The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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Trial (Part II)

The garden was now almost emptied and only a handful of elves were left. They followed the Prince into a maze of shrubs and out into a meadow where all the elves gathered. There on the middle, was a vast cloud high in the air. The white puffy vapor wrapped the sky and covered the sun. It enshrouded the meadow with fog, and elves from all ranks climbed the misty stairway leading to the huge puff of smoke.

Elmator led the group to the edge of the cloud. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, get on aboard the stadium.”

“The stadium?” Sebastian asked.

“Yes. This is what we’ll be riding as we go to the arena,” Elmator answered.

“The arena?” he asked.

“Oh, will you quit it, dimwit. It’s annoying to hear you repeat the same words he says,” Demelov complained.

The side of Elmator’s mouth quirked up at hearing the two bicker. It reminded him of Prince Hanariel in his younger years. “Yes, anyway, the arena is where the wars will be starting. That’s where we’re heading right now.”

“Oh, great. Another detour,” Catherine whispered to Marty.

“I can hear you, child,” the Prince said, looking at Catherine. “You should be grateful I had my healer tend to your wounds. Otherwise, you would’ve been dead.”

As the group approached the cloud, a misty stairway appeared in front of them. Prince Hanariel climb first followed by the group, then Elmator and Avrat.

Stepping on the cloud was like stepping on a huge fluffy pillow. Every time they moved their feet, it would get swallowed underneath a mound of cottony substance. Rebecca giggled as she stepped on the cloud.

“Don’t enjoy it too much,” Ink whispered as he passed by following Elmator and Avrat.

“Come on, Becca. We need to find a seat,” Sebastian grabbed her hand as they lagged behind the others.

They were amazed to see the tiered structures designed to allow spectators to stand or sit and view the event. It was also shaped like the symbol of Valhalla, a crescent moon. There were far too many levels to count and most of them were already filled with elves. The ones left are the lower tiers where the higher officials and lords sat. In front and on the center of the semilunar arena was a podium. A heavily-ornamented elf wearing a robe decorated with plenty of jewels and a necklace of feathers was sitting on top, holding a tusk of an elephant. He looked like an announcer of some sort. The host of the event.

They took their seats beside the Prince who sat beside his father, the High King. Once everyone was seated, the cloud rose even higher and flew steadily in the sky. Surprisingly, the sun didn’t beat down on them, thanks to the cloud of smoke that hovered above.

“Welcome, elves from all the lands. Today, we have gathered here to witness another spectacle unfolding, the Behemoth Wars of Valhalla! It is I, Gimofel Frinamdel, your host for today’s event. I hope you’ve all taken your dried caffeine cause this is going be a long twenty-four hours of unstoppable slugfest from our fiercest riders,” Gimofel, the announcer boomed.

“Who’s ready to see some flesh?!” the crowd cheered. “Who’s ready to win their bets?!” more shouting came from the crowd. “Who’s ready to see their best riders fight to the death?!” the crowd laughed.

Ink whispered to Rebecca,“I remembered you mention to me that elves, were the closest creatures to the heavenly beings. Well if they were, the heavenly creatures mustn’t be so different from us then. I didn’t know they gambled too or fancied seeing death.”

“It is a sport. I think it is all in good fun,” Rebecca defended.

“A sport where they laughed that their riders are going to fight to the death?” Ink sounded appalled.

“Oh child, they laughed because none of them are going to die,” Prince Hanariel quipped.

Ink rolled his eyes. “Oh, yes, I suppose they aren’t going to die since elves are immortal.”

“We are a race who are not subjected to aging and can’t die in conventional or natural ways like old age for instance and diseases. But we, just like mortals, can be injured too and severe injury can lead to death. Of course, it has to be very severe since we regenerate faster than you do, heal quickly than you do. But we also can not escape natural calamities, say, a volcanic eruption,” Prince Hanariel said, remembering the catastrophe that befell Siloria. “In some ways, we are alike.”

Their attention was called once again by Gimofel who now paced in front of the arena. His boots getting stuck every time he makes a step, making the crowd giggle. And every time he tries to pull them out of the puffy cloud, little cotton balls fly up in the air.

“Dear friends, I know you are excited to see what kind of beasts our riders and tamers have instored for the race. Should I give you a hint?” he asked the crowd and a chorus of yes sounded.

“Hmmm, let’s see. There could never be a race without our champion of course, the High Prince’s Dimetrodon,” he revealed.

“Wait a second, is it a war or a race? I’m confused,” Rebecca asked the Prince.

“The objective is like that of a race. Whoever finishes first, wins the competition. However, winning isn’t that easy, since it’s war out there on the field,” the Prince answered.

“What do you mean war?” Demelov asked.

“These beasts are free to attack each other, stop other beasts from getting to the finish line. That’s where the slugfest and all the excitement comes in,” Avrat said, speaking for the first time since he met them.

“That’s horrible,” Rebecca said. “Those poor creatures.”

Hanariel motioned his hand at everything around them. “It’s merely nature at it’s finest. Survival of the Fittest, such is the law of nature.”

“I don’t want to watch this,” Rebecca said.

Elmator tapped her shoulder in a fatherly nature. “You shouldn’t worry child. The beasts wouldn’t exactly die.”

“They wouldn’t die? How is that possible?” Claus asked interested.

“Well, there’s a concoction especially made for the beasts. It’s called the elixir of life. Even if they die in the race, they’d still be revived at the fountain of life.”

“Is that something, humans, I mean hypothetically of course, could drink?” Catherine asked.

Ink couldn’t help but see a hidden agenda beneath it. “No, any other creature who drinks it has the opposite effect. Death. So, you better not have any crazy idea there on your mind,” Hanariel warned.

“I still don’t understand why you wanted to show this to us though,” Frank mentioned.

“Four Centuries Ago, when none of you existed in this world,” King Vienuriel joined in on the conversation. “There was a terrible volcanic eruption that devoured the whole elven village of Siloria.”

Ink looked at Rebecca fondly, recalling the time they shared on top of the bell tower.

“It caused a lot of grief and sorrow to the elven kind. Many died on that calamity. But do any of you know the cause of the eruption?” King Vienuriel asked, boring holes through their masks with his gaze.

“I believe the stories tell of an earthquake that shook the land leading to the eruption of Mount Norigath,” Rebecca answered.

“That is only a part of the story. Magic revolves in this world. Everything that you see and everything that you touch, magic is within them. Unknown forces mingles amongst us. There is so much we have yet to know in the world that surrounds us. Nothing happens out of pure coincidence. You should remember that.”

“I don’t understand what you are trying to say, High King,” Sebastian said.

“I believe what his highness meant to say was that it wasn’t just the earthquake that triggered the eruption. There is some greater power that had led to that event,” Claus explained.

“Greater power? Or greater action?” King Vienuriel asked. “In everything that creatures do: humans, elves, dwarves, pixies, gnomes and other beings, it affects all of Paladis. All of us are connected. And in every decision or actions that you make, there will always be a reaction, consequences.”

Rebecca didn’t like where the conversation was going. It sounded as if the High King was going to arrive to a conclusion that would put them at a disadvantage.

“We believe that what happened four centuries ago was no chance. It was the wrath of the gods. It was their anger poured on mankind for the evil that they brought upon the land,” King Vienuriel said as he looked at the accursed men accusingly. “Our people paid for the sins that your ancestors have committed. And now, here you are,” he pointed at the nine Maskervillians. “You being here is no chance as well. This is finally justice.”

Engrossed by the funny antics of Gimofel, the crowd of elves remained oblivious to the intense atmosphere that surrounded Rebecca’s group.

“What exactly do you intend to do with us, High King?” Ink asked warily.

He didn’t answer and took a deep breath trying to control his emotions. Ink looked at Prince Hanariel but he merely shrugged his shoulders like there was nothing he could do to change the king’s mind. Elmator and Avrat pretended like they didn’t hear the conversation at all.

Ink felt the same anger bubbling inside him once again. That feeling of being forsaken, that feeling of being wronged, punished for something that they didn’t have anything to do with. He strived to calm himself.

Rebecca noticed Ink’s balled up fist and placed her hand over it. Ink looked at her. He couldn’t see her expression but he could tell that she had a smile on her face willing him to reign his anger. Her eyes glistened.

“I can think of a few things that you might want to do with us, High King. Each one more horrifying than the other. I don’t suppose you have taken into consideration that our people have already been punished enough by the gods for the sins that our forefathers had committed. After all, that punishment is what led us here to seek for your help,” Claus said.

They were all growing anxious as to what fate awaits them in Valhalla. All except Sebastian who wasn’t really paying much attention to the danger that might be heading their way. His attention was focused on Rebecca’s hand over Ink’s fist. Demelov was quiet more than usual and stood rigidly just like Frank, observing the situation. Marty and Catherine held each other’s hand as they listen in on the conversation. Only Eris remained calm. He didn’t have any anxieties despite of the drastic turn of events.

“I want to prove whether you are guilty of the sins of murdering our kind. Only then I will be able to ease my mind and reach a decision of what I intend to do to you,” King Vienuriel said calmly.

“And how do we prove that we are innocent?” Rebecca asked.

“The gods will prove your innocence,” King Vienuriel said. “You will be trialled.”

“In front of an elf court?” Frank asked.

Ink was reminded of that time in the Council Circle where he had to defend himself against the accusations of the council members. Only this time, it wasn’t just him who was accused, all of them were, their entire kind: Maskervillians. His stomach churned.

“No, a trial of ordeal,” Prince Hanariel interrupted. “My father intends to make you take part in the Behemoth Wars. Should you survive the brutality of the race and win, only then would your innocence be proven.”

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