The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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The Request (Part II)

“So, how did you ever end up doing tattoos?” Claus asked, filling in the silence that hung between them.

Ink was jostled awake from his thoughts, and Claus turned to face him.

He scratched his bald head. “That is a funny story actually.”

“Go on then. Let me be the judge whether it’s funny or not,” Claus urged.

Ink scrunched his face underneath his mask. He didn’t want to tell Claus about his undesirable no-talking phase during his childhood, but he decided to give him a funny version instead.

“When we were young, Catherine used to carry these stacks of paper like a sketchbook filled with drawings of toads. And trust me, Catherine can not draw for the life of her. They were terrible. It was just a passing hobby of hers and eventually, she grew tired of it. She ended up giving me the sketchbook. I ended up drawing things. I was pretty good at it. Then I came across the brilliant idea of using my talent to cover our marks. I mean, if the council is not going to help us have a mask. Why not use tattoos? So, I took the challenge.”

“Does that mean you drew the tattoo on your face?” He motioned at Ink.

Ink nodded his head. “I know. It almost seemed impossible. But I did it in front of the mirror.”

“Impressive.”

“I was my first customer. But I had a lot of practice though.”

“Like human test subjects?” Claus laughs.

Ink grinned and shook his head. “Actually, my test subject was not human.”

“Then what?” Claus asked intrigued.

“A pig,” Ink said, bursting out laughing.

Claus looked at him puzzled. “Are you messing with me?”

Ink shook his head as he doubled up laughing. “I’m not messing with you, Claus. For real, it was a pig. Catherine is as weird as one can get. Not only does she like drawing toads. But she has a pet pig. His name is Marty.”

“Okay, very funny, Ink. If you think I’m going to believe you that Catherine has a pet pig that has the same name as her fiancee, then you are mistaken.”

“It does sound absurd, doesn’t it?” Ink said giggling. “But I’m not joking though. Catherine’s father is a merchant at the public market and he sells eggs- ”

“What does a chicken that lays eggs got to do with anything?” Claus asked confused.

“-just let me finish. Anyway, he sells eggs from the nobles of the farm district near Mount Awari. One day, a lord planned on getting imported chickens from Sulare but together with the goods came a pig by accident. How it got there was a mystery. But, he doesn’t like eating pigs so he didn’t plan on butchering it. Instead, he gave it to Penn, Catherine’s father. Once Catherine saw it, she fell in love with it like she did Marty, hence the name. The rest was history.”

Claus was silent for a few minutes. He waited for Ink to say it was all just a joke. But when the prompt didn’t come, he clapped his hands. “Well, that was an interesting story.”

“Believe me man. It’s all real,” Ink said, his laugh subsiding to small hiccups.

“I’ve no doubt about it, Ink. It appears that you are very close with Catherine than what I originally thought. Did you grow up together?”

Ink sobered up after hearing Claus’ question. He cleared his throat and answered, “Yeah, you can say that. I think we better go back now. It’s getting late.”

“You’re right. You head back first. I’ll just check there further,” Claus answered.

“You sure?” Ink asked.

Claus nodded his head and waved him away. Ink didn’t say it out loud but he was thankful for Claus’ help. It only proves that not all nobles are terrible. There’s Rebecca and Claus to refute that belief he had all his life. He didn’t know about the rest of the people living in the north. But he was pretty sure that these two people are as nice and kind as they could get.

On his way back to the evergreen bushes, he noticed the same pixie that had been trailing him for the past two days they had stayed there. He knew that it was the same creature because of the scar it had on its bald head. Otherwise, there’s no telling one from the other because they all practically look the same. He kept on glancing at the minute creature. It darted from one tree to another. Sometimes, it peered through the petals of flowers or leaves of shrubs. It unnerved Ink.

He turned his back and scowled at the pixie. “Will you please stop following me?”

He had no idea if the pixie understood. It simply stared at him as if he was some kind of otherworldly being its trying to decode.

It flew very close to Ink’s face, his eyes almost cross-eyed from looking at it. The pixie circled him and tried to grab the string that is holding Ink’s mask in place. It lifted using both hands, both of its legs flailing in an effort to remove the heavy thing.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Ink said, shooing the pixie away.

The pixie flew in front of his face once again. It blinked its eyes three times, as if deliberating something, then waved at Ink to come closer. Ink raised his eyebrows. When he didn’t come close, the pixie rolled its eyes. It turned its head to the left and right, checking if there was anybody around. Confirming that they were indeed alone, it flapped its wings rapidly producing fine dust that glittered in the twilight, pixie dust. As it flew round and round, the glittering dust took the shape of Ink’s mask. The image hovered in the air for a few seconds, catching Ink’s attention, before the pixie came barreling through it, scattering the dust away. When it emerged through the fading spark, it had both hands covering its face. Slowly, the pixie removed them and smiled at Ink.

Still, he didn’t understand what the pixie wanted though. “Okay, good show,” Ink said, turning his back and walking away.

The sun is almost gone and he didn’t fancy stumbling his way back to the evergreen bushes. The only light he had was the remains of the sun’s orange glow and the faint radiance the ivory-skinned pixie had. It didn’t stop following Ink.

Ink halted once again, annoyed at being followed. The pixie stopped as well the moment that he did.

“Seriously, what do you want?”

It flew towards his mask this time and tried to push it away. Ink placed his hand firmly on the mask.

“You do not want to see me without this mask. I’m other creatures worst nightmare,” he said bitterly.

The pixie crossed its arm in front of its chest. Suddenly, its eyes lit up. Flapping its wings once again, it copied the image of Ink’s tattoo with pixie dust. Then it morphed into a different figure, showing Ink the picture of a flower. The petals grew smaller and smaller until it was nothing but the size of Ink’s thumb that eventually, settled on the scarred head of the pixie.

When the pixie opened its eyes, it pointed at Ink’s masked forehead and at its scar. Realization dawned on him that the pixie wanted him to draw a tattoo on its scar.

“Seriously? You want me to draw a tattoo on your head?” Ink asked incredulously.

The pixie nodded its head then showed the same image of the flower.

“And you want me to tattoo that flower pattern?”

The pixie nodded its head once again. “Alright buddy. You should’ve explained better. Come with me.”

They were already close to the huge tree. As Ink parted the dangling vines, he bumped into Rebecca who was gathering twigs for the bonfire.

“Aaww, I believe this is the second time you had hit my head, Ink,” Rebecca grumbled. The pixie laughed heartily, seeing the two bumped heads.

“When was the first time?” Ink asked confused.

Rebecca rubbed the soft bump on her forehead. “When you threw my shoe,” she deadpanned. “Hey, look! It’s the pixie that was following you.”

Ink looked behind him. “How did you know it was following me? Can’t take your eyes off me, can you?” Ink teased.

Rebecca chortled. “No, I just wanted to have a pixie follow me too. They’re very interesting. Can I touch it?”

The pixie happily obliged and flew close to Rebecca. She stretched her pointing finger and caressed the backside of the creature near its wings. With the stroke of her hand, the faint glow of the pixie grew brighter.

“Cool, it’s like the luminous necklace”-she touched the round pendant around her neck that had tiny blue bugs inside-“the light grows brighter whenever touched.”

Ink cleared his throat to get her attention. “It wants to get a tattoo from me,” he grinned.

But before Rebecca could respond and before Ink could even start his job, the Brotherhood of Light Bearers found them yet again. Shouts wailed as they charged through the dangling vines. They appeared out of nowhere surrounding the evergreen bushes with two dozen men.

Ink and Rebecca ran to the center where the rest of the group gathered. All of them were forced to fight for their lives. Eris flung stones at the brotherhood. Even Claus who arrived just a second later, had no choice but to take up weapons and attack the men. Sebastian proved himself useful with the ax which he kept swinging disabling their pursuers. Marty had been occupied defending and tending to the wounded Catherine. And Rebecca had taken a bow and arrow as well. They needed more hands to defend their lot. Ink, Demelov and Frank were the ones fighting on the front lines.

There was no running away now. It’s either fight or be killed. The pixies flew everywhere. They were like bees stirred in their nest attacking everyone in sight.

The evergreen bushes became a battlefield. Blood spilled everywhere as swords clashed and arrows pierced flesh. Despite of efforts to fight back, their strength was running out. They hadn’t slept well and were fatigued from all the travelling, forcing them to retreat deeper and deeper into a circle.

“We need to run. It’s the only way we can survive. There’s too many of them and these men are more skilled than the previous ones we have encountered,” Demelov said.

“But what about Catherine?!” Ink shouted. “She can’t run.”

“We have no choice but to leave her.”

“The hell you will!” shouted Marty.

“Look, everybody is tired from fighting. And I hate to admit this, but that guy on the red shirt is on par with me. As long as he keeps fighting me, I won’t be able to take other people out,” he reasoned. “Frank is spent from holding down the fort. He’s been doing a lot of task and he might not show it but he’s clearly exhausted. I could draw them out and you have to run.”

“If you think, I’m going to leave Catherine alone then you are mistaken,” Marty announced.

“Then by all means, die with her!” Demelov shouted angrily.

Eris didn’t look well from the constant physical exertion, and Frank didn’t have as much vigor as he used to. Rebecca kept up the fire of arrows and Sebastian whacked as many heads as he could. Now, Demelov and Marty were arguing again. Claus was watching everything unfold.

Suddenly, Demelov pushed Marty away. Ink watched his friend flew a few meters aside, enraged. Clearly, Demelov had lost his mind once again.

But when Ink turned to look at Demelov, he was no longer where he was standing. He had taken Marty’s spot kneeling, clutching his stomach. Blood came out from his mouth.

Marty was shocked as he looked at Demelov.

“Fool, I told you to go and die with her. Run … and take her away.”

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