The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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Valhalla (Part I)

The sweet smell of vanilla saturated the air as the day dawned. Rebecca stirred at the sound of repetitive buzzing. The sun was barely out and she pulled her blanket closer as the cold morning wind blew. It was colder in the forests north of the Hajjal Pass that even Ink decided to wear a cloak to cover his chest.

She tried to pull herself back to sleep but the buzzing was incessant. So she woke up, removed her mask for a bit to scrub her eyes, yawned and took a deep breath. Her eyes widened as the smell of vanilla invaded her senses. She blinked. Her eyes adjusted to the soft orange glow of the sky and wondered where the smell was coming from.

She could feel the sweetness of the air through her nose and into her tongue, making it salivate for the imported candies from the south. Her hair was in tangles and she got up to get her comb from her bag when she accidentally knocked over a basket of eating utensils, sending them clanging to the ground. She froze for a few seconds then carefully turned her head to check if anyone was woken by the noise. She let out the breath she was holding as she saw her friends still fast asleep. Very carefully, she picked up the scattered pieces and returned them into place before rummaging through her bag for the comb. She yawned once again.

“Good morning,” Ink greeted.

Rebecca was startled by the sound of a man’s voice and she immediately placed the green ogre-mask back to her face fearing that it might be Foril who greeted her.

“You can take it off. It’s just me,” Ink said. He was actually glad that she had her mask off for a change and well, he wanted to see her face.

She looked back at him, smiled and took a deep breath once again, to fill her head with the sweet scent of vanilla.

Her eyes seemed to twinkle every time she smiles. Wait a second. What was I thinking? He thought.

Ink chided himself. Hell no. I don’t want to be like Marty.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Ah, yes. Just a moment of stupidity,” he explained.

“Huh? What stupidity?” she asked confused.

Ink scratched his head. “Oh, you don’t wanna know.”

“How long have you been awake?” she asked.

“Awhile.”

“Don’t tell me you still couldn’t sleep? It was only two days ago when Claus told us to forgive ourselves,” she reminded him.

“Oh no, I’m dealing with that better now. I usually wake up early, you know, back at the church. Its like my body had its own clock,” he grinned.

“Really? Then what do you do so early in the morning?” Rebecca wondered.

Climb up to the tower. “Oh, just watch the sunrise,” he said instead. “Then, I walk to the public market. Peasants don’t get carriages and horses like the noblemen. So, we have to start walking early if we want to get to where we want just on time,” he explained.

“So, you still do that, huh?”

Ink furrowed his eyebrows. “Still do what?”

“Separate the classes,” she pointed out.

“Oh.”

Ink didn’t intend for it to sound that way. He was merely explaining and stating a fact. It wasn’t his intention to sound bitter or anything.

“Did I just do that? I didn’t even realize. Must be a habit.”

He tried to change the direction of the topic. “ What about you? What are you doing up so early?”

“Well, I couldn’t sleep with all the droning sound,” she explained.

Ink smiled.

“Smiling suits you better,” Rebecca acknowledged.

Ink bit his lip to stop an even bigger smile from forming.

“I’m not really used to wearing masks. It’s a bit suffocating. I actually take it off during mornings like this. I don’t know how they could keep it on their faces for such a long time, even when sleeping,” Ink said baffled.

Rebecca shrugged her shoulders. “It takes some getting used to. I remembered when I was a kid, my father brought me to the Septuple Gallery to get me my first mask. He made me wear it afterwards all the way home. He ignored my complaints about it getting stuffy that I ended up throwing the mask outside the window of our carriage.”

The buzzing was louder this time and Rebecca wondered where it was coming from.

“Do you have any idea where this sound is coming from? And the smell too,” she asked Ink as she inhaled more of the aroma.

“Come with me. I’ll show you,” he said excitedly.

Rebecca walked with him through the line of trees and stopped on the edge of an empty meadow. She didn’t know what it was that he wanted her to see. She thought it was pretty and peaceful but there was nothing on it, which was actually weird because the buzzing was louder here.

“Is there something here that I couldn’t see?” she asked Ink.

“Look closely. Wait for a few seconds till your eyes adjust,” he replied.

Rebecca did as she was told and focused on the meadow in front of her. She concentrated on the spot at the center and willed for whatever was invisible to be revealed.

Ink looked at her closely. “Can you see it yet?”

“No, not yet,” Rebecca furrowed her eyebrows.

“Concentrate. Focus your attention on the dust motes floating in the air”-he stepped closer to Rebecca and whispered in her ears-“watch them dance. Watch them catch the orange flick of the morning sun.”

Rebecca felt like Ink was hypnotizing her as he whispered those words in her ears.

Ink, on the other hand, was under a spell as he couldn’t stop his body from moving closer to Rebecca. He swallowed as he stared at the side of her face concentrating on the curve of her eyelashes and the redness of her lips.

Her lips opened and she squealed. She turned to Ink abruptly and asked, “What are those?” her eyes alight with excitement.

“I have no idea,” he breathe, dazed.

“You have no idea?”

“I have no idea what just happened. I must be out of my mind,” he replied, shaking his head.

“No, you’re not. I can see them too. I concentrated on the dust motes like you said and they just morphed into fine pollen floating in the air. This is amazing Ink. I’ve never seen so many dazzling flowers in my life,” she joyfully said.

“I know. It took me awhile before I can finally see them too,” he sighed, relieved that Rebecca had no idea what he really meant.

“I can’t wait to go and tell the guys,” she said and run towards where they came from, leaving Ink to his thoughts.

He berated himself again and again. He couldn’t have this kind of thoughts towards her. He figured it was just the atmosphere. Maybe, the smell of vanilla just made him high. Like a person under the influence of drugs, he probably had no idea what he was doing.

Yeah, it’s just the sweet scent of vanilla that made my pheromones crazy. Stupid Vanilla. He thought.


“Guys! Guys!”

“Wake up! wake up!” Rebecca shouted, shaking them up.

Demelov grumbled. “Ugh, Becca. What time is it? Isn’t it too early to wake us up?”

“The sun’s already up, and you need to get up. There’s something you need to see. Hurry!!!” she excitedly said.

“What was it that we needed to see?” Claus asked, ruffling his hair.

“Something amazing,” she was too giddy that her excitement can’t be contained.

“Are there Angels falling from the sky?” Sebastian asked. Then he fell silent as if a thought just occurred to him. “Oh, wait. You are the angel,” he grinned at Rebecca underneath his mask.

A flying boot came his way and hit his head perfectly.

Demelov whooped. “Oh yeah, I still got it,” he said as he flexed his arms.

“That was uncalled for,” Sebastian complained.

“It was plenty called for, Sebastian,” Frank added.

“Hey, where is your mask? Why aren’t you wearing it?” Demelov asked.

Rebecca raised her hands in surrender and placed the mask back into her face. “Ooops, I forgot.”

“You are such a bore, Demelov. I was just staring at such a nice view,” Claus commented, crossing his hands in front of his chest.

“Aren’t you supposed to be the responsible one?” he bit back.

He raised his hands up. “Hey, let a man indulged every now and then.”

“Yeah, I want a nice view too,” Sebastian seconded.

Rebecca jumped. “Guys! I just have exactly what you need.”

“Of course, you have what we need, duh, we need you,” Sebastian replied.

“No, I meant the view,” Rebecca replied annoyed.

“Is there any better view than your face?” Frank said jokingly, ruffling her messy hair. “You forgot to comb it,” he added, gesturing to her hair that looked like a nest of birds.

Rebecca huffed. “Are you coming with me or not?”

Marty covered his head with his blanket and stuffed his hands on his ears. But the noise continued and he uncovered his face. “Ugh, Guys! Just go. You are so noisy whenever you’re around. I wish you’d just sleep for the rest of your lives,” Marty complained snuggling to a sleeping Catherine.

“We didn’t ask for your opinion peasant,” Demelov bit back.

Rebecca couldn’t believe what she just heard. She thought they had already made up that night they talked. “Demelov!”

“He said my personality sucked. I’m going to show him how much it does.”

“I’m sorry, Marty. He’s just cranky in the morning,” Rebecca apologized on his behalf.

“I’m not cranky,” Demelov replied.

“Yeah, right,” Sebastian echoed. “Aaaww,” he cried looking at Demelov who hit his head with the other pair of his boots once again. “That was twice already.”

“Serves you right,” Demelov replied.

Rebecca shrugged at Marty who watched the exchanged with a funny expression on his face.

“Just ignore the kids,” she jokingly told him.

“It is as you said. I guess, I’ll just have to get used to them that way,” he replied.

“Yeah, they’re not all that bad really,” she added.

In the background, Demelov and Sebastian were bickering. Out of the four, they were always the ones who end up squabbling. Since, Demelov just liked to make fun of Sebastian and well, he easily gets irritated when Sebastian, who is younger than him, retorts at something he says. In fact, he gets irritated at people who retorts at anything he says.

“Oh yeah? Serves you right you won’t have your boots back until then,” Sebastian laughed.

“Hey, dimwit give it back,” he shouted as Sebastian ran away with his boots. “That’s what you get for throwing them at my head,” he said, then sticked his tongue out at him.

“Good morning, young masters,” Eris greeted cheerfully. “I am happy that you all look so lively,” he smiled.

“Eris, you should come with us too,” Rebecca said grabbing his hand as she ran to the meadow where Ink was still meditating his actions.

“Wait, my lady. It wouldn’t be proper for a servant to hold your hand,” Eris replied.

Rebecca hit his shoulders playfully and smiled. “Oh, don’t be silly, Eris. You’re my friend now.”

When they reached the clearing, Rebecca let go of Eris’ hand and stood behind the guys pushing them to the edge.

The smell of vanilla flooded their nostrils and the sound of buzzing traveled to their ears.

“Behold,” Rebecca said, spreading her arms out wide.

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