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The Mask of Mimicry

By GrimackReapum#1574 - MEMBER - April 15, 2014, 17:56:08

“At long last,” Ned Marion thought to himself as he stared through the frontal viewport of his magnificent vessel. “At long last I will fulfill my destiny and rid the World of Twelve of the abomination that reduced our proud lands to these pitiful peninsulas!” He clutched the armrests of his chair as the first gusts of winds rocked their airship. In the distance Mount Zinit loomed, looking like a dark jagged tooth surrounded by violent twisters.

Around him a crew of hooded men and women were hard at work to keep their finest creation, the Zeppelantern, on course towards the dreaded mountain. Ned was so proud of the team he had assembled. He couldn’t see their faces beneath their pointy hoods, but he could tell them all apart just by their actions and mannerisms.

That was not so odd, knowing what they had been through together. He –no, Hoodfella, his alter ego– had handpicked each and every one of them himself, pitting them and other candidates in endless battles against each other and finally against himself. Only those worthy enough were allowed to join the elite squad of Hoodlums and were let into his secret plan.

A plan so grand that it would make them the heroes of legends! Together with his strike team, Ned trained for months on end for the battle of their life: The battle to take down Ogrest and quell the storm that was raging over the world. These rigorous missions even made them infamous to the world at large. Mysterious hooded men scouring the lands, challenging adventurers and tackling some of the most vicious creatures and dungeons.

Once they had completed their Zeppelantern, they even became public enemies, believed to be invaders scheming to take over the nations. They had to go into hiding as wave after wave of bounty hunters and guardsmen assailed their ship in the hope of arresting the criminal mastermind now dubbed Hoodfella. But thanks to his secret weapon, Ned was able to repel their attacks and protect his men.

Because you see, Ned Marion hadn’t always been such a powerful warrior. When he was young, he was but a scrawny youth in the hidden Masqueraider village, cast aside for being apoor fighter, not worthy to wear a mask of power. But that faithful night, a voice spoke to him. In hindsight, Ned believed it to be Sadida himself calling him, guiding him to his destiny.

For the voice told him of a hidden room in the temple of masks, containing the most powerful mask of all. It was created in secrecy and kept from the world as it was believed to be too potent for one man to wield. He followed the voice’s instructions and through a crack in the temple walls was able to enter a small, inconspicuous chamber. In the center of the room lay an evenly inconspicuous mask.

Unlike the other masks, it was completely devoid of decorations. The only symbol was a small circle on the forehead, surrounded by spikes, giving it the appearance of arising sun or an eye. Even when he trembling put on the mask, Ned felt nothing. Was this the greatest mask ever created? But the voice told him that its power didn’t come from itself or its wearer, but from its opponents. “Fight,” the voice said, “and you will see.”

Being anything but a warrior, Ned was very hesitant to use his new weapon in combat. For fear of being exposed a thief, he left the Masqueraider settlement and journeyed far into the world. Only there did he dare to put on the mysterious mask and challenge a young Eniripsa girl. An easy target he thought, but sadly he hadn’t noticed her Iop boyfriend who was more than eager to defend his love’s honor.

Ned tried to explain himself, but the Iop wouldn’t hear of it. He charged at the scared little Masqueraider and unleashed a flurry of punches. Ned was able to dodge the first blows, but couldn’t keep up and soon felt the boyfriend’s fist driving deep into his stomach. The pain was intense, but there was something else too. Together with the pain, he felt his body starting to glow. His fist felt as if they were on fire!

The feeling intensified with every blow he took and after a few more, he couldn’t restrain himself anymore and with a powerful blow, he sucker punched the Iop on his chin, knocking him flat on his back. Ned stared in disbelief at his fist while the fainted Iop was being nurtured by the Eniripsa girl. “Use their power against them,” the voice resonated in his head.

Ned learned soon after that the power of the mask didn’t simply reflect his opponents’ attacks at them, but also remembered their attacks. So after a few fights, Ned Marion possessed an ability no one else in the World of Twelve had: he could use the powers of different classes without praying to their god. He even copied the Rogue smarts to create his own gadgetry and guns to use in battle. The mask’s (and thus, Ned’s) powers grew with every fight.

After a while, the voice returned to him: “Ned, I have given you this power, now you must use it. For too long, the Ogre has rained destruction and despair from atop his lonely throne. Use this power against him. Defeat Ogrest and return prosperity to the world.” At first, Ned Marion was taken aback by this mission, but soon ideas started pouring into his head on how to tackle this divine task.

“Sir!” Another violent gust hit the ship, jerking Ned back into reality. “It seems our presence has not gone unnoticed. Suzi reports several Tornado monsters entering through the cargo bay!” “Harlet, Sakura, Brut, head down there to help her repel the invaders,” Hoodfella instructed, “Lady Windya, Robin, head up to the roof to see if you can take them out before they reach the Zeppelantern!”

Several of the Hoodlums left their station and stormed out of the bridge to support their comrade. As lightning bolts started to raze the side of the ship, Ned could almost see Ogrest sobbing on top of his rock. “Xeyr, are we within range to launch the Zeppelods?” “A few hundred yards, Sir, but as we stand now, the pods will be ripped to shreds by the Tornados.” “We’ll deal with them,” Hoodfella said reassured.

“Magnolia and Sneaky, join Robin and Windya on the roof and man the harpoon. I want as many of those windbags pierced as possible before we start our descent. Arnold, get Garth, Yakitori and Violent and prepare for launch. I want you four running interference in the Zeppelods by the time we get within reach of the Ogre!”

The Feca Hoodlum left the bridge, leaving only Ned at the wheel and Mechaflex and Xeyr manning the control stations. The entire airship rocked and shuddered under the violent winds while outside vicious battles were fought between the brave Hoodlums and the forces of nature. As the Xelor Hoodlum counted down, Ned prepared to give the command to deploy when suddenly…

All became quiet. It was as if the world stood still around Ned Marion. No sound was heard and his two companions seemed almost frozen into place. Outside the storm still raged, but in extreme slow motion. “That’s as far as you will go, puppeteer,” a cold voice sounded from behind Hoodfella’s chair. He spun around and there he stood, in the center of the bridge: Jacquemart Harebourg, the Xelor Count of Frigost!

“What are you doing here?” Ned wanted to shout, but his lips didn’t move. In fact, his entire body didn’t move as he intended. Suddenly he felt as if his limbs were being pulled by strings as he stood up in his chair. “I’ll admit it,” the Count continued while Hoodfella struggled with himself, “that this a script worthy of the original Schemer. But still, you’re not him, are you?”

On that remark, Ned could almost feel a wave of rage rushing through his body. His lips could move again, but the words that came out weren’t his: “Who are you to judge me, you arctic aristocrat?!” His finger pointed accusingly at Harebourg. “I am just as good, nay, even better a puppeteer than the original ever was! My scheme is a veritable work of art and would have succeeded for sure without your interference!”

The Count slowly started to levitate and hovered towards Ned, who was hardly aware of what was going on anymore: “Your little magic mask trick would be no match against Otomai’s Ogre. You cannot absorb his powers.” “Ha!” Hoodfella scoffed, “My Mask of Mimicry can absorb anything you throw at it. When I’m done with you, you’ll dance to my tune, just like the other puppets!”

“Very well,” Harebourg said coldly and he slowly raised his arms. As he did so, the entire world seemed to speed up again. But just before everything moved back at normal speed, the Count seemingly exploded in a flash of blue light, causing a shockwave that knocked the Hoodlums back and turned the entire bridge into a frozen scenery, wrecking all equipment in its path.

Ned regained control of his body as he surveyed the destruction wreaked by the Count. “Sir, all controls are frozen,” Mechaflex shouted from the front of the bridge. “We can’t control her anymore,” Xeyr added and he had hardly finished his sentence as the Zeppelantern was swept up by another powerful gust, sending it spiraling down towards Mount Zinit.

“No,” Ned thought to himself, “all my great plans! All my dreams!” Soon after the airship disappeared in the mists surrounding Zinit…

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