The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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The Gates of Heaven Opened


By: High King Vienuriel

“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.

A blaze of green will be cast into the night

Behold! On the misty stairway, magic is in sight

Highest above the mighty cloud,

The golden gate of paradise lay proud

And into the Eastern Sky,

the gates of Heaven has opened.

The myriad colors all fly,

No longer were the skies darkened.

Behold! It is the Day of Nathaheim!

Where Men too blind to see

Wished for wickedness to flee.”

“The day of Nathaheim has come,” the words echoed through the sacred halls of every Elven kingdom in Paladis. Thousands of elves gathered to honor and commemorate the day. Elves are after all, the closest to the heavenly beings amongst all the other creatures.

They had long existed in the realm, creations of the Lunar God. She sculpted them from the dust of the moon and breathed into them life.

As such, they observed a lot of sacred holidays. Ethereans Day or “Nathaheim”, in the Elven tongue, was one of the many. It was a sacred holiday where the gates of the kingdom of heaven were opened and the servants of the angels called Ethereans descend from the skies to shower abundant harvest and good health to all the land. The gates of the kingdom remain opened - letting all prayers, supplications and thanksgivings flow freely - until the Ethereans return and the passage will be shut.

“Ethereans Day? The sacred elvish holiday?” Ink asked confused. “That’s what you wanted to see?”

“Yes, Nathaheim,” Rebecca replied.

“But men are too blind to see it. Many have tried and failed,” Ink said.

“That’s true. But there’s a way we can,” Rebecca fumbled through the hidden pockets of her dress and revealed a small clear round crystal, no more than the size of her palm. At first, Ink thought it looked like a water droplet only that it was bigger and obviously it wasn’t made of water. But it was so transparent that he could clearly see through the lines of her palm.

“What is that?” he inquired.

“Etherean Lens.”

“I’ve never heard of that before,” Ink said taking the piece of glass and examining it closely.

“That’s because nobody else have it. As far as I know,” she said matter of fact.

“Who made this? Where did you get it? What does it do exactly?” Ink eagerly asked.

“One question at a time, please,” Rebecca grinned.

“Okay, so who made this?” Ink said holding up the crystal in the air.

“The elves made it a long time ago, back when they deemed it harmless for humans to dabble in a little magic. Of course, that has greatly changed after what happened to us,” Rebecca said with a hint of disappointment in her tone.

“Go on,” Ink prompted.

“Anyway, that was a gift from my father, an heirloom from our ancestors. He told me that since humans greatly desired to look upon Nathaheim, the Elves devised an object that will allow our unseeing eyes to see. The world and everything in it, when viewed through the lens would be different. It will remove the filter of our eyes making the gates of heaven, and the Ethereans themselves visible to us on this day.”

Ink stared curiously at the crystal. A magical lens? He almost couldn’t believe it. If not for the fact that he was holding it in his fingers, he would’ve thought he was imagining the entire thing. Moreover, he couldn’t quite understand the fascination Rebecca had for a mere Elvish holiday. He was actually skeptical. He didn’t believe it exist. As far as he could tell, their lot never received any kind of blessing from the Ethereans or any heavenly being for that matter.

“And what would you do once you see it?”

“You make a wish, of course. It is said that anyone who sees it is granted one wish. And anything you wish for would promptly come into fruition because the gates of heaven are opened for the plea of the suffering and misery of the realm, even your greatest desires.”

Ink never heard of that before. Sure he had heard of some tales from his grandfather, who used to be a Town Courier. He reckoned he met an elf along the way to Ez’galfil on the Northern Mountains and told him about dancing lights blazing on the skies which Ink presumed was referring to Nathaheim. But his grandfather had never mentioned about wishes or desires granted.

Probably because no men who ever lived had the chance to make that wish. If what Rebecca said was true, then it would make her family the only men to have ever seen the day of Nathaheim, being in possession of the Etherean Lens.

What Ink thought was actually not true. They would soon enough find out that there was one other family in Maskerville who also had an Etherean Lens in their possession.

“Did you hear that?” Rebecca asked Ink.

“Hear what?” Ink was so lost in his thoughts he didn’t notice the sound of footsteps approaching.

“Footsteps. Quickly, we need to hide,” Rebecca said wide-eyed.

“To where exactly? In case you didn’t notice, there’s no place for us to hide here,” he pointed out.

“Well, for someone who’s about to be caught in the act. You sure are collected,” Rebecca was already quite panicking by this instance.

“Caught in the act? Of doing what? We aren’t doing anything someone shouldn’t see, are we?” Ink teased.

Ink’s words brought a fresh tinge of red to Rebecca’s cheeks and she was thankful this time for the covering of her ogre-faced mask.

“Don’t worry. I know a place where we can hide. Climb up,” Ink lowered to the ground with his back to Rebecca, indicating that she should mount it.

“What? No way,” she refused, shaking her head vehemently.

“Do you want to hide or not? In a matter of minutes, whoever is ascending that stairs would be here,” Ink reminded her.

Rebecca was torn. She didn’t want to mount his back as much as possible. But seeing as she had no other choice, she reluctantly placed her forearms around Ink’s neck as he stood up and clutched his hands on both sides of her leg.

“Just so you know, I’ve known you for a little over two hours and I’ve had more skinship with you than any of the men I’ve known my whole life.”

“Is that supposed to make me happy?” Ink joked.

“Shut up,” Rebecca replied to which Ink only grinned in return.

“And just so you know, if you think this is my idea of skinship. Then you’ve got it all wrong. I can’t even feel your skin underneath all this cloth,” Ink sounded a little disappointed.

“Don’t even think about it,” Rebecca warned appalled.

“Ooops, too late,” Ink responded and Rebecca slapped his bald head.

“Hey, you’ve only known me for a little over two hours. That does not warrant you physical abuse,” he complained playfully.

Rebecca hit his head again. “Stop it, or else we’ll fall.” Rebecca stopped hitting him at once.

“And you might want to tighten that hold on me. For safety measure,” he winked.

“You are impossible,” Rebecca huffed.

“Wrong, I exist. I can’t be impossible.”

Rebecca laughed heartily. She seemed to have started enjoying his company now.

“Shh, you’ll lead them right to us,” Ink hushed.

“Sorry,” she whispered in his ear which seems to have emptied Ink’s mind for a few seconds.

“Yaaa! Don’t ever do that again,” he just said.

It took seven stops before Lord Fillias and Eris made it to the top of the tower. Lord Fillias was gracious enough to let poor Eris catch his breath. He wouldn’t admit it but he too must have needed the rest. He wasn’t exactly physically fit either to keep on going without catching his own breath. As far as Eris could remember, this is actually the most exercise his lordship has done.

“Seven stops, it took me seven stops to get here,” Lord Fillias repeated again, with both hands placed on his bent knees for support.

“I used to climb this in one go,” he said in between breaths.

“I think I’m getting old Eris.”

He waited for the boy’s response but none came. “Eris?”

Lord Fillias barely managed to lift his head up and look over the railing when still no response came.

“Eris, are you still there?” He called over down the dark winding stairs, the light Eris was carrying already used up minutes before they got to the top.

“I’m already here sire,” the boy said faintly, trying to catch his breath.

Lord Fillias looked sideways to see the boy sprawled on the old stone floor. He couldn’t see his face behind the blue fairy-mask he’s wearing but he can tell that the boy is struggling to breathe by the sound of his voice. He has after all weak lungs.

He hurried to his side and urged him to remove his mask.

“It’s all right. It’s only us here. You can remove the mask. It’ll be easier for you to breathe that way,” he reasoned.

“We aren’t … allowed to remove the mask … in public places.”

“Forget about tradition. Technically, the mask is intended to be worn in places where there are other people outside of your household or around anyone else you aren’t closely acquainted with.”

Eris struggled for he didn’t want his mask removed. But he had not enough strength left to overpower Lord Fillias. So naturally, Lord Fillias won and took off his mask.

Eris’ condition was not a foreign matter to Lord Fillias. He had long known even before he took in the brothers that he was ailing. But nonetheless, he received them. Maybe, it was out of pity but he never really considered himself a compassionate person. In any case, he took them in on the condition that they would serve as his menservants in his household.

Looking at the boy now - his lips and nails all bluish - even the veins are more prominent on his face, he looked like an avatar of a dead man.

If it wasn’t for his sickness that brought the bluish and sallow looking skin, I’d say he can pass for a witch-mask. Lord Fillias thought.

The boy quite had the looks like his older brother, Farris. He almost believed that they deserved the witch-mask more than he does - him the pudgy old fellow, with an unusually large nose on his face. But clearly, it’s not just the looks that warrants an ugly looking mask in the society: status and money play a role as well - if not even bigger than natural looks. Taking that into consideration, the brothers being born in the outskirts of town had no chance of landing a witch-mask, let alone an ogre-mask.

As a matter of fact - if it wasn’t for Lord Fillias, the brothers would have had no means of acquiring a mask in the first place, in which they are extremely grateful to the lord for. To the brothers, a fairy mask was good enough, they don’t need the mask of the upper classes such as ogre or witch. A fairy-mask is what’s suited for menservants and maidservants. It is a sign of their servitude to a certain Lord.

“Lord Fil … Fillias, I … I never got … to thank you,” coughs Eris.

“Th… Thank you … for taking me in … as well as … Far … Farris. If … If it wasn’t for you … we would’ve starved … on … on the outskirts of town. You … you were … always kind to us. E…even if you are … stubborn sometimes … and sca.. scary,” he managed to laugh in between the coughing.

“Oh, will you shut up,” Lord Fillias said annoyed. “Don’t even dare utter one more word. You aren’t going to die tonight. Just awhile ago, you were happily smiling with your brother all strong and vigorous as if you weren’t sick. This’ll pass. Just rest for a bit.” And Eris grinned. Lord Fillias knew better though, he knew that they boy was suffering more than what he could see.

Sometimes, when Eris felt like no one was looking, he would allow his face to give into pain and contort his face like he can’t get enough air. Or even when they were just walking a few yards in the garden, Lord Fillias would notice the spike of his breathing. And one time, during dinner when Eris was serving his meal and the boy had his coughing fit, Lord Fillias swore that he had seen him cough up blood. But the boy brushed it off as usual, smiled and acted like everything was okay.

Lord Fillias doesn’t treat the brothers differently from the rest of his servants. And in no way, does he have any soft spot for the boy. But he had come to admire Eris’ courage. He couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain the boy must be in. But he faced pain without showing fear, never complained or moped about the situation he’s in. Other menservants toiled while whining about how cruel fate is, but Eris toiled gratefully.

“I … I … have … al… al.ways been grateful… to you… my… my lord,” Eris added.

“SSHHH,” Lord Fillias reprimanded. “You remember what I told you, didn’t you? Today is the scared elvish holiday, Nathaheim. You get one wish, Eris. Wish for your good health and it will eventually come true.”

Rebecca and Ink found themselves not quite intentionally eavesdropping on the new comers. Both of them now sitting firmly on the roof of the bell tower.

“You heard him, right?” Ink asked.

Rebecca nodded. “Yeah, he knew about Nathaheim.”

“Which means, he must also have an Etherean Lens,” Ink concluded.

“Yes, I think so too.”

“That’s it? You think so too? Didn’t you say awhile ago that your family are the only ones who have it?”

“I said as far as I know. There might be others like that man down there.”

“Does it not bother you how he has it?” Ink asked quite bothered by the fact that someone else have a magical lens like the ones Rebecca have.

“Not really, it might be something he had with him for a long time. He said that he had climb the stairs in one go before, so obviously, that meant he had been here during the previous Ethereans Day, years even before I did.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“Nothing. We wait here until 10 and watch Nathaheim with this.” Rebecca said indicating the Etherean Lens she’s now holding in her hand.

Just right at that moment, the bells started ringing.

“Well, if this bell tower is working just fine that means it’s only a matter of ten minutes before 10,” Ink pointed out. “If it is working.”

“It is working,” Rebecca replied confidently.

“You don’t know that,” Ink dismissed.

“Actually, I do. Haven’t you ever wondered why despite all these years the bell’s mechanism is still working? This bell tower is older than the church on the other side of the road, probably more than a thousand years.”

“So, why is it still working?” Ink asked.

“Because this is not made by human hands. Did you know that this place used to be a part of the Northern Elven Kingdom? The elves made this long before the explosion of Mount Norigath that buried the surrounding land with pumice and turned the landscape into a volcanic plateau. A thousand hectares of volcanic scoria spread over meadows, valleys, rivers and even some hills. This is all that’s left of the Elven village. The bell tower was actually taller than this but half of it is now buried underneath all the lava and volcanic ash.”

“Wow,” Ink whispered quite amazed.

“I know right? It is quite amazing.”

“I mean, wow. I didn’t know you were so smart,” Ink echoed.

Rebecca coughed taken aback by what he said. And brushed the comment off and continued talking.

“Anyway, the reason why it’s still working is because the bell tower has elvish magic to it. The mechanism that makes this work is more than what we humans can even imagine. Everybody knows that the Elves are the most innovative tinkerers there are in the whole Paladis. I mean, a quarter of the creatures that now roam the land are made or invented by elves through magic. Take for example the pixies and the fairies and don’t even mention the Klosus.” Rebecca droned on.

Ink stared at her hideous mask quite fascinated by everything that she was saying. Somehow, the mask seems less horrid with Rebecca talking passionately about volcanic plateaus, pumice and elvish magic. She keeps on making this forceful hand gestures as if trying to make a point or trying to get the point across.

“You know, I find smart people attractive,” Ink commented out of the blue.

Rebecca stopped talking and looked at him.

“You can’t see it but I’m wearing an annoyed face right now. Can be you serious for a moment here?” she begged.

Ink looked at her unwaveringly. “I am serious. I am stating a fact."

“Ugh, what do I do with you?” she gave up.

“Oh my… you’re not planning on doing something to me, are you? I may not look like it but I’m quite inexperienced,” he joked.

“INK!” Rebecca tried to shout while whispering, not wanting to reveal themselves to the newcomers.

“What?” he replied innocently. “I’m starting to think maybe I should tease you more…”

“Or you can shut your mouth and watch this with me,” Rebecca interrupted, pointing on the eastern sky where a group of clouds had gathered. “I think, the time’s up.”

Then they heard the bell clang.

First, it was huge masses of clouds gathering in the Eastern Sky accompanied by lightning and thunder that Ink thought it might just be a storm brewing.

But Rebecca looked through the lens, and saw the lights glowing in the starless sky. A green blaze of fire swaying as if being carried by the wind enveloped the clouds and upon it - gold, gold beyond measure - towering columns of gold floating in the sky high above the clouds. There was a misty stairway, never-ending, going on and on until what seems like a dot of moving light appeared and then another and another until the dot now resembled a line of varying complexities of color. It was changing shapes to arcs, undulating curtains, or a waterfall of light pouring from the sky. The lights looked so soft, like it would vanish once touched. It was spectacular.

The vibrant lines grew bigger and bigger as more balls of delicate light join the descent. It was the Ethereans descending. As point after point fell from the sky, it looked like an inverted prism. The light of the moon shining faintly passed right through dispersing it into a million shower of rainbow. The colors were absolutely captivating. It was purer than anything Rebecca had seen, purer than life - if that was even possible.

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