The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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The Gray Wolf (Part I)

“Did you just see that?!” Sebastian shouted wide-eyed. “The snake just flew!” his hands was flying all over his face forgetting to grab unto the wolf as it suddenly jumped over a huge uprooted tree. Good thing, Frank was sitting beside him and latched his arm before he fell spiraling down the forest floor.

The tree was not uprooted accidentally, of course. It just so happened that the Dimetrodon was hammering through the forest, knocking down everything on it’s path. The beetle flying nearby dodged the falling branch, the elves riding it jumped out of the way and stepped into the falling pieces one after another before leaping into the back of the insect.

“I don’t suppose you can do that?” Frank asked Demelov.

“Hmmpf, I just need a bit of practice. But I’m sure I’ll be able to pull that off.”

“Guy’s look out!” Rebecca shouted as another tree tilted and fell over their heads.

“Il go low!” Eris shouted. The Wolf lowered it’s back and slid right under the falling trunk. The huge stalk was merely seconds away from crushing them when they passed through the small gap.

“Good job, Eris!” Claus praised.

“Thank you, young master.”

“Can you tell it to shift routes? Tell it to leap away from the Dimetrodon or we’ll end up getting squashed by this falling wreckage,” Claus uttered.

“Will do sire,” Eris replied. “Il veer left. Move away from the falling debris.”

The Wolf took a sharp turn, making them grab it’s fur harder. It changed it’s course and stopped running behind the Dimetrodon. It was very agile and it could easily turn directions without having to come to a full stop.

They were almost at the rift now with the Snake already passing through the boulders. It passed by without paying attention to the Dragonfly it just knocked out of the way. The rest of the animals were approaching as well. As they came closer, they could see the elves doing some kind of elvish magic to mend the broken wings.

“Is that even allowed in the games?” Sebastian asked.

“I guess so, remember, you can do any means possible to win the race. The only rule placed really was to not harm the riders directly,” Marty piped.

Then a horrible realization dawned on him, “That means the elves could use their magic?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so Sebastian. Of course, they would use it against the creatures. Not at us, but that greatly puts us at a disadvantage,” Claus inferred.

“The moment we stepped into that arena, we were at a disadvantage already,” Ink added.

“If we are going to win this race, we need a plan, some strategy,” Rebecca added.

“Young masters, you figure out the plan. And leave handling Il to me, I feel like I can pull that off at least,” Eris commented.

“We’re counting on you, Eris,” Frank said.

The Wolf was keeping it’s pace even as the terrain changed from flat to rising hills and back again. The trees around the area near the rift aren’t as tall and they could see some of the flying beasts further ahead of them.

“So, do you still have your weapons with you?” Claus asked.

They all nodded and pulled out the weapons they have been carrying the entire journey. They have Rebecca’s arrow; Frank’s crossbow; Sebastian’s axe; Demelov, Marty and Ink’s blades. Claus also had one but he also revealed a set of hidden knifes underneath his cloak.

“The best we can do right now is to defend Il from any attacks that might come from the elves. And if the chance presents itself, we could also mount an attack to the other creatures. Since, this is just the start. I believe none would be deliberately attacking the others. But once we are halfway through, things will definitely get rougher. Stay alert, everyone!” Claus ordered.

Rebecca was busy staring at the the beetle that was flying just a few meters ahead of them. She wondered how many others were already in front or if they were the last ones to pass through the rift with the exception of the dragonfly, of course. She believed they will be able to catch up pretty quickly though one’s the elves had that wing fixed.

“What about at night? Are we even going to get some rest?” Sebastian wondered.

“Yeah, I don’t suppose the creatures will be running the entire way to the finish line,” Frank added.

“It’s only logical given the distance that we will be travelling, to get some stops along the way,” Ink mused.

But he seriously doubted they will be able to get a good night’s rest surrounded by creatures that might just attack them out of nowhere.

Rebecca, turning her attention back to the discussion added, “I believe the motive for the first part of the race was to get ahead and gain some distance. If other creatures have earned a considerable length of buffer from the others, it’s highly likely that they would rest and probably even place traps for those that follows.”

“That is indeed possible,” Marty acknowledged. “Seriously, we joined here not really knowing anything. It would be best to assume all possible scenarios.”

“What…” Sebastian was just about to ask when he was interrupted by a loud boom. “What the…”

“Young masters, grab tightly. The ground just opened up!” Eris shouted.

He maneuvered the Wolf around the fissure that appeared on the ground. It leapt over the cracks and ran swiftly out of the way of falling trees. It jumped from one thick branch to another and landed on solid ground. But that too collapsed so suddenly that Rebecca and the rest shouted from the free fall. Il struggled to clutch into the soil, with half of it’s body dangling down the abyss. It’s long claws serving it well as it held tightly into the hard solid soil that didn’t collapse yet. It used the claws on its hind legs to cling unto the edge and propelled himself up in a leap.

Once they were safely on firm land, they looked back to see the hole that wasn’t there just a few seconds ago. Rebecca turned her head back at Beetle that was in front of them, only to see two elves doing some sort of hand gesture like the ones she saw from the fishing elves upon their arrival at the Moon Castle.

“It’s them,” she said pointing at the elves riding the Beetle. “I’m sure they’re using magic to collapse the ground.”

Eris propelled Il to run onward once again after escaping the pit that would’ve been the hole for their graves.

“Frank, I’ve no doubt of your hunting skills. I want you to shoot the beetle and aim for it’s wings,” Claus ordered.

“No problem, I can do that,” he positioned himself steadily on top of the Wolf as he took aim at the creature’s wing. The bolt came flying out and he hit the fluttering wing of the Beetle. But it merely graced the part and went limp. “I don’t think it can be penetrated.”

“No, aim for the second wing,” Claus ordered.

“The second wing?”

“Yes, beetles have two wings. The upper one was a hard exoskeleton and that would be quite difficult to pierce. But if you aim at the lower one, we might be able to disable it’s flight for the time being.”

“It’s hardy visible all the way from here,” Frank pointed out.

“Just aim below the one you hit, it should just be right there,” Claus instructed.

Although not told to do the same, Rebecca pulled out her own bow and aimed as well. She released the arrow just as the same time Frank fired his bolt. Both traveled all the way across the branches of trees and perfectly connected to the wing, making the beetle lose balance and crash to a tall tree. As the beetle was falling, Rebecca grabbed two knives from Claus' cloak, surprising him from the sudden gesture. She aimed at the comb-like antenna of the huge insect. She shot so accurately that it’s not just one antenna but both fell.

Ink whistled and Frank grinned underneath his mask. Claus looked at Rebecca, “I didn’t tell you do to that.”

“You are not the boss of me Claus. I figured I could help, you are not the only one who reads tons of books. I remembered coming across something about insects. It stated that some use antennas to move around. I checked and noticed that it was using it’s antenna to navigate through the trees. Cutting them off will buy us some time,” she said shrugging.

“What have you done to Rebecca?” Sebastian whispered gazing at her green ogre-mask.

“Personally, I’m liking this daring side of you, Becca,” Demelov winked. “Compared to when you were all buried underneath your books and hardly been bold enough to defy people.”

“Tss, you just want her to be more like you,” Sebastian quipped.

Ink looked at her amazed. “I didn’t know you were so good with arrows and knives.”

“I have a good teacher,” she said poking Frank’s back. “He always encouraged me to be more outdoorsy. He taught me how to ride a horse too,” she recalled fondly.

All the way to the front they could hear a wailing sound of a beast followed by successive thudding that vibrated in the land.

“What the hell was that?” Marty asked.

“Whatever it was, sirs, I don’t think that beast made it out of there alive,” Eris said.

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