The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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Valhalla (Part II)

The guys looked at the empty clearing wondering what kind of joke Rebecca was playing on them.

“There’s nothing here,” Demelov said.

Sebastian eyed Ink. “Yeah, what kind of joke is this? Did Ink put you up to this?”

“Look closely.”

“Becca, what are we supposed to look at?” Claus asked skeptically.

“Sshhh, wait for a few seconds till your eyes adjust.”

The men squinted their eyes. They felt stupid staring closely at the empty clearing. Sebastian was almost cross-eyed concentrating.

“You better make sure this isn’t a prank, or else I’ll punish you,” Demelov threatened.

Rebecca huffed, “You’re in no position to punish me, Demelov. You’re still healing. Anyway, just concentrate. Focus your attention on the dust motes floating in the air.”

They did as Rebecca instructed and watched the dust motes.

“Watch them dance. Watch them catch the orange flick of the morning sun,” she continued.

“You’re copying every word I said,” Ink noted.

“I know,” Rebecca grinned looking at his masked face. “It’s like the magic words.”

“Wait a minute, what are you two talking about?” Sebastian asked.

“I told you to concentrate,” Rebecca said, hitting his head like Demelov did.

He scratched his red hair a bit. “Aawww. See Demelov? You’re not a good example. Even Rebecca is hitting my head now.”

“There is really nothing here,” Frank said.

“Wait! I can see it, young masters,” Eris shouted.

Rebecca ran to his side. “Really Eris?”

“Yes, my lady. It’s so…” Eris was at a loss for words.

“Beautiful,” Claus finished.

“What? What is it?” Sebastian asked.

“Just focus will you?” Rebecca said.

A few minutes later, all of them fell silent. They were in awe of what lies before them. It wasn’t Valhalla. Not yet. But before them lies a field of exotic flowers never before seen south of Mount Hajjal. The kind that can only be seen in the land of the elves. The petals of the flowers were changing colors. It was like a field of rainbow and it emitted a sweet smell that makes you think of imported candies from Sulare. It was intoxicating.

But that wasn’t what captured their attention most. It was the gigantic floating honeycombs above the meadow. The hexagonal cells made from beeswax were alive, moving and had adjacent wings to them that gently flaps above the flowers. Their wings had patterns drawn on them and were so huge they looked like landing strips for the bees. It was amazing. The dust motes that they were staring at just awhile ago where actually pollen grains floating in the air. It swirled softly up in to the nearby trees. While the buzzing sound came from the busy worker bees, each a meter in length, gathering nectar and pollen from the flowers. Their hairy bodies of stripped black and yellow zooming back and forth.

“Is this that place they called the land of milk and honey?” Sebastian wondered.

“I don’t see the milk, dimwit,” Demelov replied.

“So, you have found The Vanilla Nest. And I see that a horde of Winged-Hives are here too. Must be your lucky day,” Foril said, walking towards the group.

The Vanilla Nest, as Foril generously explained to them, was actually the first layer of defense the elves had placed around their kingdom. The sweet aroma emanating from the flowers had blinding effects that creatures not touched by elvish magic fail to see the nest at first glance. Only when they look hard enough do they eventually, get to see the field of flowers.

Winged-Hives, on the other hand, are creations of the elves. The beehive built naturally by the bees are stationary and are often hanging on a tree. Foril said they wanted honey making to be more efficient for the bees since they wouldn’t have to fly long distances to look for flowers and fly back to the hive to store it. Instead, the hive travels with the whole colony to wherever the worker bees are foraging. It was even programmed to visit elf villages and the Moon Castle to deliver honey.

“There’s plenty of them scattered all over Valhalla,” Foril said. “They weren’t actually so huge before but it seems like their bodies grew in adaptation with our creation of the enormous winged-hives. Our intention was to increase the number of bees in one colony by hundred thousands. But instead of reaching that number, they increased in size,” he explained further.

“That is very interesting,” Claus pondered for awhile.

“Yes, it is indeed. This will be our passage to Valhalla, the shortcut I told you about. Passing through here will lead us to the canyon sooner.”

“What? We still need to cross a canyon? I thought on the other side of this would be the kingdom already,” Sebastian complained.

“It is already the kingdom after the canyon,” Foril replied.

“How do we cross the canyon?” Rebecca asked. “Are there flying planks or anything magical?” she asked excitedly.

“No, we use a bridge,” Foril said.

“Oh.”

“But I’m sure it’ll be magical for mortals to experience anyway,” he added.

“Then what are we waiting for?” Rebecca asked.

The group returned to gather their things, only to find Marty and Catherine kissing each other. This annoyed Demelov. He thought it simply wasn’t fair that the guy had something he doesn’t, a girl. And he did not want just any other girl at that, he wants Rebecca.

Ugh, the things I want to do to her. If only she’d stop being such a kid and grow up already. He thought while looking at her back.

“So, this is the reason why you wanted us to leave, huh, Marty?” Claus said jokingly.

They both separated from each other guiltily. “That wasn’t my intention. It just happened, you know,” Marty said.

“Just get moving already, will you? We’re leaving now,” Demelov said harshly.

Their company were now passing through the Vanilla Nest. They were enjoying the view immensely and the bees were harmless. They were actually content on ignoring them like the pixies of the evergreen bushes. As they moved deeper into the nest, the smell of vanilla became so irresistible that everyone felt like stuffing their faces with the flowers. But only Catherine plucked a vanilla flower and asked Foril whether it’s edible.

“Oh, you can try alright,” Catherine opened her mouth to take a bite.

“But…” Foril continued which stopped Catherine halfway.

“I forgot to tell you that it is the second layer of magical defense. As another creature delves deeper and deeper into the nest, the smell compels them to eat the flowers which is actually poisonous to their bodies,” he finished.

Catherine threw the flower on the ground, “How could you forget to tell us such important information? What if I had eaten it?”

“But you didn’t,” Foril replied.

“Oh, I would’ve been so glad if you did, that would be one less peasant out of the way,” Demelov said.

“Demelov!” Rebecca shouted. “You should be more careful about the things that come out of your mouth.”

“Oh, Becca. Is my mouth one of your concerns?” he teased.

Ink now understood why Marty couldn’t control himself around Demelov. He was actually pretty tolerant of the guy. But he didn’t like the way the he teased Rebecca. It also annoyed him that he gets to call her Becca while he can’t. They weren’t really that close yet. He didn’t want to just call her Becca out of the blue and start drawing attention to himself. But it wasn’t just Demelov, the rest of the guys can call her that.

Ugh, damn it. Why am I being so unreasonable? Just a few months ago my biggest worries were how to make the Council see some sense and now I’m worried about a freaking pet name?

He wasn’t even mad that Demelov made a terrible joke about his friend cause he knew that it was just his personality. But seeing him act that way to Rebecca was making him senseless.

When can I finally call her that?

Catherine was quietly looking at Ink, her expression not giving away anything as she watched her friend get sucked into his own thoughts.

“I know you said you were gonna prove to me how much your personality sucked but you better watch what you’re saying. Here I was finally getting more tolerant with you and you do this,” Marty spits.

“Let it go Marty,” Catherine calmed him trying to be more reasonable and not let her temper get the best of her. But she spits back at Demelov, “And you, you better make sure you don’t close your eyes around this peasant. My hand might slip while you are sleeping,” she threatened.

“Seriously, Demelov. You have to learn to choose your words wisely. If you don’t, time will come where you will regret those things you say,” Claus advised.

“Oh, Claus, you and your words of wisdom,” Demelov joked.

“Obviously, he’s annoyed at something and trying to blow steam off,” Sebastian replied, knowing quite well the mind of the person who always bully him.

Frank gestured for Demelov to come forward. “Want to have a go at me? Let it out, like the last time you fought me at the quarry. Come on.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Demelov replied.

“Young masters, I think you should come see this,” Eris called out to them from the front.

When their horses reached the end of the nest, they could see it. Valhalla in the distance. They could see a castle on top of a hill in the middle of a lake. There were flying creatures circling above it. From a far, they looked like birds but they all knew they were klosus manned by elf-guards like Foril, guarding the castle. It was so huge that it was visible all the way to the canyon that lay before them. There seems to be no elf villages around or maybe, it was swallowed by the gigantic trees that populated the other side of the cliff.

Rebecca unmounted her horse and ran in front of the stone bridge that had an arched gateway with vanilla vines wrapped around it. She smiled widely looking ahead. This is the bridge that will lead her to the Moon Castle. It was the longest bridge she had seen in her life, the only bridge she had seen actually, since there were no bridges in Maskerville. Every interval of the bridge had an arched structure filled with vanilla vines. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes and inhaled the sweet scent.

She savored every moment of it. Then she lifted her left foot and excitedly removed her boot. Once it was off, she very carefully pressed the soles of her foot on the stone bridge. She wiggled her toes looking at it, still with the same stupid grin on her face.

They all stared at Rebecca with perplexed faces. “What are you doing?” they echoed.

“I. Just. Stepped. Foot. In. Valhalla...” she said enthusiastically, stressing every word of it.

“Okay, enough of your childish acts,” Demelov said.

“No, you don’t understand the gravity of this. I am the first, the first”-her pointing finger raised towards them-“the first mortal to step foot in Valhalla,” she said as she pointed at her left foot. “I just made history!!!” she squealed.

Silence. The guys knew all along that Rebecca had a thing for elves and other mystical things at that. She was very fond of them. But none of them knew what to tell her.

Until.

“Not to burst your bubble, young lady. But I did remember telling you that Valhalla is on the other side of the bridge, technically speaking,” Foril said.

There was a moment of silence and all of them laughed, Rebecca too. It was such an epic fail.

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