The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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The Brotherhood of Light Bearers

A week had passed since that eventful day at the Council Circle. A lot of things happened. Marty was released from prison much to the delight of Catherine and Ink. Letters of complaint had piled up in the Highest Sanctum from Rebecca’s father, Romulus Gris and Sebastian’s mother, Chamile Sage. To the surprise of the Divine Spectre, Lord Fillias had sent quite a few himself explaining how he didn’t understand why Eris had to be a part of the whole mission detailing the parts where he was still recovering from his sickness and would only be a burden to the group. None of them were enough to sway the Divine Spectre’s decision.

Rebecca tried to comfort his father by the thought that her friends would be there, who surely, would look after her in their six weeks journey to the north. Romulus dissuaded her from going at all. Nobody knew how to find Valhalla in the first place. They are just going blindly by looking for a place no man had ever stepped foot on.

The Kales, the Grindylows, the Sadnams and the Sages were skeptical as well. Some thought that the Divine Spectre had gone mad while he holed himself inside the Highest Sanctum for months. It was crazy sending their children in search for an Elven kingdom. But the more reasonable family, the Grindylows, appeased their tension by affirming that they as the member of the council of fourteen should know best of all, not to question the Divine Spectre for he had always and will always be their savior. He sees things that they could never foretell. Above all, he is not someone who would make a rash decision.

On the other side, the Divine Spectre’s decision was met with no resistance from Ink and his friends. They actually welcomed the opportunity to finally be able to provide masks for the common people. This is a golden chance to level the ground somehow. And the probability of acquiring a Vertigo Forest presented new hope. This could just be the spark they needed to attain better lives. The possibilities are endless with new masks. Maybe, new doors would even open for jobs and venturing south wouldn’t be half as bad. They wouldn’t be just stuck in one corner of town but might even be welcomed in the North. This was something that they needed to do for the people no matter what dangers might await them outside the boundaries of town.

They were determined to conquer the challenge; Ink, Catherine and Marty marched north to the where the rest of the company waited. The day has finally arrived.

Standing in front of the Highest Sanctum as dawn breaks were the people appointed for the quest. Rebecca ditched her frilly dress and opted for more comfortable travel clothes: trousers and velvet long sleeved shirt. She wore a long robe just like the rest of her companions. They looked like the company in black.

“Where did you get those clothes?” Sebastian asked. “I’m not exactly used to seeing you wear something like that.”

Rebecca twirled. “Why? Do I look bad?”

“No, not at all. It’s just, they are man clothes,” Sebastian replied. “It’s not really suitable for women, you know.”

“I think Becca looks just fine,” Claus commented.

“Yeah, she looks hot,” Demelov said biting his lips.

“Excuse me?!” Rebecca said shocked.

“I mean compared to the dress. Your body is more….,” he struggled to find the right words.

“Defined,” Frank supplied.

Demelov clapped Frank’s shoulder, “Exactly. Defined.”

Then he made this funny motion with his hands as if tracing Rebecca’s body shape and made an okay sign with his fingers. Rebecca shook her head.

Sebastian twitched his lips. “You looked prettier in the white dress, though.”

“Ugh, you are such a dimwit, Sebastian. Do you really have to bring that up once again? I was scared for real that Rebecca might not leave that tower for good,” Demelov said pointing at the tower in front of them.

“I know,” Frank added looking at the window the maiden was diligently wiping, floors up. “I don’t fully understand, actually. Rebecca made the pledge to the Divine Spectre so that he would help Ink. Shouldn’t she become like them,” he said indicating the girls inside the Sanctum.

“The women who were held in the Highest Sanctum had no pure intentions, that’s why they were kept there. The essence of wearing the white dress was to show the purity of their resolve. Those who asked for money, power and fame. Things that are purely for their own self-interest lands them in the spot. Rebecca didn’t wish anything for herself but she wished for Ink’s freedom,” Claus explained. “That in itself was the unbinding of the pledge.”

“Then those women would never be able to step foot outside of the tower?” Sebastian asked.

Claus crossed his hands in front of his chest. “The secret behind the pledge was not revealed to anyone only the Divine Spectre knows.”

“That’s why it’s a secret, genius,” Demelov chirped.

“But the Highest Sanctum is a sacred place. Those who are bound to the pledge became bound to the Sanctum as well. It’s as if the Sanctum itself is a living being.”

They all looked up at the enormous building: its stone walls, arched windows and spire glistening in the early morning. The Divine Spectre waved from his balcony.

“Is he going to send us off?” Eris asked out of nowhere startling the group.

He just arrived with his brother Farris who drove him from Lord Fillias’ mansion. His blue fairy-mask was a breath of fresh air among the group of ogre-masks. Sebastian was sizing him up, whether he was going to be another threat to his feelings for Rebecca. He always worried about having more competition, three was already more than enough. Now he feels like with the appearance of Ink, it is going to become four. He didn’t need another one to add to his list of worries.

“Probably,” Rebecca replied cordially.

“Don’t talk to him. He’s a servant,” Demelov berated.

“Just ignore him. He can be a little rude sometimes,” Rebecca told Eris ignoring Demelov. “I’m Rebecca, by the way.” She said this as she extended her hand for Eris to shake.

“My name is Eris, my lady. You are the daughter of Lord Romulus Gris,” Eris replied, shaking her hand humbled and honored by the gesture. “Lord Fillias had told me about you and the young masters.”

“Good, then you know your place,” Demelov replied haughtily.

“It is nice to make your acquaintance, Eris. I am Claus,” he said introducing himself.

“Of course, Master Claus, son of Govin Grindylow, it is an honor to meet you.”

“These are Frank and Sebastian,” Claus motioned for the other two to wave.

“Master Frank, son of Stanley Sadnam and Herrowel Sadnam: owner of the largest weaponry shop in Maskerville and arms supplier of the town defenders, nephew of Sarrin Sadnam. Master Sebastian, son of Gunter Sage and Chamile Sage: owner of the largest crop farms in Maskerville found in the Eastern district near the foothills of Mount Awari, nephew of Falcon Sage. It is an honor to meet you Sirs.”

“And I guess you know who this is,” Claus said pointing at Demelov.

“Yes, I do Master Claus. Master Demelov Kale, son of Casov Kale and Samantha Kale, head of the Artisans Department,” Eris ended.

“Yes, that he is. You should just bear with him as what Rebecca said. He can be a little handful sometimes.”

“Oh, do not worry, Master Claus, Lord Fillias can be a little handful too. I have experience in that field,” he grinned.

“I don’t understand why the Divine Spectre had to include you in our travels. I have heard that you are suffering from some kind of illness,” Demelov prodded.

“I do not know the reason as well, young master. I have been feeling better though and will endeavor not to cause you any delays in the journey and will strive to be useful,” Eris said determined.

“I like your spirit,” Frank commended.

Sebastian whispered beside him, “Maybe, he was made to go with us as our servant.”

Frank elbowed him in the ribs. The group of Ink are now visible in the distance. They are walking through the commercial district towards the Highest Sanctum. Only Catherine was wearing a mask among them, an orange pixie-mask. Ink and Marty are barefaced except for the tattoo that was covering their foreheads. They reached the group the same time as the Divine Spectre reached the bottom of the Highest Sanctum.

“Welcome, Children. Are you ready to take on the quest of your life?!” he asked enthusiastically.

His enthusiasm was met by dull responses except for Rebecca who mimicked his high energy. He looked at the nine people who were staring up at him. Nine people whom he entrusted with his belief.

“It appears like all of you are already here. Any moment now, the rest will be arriving as well,” he mentioned.

Sebastian looked around him.“The rest? I thought it’s only us who are going?”

“Oh yes, there’s only nine of you who will be going. But your families will be providing you the items you will need for your journey. You didn’t really think you’d last a day out there without any provision, do you?” the Divine Spectre said.

“Ah, that’s why they have been busy for the past week,” Sebastian realized.

Everything had already been arranged by the Divine Spectre. Each family was delegated to take care of goods needed for their travels: the Sages were to bring food enough to last them the entire journey, the Sadnams were to provide weapons for self defense against the dangers that lurk in the north, the Gris were to supply nine horses for the travelers while the Grindylows were to provide an additional three to carry tents and other essential items, a spare horse would be important as well in case either of them should lose one. And the Kales, of course, were to provide two extra masks for Ink and Marty. Flashing the Mark of the Undead to the undiseased and other creatures is something that must at all costs be avoided. It was with great distress that they had to take two of the ancient masks from the Septuple Gallery and lend it to those people on the Divine Spectre’s order.

They all arrived just in time like tributaries paying homage to a conquering king. They handed each item to the Divine Spectre who handed them to the children one by one. By the time they were done, each of them were striding a horse and ready to take off.

Romulus hugged Rebecca while the guys refused to show much sensitivity with so many people around. The only exception was Sebastian who was bombarded by his mother with lots of hugs and kisses much to his embarrassment. Farris watched his brother worriedly as he strode his horse. While, Frank wanted to change his own horse and use the one he had owned since he was a teen, Medallion, but changed his mind not wanting to endanger his precious animal friend.

“You are now all ready,” the Divine Spectre declared. “Go north and travel safely.”

“I know we all look ready and everything, but none of us know where to find Valhalla which is the most important piece of information here,” Demelov pointed out.

“Ah yes, Valhalla, just follow the Northern Star and it will lead you there,” he said mysteriously. “The brightest star in the sky is the star of the Lunar God, the creator of the Elves. It will guide you. Go now, dear children.”

So, the group headed north and started their journey in search of the Elven Kingdom of Valhalla.

The first two weeks of the journey was like having a line drawn in between the two classes with Eris in the middle acting as the bridge. His purpose for the trip was now known. Rebecca would often try to reach out to Ink, Catherine or Marty but will be swiftly dragged back into their side by either Demelov or Sebastian. They even separated the tent into three sections with Eris’ being the servant as the middle ground. Food was cooked by Eris whom Catherine helped sometimes whenever Rebecca is not around trying to help as well. And Frank would often bring them meat after being out hunting with Sebastian and Demelov - sometimes with Claus too, if he wasn’t busy reading his book. Ink and Marty are the ones who fetched water from the nearby stream which they agreed to follow.

Demelov and Marty just did not get along well. With Marty being vocal about Demelov’s rude attitude and him being explosive in response to his critique. He wasn’t fond of having a peasant like him question his actions, that became obvious just the first few hours after they were out of Maskerville.

It started out well. Catherine was quite amicable with Rebecca and Claus having met them the first time at the quarry. She thought they weren’t so bad and so did Marty. He shared the same thoughts about the two. But he didn’t know what to think of Frank who seldom spoke and of Sebastian who seemed to only care about Rebecca. Demelov, he and his fiancee agreed they didn’t like. But it was okay. Since, Ink was pretty cool with hanging out with him, talking about tattoos and piercings which he was interested in. Until it was no longer cool.

Just a few hours that they were out of Maskerville when it all started. Marty, well, he didn’t like how Demelov kept on calling Eris “servant” to the point that it annoyed him and decided to call on Demelov for it, for Eris’ sake, he thought.

Ink and Demelov were talking about him getting his ears pierced when he suddenly called on Eris.

“Hey servant! Give me some water, I’m thirsty,” he hollered.

“Yes, Master Demelov, just give me a second,” Eris replied obediently not bothered at all by Demelov’s gruff nature.

“He has a name Demelov. It’s Eris,” Rebecca said shaking her head.

“Yeah, yeah,” he brushed off.

“That’s it! I’ve had enough,” Marty shouted. “I’m sorry but I just have to tell you. If your friends can tolerate you behaving like this, well I can’t. If we’re going to be traveling together you need to learn how to treat people better. Eris is not your servant here. He came together with us as an equal chosen by the Divine Spectre. You don’t get to order him around or the least you could do is stop calling him “servant” and start calling him by his name. Haven’t you been taught manners?” Marty ranted.

The three guys looked at each other clearly sensing some trouble ahead.

“Excuse me? Who are you to tell me what to do?” Demelov said slowly, spitting each word as if they were venom. “And what do you mean “equal”? Just because we were all chosen by the Divine Spectre?” he mocked.

“Don’t be stupid. Look at the masks we’re wearing. Does it look equal to you?!” he shouted this time. “We’re wearing ogre-masks because we are at the top of the food chain. He is wearing a fairy-mask because he is a servant. She is wearing a pixie-mask because she is below the food chain. And you are wearing something that wasn’t even yours because you are the parasites who lives off other people in the food chain. You should’ve been kept in prison where you belonged.”

The next thing they knew was that Marty was throwing a punch at Demelov which Demelov was very glad to return. The brawl started. And you simply couldn’t win against Demelov in a one on one fight, unless you were Frank or Julian, maybe.

Marty got beaten up pretty bad which prompted Catherine to go berserk as well. The whole situation was a mess. Ink had to defend his friends and Rebecca had to defend hers. A cold war erupted, and none of them talked to each other. Now, Eris was no longer called a servant but he was still glad to attend to his masters’ needs, as well as to Ink’s and his company. Often times, he would serve as a raven too, delivering a message since they refused to speak head on except for Rebecca and Ink who still acknowledge each other despite of their friends childishness.

They were kilometres away from town now. And so far nothing worth noting had happened except for that brawl the first day. They had just finished eating dinner and the rest of the company were already asleep except for Ink and Rebecca.

Rebecca was sitting on a log outside the tent in front of the fireplace staring at the Northern Star when Ink joined her.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Ink said sitting on the other log facing her.

“Hey, Ink. Just wondering where Valhalla is. Or if that star,” she said pointing at it. “Is really going to lead us there.”

“It is out there. If the Divine Spectre says it is, then it is.”

“Then we’re really meeting the elves,” Rebecca said expectantly.

“You don’t sound so happy. I thought you’d be thrilled. I remember you knowing so much about them. I figured you’re pretty much into elves,” Ink joked.

“I am excited. But I’m also a bit nervous. I wouldn’t even know what to say to them.”

“You’ll do just fine. You were good when you first met me. And you were still good when you first met Catherine and Marty. They don’t really think you’re bad you know. It’s just, well, loyalty, I guess. You’re friends with Demelov and they don’t like him,” he explained.

“I understand. It seems like it was a really long time when we sat on the top of that bell tower, right? Have you been there at all, after Nathaheim?” she asked curious.

“Oh no, not at all. What would I be doing there?” he denied despite going to the tower every early morning ever since that day he went there with Rebecca.

“I see. And… Demelov… I know he can be a little rough to deal with. But you’ll get used to his personality. He’s not a bad person. He’s just volatile and rude and insensitive to other people’s feelings, aggressive, but he is also caring towards his friends and brave. If you just give him a little time,” Rebecca reasoned.

“I’m not a big fan of his attitude. But I can deal with it. It’s just, Marty is very vocal about his opinions you know.”

“I know, unlike you sometimes but also like you sometimes,” Rebecca added.

“Unlike me and like me? What does that mean?” Ink prodded.

“I know that you are kind towards the common people. And around them, you aren’t very vocal about your hatred for the nobles, unlike Marty. But I know that you like to differentiate the classes. Around us or well around me, you had been vocal and honest about those feelings, like Marty. So, it’s like you share the same traits with him every now and then,” she laughs sadly. “And you can be pretty scary when mad,” she said remembering the time he shouted at the top of the tower letting his pent up frustrations out.

Ink remembered the same scene and apologized once again, “I’m truly sorry about. I didn’t mean to shout at you. I was just...”

“I know, angry at the world?” she asked smiling.

“Yeah, angry at the world,” he agreed.

“It’s good you let it out. It’s not nice to keep those feelings bottled up inside,” she murmured looking at the ground.

Ink was overcame by weird emotions as Rebecca said words that eased his anger and bitterness. He couldn’t understand what it was but he knew he was grateful that she somehow understood his feelings. He wondered whether she had the same bottled up frustrations, things she never got to say to anyone, eating up inside her.

He pulled out a shoe from the pockets of his dark trousers and tossed it at the Rebecca’s head, forcing her to look up.

“What was that for?” she asked annoyed. Ink pointed at the ground in front of her.

Rebecca was shocked when she saw her lone shoe in the ground.

“Hey, that’s my shoe,” she replied grinning.

“I know. You left it that day at the bell tower,” Ink added.

She smiled as she grabbed it and examined it high up in the air.

“I thought I should return it to it’s rightful owner,” he said, scratching his head.

“Have you kept it in your trousers all this time?” Rebecca asked amazed.

“What?! NO,” he denied right away but then back tracked. “I mean, yes, because you know, I was… looking for the perfect time to …. return it. I wasn’t keeping it for so long… intentionally. I mean, it’s just a shoe? Right? Why would I keep it,” he rambled.

Rebecca smiled and said sincerely, “Thank you, Ink.”

Just then the moment would’ve been perfect. But, a shout came from the darkness and footsteps can be heard coming their way.

“Guys, guys, wake up. We need to run,” Sebastian said alarmed.

“Sebastian?” Rebecca asked. “What’s going on? I thought you were asleep.”

“I was but then… I needed to pee and …,” he was struggling for breath. “There were humans, undiseased, I didn’t know what they were doing here. But when they saw my mask, they just shouted, pulled out their swords and charged at me,” he said.

“Maybe, they were just startled seeing your tiny thing down there,” Demelov jeered.

“Now is not the time for that, Demelov,” Rebecca chastised.

“I mean, come on. What would the undiseased be doing so far out here?” he asked.

“I don’t know. But I’m sure as hell they didn’t shout because of my thing. It’s not tiny,” Sebastian argued.

“I believe it’ll be best if we pack our things. I don’t think they we’re pulling their swords for no reason,” Claus replied.

“Yes, and do you know anything about some human brotherhood?” asked Sebastian.

Frank echoed, “Human brotherhood?”

“What do you mean?” Marty seconded.

“Well, when they saw my mask. They pulled out their swords and ran after me shouting 'For the Brotherhood!' like deranged people,” Sebastian explained.

Claus moved to stand in front of Sebastian. “Just that?”

“No, there was something, more. Something about light?” he replied unsure.

“You can’t mean The Brotherhood of Light Bearers?” Claus asked horrified.

“Yeah, that. It was so long I couldn’t remember all. They shouted 'For the brotherhood of light bearers',” he confirmed.

Claus paced back and forth, his hand was touching the chin of his mask. “How many people did you see?”

“Two, I think.”

“We need to leave. Now!” Claus commanded.

“Wait, who are these people anyway. And why are you so scared. I could take them on,” Demelov replied.

“Not if they group with the rest of their members. There won’t be just two people running after us but dozens. The Brotherhood of Light Bearers is bad news,” he said ominously.

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