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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9. The Near Liar

“I haven't been able to stop thinking about something.. Odd.” Astrid confessed suddenly, placing a halting hand on Fead's shoulder, stilling his hoofed steps directly beneath the large archway that guarded the gates of Ascent.

    Fead blinked, shifting a pace backwards slightly as his brow nervously furrowed in concern. He swallowed tightly, “Wh-what's that?”

    “Names.” Astrid declared solumnly.

    Fead exhaled loudly in relief.


    “Eh?” Astrid narrowed her eyes, “Don't you sigh in relief!” Astrid demanded loudly as she sternly pointed a finger to Fead's surprised face. “Breathe that fucker back in! Names are serious!” 

    “I thought you were going to tell me that you didn't like the whole, kissin' and hand holding bit. You know, something actually important.” Fead admitted thoughtlessly between deep lungfuls of relieved air. A huge grin stretching over his pleased features.

    Blinking, Fead took stock of the unwavering fingertip less than an inch from his face for a surprised moment before looking to the rather unimpressed expression of its owner. “Err. Sorry.” He offered a shy sort of grin before he made a show of breathing the sigh back in deeply, puffing out his chest theatrically as he did so. “What's so important about names?” Fead asked good naturedly in as little breath as he could possibly manage.

    Astrid cocked her head slightly sideways as she laid a pondering finger on the end of her chin. “To be honest,” She considered aloud, “I have no idea.” Astrid admitted bluntly with a loose shrug as she dragged her gaze thoughtfully towards the evening sky in slow deliberation. “I can't shake the feeling that it's important that if someone can name their child, then anyone can name anyone.” 

    Astrid blinked, as if realizing just what had come out of her mouth, and deciding that it pleased her, threw a wide grin to Fead with excitement glowing across her young features. “Plus, people have first, middle and last names too, so that means that anyone could have any number of names!”

    Astrid looked immensely pleased with herself.
    
    Fead's face was steadily turning remarkably blue.

    Fead blinked slowly, “Names are names, Astrid..” He informed softly through a thin wisp of held air. “They're not all that impressive..”

    Astrid threw her head back in laughter, “Yeah, they're pretty harmless!”

    Grinning her sharp and crooked grin, Astrid leaned forward eagerly, “But I think that these unimpressive names might help you with The Masquerader.”

    “Atta girl!” Fead praised as he softly clapped Astrid on the back with an overjoyed hand. “I thought I'd have to wing it!” He admitted with a relieved grin, “And, well,” Fead pondered shamefully, “We both know how that turned out last time.. Sometimes I still wonder where those 50 butterflies got to..” Fead confessed with a drawn wince pulled across his features.

    “Yeah, me too.” Astrid cringed at the wild memory, “Suppose we should've locked them in a room before we tried to tie 'em all together in pairs..” Astrid considered slowly, sticking out the bottom of her lip slightly in a truly thoughtful expression before a wide grin shattered her contemplative and stoic expression. Suddenly, she clapped Fead on the back with a dismissive, off hand amount of force as an easy going laugh flew from her crooked lips, “Atta boy!” She echoed his praise eagerly.

    Fead staggered forward with an audible whoof of air slamming from his lungs as he tumbled to the ground in a tangle of furry limbs.

    Astrid hummed a single, drolling note under her breath as she strode past the satyr's fallen form and beneath the gates of Ascent. Music might be evil, but a single note isn't a song, Astrid considered cunningly.

    “Uhhhhhh..” Fead offered a drawn out, pained groan from below. Sounding for all the world, as though he was being risen from the dead after a hundred year's rest.

    Blinking as she suddenly realized that Fead had fallen, Astrid's brow furrowed in puzzlement as she turned on her heel and stared bluntly downward. “Oi! What're you on the ground for? Hurry up! We've got important shit to do!” She scolded with a grand gesture forward with hands that weren't even slightly red, “This way, ho!” Astrid declared as she happily bounced down the path.

    “Alright, Fead.. ” She grinned cunningly over her shoulder, “Here's my idea..”

OoOoOoOoOoOoOo

    This was going to be hard, Fead thought to himself tensely as he ducked inside the leaning hut of The Masquerader. The Masquerader was something else, something supernatural. Hel, even the name was terrifyingly abnormal.

    Nothing in Ascent was ever abnormal.

    Attempting to cover his choked cough at the smoky air with the back of his hand, Fead winced at the suffocating air contained within the cramped and frankly much too over decorated space. The task of never lying was.. Complicated.

    And the consequences were.. Excruciatingly flammable.

    But a Near Liar didn't lie, not really, it just depended on how you said certain things.

    “It is my intent to obtain a Mask.” Fead greeted the cloaked figure crouched beside the fire pit at the center of the cramped space with a completely terrified, shaking and noticeably thin voice. 

    By The Maddest Gods, she was terrifying

    Grinning dryly beneath her hood, the cloaked woman steadily lifted her gaze to Fead-

    She's look'n at me! SHE'S LOOKING AT ME!

    Oh man, Fead thought in a panic, She can see right through me, I knew she would! She knows that I'm a Near Liar..

    Aw man! I don't wanna get light on fire! Drawing his features back in a wince, Fead's hoofed feet stumbled backwards in unbridled fear.

    Dammit! Now I can find a rhyme!

     “It is my intent to withhold this knowledge.” She returned the formal greeting with a smile with far too many teeth crammed into it.

    Fead opened one eye suspiciously and adruptly swallowed tensely. Tricking her was going to be hard.

    “Why is that?” He inquired slowly in a very thin voice that made no secret of the fact that he very probably didn't want to know the answer.

    “I will not threaten the sanctity of the last, unpolluted, pure magic on this world by sharing it.” The cloaked woman condemned with a sharp glare thrown Fead's direction. “Particularly not to you, Satyr.” She spat venomously as she prodded the glowing embers before her with a metal rod. “Masks are the final magic left on Ascent that is tolerated for its uses, despite its sin of being born from Magic.” She finished as the embers gave a wild hiss in protest as they were shifted from their resting perches.

    Fead avoided looking at the fire as he claimed a larger step backwards, stubbornly ignoring the heat upon his fur and definitely not remembering that that heat, multiplied by an unimaginable amount, was the last thing his father had ever experienced.

    No, he wasn't thinking about that at all.

    “I will not allow it to be polluted or used for evil. By you, oh unholy spawn of goat and man, or anyone else.” The cloaked woman croaked, “The last magic of this world is mine to guard, and it must be protected. If that means selecting whom I provide its services to, than so be it.”

    Fead offered a bitter twitch of a weary smile, “Funny, I could have sworn the Healers of Platinum had the same slogan.”

    The woman's head snapped up with a thick, fleshy crack, “Wit is a dangerous trait to have, Satyr.” She warned with a snake like hiss as she raised the metal rod and leveling it before Fead's young features in forbearance, “You'll soon find yourself without a tongue if you don't rid yourself of the wicked habit soon, Satyr.”

    Fead froze, for a long moment finding himself only able to gawk at the glowing red end of the metal rod, before his gaze fell beyond it.

    The Masquerader's hood had fallen backwards, revealing an aged face with one blind eye surrounded by a collection of deeply scarred burns and gouges and one perfectly unharmed and ominously shining blue eye.
    
    Those scars are old, she must have carved her own eye out of her skull when she realized she had blue eyes at a young age, before she realized she actually needs sight. Fead realized with a start, though the more surprising feature adorning her face was bluntly printed in a perfectly straight line of evenly spaced dots both above and below her charcoal clad lips.

    Her lips were sewn shut a long time ago.

    She must have been funny once.

    “And you'll burn alive for speaking a mistruth.” Fead declared boldly, pointedly ignoring the hint of his previous terror within his voice.

    “I?” She lowered the metal rod indignantly, “Speak a mistruth!?”

    “My father taught me, since the Teacher of Gold is picky in his students.. In one of his lessons, he explained the difference between Wit, and Sarcasm.” Fead informed slowly, hollowly observing the color drain from the hag's face with a resounding emptiness ringing through his heart where sympathy should lie.

    “My comment was a form of sarcastic criticism. Criticism criticizes something, it may be funny, but that's not its point.” Why, her face is as white as the clouds below! “Wit is a funny, cunning and intelligent comment meant to get people to laugh; It's not criticism. It may be criticizing, but that's not its point.” The hag began to tremble and shake, the metal rod within her wrinkled grip hissing venomously as its glowing red end sank into the dirt beneath the hag's barefeet. “So, it boils down to this..”

    Fead paused for a moment, collecting himself for an instant before opening his mouth and speaking the condemning words known to all of Ascent as a painful, terrifying death sentence. “You are a liar, Masquerader.”

    The metal rod clanged against the stones surrounding the fire pit as it was dropped by unfeeling hands.

    “Course,” Fead brightened with a charming smile, “My father said that it's a common mistake, and that since the only way to keep someone from being burned alive for something stupid like that is to formally forgive them; Forgiveness is important.” Fead cocked his head to the side slightly with a vengeful glare glinting through his blue eyes for half an instant, “Obviously, ya know, he said all this before you reported him to The Truth, and had him burned alive.”

    “I will not grovel at your feet for forgiveness on what I've told you.” The woman growled with a venomous snarl drawing her lips backwards in a wildly evil sort of smile, “I will not award you the pleasure.”

    “You don't have to.” Fead shrugged indifferently as he directed a cold glare towards the woman, “In fact. Don't. My father just saved your life, whether you like it or not. And you had him burned alive. We live in a world where all debts are due, Masquerader. 

    “I really wonder how you're ever going to square this one.” Fead wondered aloud.

    The woman grumbled stiffly as she yanked her thick leather hood back over her marred features with a nightmarish growl emanating from the depths of the unnaturally black shadows. “Why is it you require a mask?” She demanded in a voice too powerful and commanding for such a wrinkled and tired face, “Tell me, beast, who do you intent to summon the appearance of?”

    Fead recalled just what he had told Astrid just before entering the stifling air of the hut, “I declare that your second name, Astrid Dorr CrystalArmorer, is I.”

    “I” The person, “Will be searching for Mother.” Fead informed bluntly, Truth.

    The woman's eyes narrowed noticeably beneath the inky shadows of the heavy hood. “You must swear that this mask will be used only by yourself.” She condemned sternly.

    Fead remembered the second sentence he had told Astrid before entering the heat of the hut, “I declare that your third name, Astrid Dorr Cyrstal Armorer, is You, short for Your, Yours and Yourself.”

    “I” The person, “Swear it.” Fead informed easily. Truth.

    “Swear it formally!” The Masquerader gave a monstrous wolfish snarl.

    Fead recollected the final words he spoke to Astrid before entering the den of The Masquerader, “I declare that your fourth name, Astrid Dorr Crystal Armorer, is Me, short for My, Mine and Myself.”

    “I” The person, “swear that this mask will be used solely by Myself” The person, “And no one else until You,” The person, “Permits it.” Fead assured obediantly. Truth.

    The hag leaned forward with a creak of brittle bones grinding against one another as she brought her shadowed, evil face a hair's width from Fead's youthful features. “I don't trust you, little abomination.” She seethed, “Your breath reeks of falsehood.”

    “Then we're even,” Fead coughed with a drawn wince, “Because yours smells really bad.”

    Making an unearthly noise in the back of her throat, the woman pivoted on her heel with an unnatural speed for her crooked and bent form before returning to her perch beside the fire pit. “I will only explain this once, you little horror. So listen well.” She commanded dryly as she plucked a flat piece of cracked and charred wood from a splintering, badly woven basket at her side. “Masks are simple matters, so don't you fuck this up, because wood is more rare and valuable nowadays than children. So I won't replace it if you break the thing.” The woman held up the sheet of splintering wood to Fead's confused gaze.

    “To create a mask to hold the forms of others, you must declare who you search for before you begin. Next, you state a personality trait aloud. If it describes the person, a sense of.. Inspiration..” She hissed the word as though it were anything but, “Will strike. This.. muse will define how you must carve out one portion of the mask from the wood. When the mask is completed, place a crest of the person's blood across the top of the forehead. A direct descendant's blood will do, but the mask will be weaker.” The Masquerader finished trivially, absently giving the stones guarding the fire pit a bored sort of kick. Her legs bent in places they shouldn't.

    Fead's throat went dry. “..Blood?” He blinked slowly. “As in.. Blood, blood?”

    The hag grinned maliciously, “Oh yes. Blood. You've been raised, no doubt, to fear anything that calls for the wicked, forbidden ingredient to all things powerful. All things magical. But see here, beast, it boils down to this, magic either need natural talent that's been cultivated and trained for decades and doesn't have a host that's been burned alive for possessing it. Or blood. Take your pick.” The Masquerader crooned maliciously with a poisoned smile hanging from her dotted lips.

    Fead swallowed once before stepping forward, snatching the fraying wood from the supernatural woman's fingertips. “It's just blood,” He muttered to himself assuringly, “Just blood.”

    The hag bared her rotting, pointed teeth in a facsimile of a smile, “You mentioned that you were looking for your mother.”

    Fead turned the wood over in his hands thoughtfully, “Mother of Mine,” The person, “Yes.” He admitted dismissively. Truth.

    “Bring me the mask when you're finished.” The hag tasked sweetly.

    Fead froze abruptly, his back stiffening with alarm at the sickly sweet tone decadent with hidden venom. “Why?”

    The Masquerader began to pop her sickly thin fingers with disgusting bone snapping twists. “Loki had a child.”

    Snap. Crack. Crinkle..

     CAH-CRUNCH.

    Fead grimaced, as he slowly took to hiding his own fingers from view.  “He had a lot of them. Dozens. He was kinda like an unneutered cat.” Fead pointed out helpfully.

    The hag stared bluntly at Fead with two oddly glowing blue eyes. “This one doesn't have a mother- Loki had a child with himself.”

    “Uhmm..” Fead's brow furrowed steadily, “My father didn't teach me about.. Baby Making, but I'm pretty sure that's not how it works.”

    “It is truly disgusting.” The Masquerade agreed, leaning backwards slightly with a gruesome snapping of bones, “This abomination has been forgotten by legend, so the creature didn't die when the Mad Gods did. The unnatural offspring still wanders the world.” The hag turned her shadowed features to Fead with a crooked grin hanging loosely from her face.

    “The creature would be about your age by now. And Ascent needs certain.. Assurances, that such an unnatural spawn isn't present among us, the sane. You will bring me the mask of your Mother, to prove that you have one.”

    “.. I'm a satyr..” Fead informed slowly, “Loki, a Frost Giant, couldn't make a Satyr kid if he banged a goat.” Fead grinned adruptly, “Now that was an example of wit!”

    The Masquerader's blind eye twitched in frustration. “I do so hope that we burned the wrong man when we torched your father. If you don't have a mother, I'll delight in lighting the Pyre myself.”
    
OoOoOoOoOoOoOo

    “Gee, you're just not very good around knives, huh?” Fead gawked bluntly as Astrid sliced into the tip of her finger for the fifth time in the two minutes since she had begun to hollow out the back of the wooden sheet. He was a bit shocked, to be bluntly honest.. With the force she was cutting at, she should have lost fingers by now!

    “Afskræmiliga skreyja brandr!” Astrid hissed, dropping the blade and the mask suddenly as she pressed the bleeding wound to her lips with a grimace. “Ow, ow, OW!”

    “… Do I want to know what you just said?”

    Astrid paused for a long moment. “… I said 'Ow'.” She stated sternly as she lifted the already rather bloodied mask from the soil, and took to positioning the knife over the deep wound carved irregularly into its wooden flesh. Sticking her tongue out slightly in concentration, Astrid rested her widespread fingertips across the blasted thing in the hopes to hold the damn thing still.

    Fead covered his eyes with a preemptively sympathetic wince.

    Slice.

    “Bíta bikkja!” Astrid spat sharply, jerking backwards as she took stock of her newest wound drawing a long line of red blood across nearly entirely around her index finger.

    “How much Delirious Dialect do you know?” Fead threw a panicked look over his shoulder. “You need to be more careful about shouting in that! Someone's going to hear!” He cautioned with a paranoid hiss as he turned back to Astrid's back.

    “Fead..”

    “Yeah?” Fead's goat ears perked up hopefully with a warm grin stretching generously across his sweet features.

    “It's the middle of the night,” Astrid informed bluntly, gesturing grandly to the barren landscape across the rolling hills, “Under a supposedly cursed willow tree at least three miles out of Ascent. There's no one around.” Astrid dismissed easily as the unguided blade slid across the palm of her inattentive hand. “Ow! FUCK!”

    “Hey, that one was English!” Fead exclaimed with a wide sort of grin.

    “I don't know how to say fuck in Delusional Dialect.” Astrid grumbled sourly, hanging her head theatrically in misery. “All I know is a pretty varied collection of swears; Ynir's curses a lot in that language.”

    “You're going to lose all your fingers carving that way.. I'm surprised you haven't already with the force you're cutting at..” Fead warned as he let out a huff of exasperated breath to the cold air bristling his flesh and freezing his breath. “It's cold out.” He complained bitterly as he dropped unceremoniously beside Astrid's hunched form between the two largest roots of the willow tree.

    Astrid blinked once and promptly turned her attention from her bleeding project to peer at Fead oddly for a minute. “It's not cold at all! Actually,” She informed trivially, turning back to her project, “It's a bit too hot, if you ask me!”

    Fead stared at Astrid uncomprehendingly for a heartbeat before leaping into a flurry of uncoordinated, flailing, unhelpful 'action', “D-D-Don't panic!! I heard this is the first sign of dying of cold!! YOU HANG IN THERE, ASTRID!” He commanded in an ear drum shattering bellow as he took to gripping Astrid's shoulders and shaking her back and forth profusely, “If you freak'n die, and I'm gonna- I'm gonna-… I'm gonna kill you!”

    “I'm- Not- Dying!” Astrid informed between shakes, “It's- ALWAYS- Too- Hot!”

    Fead's grip laxed, “Always?” He inquired hopefully.

    “Yeah,” Astrid shrugged her shoulders simply, “Ynir says it's too hot here for him too, I think it runs in the family.” She finished with a trivial gesture before frowning as her own words sank their teeth into her mind.

    What if it always being too hot, Ynir keeping secrets and my tough skin are connected?

    “Oh.” Fead exhaled deeply in relief as he lifted his hands from Astrid's shoulders. “Oh, phew..” He breathed, resting an open palm over his own heart as if restarting the thing.

    “You look like you're pretty close to dying, though.”
    

Definitions


Astrid called the mask Afskræmiliga skreyja brandr! This means, Hideously incompetent firewood!

Astrid called the knife a Bíta bikkja! Which means, Biting Bitch(Or dog)!

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