The Masquerader

Based loosely after Ragnorak (The end of the world in Norse Mythology) we follow the story of a misplaced trickster in training, Astrid CrystalArmorer. Left on Ascent, the NEW city above the clouds after Asgard fell, Astrid finds herself the scapegoat for all of the woes of the city so cruel that they burn liars alive. In six days, Astrid must turn this world upon its head to save those who need her most, or burn alive trying.

All at the age of ten.

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10. Astrid of Ascent

“This mask shall hold the appearance of my mother.” Astrid declared boldly to the quiet midnight air, her thin voice sharpened with both purpose and epic determination.

    Fead yawned.

    Astrid craned her neck about expectantly.

    “Nothing's happened.” Astrid informed bluntly as her impatient gaze fell to the uneven sheet of wood within her grip. “Maybe I'm holding this thing wrong-” She pondered aloud as she took to rotating the splintering object of supposedly immense power in her grip clumsily, wincing as the rough wood caressed her many slits and cuts on her fingers. 

    “This mask shall hold the appearance of my mother.” Astrid repeated firmly to the sulking night air, her fragile voice sharpened at the ends with irritation.

    A heavy thud filled the air as Fead fell over behind her.

    Astrid's eye twitched.

    The air grew electric and cackled loudly at the seams as The Drifting plucked at the ground with invisible, pulling fingertips, as it typically did when Astrid found herself in an anxious mood. The leaves above rustled as they were lifted upwards, soil lifted into the air lazily and the grass stood straight at Astrid's heels.

    “Maybe I'm just not being heroic enough,” Astrid decided brightly, leaping to her feet optimistically. Thoughtfully, she leaned forward, peering at her feet with accusing eyes for a long moment before widening her stance slightly in an appropriately heroic position. Tossing the sheet of wood into the air lightly, The Drifting caught a hold of the air borne object and held it above Astrid's head with a slight spin.

    “Obtained a useless piece of unenchanted wood!” She called aloud in a very heroic voice that sounded oddly like a young boy's as she struck a heroic pose with her hand outstretched to the floating object.

    She could have sworn she heard a simple, heroic little tune on the air.

     Fead began to snore.

    The sheet of wood was unimpressed nonetheless and merely floated there, steadily rising. Astrid leapt into the air, snatching the mask before it drifted too far.

    “Oh. It didn't work.” Astrid muttered softly in miserable confusion before slumping forward, burying her head behind her hands with a hopeless moan as she slumped to the ground in a rather unheroic defeat. “I don't know what else to try. Now I'll never find out what Ynir's keeping from me.”

    Fead rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands as he forced himself to sit upright with a wide yawn overtaking his bright, drowsy features. “Mmmm..” He grumbled sleepily before suddenly bolting perfectly upright with a start. “Oh! I forgot the most important part!” Fead exclaimed quickly with a wince, “No wonder it didn't work..”

    Astrid punched him solidly in the shoulder.

    Fead yelped as he tumbled over sideways in a tangle of furry limbs and bleated curses. “Okay, okay! I done goofed! I got it! But geez, ow!” He complained bitterly as he rose, dusting his shoulders off with a hand clumsily.

    “I didn't hit you that hard,” Astrid defended with a frown, leaning forward with a curious, thoughtful look toward said injury. “It shouldn't even bruise!”

    It was already bruising.

    Astrid's face fell with guilt and shame and she suddenly burst into quick, panicked stammerings with widened, apologetic blue eyes. “I'm sorry! I didn't meant to- I'm gonna fix it! Kay? Oh. I'm not a healer. That one bird I tried to heal his sore throat- He's still dead- But I can try again! Lemme fix this, kay?!”

    “No healing!” Fead exclaimed, throwing his hands outwards in a panicked gesture. “You should never heal anyone! I'll call it even if you agree to never heal me, under any circumstances!!”

    “Hey, my healing's not THAT bad-”

    “Swear it!

    “Alright, alright.” Astrid grumbled shortly. “I swear.” She crossed her arms over her chest with a sour sort of glare at the ground. “Don't see why I've gotta..”

    Fead exhaled deeply in relief, “Oh thank Sanity..”

    Astrid glared bitterly at him. “Lookie,” She snapped her slitted fingers shortly, “How do I make this wood turn into a Mask?”

    “Oh, oh that!” Fead blinked with a wide, spreading grin, “Right! So here's how it works. You've got to announce who the mask is going to be of- Then say some trait of that person. If you're right, you'll know what a certain part of the mask should look like!”

    “But I've never met my mother!” Astrid argued, her brow furrowed in confusion. “How can I know what she's like?”

    “Well, suppose you could try guessing..” Fead puzzled thoughtfully. “If you get it wrong, it's not like anything bad will happen.”

    “Right, okay.” Astrid furrowed her brow determinatedly, leaning forward with the knife clasped firmly in her hand in a fist as she examined the blank sheet of wood resting within her lap. “My mother is honest.”

    No inspiration struck. Astrid cleared her throat akwardly. This was not off to a good start.

    “My mother is kind.” She tried again with a hopeful smile. 

    No muse danced across her mind.

    “My mother is compassionate!”

    A bug chirped.

    “My mother is lovable!” Astrid tried desperately before launching into a string of traits that ran into one another in her rush to find the one thing that her mother was. “My mother is pretty! My mother is fun! My mother is humorous! My mother is forgiving! My mother is patient!”

    The night air yawned with boredom at the general lack of, well, anything happening.

    Blankly staring at the slice of wood in her palms, Astrid's brow furrowed, “.. I think my mother's a real bitch.” She confided promptly.

    Fead froze, a look of complete horror falling over his features as his mouth dropped. Dryly swallowing, the satyr fought hard to speak.

    No audible words came out- just a little squeak a wagon wheel might give before it fell apart at the seams and refused to ever be put back together.

    “Loki had a child.” The Masquerader hissed between sharpened teeth as she took to snapping her own fingers with sick twists and thick, meaty cracks.

    “This one doesn't have a mother- Loki had a child with himself.”

    Astrid lifted her gaze from the piece of wood with a long, frustrated sigh. “You've gotta blink sometime, Knight!” Astrid laughed softly as she noticed Fead's hollow gaze on her, locking her blue eyes on Fead's with amusement. “Unless you want a staring contest.” 
 
    The idea apparently appealed to her, because a wide, crooked grin quickly overtook her features and she leapt to her feet, bellowing, “READYSETGO!” And stared at Fead with a terrifying intensity as The Drifting dropped everything it had lifted into the air back to the ground unceremoniously as Astrid's mood shifted.

    Fead blinked stupidly and quickly dropped his stunned gaze to the roots of the willow tree at his feet.

    He felt ill.

    Sinking to the ground in defeat, Fead slumped forward, burying his head in his hands with a despairing bleat. 

    Astrid frowned and dropped beside him, managing to bash the back of her skull against the tree as she did so. Wincing, she rubbed the back of her already aching skull with an open hand and shot the tree a glaring look before she laid a hand on Fead's back.

    “Hey, are you crying? Losing isn't that bad.”

    She paused as she considered what she just said.

    “Okay, maybe it is..

    “Try insults.” Fead muttered lowly, his tone filled with desperation. “Maybe your mother really is a bitch.”

    He hoped so.

    “Alright, lesse...” Astrid mused thoughtfully as she plucked the forgotten strip of wood with sliced fingertips. “My mother is a liar.”

    A big pile of hot steaming nothing greeted her words.

    “My mother is cruel. My mother is ruthless.”

    The tree's leaves rustled in the constant wind.

    “My mother is despicable.
    My mother is ugly. 
    My mother is a spoil sport. 
    My mother is serious. 
    My mother holds grudges. 
    My mother is impatient.” 

    Astrid turned the wood within her palm thoughtfully, “My mother's a bitch.” She tried half heartedly.

    No inspiration struck.

    “Let me see your hand.” Fead demanded suddenly as he dropped his hands and straightened, holding out his offhand to Astrid.

    “Can't, I said I wouldn't show you it, remember?” Astrid dismissed easily, waving the hand away with a bored look. It didn't go away. “If I show you my hand, I'd be a liar.”

    “You wouldn't show me the hand you used to punch Ivor. Show me your left hand.” He insisted firmly. Astrid laid her left hand over his. Fead turned the hand slightly, intently staring at the many cuts across her skin.

    They were already mostly healed.

    Frost Giants healed quickly.

    “Astrid's mother exists.” Fead said without a grain of hope within his voice.

    The wind howled boredly.

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