Ink was brought to the town defender’s garrison where he will be placed in prison before the council of fourteen finalized their punishment for him.
He wasn’t exactly feeling anything in particular: not scared, not depressed and he’s not even angry for the first time. Somehow, his bitterness towards the upper class didn’t matter now that he was about to be sent to jail. He figured Marty, Catherine’s fiancee, must’ve felt the same way when he was brought to the garrison. They hadn’t heard any news regarding what happened to him three months ago.
Nobody knew what the punishment for them was: whether they actually gave death sentences or merely placed them in reclusion perpetua. He thought it’s useless to worry about these things anymore. He only hoped that the stone masons were taken care of and that the sentry left them alone after he willingly gave himself up.
Obligingly, he followed the sentry guards through a maze of corridors until they went inside a mechanical elevator leading underground where they kept the prisoners. It was dank and the air was cooler than it was above ground. Ink wished he wasn’t bare-chested. There were no windows where the sun could shine to lighten the path. Instead, there were glowing firefly lamps fixed on the walls. Ink thought they can’t be a thousand meters from the surface.
The sentry guard accompanying him opened a metal door to a dimly lit room and told him to get inside. It was his cell.
But he wasn’t alone inside as he heard a violent cough from what appears to be a man hunched in the corner. The man had long black untrimmed hair reaching his ears. His pale robe now dirtied and his skin seemed to be healing from a bunch of whiplash no doubt inflicted to him by the town defenders.
He felt bad towards the man and moved to sit beside him.
“Hey, you don’t look so well,” Ink said.
The man didn’t answer and continued to stay hunched. He was trembling a little. Ink wondered whether he was claustrophobic. He decided it’ll be best to tell him a story that will hopefully free his mind from his worries, even if it’s just for a little bit.
“You know, I have friend from the eastern bungalows,” at the mention of eastern bungalows the man move to sit properly but still with his head down. Ink considered this a good sign and continued. “She was a girl and she’s very hot tempered,” he laughed.
“One time there was a man in the public market who refused to sell her a vial of poison. She was so mad at her fiancee for not remembering their anniversary that she wanted to poison him,” Ink recalled fondly. “In the end, she kneed the man in the balls and took the vial paying him only 2 sirams instead of four, saying that was for delaying her.”
The man laughed beside him.
“I don’t think she had poisoned him though,” the man whispered.
“How would you know? She can be really scary. You wouldn’t want to cross her,” Ink said mysteriously.
“Because apparently that man she was trying to poison was still here,” then the man looked up at Ink and recognition dawned in his eyes.
It was Marty. The same guy he was just talking about just now. He still had the tattoo Ink used for his mark and his eyes were still of hazel color just like his fiancee’s. The only difference was that his hair was longer and he grew thinner.
“Marty!” Ink shouted and hugged the guy. “I can’t believe you’re here. We had no idea what happened to you after you were taken by the guards.”
“I’ve been here in prison since then. How long has it been?” Marty asked.
“Three months,” Ink replied.
“What are you doing here?” Marty asked not happy about the thought of his friend sharing the same cell as him.
“Well, I got taken away too. But at least now you get a roommate,” he joked.
Marty deadpanned, “That’s not funny Ink.”
“We gotta learn how to deal with things, you know,” he said as he punched Marty in his shoulders. “And look at you. What happened to your biceps? Did you forget to exercise” he joked again.
Marty stared at the ceiling. “Exercising didn’t seem so important down here.”
“Are they even feeding you?” Ink asked worriedly.
“Yeah, you’d be lucky to get one meal a day,” Marty shrugged. Ink looked at him incredulously.
“What?! It’s prison. What do you expect?” he continued.
“They really did beat you up bad, huh?” Ink asked gesturing to the wounds he had on his arms and legs. “I told you leading a protest through the chief district and in front of the council circle was a terrible idea.”
He got up and took a jar of water placed just by the side of their cell door and poured some on a piece of cloth tied around his leg under his dark trousers.
“What are you doing?” Marty asked as Ink untied the cloth and held it in his hands.
“I’m going to check those wounds. They seem to be healing but we need to make sure,” Ink replied.
Comfortable silence passed between the two while Ink examined his wounds. Although, Marty didn’t want Ink to be jailed like him, he was quite glad for his company. Just when he was about to lose his mind: trapped alone underground, he felt like a savior had arrived. He wasn’t someone who easily crumbled through pressure or depression. But there was something about never seeing the light of day that just drove people nuts down at the prison cells.
The Council Circle held an assembly again that morning. The members sat quietly around the large round table while waiting for the arrival of Gopher Meryll and Harley Grud.
Casov had already passed around a file and presented a report about the capture of the Bald Tattooist of Maskerville who was currently in jail. He thanked the Town Defenders and the Sentry most especially for their swift action with regards to that task.
As he droned on and on about the threats posed by the tattooist, the two missing council members appeared simultaneously. Govin Grindylow called the council into attention and started their discussion.
“I call the council into order,” Govin said in a loud voice.
“The matter with regards to the Bald Tattooist of Maskerville is hereby opened for discussion,” Gopher declared.
“Gentlemen!” Harley begun. “There is no need for further discussion with regards to what we need to do with the tattooist. It has been determined that he is a hazard to the safety of the society.”
“Aren’t we supposed to summon the accused first to hear his defence with regards to the council’s allegations? What happened to proper protocol?” Romulus opposed.
“Romulus, Romulus, my dear Romulus. Lord Grimwell has kindly produced a little detailed report pertaining to the risks of getting tattoos. With this evidence in our hand, there is no need for him to defend himself. It is already proven that his actions were against the well-being of the people. And proper protocol has been abandoned since the Divine Spectre had been on leave. If you must Theodore, the floor is all yours,” Harley motioned for him to move forward.
Lord Grimwell, head of the Medics Department, walked to the center of the round oak table and begun his discussion. “As you can see gentlemen, tattoos are permanent designs etched through the skin’s top layer using a needle. It pierces the skin repeatedly to insert ink droplets with every puncture. These rupture the skin and serious infections from unhygienic equipment and application could result. Furthermore,….”
All of a sudden, the doors to the conference room of the council circle opened and in marched Rebecca, Demelov, Claus, Sebastian and Frank.
“What is the meaning of this?!” shouted Gopher from his seat in the council.
“Demelov?” Casov asked confused.
“Is that your daughter Rebecca with those men?” Tarlack asked Romulus.
“By the heavens, yes. I have no idea what is going on,” responded Romulus.
Govin shouted towards the trespassers to leave the room all at once. But Claus stepped forward and Govin was at a loss for words.
“Father, pardon our intrusion,” Claus bowed. “But we have someone who wished to be a part of the discussion.”
“Children are not supposed to take part in the assembly of the council. There is a reason why it is called the council of fourteen because only the members are allowed to participate in the discussion,” Gopher angrily said.
“We do understand that, Lord Meryll,” Claus replied.
“Then if you do, you better leave now. I’ll make sure that all of you receive ample punishment for this interference you caused in the convention, regardless of your family affiliations and status in the society,” Gopher intimidated.
“My Lord Meryll, I hereby stand in front of the council as a witness for the defendant. I can attest that this person, Ink, the Bald Tattooist of Maskerville, had done nothing wrong,” Rebecca boldly said.
Romulus was frozen in his seat. He momentarily thought that maybe he fell asleep while listening to the bird-like voice of Lord Grimwell. He comically asked Tarlack to slap him in the face just to make sure that he was awake. But the other lord simply looked at him as if he was deranged.
“Unfortunately my lord, it is not us who wished to participate, it is the Divine Spectre,” Claus grinned triumphantly beneath his mask.
Discussion flared up at the mention of the Divine Spectre. Everybody seemed confused for they knew that His Excellency hadn’t been out of the Highest Sanctum for months. They received a letter, an official document, with the Spectre’s signet indicating that he’ll be on leave for a few months until further notice.
The council of fourteen were taken by surprise as the Divine Spectre passed through the door of the conference room and towered over the Rebecca and her friends.
“It has been awhile my dear friends,” the Divine Spectre greeted.
None of them knew what to say at first. Half of the men inside the council had their heads bent down as if caught doing something unlawful.
It was Govin who first greeted the Divine Spectre.
“Your Excellency, it has been awhile indeed. I hope your rest had given you better health,” Govin said bowing his head.
“Oh, remarkably, it has, Lord Grindylow,” the Divine Spectre said.
“Now, please do carry on with the conference. I am quite aware that you all had something important to discuss. The children and I will merely be observing as we wait for the defendant and other witnesses to show up,” the Divine Spectre said casually.
“Witnesses? Isn’t one already enough?” Gopher asked.
“Worry yourself not, Lord Meryll. I had already taken care of everything. You simply need to proceed with the discussion. I understand Lord Grimwell was delivering his report.”
Without further ado, Lord Grimwell gave a short recap concerning the nature of their discussion with the Bald Tattooist for the benefit of the Divine Spectre whom he said might’ve been misinformed about the details of the event. He placed special emphasis on all the negativities that had impacted the Artisans Department, long enough that by the time he was done with his “short” recap, the defendant and the witnesses had already arrived.
“Now, let us discuss the safety of the ink that is used. We can’t be certain that this ink he was using was safe. It can be contaminated by mold or bacteria that might cause skin rash and on more vigorous infections lead to high fever, chills and shakings. The Medics Department are still in the process of creating medicine that would be able to cure such symptoms specific for this condition. Scars might also build up on the skin tissue after the application. Based on these facts, it is quite understandable that we shouldn’t risk the safety of the people with the tattoos,” he concluded.
“I believe that sums up everything we need to know,” Gopher Meryll declared. “The safety of the people should come first and thereby, punishment should be delivered to the person who is responsible for such actions.”
“Punishment?!” Catherine shouted from her seat.
The fourteen members turned to look at her. There are more people now in the council. Aside from Rebecca and the guys, there are three additional people who came by request of the Divine Spectre. A pixie-mask wearing middle class who is a friend of Ink’s that is Catherine. A fairy-mask wearing servant who is an attendant of a high ranking lord, Eris. Lastly, A witch-mask wearing noble who was the owner of the quarry where Ink was captured, Lord Fillias.
“And who might this be?” Gopher asked.
Catherine stood boldly, “My name is Catherine Gother. I am a witness of the accused. I can attest that the procedures followed by Ink are safe and hygienic. As well as the equipment that is used during tattoo sessions. They are preheated and boiled well to make sure that no harmful microorganisms would cause infections.”
“I do hope that you learn not to speak out of turn next time, Miss Gother,” Gopher disapprovingly said.
“Taking into consideration what she said,” Govin interrupted.
“With all due respect, council head, the testimony of the witness is too biased to be considered. She is a friend of the accused and will therefore, say whatever she believes would benefit him. We need solid evidence that there are no malpractices in the actions of the tattooist,” Casov piped in.
Catherine glared at him through her orange pixie-mask and looked at Demelov beside her who had the same hair color as the man. He wasn’t interested in what’s happening to the meeting that he busied himself tying and untying the girdle on his waist.
“Perhaps, we ought to hear from someone who isn’t a direct friend of the tattooist,” Govin suggested. “I understand that we are all familiar with Lord Fillias and his servant Eris.” Successive nods and grunts were heard as approval within the council.
“Then, I’d like to question both of them. I’ll start with Lord Fillias.” The pudgy old man wearing a witch-mask stood uncomfortably. “Greetings, Lord Fillias. I did not hope to see you here this morning. Could you tell us, what it is you know about the tattooist that was caught at your quarry yesterday?”
“Truth is I’ve no idea about his existence, Lord Grindylow. I was merely at the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t know the guy or had any knowledge about his actions,” he responded, displeased that he is being questioned about this matter.
“If I may speak, Lord Fillias,” Eris whispered behind his master.
“But my servant Eris would want to say his testimony,” he continued, relieved that he didn’t have to say anymore.
“Lord Grindylow, my master and I were simply visiting the place yesterday. We didn’t know the tattooist personally but we are witnesses to the physical abuse inflicted by the sentry towards the stone masons of the quarry.”
“Well, this is a development,” Claus whispered towards Rebecca.
Another round of chattering erupted from the fourteen. Catherine looked pleased that someone had brought up that topic.
“Is there anything you’d like to say in response to that Sarrin?” Govin asked Sarrin Sadnam.
“The sentry guards were assigned to the Artisans Department, council head,” Sadnam evaded.
“Oh, yes, right. Then should I direct the question to Harley?”
Harley Grud stood and explained, “The actions of the sentry guards were in line with the goal to capture the tattooist. They have the authority to do what they believe is right to bring fruition to that goal and they had no doubt delivered well,” he said whilst pointing to the tattooist who was now handcuffed.
Ink had enough of listening to them debate and argue about their own opinions all the time calling him “the tattooist” as if he was not in the same room as them. Although that is what he really was, he’d appreciate it if they would call him by his name Ink. He figured it would be good to let them know about his presence. So, he cleared his throat to call their attention.
“Yes, you. The tattooist, do you have anything you wished to say?” Govin asked him.
He closed his eyes and calmed himself. They needed to have a piece of his mind. That’s what he decided when he opened his mouth and started talking.
“Yes, my lord. First, my name is Ink. I’d appreciate it if you call me as such. And I would like to tell all the honorable members of this council that though my work seems needless in comparison with the great work they have been doing all these years”-everyone could hear the sarcasm in his tone-“to the peasants, this was a way for them to cope with living. I presume having lived with masks all your life, you wouldn’t know what it’s like to have people like you look at them and their mark as if they were nothing but a speck of dirt on your shoe, deprived of all the privileges you people enjoy. Had it not been for these people”-he gestured towards Rebecca and her friends-“would you have given me a chance to speak for myself at all? No doubt I’d have rotten in prison like my friend, Marty, who had chosen to speak his mind for the sufferings of those speck of dust in your shoe. None of you knows what that feels like. And if my actions were a threat to their safety, I dare you to bring at least one person who had suffered from an infection because of my craft. I dare you to even take a sample of the ink I’ve been using and have it tested however you wanted, just to make sure that it is safe. But you don’t get to tell them to stop looking for a way to hide the Mark of the Undead that ails us all,” he finished.
The room was silent by the time he was done with his monologue. It was as if their voices were sucked out from them that though they tried to open their mouths, no sound came out. It was Rebecca who broke the silence.
“My Lords, if I must speak. It is true what Ink was saying. I’ve seen the common people. I’ve heard them talk. They willingly asked for the tattoos because just like us, they also abhorred the Mark of the Undead. They thought having them concealed by tattoos would be better that not having it concealed at all. Maybe by then, they would be treated better. They do not walk around with their faces uncovered as a trophy that they wanted everybody to see.”
As Rebecca looked around at the various masked people inside the conference room, one thing became clear to her. It is that all of them are the same, all of them are hiding underneath the masks: hiding their true forms and a slave to something that they all feared. She wondered how something so trivial as the mark could hold so much power. She stared at the masks and wondered what kind of expressions they wore. She wondered if any of the words she or Ink spoke had reached them at all. She wondered if a day will come where they didn’t have to hide their faces anymore: a day when the punishment would be lifted and the mark will be no more. But the Mark of the Undead was a powerful curse. So, maybe, it wasn’t trivial after all.
“Enough of this discussion,” the Divine Spectre boomed as he strode to the center of the round table.
“I have reached a conclusion,” he announced.
“As the highest power in our society, I implore that my decision would be the final verdict for this matter. I have heard both sides. And I have come to determine that this problem with the tattoo as well as the Artisans Department’s crisis are interrelated of sorts. Although, I quite agree that the intentions behind the tattoos were of noble kind. I still couldn’t risk the safety of the people with regards to possible health risks that accompanies it. Therefore, I believe it would be better for the practice to be suspended for the time being while the Medics Department run tests to the ink that is being used as what suggested by Mister Ink himself.”
“Next, I am going to propose a better and more permanent solution, the need for the tattoo will be unnecessary if the Artisans Department manages to produce masks for the common people”-upon hearing this, Harley Grud was about to protest but the Divine Spectre held up his hand for him not to interrupt-“I understand that this proposition seems impossible as of the moment since Vertigo Resin had doubled it's price. But this shouldn’t be a problem if we manage to get a hold of our own Vertigo Plantation.”
The fourteen murmured amongst themselves.
“This is where Rebecca and her company, Ink and his friends, Catherine and Marty… Oh yes, he needs to be released, I do not think his punishment was properly dealt with”-he looked at Gopher Meryll-“and dear Eris would come in,” the Divine Spectre said warmly.
The people mentioned looked at each other, confused by what he meant.
“Far into the North, near the Elven Kingdom of Valhalla, there is a land of Vertigo trees hardly used by the elves. I want this group of young men and women acquire this land for us. It would greatly benefit Maskerville had we have our own source of Vertigo Resin. After all, we are the ones who need it most.”
“But your Excellency,” Romulus protested. “It would be a very dangerous mission, leaving town is danger enough but to deal with elves? You can’t send them out there, they’re just kids,” he reasoned, worried for the safety of his only daughter.
“I wouldn’t risk them Romulus… had I not seen a spark only they possess,” the Divine Spectre mysteriously said.
“What spark?” he asked confused.
“Hope, dear friend. And I believe it wouldn’t be wise to underestimate their abilities,” he said winking to Rebecca and the guys.