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.


1. The Start of Misfortune

Astrid's hair was very, VERY black. Which reasonably meant, of course, that most everyone wanted her to be very, VERY dead. And, according to the leather worker on Silver Alley, such an event should occur very, VERY soon if there was any justice in the world. When the world decidedly displayed a lack of said 'justice', the people of Ascent were more than pleased to take matters into their own hands.


The Barkeep of Coal, for instance, was hailed as QUITE the hero for a great amount of time after he slipped Fyre's Bite into a drink he served Astrid upon the occasion of her eighth year of life. Further, the Healers of Platinum were regarded as saints and divinities when they collectively refused to treat the effects of the poisoning, leaving the child to drown in her own blackening blood.


The cure was simple, it rested within a herb that grew as common as a weed within the gardens of Platinum. Such a plant was produced in surplus after the effect of Fyre's Bite became well known throughout Ascent. It was an unspeakably terrible poison, with a cruel and drawn out end. The poison itself tore holes within the victim's throat and lungs, which grew wider with every rasping breath until, at the end of the week, the victim drowned in their own blackening blood.


The Healers of Platinum proclaimed that such a poison was deserving of such a vile child.


The people of Ascent were so enamored with the idea of Astrid not surviving the week after the poisoning that adults and children alike openly wept in the streets when Astrid was miraculously healed.


It's magic, they cursed and spat, The weapon of traitors. The work of demons.


It didn't help matters that Astrid's unluckiness was that of legend material.


Having the opportunity for her appearance to take after two parents; Iheia, a beautiful, bright blonde woman with brown eyes the color of amber tree sap, and Ynir, a tall, menacing looking man who held an uncanny resemblance to the notorious traitor, Loki. Astrid had had the glorious misfortune to look as much like her father as his own reflection did. Excepting, of course, his tall stature and his stubbled chin.


Astrid found that could weave her waist long hair into the latest fashions until the sun fell from the sky, it didn't change the fact that the strands were as black as the night. Nor did such an action change the fact that her bright blue eyes appeared to constantly be 'plotting something vile'. Not even slightly did such an action tamper with the evidence of her crooked smile that resembled 'something terribly evil getting its way'. Or, that her laughter reflected strongly upon her 'malicious intent'.


But Astrid DID get very good at trying to weave her silk hair into the latest fashions to erase these facts. Her long black hair was constantly coiled down her back in a curling, tight braid tied with deft fingertips as a result of such attempts.


Astrid came to suppose that the people of Ascent had perfectly reasonable reason to believe her to be a bad omen. To be some foreshadowing of something terrible to come. After all, so many adults couldn't be wrong upon one single subject, surely.


As if her appearance wasn't unfortunate enough for a single person's lifetime, there was, in addition, the matter of her cravings. Astrid couldn't recall much in her days of sickness from the Fyre's Bite, particularly closer towards the end of the week when Death was striding in. But she could recall pieces of an interesting encounter that had perked her fascination, even in her delusional state. As much as a bad omen for others as it was to entertain HER interest.


There'd been a woman, that much Astrid could puzzle through the distorted, blurred images. A woman named Tea. This woman had entered the tent of the Healers of Platinum holding a single, steaming cup of oddly delicious smelling tea, informing Ynir that he could stop threatening the 'short minded, superstitious, stupid, shoe-faced and every other insult starting with 's' ' healers, for she held the cure to Fyre's Bite. Despite the fact that the Healers of Platinum held the only keys to the garden that contained the cure.


'This won't fix the damage they've done,' Tea had said, lowering herself to rest beside the coughing child with pity painting across her features, what an odd expression it was! 'There isn't enough of the Golden Apple left They don't grow them anymore. But this'll cure you. Mostly.'


All that Astrid could recall further, was that the tea was of a golden shade, and tasted sweeter and more satisfying than anything Astrid had tasted before. The mere memory of the drink soured everything Astrid tasted in comparision, and the day after Astrid asked Ynir of golden apples. Ynir, she could remember as much, had grinned as if recalling an old memory, wondering how such things had fallen into the hands of women named after drinks briefly aloud before informing Astrid she was to forget such things entirely.


She found that she couldn't.


As the Tailor of Iron so gladly informed Astrid when she overheard Astrid ask Tea later the week, Golden Apples were once the fruit of the Gods and Goddesses.


The kind that destroyed the world.


The evil ones.


Misfortune continued to smile upon Astrid's fate as bad luck spun its way collectively throughout her life. Particularly in the subject of nature.


Astrid found herself drawn to the beauty the natural world produced without a second thought, as if magnificence itself were nothing but a beautiful happenstance. Awed, at a younger age, Astrid often found herself tucked comfortably away between the great, stretching roots of the willow tree that crested the proudest of the hills bordering Ascent. With the wind curling through her loose hair, and the open grass crinkling beneath her feet, Astrid felt, as she described later to Ynir when he accused her of such actions, 'As if I can finally breath.'


Nature, to the people of Ascent, was disorderly and chaotic. Which, of course, marked the entire subject as evil, and any who disagreed with such were inhabited by the demons that infested the world below, known as Descent. As such, Ynir forbade her from leaving the tight confines of the judgmental city of Ascent. No matter the temptation.


Choking upon the stale air of Ascent, Astrid found herself yearning desperately to return to the open, rolling hills one single more time. How she craved to dash about freely, in the open wind, without fear of judgement, death or mislabellings! As traitorous as the desire was.


But it was a STUBBORN thing.


And it simply wouldn't disappear.


Not even a week later, Astrid's resolve slipped upon the ice it strode upon, and she found herself once more at the welcome roots of the great willow tree. Only now, its open, warm branches warned of danger and madness, and not of forgotten tales and lullabies.


That was the day that the children of Ascent decided to play a new game, one appropriately named as 'The Gallow's Game'. The rules were simple, a noose was dropped around Astrid's throat, the rope was looped over the highest branch of the willow tree, and the players each took turns pulling on the end of the rope until Astrid's feet left the ground, and the breath left her conniving throat.


The most exciting part of the game came after Astrid's small hands ceased clutching uselessly at the rope and directly after the life deserted her deceptive gaze.


The branch the rope had been secured to snapped, dropping Astrid's limp body to the ground with a loud crash. After kicking the unbreathing body, and concluding it dead, the children skipped off to their parents with glee, vaunting their achievement with recounts of various demons arising to the occasion of Astrid's death, supposedly summoned by her own hellish word as she was strung up.


When Astrid came to, she raspily offered the willow her thanks.


And she could have sworn it breathed a response.


The people of Ascent despised music nearly as much as they despised nature. Music, they proclaimed, was laden with demons, madness, and disgusting rebellion. It was the muck that absorbed the sanity of the clear minded. Music was, in their teachings, the stitches that bound insanity together.


So it was just Astrid's luck that the stars themselves insistently burst into song when Astrid was nearby. Which was, unfortunately, extremely often.


The stars had always been Astrid's eternal companions, ever since she was a squalling infant, Ynir claimed. He couldn't explain where they came from, and quite simply, never tried. The perfectly round spheres gleamed with light as they zipped about the place, spiralling without end around Astrid's young form as she grew through the years. Her eternal, doting companions.


They were, despite their mischievious tendancy to play not only music, but the ODDEST of selections of the subject, often a comfort. A reminder of an older time, one wracked with madness, chaos, lies and such evils, certainly. But still, an older time that adored laughter, nature, music, and dancing.


Oh.. Dancing..


The public of Ascent, however, did not share this interest and gladly added the sin of her interest in such meaningless, chaos laden activities as the mark of a demon. Even a young one.


It really didn't help that Astrid was marked as a Magic-user. Remarkably quite obviously too.


And she wasn't even a particularly good one.


The Drifting was as much a curse upon her as it was for the rest of Ascent. After all..


It wasn't like she could control it.

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