In the months that followed, the world began to brace for the impending attack. A surge of volunteers flocked to the guild while on the other side of the issue many people began to support The Cleansers and their ideology.
James and his fellow guildmates kept more than busy trying to keep the bigger threats under control. Massive monster attacks became a daily occurrence and their battles became ever more intense, ripping up large swaths of the city and creating growing contempt for the guild.
Ever since their close call in the guildhall, Sparrow began to assign James as her field partner with greater frequency. He suspected she was trying to spend more time with him while using work as a pretext. She always managed to come up with a flimsy excuse as to why they needed to team up, not that he was complaining. Despite Kazav's stern warnings not to get involved in a relationship, James found himself unable to pull his thoughts away from her.
With her defenses weakening and her affection for him growing, Sparrow decided she could no longer have any secrets between them. She was determined to tell him something shocking, something she had been holding onto her entire career. A secret that only she, and a handful of others knew about. Once alone with him, she began to pace, unsure of how to bring it up.
His concern for her grew the longer she remained silent. Looking at the pain in her eyes he felt compelled to ask, "Sparrow, what's going on? Are you okay?"
She looked back at him, fear streaked across her face. Then, with a flick of her wrist, she opened a black portal in the middle of the room. "Come with me," she commanded as she leaped into the rotating vortex, disappearing from sight.
He hopped through the portal, unsure of what to expect. An endless crimson-colored void stretched as far as the eye could see, a world of her own making. It was easy to become disoriented as there were no floors, walls, or landmarks of any kind. The only other thing in sight was Sparrow.
She stood in front of him, her hands covering her face. Then, with intense emotion, she began to speak. "James, there is something I need to tell you, something awful."
He walked over to her and took her hand in his. "What's wrong? he asked while wiping a tear from her cheek.
Sparrow released his hand and stepped back. Now with a space between them, she looked into his eyes. Upon seeing the warmth and trust in them as they gazed back at her, she unleashed her awful secret, no longer able to hide it from the man she held so dear.
"James, The Heroes Guild is not what it claims to be."
His eyes narrowed as confusion took hold. "What do you mean Sparrow?"
Her heart began to flutter. Even just saying what little she had was soul-crushing. That feeling, combined with the thought of breaking James' spirit was almost too much to endure. Pushing the pain down, she continued with her awful revelation.
"The Heroes Guild is nothing more than a puppet organization. It's a corrupt, dirty, unfaithful den of fake heroes and empty promises."
James started to laugh. He thought she was referring to all the fake, wannabe fame hogs that he grew up despising.
"I mean yeah, there are a lot of bad apples out there," he replied as he stepped closer. "But I don't see why that started bothering you all of the sudden. You knew that long before I did."
"No!" she cried out in frustration. "I'm not just talking about a few bad heroes I'm talking about the entire organization. Top to bottom, it's all a carefully crafted lie!"
He was beginning to grasp what she had been trying to say. At first, he thought this all was some kind of trial, or maybe a test to prove his loyalties. But Sparrow was dead serious, her tear-filled eyes and quivering lips dashed his theory to pieces. Once it sunk in, his legs turned to rubber and he started to wobble. "Are you saying that HQ, the officials, all the top heroes, all of them are just...fake?"
She nodded her head, confirming the horrible truth and shattering his innocent reality. James slumped down and gripped his chest as a full-blown panic attack took hold, pumping loads of heart-racing adrenaline into his veins.
She reached out and grabbed him before he collapsed. With his head in her arms, she attempted to offer an explanation based on everything she knew. "Years ago, long before any of us had even been born, the Heroes Guild began to lose in its war against the villains." Stroking his hair, she continued, "They were faced with a choice. They could either keep fighting, right down to their inevitable end; or they could negotiate with their enemies in an attempt to survive and maintain order in the world. They chose the latter."
He sat up, a feeling of anger now replacing the shock. "So they sold themselves out in exchange for the guarantee not to be completely wiped out?"
Sparrow nodded her head rather than answer. It was so much easier than having to say the words aloud.
"But why? I just...I don't understand!" James slammed his fist down onto the vaguely defined ground. Sparrow winced at his outburst, pained at the turmoil it was causing him. Then, a realization hit him. Sparrow knew of the truth...but how?"
"How do you learn about all this?" he asked, desperate for the answer.
She placed her hand on his face in hopes of calming him. She was willing to answer any question he had, anything to restore his trust for her. "Years back, when I was just a rising hero, I was like you. I had no idea of the shocking truth behind the organization I viewed as a beacon of light against the darkness. Then, when I rose high enough in the rankings, I was offered a position in the top twenty slots."
"Top twenty?" James repeated back. "I had no idea you made it that far."
"Nobody did. I never officially joined. You see before you can join you have to go through an initiation. One of the steps is being told the truth of the guild and the reasons behind it. If you swear to keep it a secret from everyone then, and only then, are you allowed to join."
James' eyes went wide. The fact that Sparrow made it that far and yet never became a member could only mean one thing. He looked at her, a smile breaking out on his once sullen face. "You didn't accept the offer, did you?"
She nodded her head side to side. "No, I didn't. I was tempted but... I just knew I would never be able to enjoy it. Not while lying to the people I loved. I declined the offer and swore not to reveal the truth to anyone. If I did, they threatened to brand me as a traitor and deny all accusations."
A warmth began to grow in James, soothing his heart and mending the wound. After everything he had gone through, after everyone who had lied to him and let him down, Sparrow would always be Sparrow. He suddenly realized he didn't care about everything else. At that moment all he could feel was pride, pride for the woman he cared for.
He propped up her face with his hand, sliding her cheek into his palm. "You amaze me, Sparrow," he cooed. "After everything you endured, all the blood and sweat you poured out to achieve your dream, rather than be bought off you gave of yourself. You are the kind of hero the world needs and the kind of person I admire with all my heart."
She began to smile, her cheeks turning a rosy red. "You certainly know how to flatter," she teased.
He laughed and hugged her tight. "I meant every word."
They sat there in the void, holding one another close. If it were up to James he would have stayed like that forever but Sparrow wanted to get back to the team. A crazy idea popped into her head and she wanted to share it with everyone. Maybe, just maybe, the Heroes Guild could be redeemed.
They passed through the portal and watched it shut behind them, dispersing into the air like a puff of smoke fading into the night sky.
Sparrow began to walk out of the room. She was eager to call the team together to share with them what she had just revealed to James.
"Sparrow wait!" James remarked just before she crossed through the doorway. "There is one last thing I need to tell you, something very important."
She turned to face him. "What is it?" she asked as he approached her, closing the gap between them.
Before she could process what was happening he pulled her close and planted a kiss directly on her lips. Sparrow was in shock, she had no idea how to react. Time was moving in slow motion and she could see every single millisecond passing by before her eyes. As he ended the kiss and pulled away Sparrow just stood there motionless, her eyes still open, her lips still pursed. James started to feel worried that he had crossed a line, that maybe she didn't want him to do that.
"I'm so sorry Sparrow, I didn't mean to grab you like that! I just thought that maybe, I mean it seemed like, well that maybe you-" Before he could finish his apology she grabbed his face and kissed him right back.ns184.108.40.206da2