The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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The Prelude

The Kale’s Mansion was not so far from the Gris’. It is to the northwest of the public market and southwest of the Chief Region. Rebecca and Demelov were the only one’s left in the carriage after dropping off Sebastian, Claus and Frank.

The grand mansion was decorated by elaborate columns adorned with statues of men and women dressed in strips of clothing. In front of the large door was a fountain made on top of a volcano vent making the water coming out of it hot and steamy.

Casov was in front of the house talking to a bunch of town defenders. The carriage was still a few meters away when Demelov spotted his father talking to the men.

“I think I had gotten myself in trouble by beating those town defenders this morning,” he said whilst glancing at Rebecca.

“Are you serious?” she asked looking at him worriedly.

He merely gestured towards the front door of his house, pulling the curtain of the window aside to let Rebecca see.

“Don’t worry,” she said in an attempt to comfort him. “I’ll protect you,” she added determined.

Demelov laughed. He was glad - ecstatic even - that Rebecca was willing to fight for his sake. He felt like pinching her cheeks which he always does whenever he thinks she’s being too cute, sweet, naive or stupid which is pretty much most of the time. Unfortunately, he couldn’t because she was wearing her mask.

But he didn’t need any protection from her in the first place, especially not against a couple of town defenders. He was confident that he could easily defeat them, even with his eyes closed.

Now, if Julian, the son of Ylcar Quimas, head of the department was there, then that’ll be more exciting. Still he believed that he could win over him.

“Don’t be stupid, Rebecca. You don’t need to protect me. I could easily take those guys on,” he said.

“Oh, I know. But if I could stop a fight from happening then I should at least try. And I’m not just doing this for your sake. But more importantly, for them. They’ll be beaten to a pulp.”

“I think I should be pleased that you seem to think so highly of my strength,” Rebecca rolled her eyes at this. “But I don’t know if I should, after you started worrying about those men,” he mused.

“I worry about the well being of every creature,” she told him.

“Can’t you just worry about me?” he joked.

Rebecca hit his shoulder hard playfully and he hit her back just like how two very close friends act around each other. When the carriage came to a stop, he came out and hugged Rebecca.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?” she asked for the nth time already. “I can explain to them what really happened and tell them that you were innocent and was merely trying to protect me.”

“There’s no need for that Beca,” he said tenderly calling her by her nickname. He resisted the urge to kiss her, not that he could but he could settle for the hair.

“But you’re going to be fine, aren’t you?” she asked.

“Nothing bad will happen to me. I swear by the name of my forefathers and their forefathers,” he joked.

“Technically, your forefathers’ forefathers are your forefathers as well. So, saying forefathers just once would be enough,” Rebecca said cheekily.

“You are such a know-it-all,” Demelov shook his head fondly.

“You better get going. It is late. Your father is probably worried sick about you. As far as I know, he wasn’t aware of your little escapade.”

She scrunched her nose and corrected him grinning. “Our little escapade.”

“You dragged us into it,” he defended.

“Dragged - meaning, you went with me, so it was our little escapade,” she countered.

“Our - meaning, just me and you?” he asked raising his eyebrows.

“Our - meaning, me and the gang,” she replied cheekily.

“Go. Now. Before I drag you out of there and lock you inside my room,” he said jokingly but meaning every word he said.

He told Omer to take the carriage away, warning him that he better take her home safely. He watched as the carriage pulled out of their driveway with Rebecca’s head jutting out of the window, waving at him.

He grinned underneath his mask, showed her his fist indicating that if she didn’t get inside, he’ll have to punish her later.

Rebecca understood what his action meant right away and obeyed. He watched until they were nothing but a tiny dot moving in the distance before turning around and heading into his family’s mansion.

His father and the town defenders were still talking. They were so deep in the conversation that they didn’t even notice him approaching. When he was almost at the portico, he had overheard bits of their conversation - something about a search and a summon.

He walked slowly trying to hear clearly. But the sound of his boots against the gravel diverted their attention to his approach.

Demelov straightened and cleared his throat.

“Let’s get this over with,” he said and gestured with his hand for them to come forward. “Beating you up won’t take long.”

The town defenders stared at each other, confused. They made no move to come forward and simply stood there staring at him.

Demelov felt stupid standing in their driveway, poised: feet apart, right arm raised and head tilted to the side.

Annoyed, he shouted, “Didn’t you come here to beat me up or retaliate?!”

“What in the heaven’s name are you talking about?!” Casov shouted back at him.

He coughed, realization dawned upon him. “Ah, ha ha ha ha ha,” he laughed slowly. “Oh, Nothing. Nothing at all. You know I’m not fond of the Town Defenders,” he said as he walked briskly through the guards casually tapping one on the shoulder.

“Father.” He nodded his head towards him. “I’ll leave you to your business.” The defenders gazed at him curiously behind their masks as he walked through the grandiose front door of their mansion.

Once inside, he paced just on the other side of the door. Sometimes, he would stick his ear close and strain to hear the conversation but he couldn’t hear anything through the thick double doors.

A moment later, his father came inside. He took off his mask and was startled at the sight of Demelov pressing his ears at the imported oak tree.

“What are you doing?” he asked looking at his son.

He stepped away from the door. “What was all that about?”

“Council business,” his father replied vaguely.

“They didn’t come here to report anything? Deliver a summon, maybe?” he asked nosily.

“Why would they be delivering summons in my house?” his father inquired.

Demelov let out the breath he was holding, relieved that none of it had anything to do with the happening just that morning. He wondered whether the guards had already gained consciousness or whether they were still out cold sprawled in the alley, since no news seemed to have reached the defenders.

“What’s that on your clothes?” his father said pointing at the smudge of grime on his chest and back.

Demelov looked down at the dirt and raised his shoulders. “Oh, this? I just had a little brawl with Frank.”

“Do clean yourself up before coming to the dinner table. Your mother will be very displeased seeing you look like a soiled peasant. I’ll have the maids prepare the hot spring.”

Demelov bowed his head.

The steam rising from the hot spring enshrouded the bath in a thin fog. Demelov took off his robe and submerged into the warm water. A few minutes later, his mother came rushing in and gushed.

“Demelov, are you ok? Your father said you fought with Frank,” she asked alarmed.

He sighed and looked at his father who followed her mother through the door.

“I told her not worry,” his father clarified.

“Mother, it was just a friendly fight. We’re just sparring is all,” he explained, standing in the middle of the spring: his upper body wet and dripping with water while his soaked linen pants hung low from his waist and the light of the moon illuminating his ripped torso.

His mother gasped and pointed at his chest, horrified at the sight of black tar marked on his upper body.

“What is that thing etched upon your skin?” she asked.

His father took a step closer and peered at the tattoo on his son’s chest. He stared and looked questioningly into his eyes echoing the same thoughts as his wife.

Demelov touched the letters printed unto his skin and a smile spread on his lips. “Oh, this? I had someone tattoo Rebecca’s name just right above my heart. It was a bet I made with Sebastian.”

“Who?” his father asked. “Who did that tatoo?”

“Oh, just some guy I happened to meet today. His name was Ink. He’s actually pretty famous in the south,” he added.

“Did this guy happen to be bald?” Casov inquired casually.

Demelov nodded his head. “Yeah, how did you know? Have you met him?”

“No, but I’m interested in meeting him,” he replied thoughtfully.

“Oh, do see some sense, Casov. Your son just got himself a tattoo. Aren’t you worried in the least?” Samantha asked in an outburst.

“Mother, it’s just a tattoo.”

“Yes, exactly Samantha. Your son is a grown up man who can do whatever he wants with his body. Say, Demelov tell me where you met this man - this Ink you’re saying.”

“I met him at the stone quarry in the south,” Demelov answered.

“Does he work there?” Casov pried.

“No, I don’t think so. Though, I’m not really sure. Why are you so interested? He’s a peasant,” he asked curiously.

Casov smiled and wound his arms around Samantha’s waist and replied, “Oh nothing, son. I was just thinking about getting the same tattoo, with your mother’s name right on my chest as well.”

Casov looked at his wife’s shocked expression. She wasn’t pleased thinking of his husband’s skin being violated.

“Don’t even entertain the thought Casov,” Samantha warned.

He merely laughed and urged her out of the bath, allowing Demelov to get dressed before heading to the dining room for their dinner.

Just before the night ended, a black raven flew out of their tower and into the dark.

The following day, Lord Fillias was gently awakened by Eris who brought him breakfast in bed. The Lord liked having his breakfast in his chambers. He usually ate a plateful of food to fully wake himself up. It was his alarm clock - food alarm.

He scratched his belly as he stuffed his face with bread and drank his milk leaving traces of it on his upper lip. He paid no attention to Eris waiting at his side to finish his meal. Eris always thought that his master ate like a kid heartily. And he got used to him concentrating on his food every time there’s a meal. It was actually one of the few times he could keep himself quiet.

Lord Fillias was scheduled to visit the stone quarry. He was the owner of half of the mines in the south. He personally didn’t manage the business. He had other lords do it in his stead. The operation was supervised by the town defenders whom he commissioned to oversee the mining and hauling of stones. Seldom do the managerial lords get involved in the operation since they all claimed to get nauseated or sick at the sight of the unmasked. Instead, they are the ones managing the transactions with the southern civilization and with the Courier Department who does the delivery. All Lord Fillias simply had to do was sign the papers and receive his money.

After all, his only interest lies in food and in collecting luxury items from the south, mostly jewelries. He remembered being labeled as a bird who likes taking sparkly things when he was a kid.

And so Lord Fillias and Eris went on their way late in the morning with Farris as their chauffeur. As usual, by the time they got there, the lords were nowhere in sight and the town defenders were keeping a close watch on the laborers. But what was not usual was the sight of ten sentry members, they were a subdivision of the town defenders who specializes in scouting wanted individuals. They can be distinguished by the purple robes they were wearing.

The sentry had five people kneeling on the ground. Their cheeks bruised, no doubt from the punches thrown by the sentry guards: two of the men had busted lips, the other two had head butts just right above their eyebrows and one had a swollen right eye. All their faces were bloodied. And they all shared the same tattoo covering their marks.

“What do you suppose they are doing here?” Lord Fillias asked Eris.

Eris looked at his master, tearing his eyes away from the men and answered, “I think they are looking for someone, sire.”

“I figured that much, boy,” he responded as if that should be obvious. “What I meant was who is it they are looking for and why here at my quarry.”

“I do not know as well sire,” Eris replied, looking back worriedly at the laborers.

“Are you still not going to talk?!” shouted the sentry guard angrily.

None of them uttered a single word which only prompted another round of beating: a kick to the face, a punch in the gut, a swift whip on the back over and over that by the time they were done, they were curled up on the ground, lying on their blood. Eris couldn’t bear to look anymore.

“Sire, I’m asking for your permission. Please, let me talk to the guards,” he begged.

Lord Fillias looked at him with wide shocked eyes, “Are you crazy? What good will it possibly do with you getting involved? What if they end up beating you? Or have you already forgotten that you are not fully recovered yet?”

“I’ve been feeling better since that day on the tower,sire.”

“I told you not to do something that is counter productive from what you have wished,” he chastised.

“If I don’t do anything, they might end up dying, sire, please,” he begged.

Lord Fillias sighed and added, “The guards needed information from them. They are not going to kill them until they obtain it.”

The sound of the whip lashing through the air accompanied by the cries of the stone masons was torture for Eris.

Suddenly, a loud resounding crack was heard in the mine as the sound of a metal bar hit the breastplate of the guard who was beating up the men, sending him off balance and tumbling in the ground.

A short girl wearing an orange pixie-mask came out of nowhere, brandishing the metal bar like a deadly weapon. The girl was so short that she was hardly noticed by the tall sentry guards, not until she sent the other guard down.

In a span of few seconds, a flurry of activity erupted. Two sentry guards held the girl in both arms and another one slapped her across the face, sending her pixie mask flying to the other side.

It was Catherine. And Eris saw her, a very short olive-skinned girl who had a pursed lips and a distrusting look in her hazel eyes. Somehow, the mark of the undead looks scarier on her forehead.

The guards were going to beat her up too when abruptly, Eris ran to her rescue. He stood between her and the guard, his breath just slightly ragged and stared at the guard through his blue fairy-mask.

“Move servant,” he roared threateningly.

“She’s a girl,” Eris echoed.

“Everyone is equal in the face of the law. It is the job of the town defenders to keep the peace. And we do not tolerate people - even girls - who question our authority,” the leader of the sentry’s company replied.

“Is it the job of the town defenders to keep the peace?” Catherine asked spitefully. “Don’t make me laugh. It is your duty to act as the dogs of the lords. Town Defender is nothing but an empty title, a great hypocrisy. You dare to call yourselves that when you do nothing to protect the town. You do not protect it - what you people protect are your own self-interests and that of the elite. Worse, you treat the peasants like dirt. Are they not part of the town? Part of the oath that you promised to protect?” she said in an outburst and to show her disrespect, she spit blood on the man’s feet.

“Watch what you’re saying, young lady,” the guard warned.

“Why? Did I hit the bull’s eye?” she taunted. “Look around you, you town defenders are merely pawns of those in power. Aren’t you here because you were sent by one of them? Aren’t those stationed guards here commissioned on the will of a higher ranking lord? Where’s protecting the town in that? You act as if you are the authority - abuse it - but you’re nothing but dogs who feed on the scraps of their master’s table.”

Eris closed his eyes. She only made it harder for her to be spared. Things are going to escalate if he doesn’t do anything to stop it.

“Well, I suppose we should just go and come back next time,” Lord Fillias interjected, motioning for Eris to move away from the commotion.

Eris turned his head, “My lord, we’re leaving?”

“Yes, we are. We couldn’t look around with these going on, could we?” the old man grumbled.

“But,” Eris hesitated.

“But what?” Lord Fillias asked impatiently, wanting to get out of there already.

Eris carefully considered the next words that came out of his mouth. “Well with all due respect sire, I just thought that since you are the owner of this quarry”-he said in a loud voice, making sure that the guard would hear that important bit of information-“surely, you have the authority to stop the sentry from causing an even bigger disturbance.”

“Don’t be silly boy. I’m sure the sentry are simply doing their job. So, let’s run along now,” he dismissed.

Catherine gazed at the bulging belly of Lord Fillias disgusted, not at the belly but no doubt about the indulgences it depicted.

“Thank you for your understanding, My Lord,” the leader said humbly after recognizing the witch-mask worn by Lord Fillias.

“We can't just leave them, Sire.”

“How dare you question your master’s authority. You’re just a servant. Know your place,” he admonished.

“Oh, don’t worry, Master guard. He’s simply over run by his emotions. He’s kind of a sensitive boy, very soft hearted. He couldn’t stomach seeing something like this,” Lord Fillias brushed off.

Right at that moment, a big muscled figure appeared. He walked confidently towards the ruckus. He wasn’t as bulky as the guards for he was leaner compared to them but his biceps still bulged, his shoulders broad and his chest sun kissed for always walking around bare chested. He has a bald head and his face is covered with tattoos mainly the forehead and the cheeks. He had piercings on both ears - and to some he might look scary but for those who knew him he’s anything but scary.

“I heard you we’re looking for me,” the man said in a pleasant tone - too pleasant that it’s chilling to hear while his expression is clearly that of restrained fury.

“Leave them alone,” he said with a menacing look on his face.

“Ink!” Catherine shouted. “Why did you come here? They’re going to take you away like what they did with Marty.”

“I suppose they are, Catherine,” he said not taking his eyes off the sentry guards. “And I trust that you will look after the men, after these good-for-nothing wannabes are out of here.”

The sentry guards scoffed at hearing Ink’s insult. They tossed Catherine aside and moved towards Ink who coolly raised his hands waiting for the handcuffs to come.

He didn’t struggle nor did anything that will lead to another bedlam. He didn’t want the guards lingering at the quarry any more than they already did. The longer they stayed, the longer is the treatment delayed. He didn’t want more harm coming to the people.

He walked first towards the carriage of the sentry guards as if going to the garrison was something he did on a normal basis.

The rest could only look at his retreating back, unsure and anxious of what fate awaits him at the hands of the sentry.

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