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Ankama Trackers

The Unmasking

By GrimackReapum#1574 - MEMBER - September 26, 2017, 14:31:31

The sequel to The Facade of Fear (, the ongoing story of Ned Marion a.k.a. Hoodfella

Darkness. Utter darkness filled the deepest levels of the Astrub sewers. Or rather the large open spaces beneath the complex sewage system, for none of the builders of the City of Mercenaries had ever set foot down here. During the construction they had quickly learned that letting all water collect in the central sinkhole beneath the city was adequate enough to get rid of it, so they did not feel inclined to expand on their excavations.

Over the years the polluted city waters had eaten away the ‘mushy bits’ of the foundation, leaving an entire maze of caverns and tunnels and creating their own biotope, mostly of the slimy variety. The walls were decorated with mosses and bioluminescent mushrooms, feeding ground to every kind of larva in the World of Twelve.

A small herd of the red variety was grazing near the water’s entry point, a large and rather light cave with several waterfalls coming from the hole in the ceiling filling up the brownish lake at the center of the room.

The scarlet grubs were quite startled when a loud splash suddenly filled the room, but when  nothing more happened afterwards to disturb their peace, they returned to their daily meal.But when a bit later a second splash followed and even later a third, the spineless creatures decided to cut their losses and flee back into their dark corridors, certainly when the third splash caused a blonde woman to emerge from the pool a bit later, gasping for air and gagging from the sewages she had swallowed.

After recovering from the dive she recomposed herself and with a fluent gesture summoned a ball of light to illuminate the darker parts of the room. “Dammit,” she muttered under her breath, “he isn’t here anymore. Either he crawled out of the water, as I did, or he was carried away by the waters… and then he can be anywhere right now.”

“But I should be able to track the mask’s power source. That should shine through even the thickest darkness.” She summoned the light orb back to her hand and with a few fluent motions made it disappear again as she closed her eyes. “Visio Imperum,” she whispered and when she reopened her eyes, they were alight and devoid of pupils or irises.

With the power of her spell she could detect power sources nearby, not unlike Eliatropes and dragons use Wakfu to see the life energy of all living things. She scanned her surroundings and it did not take her long to track the mask. It was a shining beacon of power slowly drifting away from her through the maze beneath Astrub.

“He must still be unconscious. This is a stroke of luck,” Emma sighed as the light in her eyes went out. She resummoned her light orb and quickly darted in the direction of the mask and her wearer. It took a few moments to get used to the slimy underground of the dark caves, but after that Emma Cygnus moved as if she was running on the paved roads of Bonta City.

Further down the track Ned Marion did not share the Huppermage’s almost supernatural balance and he plunged face down in a pool of brown muck for the seemingly hundredth time since his descent into the sewer caves. By now his eyes had grown accustomed to the dim light of the bioluminescent fungi but still it wasn’t enough to prevent him from misplacing his feet from time to time.

But unlike Miss Cygnus, he didn’t need any abilities to know where the mask was heading. Dramak the Second’s voice kept echoing in his mind and steering him, despite his best efforts to resist it, right towards his goal. “Must… keep… going…” he panted as he got up again and wiped the slime from under his mask.

He didn’t want to be a puppet again, but on the other hand the thought of being reunited with his very ‘own’ mask of power was very tempting indeed. He felt so hollow in this makeshift version of the traditional Masqueraiders’ mask. It held no power whatsoever, which in the Masqueraider community meant you were of no importance, you were no one.

And he had been someone. He had been everything. He was on Mount Zinit. He faced Ogrest and had the power to best him. If he could regain its powers, he would be able to… “Faster!” it resonated in his head “She is coming.” Ned hardly understood who or what was coming, but that didn’t stop his limbs for moving even faster.

It didn’t even stop him when he tripped once more, this time dropping him not into a puddle, but into the stream of sewage going downwards. He tried to cling on to one of the slippery rocks nearby, but when his mind realized the foul water would take him down faster than his feet could, he took a deep breath and plunged back into the stream.

A bit further downstream several smaller streams collected in a larger basin, giving the water some time to rest before it disappeared deep in the world’s crust. This subterranean lake attracted some of the more rarer underground fauna who loved the unique combination of dark and dank. Creatures that had adapted to the eternal darkness and had become ‘corrupted’ according the above ground standards.

But even those atrocities of nature have standards, so when suddenly rocks began to quaver and walls started to erupt into an explosion of stones, they hurried out of there like Rushu himself was coming for them. So by the time Emma had created an opening big enough for her to pass through, all critters had long vanished from the large cave.

As she entered, she directed her globe to the top of the cave so she could have a good look around. It didn’t take her long to find her quarry: the masked Grambo lay lifeless face down between some rocks at the shore of the lake. Emma quickly darted towards him, her light orb following suit, giving her optimal lighting for her quick movements.

In no time she had reached the little demon. She kneeled down and turned him over. Such luck! He still wore the mask Drosselschmutz had stolen from the Academy. It already had some wear and tear, as she had feared. She reached over to remove it when suddenly a pale hand shot out of the water, grabbing the Grambo by the foot (or hoof) and dragging it back into the lake before Emma could react.

“No!” she swore and with a quick gesture her orb companion shot into the water. The cave became dark again as Emma focused on the water surface that slowly started to bubble. After a few seconds, a large, slightly illuminated ball of water slowly rose out of the lake. It was about the size of a full grown Crackler and hovered a few inches above the water surface.

Emma’s brow began to show drops of sweat as the huge orb gently bobbed towards the (relatively) dry land. She was about to set it down when suddenly Ned Marion jumped out of the bubble, both hands aimed at her throat. She was able to block his attack, but lost control of the water sphere, causing him to dissipate into a large pool on the rocks and blacking out the room again.

The Huppermage had a hard time blocking the Masqueraider’s incoming punches and kicks, although neither of them could see anything in the dark. Or could he? Through the attacks Emma could make out a distinct glow on his face. “He is wearing Dramak’s mask!” she thought to herself. She felt his punches becoming stronger with each blow. She didn’t know how much longer she could keep blocking him.

“I got to act quickly now!” she said to herself and dropped to a crouch, causing the Masqueraider’s punch to go right over her. Before he tripped completely over her, she fired a beam of flames right into his sternum. This stopped him dead in his tracks, but she didn’t stop there. She took advantage of his break in momentum and launched a barrage of elemental spells at her masked assailant.

This did not simply stop Ned but actually launched him into the air, causing him to hit the rocks further down the shore, totally incapacitated. “Time to finish this.” Emma clenched her fist and focused all her quadramental energy. This caused her to become wreathed in a white flame while she started to levitate off the floor.

She slowly hovered towards Ned Marion who tried to lift his head and regain his bearings. She stretched out her arm, aiming the palm of her hand at the masked man: “you should not have come back for the mask. I know this is not your doing, but I can’t allow you to bring it back to him.” She fired of shots of pure light energy from her hand.

Ned managed to block the first ones with an energy shield of his own, but he and the mask were still too weak and it didn’t take long for his defenses to falter. A more powerful blast broke his barrier and hit him straight on the mask. The impact knocked back his head and blew the mask straight off his face and further down the shore.

Emma hovered past the again now unconscious Masqueraider and towards the mask, but when she got close to it, she noticed several Drhellers sniffing around it. She fired a warning shot above their heads to scare them off, but this only caused them to turn towards her and growl belligerent at her.

Emma was taken aback by their deformed visage: these weren’t normal Drhellers. They had long and twisted tusks and four purple glowing eyes. They fur coats looking even more scruffy than the normal kind and their drool almost seemed to glow in the same purple hue as their pupil-less eyes.

Behind the growling pack a cackling laugh was heard. It was Gobvious, Dramak’s dressed up minion. He was riding on the back of the largest of the Drhellers, wielding a custom shovel in one hand and clinging to his ride’s fur with the other hand. “I don’t think so, little girl,” the brainwashed Enutrof giggled, “that little trinket belongs to Master Dramak the Great.”

Emma Cygnus feet touched the ground again as the flames surrounding her disappeared. But before the cave become pitch dark again, she summoned a blade of light from one of her hands: “You and your pets are no match for me, old man. Stand down now and I won’t have to hurt them.”

“Famous last words,” the cackling fool grinned after which he pointed his shovel at his adversary : “Attack, my pretties!” The Drhellers lurched forward at remarkable speed for their build and after a few heartbeats they were already within striking range. The first creature launched himself towards the Huppermage, only to meet her blade in midair.

It only took one swift swing to make the beast fall lifeless to the floor. After this, Emma continued to hack and slash her way through the rabid beasts while trying to avoid their razor sharp talons. As the pack fell apart (quite literally) she noticed Gobvious going for the mask on his hairy mount.

She jumped up out of the fray and onto a higher rock near the cave wall. There she swung her blade of light and in one fluent motion it detached from her hand and became a twirling disc going straight for the largest Drheller.

It hit him in right in the eyes (or at least most of his eyes) and caused the beast to convulse in pain, throwing his rider off his back in the process. Gobvious swore as he hit the rock bottom, but he didn’t stay grounded for long. His master’s orders still boomed in his head and he couldn’t resist them.

The rest of the pack gave up the fight as their leader fled in pain, clearing the path between Emma and the mask. She jumped of her rock and ran towards it at lightning speed. “Oh no you don’t,” the Enutrof retorted as he hit the ground with his shovel. Beneath the mask a little stalagmite rose up at high velocity, catapulting the white mask towards the old man.

Both Gobvious as Emma Cygnus reached towards flying mask when suddenly a big “NOOOOO!” resounded in the large hall. Before any of them could react, a frantic Ned Marion darted in a craze past Emma and grabbed the mask. While still in moment, he donned the mask, only to trip on the slippery rocks and tumble forward over the rocks into the lake.

“Not again!” Emma grunted, but this time she was too exhausted to summon up another ball of water and this time she had to keep an eye on Gobvious who was also heading towards the water side. But there was no need for that as Ned Marion rose out of the water and remained floating above the surface, giggling like a mad man.

“Yes. Yesssss! I’m back! Hoodfella is back!” The masked man sounded even more unhinged than when she first tripped him in the sewers, Emma thought to herself. “Now suffer my wrath!” Ned glowed with a blue light before he released a magical shockwave throughout the entire cave. With all her remaining strength Emma summoned a barrier of light to impact the incoming blast.

She braced herself and closed her eyes in pain as the wave washed over her. When it had passed, she allowed herself to relax a bit. She unsummoned her shield… yet somehow it remained. She called her orb of light again and only then saw it was not her barrier, but a layer of ice that had formed on top of her magical wall.

In fact the entire cave was filled with ice. The Masqueraider had frozen over the entire lake, the shores and even Gobvious, who had reacted too late to the blast. “The Masqueraider!” Emma thought, and got in battle stance again as she was expecting another attack. But there came none. She did still hear his mad giggling though, only weaker as before.

Only after she scanned the frozen cave did she find out he actually hadn’t moved from his spot. But instead of floating, he was lying on the ground, writhing and wriggling. She tested the ice first before she set foot on it, but when it appeared more than thick enough, she skated over to Ned Marion’s jerking body.

He hardly noticed her as she stood next to him, watching how he was seemingly in agonizing pain yet  laughing all the while. But then she noticed: the cracks and chips on his previously featureless mask had multiplied. It was worse than she thought. In this state the mask wouldn’t last much longer. She reached for his face, but then the previous absent Masqueraider suddenly became very present.

He grabbed her wrist and growled: “I don’t think so, my dear.” It sounded very odd as his voice seemed to change while talking, variating from a low grumble to a high-pitched woman’s voice in one sentence. As if four or five people were trying to speak simultaneously. “Take off the mask, Hoodfella! It’s become dangerously unstable!”

“Are you insane?” he retorted in various voices, right before he kicked her away. The impact pushed her back towards the shore while Ned got on his feet again. “You really think I am going to give up this ….” Before he could finish his sentence, his voice turned from a choir of voices into a beastly guttural growl.

Ned lurched forward, supporting himself on his knuckles. He let out a primal roar that made the entire cave tremble. Left and right chunks of ice broke off or plummeted from the ceiling. “Get rid of it!” Emma tried one more time, “You’ll bury as all in here!” Ned fell to his knees and remained there, breathing heavily for a while before he started giggling again.

He stood up again, slowly, visibly trembling on his knees. He raised up one hand towards Emma, threatening her with his multiple voices: “You fool. I bested the Count of Frigost, the slopes of Zinit, the wrath of Ogrest. I… am… INVINCIBLE!” At these words the mask flared up with a surge of power.

But before ‘Hoodfella’ could launch any kind of attack, bolts of energy shot from the mask at random, hitting the walls, the ceiling and the frozen lake. “No, don’t do this! You can’t abandon me!” Ned Marion pleaded. He grabbed his mask with both hands as it continued to glow more brightly and fire off more and more bolts.

Ned screamed towards the heavens (or at least in their general direction) as the mask burst out in a fireworks of explosions, destroying both the ceiling above him as the icy surface below him. Ned and his mask quickly disappeared beneath the water surface, followed by an avalanche of rocks coming from ceiling.

Emma Cygnus felt how the mask continued to build up power even underwater and hurried out of the cave as it started to collapse as a chain reaction to the Masqueraider’s explosions. She kept moving as fast as he could and felt in the back of her mind how the mask reached its critical point.

A muffled explosion was heard, followed by the thunderous cracking of an entire system of caves being quickly  ripped to shreds by the shockwave that followed the blast. The Huppermage sprinted as fast as she could, but soon the cloud of dust caught on to her. Then all went black as she was catapulted forward into her escape tunnel.

In the sewers above the caves Dramak the Second, who had been following the events underground telepathically through his two puppets, let out a tormented scream: “Noo! You blundering idiots!” The Goblins and Huppermages around him ignored his outburst and continued their individual struggles. Only his magical marionettes halted as the villain had lost interest in the battle.

“Argh, foiled again,” he continued apparently only to himself. “It could have been such a beautiful plot twist and now it’s an ending so bland that any second rate writer could have concocted it!” In the large sinkhole in center of the room a distant rumbling became audible.

“Time for me to exit stage left, it seems.” He grabbed his haven bag and pulled out a stale looking red bottle containing a recall potion. He uncorked it and poured it into the mouthpiece of his mask. As the rumbling became louder the masked puppeteer vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving behind a gang of very confused Goblins.

It didn’t take long for this confusion to turn to panic, for the distant rumbling had turned into a monstrous roar. Moments later the sinkhole exploded in a gigantic geyser of brown-green sewage mixed with some rock debris. The combatants tried to hurry themselves to safety but to little avail.

High above ground the entire town of Astrub shook on its very foundations. No buildings collapsed, but the rumbling was enough to dislodge roof tiles or shoddy brickwork and send plates and mugs crashing to the floor. All around town Astrubians started to scream as manhole covers erupted, one after the other, in fountains of brownish water, sometimes containing rats, Huppermages or Goblins.

To the west of the city a local shepherd was rudely woken as the ground beneath his herd suddenly gave way for a formidable sinkhole, filling itself quickly with seawater. It was even more of a surprise when in the middle of the newfound lake a chunk of ice bobbed up, containing an oddly dressed and very frightened Enutrof.

After the wave of sewage had receded back into the sinkhole, Donalangelo reappeared from his hideout. Most of the large room surrounding the central sink hole was ravaged and everything was still dripping with sewer water. There was no sign of neither the Huppermages or the Goblins that had been fighting in that very room just a few moments ago.

He was about to call out when he heard a soft cough coming from near the sink hole. He carefully moved closer to the battered railing as there was still a lot of excess water slithering back from where it came. Looking over the railing he saw the vague outlines of a person hanging over one of the pipes exiting in the central hole.

It didn’t take the mutated Schnek long to recognize the limp body as the leader of the Huppermages, Emma Cygnus. “By the gods!” he uttered and with a handiness atypical for his species he swiftly got her off the pipe and on safer ground. After some resuscitation (which we are not going to describe here) the Astrub guardian managed to bring the girl back to consciousness.

“Are you alright?” the oversized larva asked, “What happened down there?” Through the coughs and regurgitations Emma was able to recount her tale. “How did went up here? Where is my team?” “If they are somewhat sensible, they are washing the filth of right now. A shower of sewage is not something you want in your nostrils.”

“Don’t remind me,” Emma said sourly. “And Dramak?” “You mean that prancing puppeteer? He made himself scarce moments before the sinkhole erupted. Must have known it was coming…” “Yeah, he was probably watching the entire show from the first row,” Emma grumbled. “Nothing to be done about it at the moment.”

“I better check on my men and see what the situation is upstairs.” She groaned as she tried to get up. “I don’t think you’re in any kind of shape to move yet,” the Schnek said. “Come, first you need some much needed rest.” He supported her as she got up and brought her to his hideout for some much needed rest and care.

In the weeks that followed the Huppermages and the city of Astrub slowly recovered from that fateful day. It later became known as the ‘day of the brown rain’ and much speculation was made about the cause of the calamity, but no one ever learned the truth.

Emma and her Huppermages took the truth back to their Academy high in the clouds, were it was carefully written down. They did sent one search party down the newly made lake in search of the mask of mimicry, or what was left of it, but to no avail. After a few months, the file was finally closed and stored deep in the secret archives.

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