The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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Rescued (Part II)

Marty was relieved to see that some color had returned to Catherine’s face. Demelov’s wound was also reduced to a small stab and the bleeding had stopped. He was still unconscious but his face looked more peaceful now. Elvish medicine had done wonders to their wounds. Demelov rode with Claus. The elves were nowhere in sight. They didn’t ride horses like them. Instead, they flew in the skies with their klosus. They are winged tigers that the northern elves have been breeding. A guide was left with them to lead the way to the kingdom of Valhalla.

They later learned that the name of the guide was Foril. He was a quiet elf. He didn’t talk much but he did tell them that it’ll take them another week to get to the kingdom on land. Marty asked if there aren’t any shortcuts but he said that they are already taking the shortest route.

Rebecca spent most of the time gazing at Foril’s klosus. She had so many questions she wanted to ask but well, he didn’t really talk much so she thought better of it.

As the group continued their journey north, they noticed stranger creatures appearing in the forests. And every night, they would hear howling and the sound of thundering footsteps. Foril simply told them that there are a lot of gigantic animals in the north. He’s not a very loquacious elf, really. They were dying to know more details but he didn’t give away much. Sebastian figured that if he ever get captured one day and tortured for information, he really wouldn’t say a damn thing.

Rebecca had noticed Ink being too quiet than usual ever since they left the evergreen bushes. In truth, it wasn’t just him who seemed different. They laughed and acted as if everything was okay. But something wasn’t just quite right.

It’s the look in their eyes -the look of someone who had seen death - or delivered death at that.

None of them knew how to talk about it or how to express the nagging feeling in their minds. Some nights, it wasn’t the howling or the thundering footsteps that kept them awake, it was the sight of themselves hacking men to their death, hands dripping from the blood of their victims and lifeless bodies were begging to be spared. It kept them up all night.

It was one of those evenings that Ink couldn’t sleep. He had done a lot of things in his life but killing a person was actually the first time. He had been out of himself ever since.

Rebecca found him by the huge boulder staring up at the northern star. It felt so close to them now. She knew that Valhalla was just there somewhere in the distance.

“You couldn’t fall asleep?” she asked Ink.

“I’ve had some trouble getting to sleep lately,” he replied.

“Is something bothering you?”

He didn’t reply. “You don’t like sleeping under the stars? Or does it bother you now how you boldly challenged the High Prince?” she joked.

Ink smiled a little. “I’ve just been thinking.”

“About?” Rebecca prompted, she sat so close beside Ink that he thought her shoulders almost brushed past his. Too bad they had never removed their mask anymore, they couldn’t with an elf around.

“I just thought about the brotherhood, those men back there,” he trailed.

Rebecca fell silent as well. She somehow understood what he was feeling. She didn’t want harm to come to any creature. But, here she was taking the life of those men.

“I think I know how you feel. You know, seeing you for the first time that day on the church helping those people in need, triggered something in me. I actually hated myself for a bit. It was the first time I saw people suffering. I was never surrounded by such you see and was ignorant about the world. I couldn’t even console myself and say that there’s simply nothing I could do about it. Because looking at you, surely, being in a better position, there must be something I could do to help. I admired you, you know. I wanted to be more like you,” she recalled.

Ink was quiet.

“What I’m trying to say is that. I believe you are a good person. Doing what you’ve done doesn’t change that fact. I hesitated at first as well. I never wanted to kill anybody in my life but after seeing Demelov, I just exploded. I killed them too without hesitation, I might add. And it quite surprised me how I’m handling it much better. There must be something wrong with me. I didn’t really regret it all that much because I didn’t want to see anyone end up like him. Just like what Eris had told me. I only hoped there was something we could have done to avoid all the fighting,” she sighed.

Ink was still silent. Taking in everything Rebecca had said. He didn’t know Rebecca thought so highly of him.

“I wish I know the right words to make you feel better,” she whispered. Since she couldn’t think of anything to say, she figured giving him a hug would lift his spirits.

Ink blushed underneath his mask. He coughed. “Um, what are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m giving you a hug,” she replied innocently. “It’s a natural thing to do to comfort people. Claus says it releases endorphins in the body. They are happy hormones,” she explained.

Ink cleared his throat once again, “Um, I think it’s a little weird.”

“Oh,” Rebecca removed her hands from around his neck embarrassed. “I just thought you’d be fine with it. I mean, I do it with my friends all the time,” she rambled.

Ink felt himself deflate a little, imagining Rebecca hugging Demelov or Sebastian or Claus or even burly Frank at that.

Both of them fell silent. They watched as the klosus crept towards a furry rabbit. Rebecca thought it was almost cute to see a tiger walking secretly with its tail wagging, eager to catch its food. But she felt bad for the little furball. The klosus pounced and gripped it tightly with its claws before its mouth devoured the creature whole.

“What are you two doing?” Sebastian asked suspiciously.

“Watching the klosus eat its dinner?” Claus prodded.

The two looked at the group of men approaching.

Frank stretched his shoulders as if he just woke up even when he didn’t get a wink of rest. “None of us could sleep.”

“Well, we’re all the same,” Ink replied. “What about Marty?”

“Oh, like he’d ever leave Catherine’s side. He’s glued to her,” Sebastian joked.

“Yeah, that guy is totally whipped. Have you ever seen him do anything besides tending to her?” Claus asked shaking his head.

“They’ve been together since we were kids. I figured the two of them would eventually end up getting married,” Ink recalled fondly. “He’s always been crazy about her. Sometimes, he’d just look up in the sky and tell me how beautiful her eyes are like stars twinkling at night.” He shook his head.

Frank nodded his head. “He’s got it bad.”

“Catherine is a very lucky girl. She got a loving guy taking care of her. He adores her for who she is and he’s only got eyes for her. I know you guys think it’s cheesy the way he says those things-“

“Yeah, I’m just about to barf actually,” Sebastian interrupted.

-“but girls love hearing those kind of stuff. Someday, I want to get married to a man like him,” Rebecca finished.

“Becca, you have no idea how beautiful your eyes are, like stars twinkling in the sky. My heart feels like it will explode just at the… awww,” Sebastian said. “What was that for?” he looked at Claus who hit his head.

“I thought you said you were just going to barf hearing those things,” he raised his eyebrows at Sebastian.

“Well, yeah. But Becca loves them, duh. Why do you think I was doing it?”

Rebecca laughed at his friends’ antics and she was grateful that they were there to lighten the mood. Her laughter brought smiles to their faces as well.

“Thank you guys,” she said, giving them a group hug. “Hey, what about Eris?”

“You’re not going to believe this but he is actually… actually”-Sebastian repeated for effect-“talking to Foril, can you believe it?” He had his hands flailing around as if it was a miracle.

“Really?” Ink and Rebecca echoed at the same time. Then they looked at each other and laughed. Sebastian raised his eyebrows.

“Yeah,” Frank replied.

“Well, it’s good that Foril found someone he can be at ease with, right?” Rebecca said.

“Yes. And it’s good that you are feeling better,” Claus uttered. “What were you thinking so hard about just now?” he asked.

“I just thought that maybe we are just like that klosus.” They all turned to look at the creature who was catching yet another prey. “It killed to survive, like us.”

Their expressions morphed into one of solemnity.

“Wars, fightings and deaths aren’t pretty. It’s not like the ones you read in books where they only talk about heroes being hailed and glory being showered. They do not talk about the struggle of taking a life - a life of a person who just like us had a family. They do not talk about the guilt or the self loathing one would feel. I know you guys are somehow struggling about it in your own way. I hope through these tumultuous feelings, you take comfort in the fact that in the life you have taken, a life was spared. I do not condone killing a person, far from it. I’m a pacifist for goodness sake, but do forgive yourselves,” Claus delivered.

Then they heard footsteps coming from behind them. It was Foril and Eris.

“It was always the first kill that haunts people,” Foril added.

Sebastian whipped his head. “How long have you been there?”

“Just long enough to hear the speech of Master Claus, Lord Sebastian,” Eris replied.

“So, you’ve killed too Foril?” Frank asked.

“I am an elf-warrior, of course. I have,” he replied.

“I do not wish to kill anymore people,” Rebecca confessed.

“Child, if you have lived hundreds of years as I. You would understand that sometimes, taking a life is necessary for life to live on,” he mysteriously said.

“I just wish that a time would come where fighting would end and no more lives had to be taken by the sword. War is the enemy, not the people,” Rebecca responded.

Foril looked at her closely - at her green ogre-mask, “Then you are an idealist.”

“I suppose I am,” she replied.

“Anyway, you ought to go to your companions. They have awakened.”

They all ran when they heard the news. Demelov was now sitting up, eating soup. While Catherine was, of course, tended to by Marty who was feeding her the same soup with a spoon.

Rebecca, Claus, Frank and Sebastian gathered around Demelov. Rebecca almost threw herself at him overjoyed at the fact that he had awakened. Demelov enjoyed the attention. He was very pleased to know that Rebecca worried about him so much. Sebastian pried Rebecca’s hands off of Demelov’s neck.

“You’re going to choke him,” he warned.

“You’re just jealous Rebecca had her hands wrapped around my neck,” Demelov teased.

“Be thankful that you just recovered from your injury,” Sebastian replied.

Claus and Frank both ruffled his hair like he was a little boy whom they deeply cherished. The act annoyed Demelov, but he didn’t protest nonetheless. Claus and Frank were older than him after all.

Ink, on the other hand, hugged Catherine. He was also thankful that his friend had safely recovered. He chastised her for making him worry so much.

Everybody was feeling exuberant. Laughter filled the air and the chatter was lively. The atmosphere was that of celebration that Sebastian called out their attention and decided to bring out his flute to play a festive tune for the group.

He cleared his throat, “Everyone, to celebrate and wish for full recovery of Demelov and Catherine, I will be playing to you a joyful song.”

The group clapped and cheered except for Demelov who shouted a “boo” which he ignored. The tune was melodious and upbeat.

Ink watched as Claus grabbed Rebecca by the hand and swayed her to the rhythm of the music. He crossed his arms in front of his well-defined chest. Catherine looked at him questioningly and he shook his head. She stared into the direction of Rebecca and Claus. Ink sighed. Happy as he is about Catherine’s recovery, he still dreaded the thought of having her interrogate him. He knew she is becoming more curious by the day about his deal with Rebecca. And he isn’t looking forward to the day she decides to ask him, especially, when he himself didn’t know what to make of his feelings.

Rebecca held Claus’ hand tightly and laughed as he twirled her round and round until she felt dizzy.

Amidst the laughter and celebrating of the company, Marty silently approached Demelov and sat beside him.

“You’re still alive? I thought you’d be dead by now,” Demelov said.

“Your manners still need a lot of work you know,” Marty piped. “But yes, you’re right. I probably would’ve died if it weren’t for you. So, thank you,” he said.

Demelov snorted. “Honestly, I have no idea why I saved you. I’m starting to regret it now,” he said as he clutched his stomach.

“I never asked you to by the way,” Marty said.

“I know. Guess, I’m cool just like that, huh?”

“Your attitude sucks,” Marty replied, which only made Demelov scowl. “But you aren’t that bad.”

“Thanks, I guess?” Demelov laughed.

If there’s one thing Marty and Demelov learned through all that had happened, it is that no one person can be completely bad. People are shaped by their own personal experiences making them different from one another. That’s why no two people are exactly alike, each are unique on their own, like the masks of Maskerville. Often times, these differences would lead to arguments and misunderstandings but that doesn’t make the person entirely bad. It only makes them human. And every man is capable of being good.

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