The next day the group of haggard fairytales resumed their trek across the chaotic and violent city of New Albion.
New Albion was in the throes of a revolution. Led by a former police soldier known only as Soldier 7285, an uprising had gradually taken over and skirmishes would break out suddenly in the streets. At various points in the day shouting or gunfire could be heard echoing across the city.
The fairytales tried their best to avoid all trouble. Jack of Ash would prowl the rooftops, trying to work out a route for them to follow as they attempted to navigate their way through the urban maze.
Every so often they would all freeze and listen. They were listening for the Whispers and when they heard it, they simply ran.
Burlap Molly had managed to nick some pies and so they all sat and ate. Jack of Ash reminded them all of scenes from Arcadia, the glens and waterfalls, the native Fae inhabitants, the soft warm glow in the evenings when the tree homes were lit. Stories thrived and were happy there. Characters resolved and belonged.
Amongst the colorful characters and stories populating Arcadia was The Baptist. He blessed all and bestowed a sense of place in the world. Some considered him the soul of Arcadia. No one knew how the Darkness came, with it’s whispering swarm of gnashing, insectant flickerings of engulfing blackness, but it did. It took The Baptist away to another, darker place.
A sadness had lingered over Arcadia until it was finally decided a small group of volunteers should go forth into this strange, chaotic world, find The Baptist and bring him back home.
Arcadia’s oracle, the Crow, prepared the party. He issued three warnings: 1. The Shadow that took The Baptist was strong in this other Land and would always be in pursuit. Anyone it touches will be lost. 2. The door back is in the throne room of The White Queen’s castle. 3. Avoid the White Queen and do not let her speak to you. If she speaks you will be lost.
Jack finished his pie and reminded them this was their story now. It was a dark story, but it could have a Happy Ending. Nothing was better than a Happy Ending and the darker the story the more sacred the Happy Ending.
Their pies all finished, they embraced and continued on.
The Story of Jack Of Ash
Once upon a time a teenage girl from a strict and morally rigid family secretly bore a baby out of wedlock. She gave birth in her own bedroom by herself and while she was cleaning up the mess, hid the baby by wrapping it tight and placing it in the flue of her bedroom’s fireplace.
However, while scrubbing her bedsheets she collapsed and her family, with no idea of what was wrong, rushed her to the hospital where she did not wake for days.
A kindly and childless old chimney sweep heard the cries of the helpless infant and rescued it. He named it Jack.
Jack thus grew up as a chimney sweep on the rooftops of the city. Free and wild, he would dance for hours in the moonlight, swirling and leaping over the rooftops.
By the time he reached his teenage years he was a sight to behold, already a half glimpsed legend called Jack of Ash. One 16 year old girl though saw him every night, for his favorite dancing grounds were across from her window.
The girl was a sad, sheltered teenager, kept inside much too often by her stern and overprotective father. As a result she was very lonely, awkward socially, and yearned deeply for adventure and romance.
One night, in the wintertime when Jack did not dance, she whispered “Jack of Ash” up into her chimney five times, calling him to come.
The winter passed.
At the first bud of spring he came.
He beckoned her out onto the rooftops. She went and they danced together, slowly and carefully for she was only a beginner.
Each night he would come and each night they would dance on the rooftops of the city. By summer she too could leap across the skyline and they would stop their dance only to kiss and watch the moon in each others’ arms.
By Autumn she had also become a force of nature on the rooftops, leaping and swirling above the city and by this season they were making love.
When the last leaf in the city turned brown she became ill. The doctors couldn’t quite diagnose it, but they theorized some type of consumption. Stated simply, she had lost her youth.
She had aged a decade. Jack of course disappeared for the winter and she never saw him again.
This is how it was to be with Jack. A lonely teenage girl may call him in the winter, whispering his name 5 times into the chimney. At the first bud of spring he may come. From the first bud to the last colored leaf she will know the most exalted romance of her life but it will age her 10 years.
Jack of Ash never ages.