“You can’t possibly mean what you are saying,” Ink replied puzzled.
He recognized the mask she is holding. Green wrinkled skin with dark bushy eyebrows and gigantic nostrils flaring, it is an ogre-faced mask.
What is she doing here? Only the elite of the town are allowed to wear this kind of mask. He wondered. Ironically speaking, the uglier is one’s covering , the prettier they are in person.
“Are you lost? If you came here to pray, well I’m sorry to tell you that the priests had long deserted this place. The only blessing you’ll get by going here is the stench of rat urine and possibly a cockroach bite if you are unlucky enough,” he jokingly said showing off his perfectly straight white teeth.
Rebecca looked curiously around the dimly lit space with a look of a little apprehension at the mention of cockroaches.
Ink, noticing the change in her facial expression, smiled inwardly and embellished his story just a little. He turned his back and busied himself with cleaning his equipment.
“There was once an old man who lived in this ruins. His wife died of a deadly disease and the people made him an outcast fearing that he was also infected. He got no other family and got nowhere else to go. He lived the rest of his life wasting away in this place with only the rodents and the cockroaches to keep him company. The people say that his enraged soul still wanders this unholy place and reveals himself to those who are… unwelcome…” Then he looks at her meaningfully while pointing his tattoo needle towards her.
Sure enough, Rebecca looked shaken as she swallows a mouthful of her saliva, looking at a stoically-faced Ink. Then out of nowhere, a loud bang echoed in the chamber which prompted her to shout at the top of her lungs.
“Aaah,” she frantically screamed.
Ink burst laughing at the sight of Rebecca scrambling to gather her long frilly dress and running to cling to his side.
“What was that?!” she said whilst looking left and right to see where that deafening sound came from.
“It’s the old man crying for help,” he replied teasingly.
“Really?” she asked wide-eyed.
He nods at her solemnly while biting the inside of his cheeks to keep himself from smiling.
“Then what should I do to help him?” Rebecca wondered out loud.
“You have to comfort the dead.”
“Comfort the dead…” she replied puzzled. “But how do I do that?”
“Try standing with your head on the ground and holding your breath,” Ink replied cheekily.
Rebecca can’t help but look at him with her mouth half open. “Are you serious?”
“Dead serious. Nobody jokes about the dead,” he whispered.
Rebecca resigned herself to her fate. She tried to kneel on the ground with her voluptuous dress in an effort to flip herself upside down. It was a ridiculous attempt.
She barely managed to put her head on the ground when Ink stopped her from further making a fool of herself. He already had enough of his little prank.
“What are you doing? You weren’t really gonna do what I told you to do, were you?”
“Why not? I’m trying to placate his soul.”
“Geez, woman! I was joking,” Ink deadpanned.
“Yes, a joke,” he facepalmed. “Have you ever heard of joking?”
“Uh, yeah. I’ve heard of it. My friends always joked around with each other but seldom at me. And they’d never make me do anything funny,” she grumbled.
“Are you joking right now?” Ink answered raising his right eyebrow.
“No, I’m not for real. I don’t even know how to do it,” she said as she stood up from her position in the ground.
“That’s crazy! Just how did you live your life up until now?” he remarked.
“Well, I usually don’t go out much so my interaction with people is limited to a few… individuals,” she didn’t indicate how those few individuals where actually the maidservants and menservants of her household, not to mention a few of her ardent suitors…none of them seems to have this kind of humor despite the famed Maskervillian cheery and rambunctious nature.
“Is that so? Then what brings a reclusive person such as yourself here in this unholy church?”
“Reclusive? I wouldn’t really call myself that. I do have some sort of a social life,” she replied a little peeved.
“I didn’t really mean that. I was just trying to be smart. Obviously, a person from an elite circle would have a social life, which brings me back to my question …this is no place for someone of your status.”
Ink was wary of Rebecca, a generic reaction expected from someone of a lower status. Peasants like him are always openly distrustful towards those of the upper class. Although, something tells him that she doesn’t seem to be like those of her kind, call it instinct or maybe… a foolish attraction which he doesn’t want to admit.
“My status?” she echoed quietly.
The comment bothered Rebecca. She wasn’t expecting to witness anything more than the towering pillars of the church antechamber. She came to marvel at the site of a fallen architecture. Instead, what she got was an eyeful of reality. Before coming to the abandoned church… which apparently was not abandoned after all… and witnessing first hand the affliction of the common people, she thought the stories told by her tutor, Grand Thello, were nothing but an exaggeration.
People who barely have enough food to eat clothed in nothing but rags and suffering from great ridicule of the upper society, all because they don’t have enough penny to buy a real mask. She heard the people talk: their bitterness, their sorrow, their pain. She felt like it was a violation of their privacy to eavesdrop on their moments of helplessness. But she couldn’t stop herself, curiosity aroused. So she stood behind the column: hiding, listening, heart aching. Their struggle is real. And the great chasm that separates both societies: upper and lower, are real. She thought Ink’s apprehension was justified.
“I’m sorry. I … I didn’t mean to spy on you…”
“Is that what you were doing? Spying on me?” Ink interrupted.
“Did the Sentry send you?” he questioned even more suspicious now. He knows that the Town Defenders were looking for his workshop.
“The Sentry? Oh, no no…not at all. I have no affiliation with that division. In fact, I have no association with any unit of the Town Defenders and the whole department itself,” she cleared up.
“And with other departments?” he inquired eyebrows raised.
“Well, I do know someone from other-“
“Why am I not surprised? You have to leave. And it’s best that you never speak of this place or what you have seen to anyone… ever,” he interrupted.
“But I didn’t come here to cause you trouble,” she reasoned.
“I don’t think you did,” he agreed. “You don’t look like someone who works for the authorities.”
“But I also can’t have you linger here. The less you know, the better,” he replied.
“There’s just one thing-“
Ink dropped the rag he was holding. “One thing, and then two and then three and not for long it’ll be too many to count. Whatever it is that you came here for don’t bother asking for it.”
“I don’t want to know. So, could you please just leave quietly?” he asked once again.
“And could you please just let me finish what I’m about to say and not interrupt me? Just once? Could you?” she asked slightly irritated.
Ink laughed a little. “The floor is all yours.”
“Thank you,” she said composing herself. “You see, I have quite a fascination for ruins, relics and many unusual things. I had greatly wanted to visit this place for a long while but I never had the chance to.”
“There’s just one thing I wanted to do and that is to climb up the bell tower,” Rebecca said in a rush, not quite hiding the excitement in her voice.
“Eris, is today the day?” Lord Fillias asked frantically.
“Yes, sire,” the young lad replied.
“Then what are you doing? Get a move on and tell Farris to prepare the carriage. We have a long way ahead of us. We must get there before the clock strikes 10. Hurry! Hurry!” he urged the boy.
“Where exactly are we going sire?” he inquired.
“Have you forgotten? To the tower, you fool. Today is the day. Now go.”
“Ah, yes, yes. To the tower. Today is that day. I remember,” he murmured as he walked to fetch his older brother Farris who’s most probably feeding the horses at the stables.
Eris did not dare run, fearing that he might trigger his uncontrollable wheezing. He fast-walked as much as he could though, not quite languidly but not so quick as to call it running. He doesn’t want to keep Lord Fillias waiting, for the lord is not a patient man.
“I told you it’s not quite safe to walk up to the tower,” Ink chided mildly. “These wooden stairs are old and worn-out and hadn’t been used for many years. ”
“I thought you said you use this to climb up as well?” she questioned indignantly.
“Yes and this happened to me countless times. Only, I didn’t get stuck. Look at the state your in,” he said laughing at her helpless form with one foot dangling inside the hole on the stair which was not there a few moments ago. Her left hand clutching the railing firmly while the other is palmed against the wall. “I think you must be quite heavy for it to break,” he joked.
“Excuse me?” she replied appalled.
“I’m joking. Chill. You seriously need to learn how to distinguish when a person is kidding or not,” he noted.
“Well, I think the stairs are just brittle beyond repair.”
“Right,” he drawled. “Now, what shall we do then?”
She stared at him dumbfounded. Obviously, what he needed to do was plain for the eyes to see.
“You help me get unstuck from this hole, of course. What else are we going to do? Wait for the rest of the stair to break?” she said sarcastically.
“That’s another option,” he considered.
She stared at him with her mouth half open, then realized something. “You’re teasing me again.”
“That’s more like it,” he replied. “You are getting the hang of it.” Then he showed her a full-blown smile.
“You okay with it though?” he asked.
“Okay with what?” she asked back.
He held both of his hands up. “Well, this filthy peasant hands will be touching your expensive frilly dress.”
“Why do you have to do that?” she asked whilst staring at him intently.
He stared back innocently. “Do what?”
“Point out that I am from a different class than you are,” she replied.
“That’s because you are,” he honestly replied.
He wished she didn’t wear her mask back. He wanted to see what kind of expression she’s wearing. He wished to see her eyes clearly. Does it bother her? Does she feel guilty of it? It’s not like it’s her fault that they are being treated that way nor it is her fault that they are in that state. They are simply unlucky to be born as Maskervillians and even unluckier to be born as poor. In the world of Paladis, it’s bad enough that you are a Maskervillian, being unprivileged just makes it worse.
“Regardless of whether I am or not. I’d prefer it if you wouldn’t point it out as much. And your hands are not filthy,” she pointed out. “Just help me out of here.”
“As you wish, my lady.” Ink enclosed his hand at the hem of her dress around her leg and tried the pull her left foot out to no avail.
“I think the ruffles got lodged at the edge of the jagged wood,” he said looking up at her green ogre-faced mask.
“Oh, just… rip it off.”
He raised his eyebrows. “If you say so.”
“What is it now?” she replied annoyed.
“Nothing,” he said.
“It’s not nothing. You have that certain look on your face,” She made that hand gesture in front of her mask.
“You told me to keep certain things to myself. Didn’t you?” he reminded her.
“But now that I have seen that look. It made me curious what you are thinking,” she insisted.
“You change your mind so easily. Do I point it out or not?” he questioned.
“Well, this one I wanna know.”
“Alright, I just thought that you can afford to rip a dress like this while others don’t even have proper clothing. There.”
“It’s just the bottom part. Not the entire thing,” she countered.
“Doesn’t really matter to me. There you go, you are now free.”
Rebecca pulled her foot up quite easily this time but her shoe fell tumbling to the ground below with a thud. Both of them stared over the railing and looked at each other then laughed.
“I guess, I’ll just have to take it later once we go down.”
“Are we there yet?” Lord Fillias asked.
“Not yet, my Lord.” Eris replied the seventh time to answer his master’s question.
“When are we going to get there?” Lord Fillias asked impatiently.
“We are almost there sire,” he replied, his head poking out the window of the black carriage they are riding. “I can already see the silhouette of the tower. Look how clear the night sky is, my lord.”
Lord Fillias drew the curtains of his window to the side and looked up at the faint glowing of the moon and the almost starless sky.
“Of course, tonight would be a wonderful night. It is that day, after all.”
“Yes my lord, that day,” the boy agreed. “The twenty first day of Hanul. My favorite month if you ask me.”
“When the sun’s scorching heat has waned,
the first of the clouds would water.
The drought of the land would be cured
and the people would prosper.”
Lord Fillias recited solemnly.
He repeated the words by memory and knew each and every word of that line by heart. He loved this day more than any other days after all. Beneath his witch-mask, his grin can not be contained. He is quite sure that the young man sitting in front of him wearing the fairy-mask feels exactly the same.
“Eris, tell your brother to go faster. I can no longer wait,” he ordered.
“I believe there is no need for that sire. It seems like we have arrived. Farris has halted the carriage,” Eris replied.
Farris unmounted and opened the door of the coach.
“We are here, my lord,” Farris said with his deep voice. “Took me quite awhile since I took a detour. The road on the other side of the hill is unpaved. My apologies for any delays I’ve caused.”
He patted Farris on his shoulder. “Now, now. My dear Farris, no need to be sorry. Now that I am finally here. I can be at ease.”
The lord eagerly took his stride towards the tower leaving the two brothers alone.
“You did well, brother. He would’ve spent the entire ride complaining if you would’ve gone on that road. You know how he hates bumpy rides,” Eris commented.
“And you would’ve been tormented inside the carriage listening to him drone on and on. Wouldn’t you?” he laughed.
“You have no idea. You just saved my life,” he grinned back.
“Eris!!! Where are you lad? Come along now. We have a long climb up ahead.”
“Be there in a moment, sire,” he shouted.
“Go now. Don’t keep him waiting,” Farris nodded to his brother.
Eris walked quickly while rummaging for the torch and match he placed inside the sack. The moon was shining down on them faintly and it wasn’t enough light to provide them safe passage through the winding stairs of the tower.
“Good heavens, what took you so long lad? Look at me. I am a pudgy old man with a balding head and sporting a large belly fat but I manage to get here just fine.”
Eris replied out of breath. “Not to mention the funny mustache… Nobody in public gets to see that behind your witch-mask though,” he breathed. “I am not like you sire, I am skinny and quite sick, always having this bluish tinge to my skin because of my weak lungs.”
“Oh, but I do love that brown hair of yours,” Lord Fillias fondly replied. “Now, quickly bring me the light.”
The boy lit the torch and illuminated the weave of stairs leading to the top.
“Are we really going to climb this up?” he replied anxiously.
Lord Fillias only replied, “Brace yourself boy. We have a long climb up. You need some exercise. Think of what lies ahead.” He encouraged.
Eris swallowed. He brought the torch lower and readied himself. The act lighted the whole ground and he saw a lone shoe lying beside the scattered stacks of hay.
“Look sire, a shoe.”
“Must be left by some worker. Pay no attention to it,” he said already a few steps up.
He shrugged and followed quietly behind his master. Up they go…
Ink and Rebecca had finally reached the top of the tower. The beauty was breath taking. The cold breeze of the night air was refreshing. The clear night almost devoid of stars except for a few dotting the sky. The moon glowing ever so faintly. Both of them would agree as well that scenes like this are better enjoyed with a pleasant company. And pleasant company, they have. Though, no one would tell this to the other.
“Is this what you wanted to see?” Ink curiously asked.
Rebecca looked at him. She was tempted to remove her mask. It felt suffocating, like it always did. But even more so now. She wanted to feel the breeze touch her face. She longed to breathe in the fresh air unconfined and to see the view unhindered. She wanted to be free. She couldn’t though. If she was alone, then no doubt the mask would’ve been long discarded. But she already slipped down at the chamber, showing her bare face. She didn’t know what had gotten into her. All she knew was that no scene has ever moved her that much before. Maybe later, when everything unfolds, what beauty she’ll see will move her equally.
“More than this. Today is that day. You’ll see something even more pleasant than this,” is what she told Ink atop that tower.
“That day?” Ink echoed. “You didn’t come here just to see the view, did you?”
Underneath the hideous mask she had on, Ink felt Rebecca smiling, felt more than seeing.