped from her lips.

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