In the first installment of this series we detailed a system for using a set of magical masks. In this article we go on to explain the background of those masks.
A Mask of Peace
Lady Eva was born and raised on the small island kingdom of Emerset-on-Glass. She
was the oldest daughter of a minor king, and a sorceress in her own right. The small kingdom was fairly peaceful, but had the misfortune to be considered a strategic target by a warlord called Bone-Thorn, who sought to unify the area under his control. The king of Emerset-on-Glass made a proposal to the warlord: if he would marry his eldest son to the king’s eldest daughter, and allow the king and his family to live and leave, the king would surrender the island to him.
The warlord agreed. He had heard a little of Lady Eva’s skill with sorcery, however, so he sent his people to find out where the king and his family settled. He told Eva that if she ever used her sorcery without his consent, he would have her family killed. Then he ordered that all the typical trappings of sorcery be kept away from his new daughter-in-law. Eva and her husband, Lane, stayed behind on the island while Bone-Thorn moved on to his next target.
Lady Eva knew something the warlord and his son did not. She knew that the sorcery she had learned had little to do with magics the warlord was familiar with; she needed neither laboratory nor fancy equipment in order to work her magic. She needed neither spells nor elaborate rituals. She needed only time, privacy, concentration, a few sympathetic items, and her own creativity, imagination and dreams.
For two years she did nothing, however. She would not risk the deaths of her family, and she knew that she was carefully watched. So she played the dutiful if distant wife and pleased the warlord and her husband by giving birth to a son, Cort. After that she found some of her restrictions lifted — she was allowed access to more of the castle, and she was even allowed into town with supervision. She was permitted to keep possessions of her own, even though they were searched for possible sorcerous materials.
In an effort to pass the time–or so she told her husband–Eva took up a skill she had learned in her youth. She made masks. She took her time with each one, carefully choosing materials, preparing them, sculpting them, and creating each mask as a work of art. The result was so enchanting that soon everyone wanted one. Since so much care and time went into each one, it became a sign of status to possess one of her masks. It became fashionable to wear the masks to formal balls and political occasions.
Eva’s skills, her masks’ popularity, and her apparent willingness to settle into her new role finally convinced Lane that she could be trusted. He allowed her to have a private workroom and several of her old servants to seek out and purchase supplies, and he permitted her to spend long, uninterrupted hours at her work. He decided that, after seven full years without a single sign of trouble, it was a waste of a sorcerer’s time to keep a magical eye on her, and reassigned the sorcerer to more important duties.
The Masks of Lady Eva
Finally the last elements had fallen into place and Eva was ready. Slowly, interspersed with the normal masks she made, she wove her sorcery into a special set of masks. Using sympathetic materials and the strength of her dreams and will, she wove certain principles into the masks, giving them a sort of life as spirits.
She made sure that each mask held powerful helpful magics targeted at the general or nobleman she planned to give it to. Those magics were meant to entice each person, to make him want the mask more than he’d want to turn her in for performing sorcery. Then she twisted the sorcery she wove, making its ends degenerate and warped. She assured that the masks would gradually destroy those who used them.
She waited to unveil these masks, collecting them in her private workroom over a period of nearly ten years until she finally received the news she’d been waiting for. Her family had received the message she’d had smuggled to them. Most of them had one-by-one slipped away to a new and distant home. Only her father remained, and he was already dying of old age. Now she could act without fear.
Only two problems remained. Eva loved her son, Cort, and she had even grown fond of her husband, Lane, who was neither as violent nor as cruel as his father. She still wished to destroy the warlord and his empire, but she wanted to give her new family a fighting chance. So she made three more masks. These were designed without flaw, without blemish. She gave two of these masks to servants, old friends she trusted, along with certain instructions.
Then she informed her husband of the gift she had prepared for his father’s generals as a small token of their great service. He was pleased, and immediately had the masks sent to her intended victims.
After 17 years the last months should have gone quickly, but they didn’t. Eva continued to make her more ordinary masks, and paid careful attention to the traffic that came and went from the castle. Those servants loyal to her kept her apprised of news and rumor. Finally she heard of a growing chaos and instability in the warlord’s realm, and she knew it was time. She took the third and final mask from her last set of three–a mass of hawk-feathers, shining jeweled eyes, and sharp beak — and she placed it on her head. She turned into a hawk and flew from the castle’s walls.
The servants delivered the two final masks to Cort and Lane, giving them also a letter from Eva that explained the entirety of what she had done. The letter suggested that the warlord would blame Lane and Cort as well as Eva, and that they should put the masks on and leave immediately.
Lane insisted on staying and facing his father’s wrath, but he gave Cort the mask meant for him and told his son to go without him. After some amount of argument, Cort did as he was told. He placed the dark and misshapen mask upon his face and faded to a mere sliver of shadow.
Lane believed his father would forgive him for an honest mistake, but instead he was executed. When Bone-Thorn found that the brilliant gold, serpent-scaled mask meant for his son wouldn’t burn, he ordered it buried in the bottom of a disused mine shaft.
The warlord’s empire did eventually crumble, most likely as a result of the chaos and death sown by the masks. The warlord was killed not long after he executed his own son; those soldiers who witnessed the event say he was strangled by a ghost, a slip of shadow on a wall. No one in the area ever heard of Eva or Cort again.
The masks, however — the masks showed a cunning resistance to destruction, and have disappeared and resurfaced again and again since their creation.