He had thought the group would by-pass Ironhaven in its flight, that he would never find out what the dying preacher had been talking about, never discover what door the key he had been slipped would fit. He thought about the dying man’s last words.
“The inner sanctum, the unholy truth...”
Jacob had questioned his faith, questioned Heaven, when maybe all along it had been guiding his steps, even his doubt. But it had led him to this place of contradiction and corruption, it had led him to his new companions, skittish Nelya, impetuous Cassidy, chimerical Frida.
He came to a conclusion. He would tell them about the key. Heaven had put them in his path, surely for a reason. He needed their help, as they doubtless needed his guidance.
At that moment the heavy door swung open and a robed figure stepped in. At first glance he thought it was a brother of the High, as he had been, but as his gaze travelled upwards it came to the mask. A grotesque distortion with bulbous cheeks and wide, pursed lips which brought to mind a frog’s face. It was carved of wood, well-polished and with a short, thick line marked down from the right eye in a darker stain.
Jacob thought he saw a flicker behind the eyeslits, a blink maybe, but nothing more.
“I am to be your facilitator.”
“Think of me as a tool, to ease your participation in dialogue with this city.”
“You want me to talk? Ask me a question.”
The masked figure sat down. Jacob couldn’t decide if it was a man or a woman. His instincts said man, but the mask muffled its voice, the robes hid its shape. It placed a thick candle on the plate and lit the wick with a match struck on the stone floor. The candle gave off a pleasant odour that reminded him of the cooking pots of the village he had tended.
The mask tilted to one side, as if studying him, “How am I to know what questions need asking?”
Jacob frowned. He was not equipped to deal with this.
The smoke from the candles seemed to be thickening, filling the cell with harsh, billowing clouds that made his throat ache and his eyes stream. He tried to focus on the figure but the mask swam and disappeared in the writhing grey around them.
There was a shouting and hollering from all around, ecstatic whooping and hideous screams, the crackling of burning wood and straw. He saw the panicked faces of the villagers he had cared for, and the distorted, vicious faces of savages emerging from the smoke, faces painted with blue swirls and fresh red splatter. He hid. He cowered as the villagers died and through the capricious smoke he caught glimpses of slaughter, brief flashes of butchery.
Jacob sobbed. He cried out as he felt a touch on his shoulder. But it was only Brother Silas, trying to console him, to convince him to go to the city of Ashfall and talk to the High priests there.
No, he had already been to Ashfall and there were no answers there, only disappointment and disillusion. That was why he had set out alone, to find himself.
Brother Silas reminded Jacob that he had found more than himself, that he had found Cassidy, and Frida, and Nelya. He had. He was confused. Brother Silas had been head of his old mission, part of his old life, before he had met those three.
But Brother Silas would have seen what Jacob saw in them. The good swaddled in fears and distractions, the need for guidance.
Jacob told him all he knew about them.
There was sharp clack and clunk that cut into his hazy thoughts. He blinked his eyes open. His head was resting against the rough table and he straightened up, light-headed. The cell door swung open and as the masked figure left it looked back over its shoulder.
“Thank you, Brother Jacob.”