In the Shadow of the Mask

The Temple of Susanoo

The darkness began to retreat and give way to bright light. The air started to cool and even turn frigid. The light intensified, causing Sparrow to close her eyes. She brought her arm over her brow to shield her eyes further. She flinched in pain. Her warm blood trickled down her arm. It grew cold and congealed under her shirt.

She slowly opened her eyes. The environment was completely different. Instead of crumbling stone building, there were rocks covered in snow. The entire place was blanketed in a thick layer of powdery white snow. In front of her, there stood two mountain peaks that disappeared into the grey clouds.

“Oh good, you made it,” Reaver sounded nonchalant; “Oh… she doesn’t look good, does she?”

“Shut up and help me,” Sparrow was tired of his attitude.

Reaver sighed and helped Sparrow down from the elevated stone platform that held the gate. Moving Aja’s unconscious body to one of the surrounding stones, Sparrow steadied herself. Her body was numb and the coldness was starting to move through her extremities. Her breath formed a crystallized cloud in front of face. Looking down, she noticed that the same was coming from Aja’s mouth.

“Aja,” Sparrow came down to her level, “We’re somewhere either north or south. There’s a lot of snow. You have to wake up,” she gently shook her, “You can’t sleep now.”

Aja didn’t stir.

“She’s… not doing well… is she?” Reaver actually seemed a little concerned.

“She’ hurt real bad,” she tried not to look at the wound.

Sparrow wasn’t doing too well herself. She felt her body growing cold and her wound was starting to burn. She squeezed it in hopes of stemming the blood flow. It only made it hurt worse. She stared at the ground below; droplets of her blood started to turn the snow red. Her breaths came harder and she felt like she could breath. Growing dizzy, she fell into the blanket of snow.

“Sparrow,” Reaver turned her over, “Do you hear me? Sparrow?”

She couldn’t answer him. His voice was drifting off. The coldness started to leave her and her wound seemed to go numb. It was comfortable lying there. She felt like she could sleep ages there… it was… so nice… so peaceful…

You must wake up Hero… You must fight it…

No… Theresa… it’s time for sleep…

“What!?” Sparrow shot up.

The room was dimly lit. She couldn’t tell where she was.

“This is an oddly familiar,” Sparrow remembered her time in Bloodstone.

“Except for the fact that you’re not in a bed, but a futon in an ancient temple and I’m here,” a voice came from besides her.

“Aja,” she recognized her gravelly voice, “You’re okay.”

“Sort of… I still can’t feel my body,” she turned to her weakly, “but it’s good to see that you’re okay.”

“Will you be okay?” Sparrow asked in concern.

“She will be fine,” someone answered.

Sparrow turned to see who it was. There was young handsome man standing in the doorway. He couldn’t have been older than twenty. His gentle hazelnut brown eyes seemed to smile in the flickering light. His smile was a warm as the fire that lit the room. Through there was a glare coming from his shaved head. His garb was a simple, long sleeved, grey tunic. His matching pants hung loosely and seemed to barely stay up.

He bowed, “I hope you are feeling better Sister Aja, Miss Sparrow.”

“Except for previously mentioned facts, I’m doing well,” Aja sighed.

“And you Miss Sparrow,” the young man smiled.

Sparrow could feel her cheeks turning red, “Um… I’m… feeling… better,” she shook her head, “Thank you… um… I didn’t catch your name.”

“Please forgive,” he apologized, “I am Brother Anshu. I am a monk here at the Temple of Susanoo.”

“Not to be rude Brother, but that is obvious,” Aja just had to comment.

“Yes… I suppose it is,” he didn’t seem offended, “I was just checking on you to make sure you were well. But you should probably rest some more. Your wounds are not healed yet.”

Sparrow looked down at her arm. It was wrapped in a white bandage with some hints of red. It was still tender, but it didn’t burn anymore.

“It feels much better. Thank you,” she bowed her head, “but please, where are Garth and Reaver? And my dog? Is Hannah here? Is she alright?”

The young monk chuckled, “As Master Jiva would say, “Full of curiosity you are. That is good.” If you are well enough, I will show you the answers you seek.”

Sparrow checked herself to make sure she was dressed. She was not in what she came in. Instead of her shirt, she was now wearing the same clothes as Anshu, except they were cream in color.

“Do not worry Miss Sparrow,” Anshu smiled, “Your clothes are washed and dried if you find our wardrobe uncomfortable.”

“No, no,” Sparrow slowly stood up, “they are very comfortable. Aja,” Sparrow knelt down to her, “are you okay? Do you need anything?”

“Just go check on your friends. I’ll be here sleeping if you need anything,” Aja yawned.

“Oh… alright,” Sparrow straightened up; “I’ll come back and check on you.”

Aja just snorted as she turned away from her. Sparrow headed for the door to join Anshu.

“Sparrow,” Aja called out.

“Yes?” she turned around.

“Thank you… for saving me,” Aja smiled.

“I owed you,” she smiled back; “We’re even. Right?”

“Sure,” Aja smirked, “We’re even.”

“Get some rest Aja,” Sparrow closed the door.

The hallway was lit brightly with natural sunlight from the open windows. It was surprising warm since Sparrow could feel the cool breezed coming in. The white wash walls stood out against the dark wood of the floor.

“Please come this way,” Anshu motioned her to follow him.

Sparrow followed him down the hallway to a pair of large wooden doors. They opened as they approached. Two monks held the doors as Sparrow and Anshu passed through. They must have been in an interior room; there were no windows and the room was illuminated by four great brass basins of burning oil. It was much warmer in there than the hallway. Sparrow wiped some sweat away from her brow.

Anshu must have noticed, “Sorry about the heat,” he apologized, “This is a purification room. Brother and Sisters will mediate in here and reflect on themselves.”

“And the heat?” Sparrow wiped her brow again.

“Not only is purification of mind needed, but body as well,” he smiled, “This is a short cut to the gardens, so I hope you don’t mind a little purification of body.”

“Not at all,” she smiled back.

Another set of monks opened the wooden doors on the other side of the room. A fresh breeze blew through the room and it felt good. It instantly cooled Sparrow’s hot brow. There was a sweet smell that filled the air; Sparrow stepped out into the light. She was in the most beautiful garden. Bright green grass lay like a thick carpet that cushioned their feet. Great stone lanterns dotted the landscape. Smaller ones sat in perfectly smooth sand beds. A lake of crystal clear water sat in the middle of the lush green garden. Floating on top of the tranquil pond sat water lilies of every hue. There were ones that were ruby red with a rusty orange center. One was blue with golden tips. Another was lilac that seemed to be kissed with silver dust. There was one in the middle of them all that caught Sparrow’s attention. It was no bigger than the others and it was only white, but something about it seemed so pure.

“I see you noticed the white lily in the center,” Anshu interrupted her stare.

“I don’t know why, but it is far more beautiful than the others,” Sparrow came back to her senses.

“It is the original lily that was in the pond,” he began to explain, “When this place was first discovered. It is the purest and sweetest smelling flower in this place. Unlike the other lilies, its bloom never dies and its smell always permeates the place. It soothes the soul and calms the mind. It is the perfect place to ease your mind and why,” he pointed to a secluded area, “your friends are waiting here.”

He bowed lowly as Sparrow passed by. She gave a small one herself, hoping she was being respectful to. He smiled as he backed away and left. Sparrow carefully followed the stone path into a grove of tall pole like plants. She had never seen anything like them before. She stopped and touched one. It was smooth and hollow from what she could tell. There appeared to be thickened rings at foot intervals; they were rougher than the other parts. Little branches appeared here and there with three green leaves coming from them.

“Hello? Brother Anshu?” a familiar voice asked, “Is that you?”

“Hannah?” Sparrow turned her attention away from strange plants.

“Sparrow!?” Hannah appeared, “It is you! I’m so happy to see you!” she wrapped her arms around Sparrow.

She had forgotten how strong Hannah was, “It’s good to see you too,” she managed to get out.

“Oh!” Hannah released her, “I’m so sorry. I forget my own strength sometimes,” he cheeks turned red, “Sorry if I nearly squeezed the life out of you.”

“It’s okay,” Sparrow smiled, “It’s just so good to see you.”

She took a good look at her. Hannah hadn’t changed much, save her clothes. They were like Anshu’s, but a light blue color. Her hair was combed out and no longer in dreadlocks. It was held tightly in a ponytail that sat on the crowd of her head. Her gentle smile was still the same.

“Well come on,” she pulled at Sparrow’s sleeve; “Garth and Reaver are waiting. I’m sure they will be happy to see you. At least I know Garth will,” she added, “Reaver… well… he’s always happy to see someone attractive… no matter who it is.”

Sparrow had missed Hannah’s side comments. They were like a question, but not really. They were always usually true too. She always ended it with a higher pitched voice too. They were just some little quirks that made her so special.

“Ah the lovely Sparrow graces us wither her presence,” Reaver announced as Hannah and Sparrow entered the secluded grove.

Reaver had stood up to greet them, while Garth remained sitting on what looked like to be a giant pillow. Her old friend ran up to her and jumped on to her. He gave her several wet kisses all over her face. His breath was still bad, but she was happy to see he had made it. She pushed him off gently and he stood at her feet waiting for a pat on the head. Hannah understood and rubbed him between the ears. He seemed satisfied by the rough love.

“It’s good to see you too Reaver,” Sparrow raised her eyebrow.

“What? I was concerned for you… and I suppose that Aja woman,” he added with a roll of his eyes.

“Please Reaver,” Hannah smiled, “Sister Aja is a very good woman and it sounded like she risked a lot to make sure you all got here safely. You should thank her for all that she’s done.”

“We will,” Garth said before Reaver could open his mouth, “How are feeling Sparrow? How is your arm?”

“Much better,” she showed them, “it’s only a little tender.”

“Sister Jain is a marvelous healer. She can heal any wound or broken bone in half the time it takes for it to heal on its own,” Hannah explained.

“How is Aja? Was she conscious?” Garth continued ask questions.

“She was awake, but fell back to sleep. She couldn’t move though,” Sparrow worried.

“Don’t worry,” Hannah noticed, “She’s only paralyzed by the White Balverine’s venom.”

“I didn’t know Balverines were venomous,” Sparrow was surprised.

“Only White ones… at least that’s what Brother Anshu was told,” she thought for a moment, “He was told that only Balverines… white ones… turned by Balvorn himself.”

“Balvorn? What or who is Balvorn?” Sparrow had never heard of that name.

“A horrible creature from a time before the Old Kingdom,” Anshu entered the grove, “Sorry to disturb your happy reunion Sister Hannah, but Master Jiva would like to speak with our guests.”

“What does the wrinkled old man want?” Reaver could care less.

Garth was about to say something, but Hannah beat him to it, “Reaver!”

“Sister Hannah… your temper,” Anshu reminded her.

“Oh… right,” Hannah looked down at her feet. She took in a deep breath, released it slowly and turned to Reaver, “Please show respect to Master Jiva in the future. He is wise and will assist you in any way he can.”

“He didn’t the first time I was here,” he grumbled.

For just a moment, Sparrow saw a hint of anger in Hannah’s face, but it disappeared with her smile.

“Come this way. We will head to the Master’s chamber,” Anshu started down the stone path, “he has invited you for lunch.”

Garth got up slowly from the oversized pillow. Hanna steadied him as him as he stepped off of it. Reaver just shrugged his shoulder with a snort and followed after the monk. Garth was next with Hannah, Sparrow and her dog soon after. They walked past the pond with the rainbow lilies and to another building that was adjacent to the one she had walked out of. Like before the doors were opened by two monks that didn’t say a word as they passed by. Hanna bowed her head and Sparrow did the same; thinking that it was the proper thing to do. They bowed back with a smile. Anshu lead them down a hallway with bright sunlight coming in from both sides. It felt light in there and there was a scent of citrus incense in the air. At the end of the hallway stood two large monks dressed orange tunics and pants. They stood like statues with their arms crossed and a mean glare. Anshu approached and bowed to them. They then took a side step and pushed open the great wooden doors. Silently, the group passed without a word. They entered a room that was sparsely decorated like the other rooms of the temple.

“Welcome my children, welcome,” someone called out from ahead.

There sat an old, bald man on a raised pedestal. He sat with his thin legs crossed over one another. He could barely keep his eyes open since the wrinkled above them seemed so heavy on his eyelids. His eyebrows, the only hair that was on his head, where as white as the snow outside. His clothes hung loosely about his body and looked like they would fall off at any moment. When he smiled, it appeared that he only had one front tooth. It was surprising a brilliant white. Though he had wrinkles all over his body, like Aja, he seemed to have a youthful glow about him.

“Ah Brother Reaver, you have returned,” the old man greeted him, “I see that you still play in the shadows.”

“Their deal is the best offer at the moment,” he yawned, “I see you still are hanging on to a thin thread of life.”

“Reaver!” Hannah was outraged at his bluntly rude remark.

“Sister Hannah,” the old monk chuckled, “everyone is born with a tongue that is their own. Brother Reaver’s is particularly sharp. If I do not take offense, you should not either,” he smiled.

“Yes Master Jiva,” Hannah bowed her head.

He nodded his head in approval, “Now,” he clapped his skeleton-like hands together, “Brother Anshu, please bring us some Jasmine tea and a bowl of Rose Water for our furry brother.”

“Right away,” Anshu bowed as he backed away.

“Please sit my children,” Master Jiva insisted as he pointed to the five pillows in front of him, “there is much to tell.”

They all took a seat on one of the pillows. The dog made several circles on the pillow before he laid down with a sigh. Sparrow patted him on the head.

“Comfortable?” Master Jiva asked with a smile, “Good. Now I know that you all have been through much the last few days… I have seen it in a vision,” he began to explain, “But that is in past now, you are more interested in the future. Yes?”

“Very much so,” Garth respectively bowed his head..

“Yes, we’ve come a rather long way and nearly were eaten by a horde Balverines… not to mention their bitch of a mother,” Reaver sounded annoyed.

“Do not blame the Balverines for their actions,” the old monk’s expression grew soft, “They have been infected by Balvorn’s venomous hate for humanity and filled with his lust for blood. They were once humans like yourself, but were chosen by the White Balverine to become like her… to become like her master. Thank the spirits that their souls departed long ago,” he noticed that Sparrow looked guilty, “so only their bodies were left. That is not what I wanted to speak to you about,” he stopped for moment and reflected.

“The tea it ready,” Anshu entered carrying a tray full of cups, a tea pot and a porcelain bowl.

“Just what I needed,” Master Jive smiled, “thank you,” he took the cup in both hands.

Anshu poured the steaming tea into his cup and did the same for everyone, but placed the bowl in front Sparrow’s friend. He looked up at Anshu and smiled as best as a dog could. Anshu just smiled back.

“Ahh,” Master Jiva took a sip of the hot tea, “just what the tongue needed to speak. Thank you Brother Anshu, you may go and continue your training for the day.”

Anshu bowed once more to the ancient monk and quietly left the room.

“Please Master Jiva,” Hannah wanted him to continue.

“Ahh, yes… sorry,” he put the cup down in front of him, “I have seen a vision while mediating in the garden. The perfume of the white lily entered my nostrils and filled my head with a vision of the future,” his voice became low; “I saw a man… but he was not man… come from a place that is not a place. I saw two swords cross one another… one that craved blood… the other desired a worthy owner. I then saw three energies following a one larger one. They were blue, red and yellow… the one that was at the led was white… but it was also black… there were… are… and will be choices that must be made… difficult ones… I saw place where who was once a man stands in a blue robe with golden armor… he waits in the wastes… a girl in red is with him. Danger is in store for all of you… go to the woman that brought you all together… she is a key to the past and to the future… though her role I cannot tell… she will not allow it… and keep those once loyal to another close… it may change the outcome of the impending battle,” he seemed to come to himself, “That is what the white lily revealed to me. I hope that clears up some confusion you might be having.”

They all just stared at him. They weren’t quite sure what they were supposed to be confused about, but they were certainly now.

Reaver stated what everyone was thinking, “Are you mad? Have you gone senile?”

Well… maybe not exactly what they were thinking.

“I think what he means to say,” Garth spoke up, “that we need some explanations to your vision.”

“It is better for one to think and reflect about hard things than for the answers to be given,” Master Jiva chuckled, “Go to the garden and take into your bodies the perfume of the white lily. It will clarify your thoughts and allow for you to understand what it has shown me. You are excused,” he smiled as the doors behind them, “I hoped you enjoyed the tea.”

“Couldn’t we have just one hint?” Reaver asked.

“Hmm…,” he thought for a moment, “No.”

That was it. He wasn’t going to say anything more. The old mock closed his eyes and started to breath in and out deeply. They took it as a sign that they should leave and stood up from the pillows. They left without a word and only heard the great wooden doors close behind them as they left. They may have not said a word to one another, but they all felt the same. More confused than sure, they passed through the outer doors and into the garden.

“What do we do now?” Reaver asked.

“I suppose we should think about Master Jiva’s vision,” Hannah suggested, “He did say to take in the perfumes of the white lily and that would clarify our heads.”

“Or we could have our own flower induced visions with strange men and swords that desire things,” Reaver sarcastically retorted.

“Even I have to agree with Reaver,” Garth nodded his head; “Master Jiva’s vision is unfocused and is possibly just a bunch of nonsense.”

“This coming from the man that summons fireballs and swords from nothing,” Hannah snapped, “that sounds like nonsense.”

“Nonsense? How can you say that? You have strength that could easily crush a building,” Reaver snorted.

“I can also crush a skull,” she threatened.

“Stop it!” Sparrow had heard enough, “What we have just heard was a lot to take in. We don’t know what Master Jiva’s vision means. He is right to say that we must figure it out on our own.”

“And what do you suggest that we do?” Garth settled down.

She thought for a moment, “We should each think about its possible meaning and compare our ideas. We all know about things that the others don’t. Mixing our different knowledge will increase our chance of coming to one conclusion.”

The three looked to another and nodded.

“Agreed,” they all said at the say time.

“Fine then,” Sparrow released a sigh of relief, “Garth, see if the monks have a library of sorts. You are the best went it comes to research. I know you won’t over look any details. Reaver,” she wasn’t quite sure how his particular skill set would be useful, “… umm…”

“I will dissect the old monk’s words,” he came up with one for himself, “I’ve been to many soothsayers and their ‘visions’ often have secondary meanings.”

“Sounds good to me,” she didn’t care at the moment.

“What do you want me to do?” Hannah asked eagerly.

“Come with me,” Sparrow started to head for the hot room, but turned around for one final order, “We’ll meet at dinner tonight to discuss our findings and thoughts.”

They all nodded their heads in agreement and parted ways.

“So what are we going to be doing?” Hannah came up next to her.

“Thinking and seeing how Aja is doing,” Sparrow smiled, “and catching up with one another.”

Hannah smiled back, “I like this plan.”

“So do I,” Sparrow giggled.

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