The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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Guilty or Innocent (Part I)

Amidst all the disturbance the three caused, the dangling vines attacking Il halted. The elf riders forgot to keep up the incantation that Frank, Claus, Sebastian and Rebeca used the time to break free. Eris propelled Il to run forward, using brute force tearing away at the plant.

Ink stared at the Dimetrodon as it got up and shook its body, sending dust flying their way as if nothing had happened. It’s left eye was still bleeding, but a single shot was not enough to incapacitate it. He knew it was too good to be true to take the beast down with just one arrow. Ink gritted his teeth. He heard the thudding of paws, and pebbles shook as the Wolf rapidly approached.

Yanmar looked at them. “It might work after thirty more hits. Nice try though.” The elves jumped on the Dimetrodon’s back in one leap.

“Come on. Let’s hurry. We can still catch up to them,” Marty urged.

They were standing 700 meters away from the finish line, and the Dimetrodon was inching closer and closer to win. Ink knew that the odds were not in their favor. Even if Il did manage to somehow leap the distance between them and the Dimetrodon, they still wouldn’t have any defense against any spell attack from the elves.

He directed his gaze at the puff of smoke hovering above the crown of the Elf Golem’s head. He couldn’t see the figures riding the cloud, but his eyes searched for the High King. He didn’t care that he thought of their kind as the scum of the world who caused the annihilation of Siloria. He understood what the King felt, he was looking for someone to blame just like what he did on top of the bell tower last Nathaheim. He’s angry at losing his people in that sea of fire like how he’s angry at what the unmasked had to go through every day of their lives. He touched the mask on his face, a mask that was never his and belonged to some ancient Maskervillian lord.

The High King knew that our chance of winning was slim to none. He’s probably looking forward for our loss, thinking of what punishment to deliver upon Maskerville. But I’ll prove him wrong. I’ll prove to him that we are innocent. It doesn’t matter if the elves are strong or if we can’t disenable the Dimetrodon. I’ll make it happen. I have a greater reason to win.

“Ink, we need to get going,” Rebecca said, dragging him away from his thoughts. He looked at Demelov’s outstretched hand and into his red ogre-faced mask. He clasped it tightly and Demelov pulled him up at the Wolf’s back.

“What’s the plan?” Ink asked.

“We race it out like how it’s meant to be,” Claus answered, nodding at Eris.

The pixie-masked guy directed the Wolf to do its maneuver leap. Running fast to gain momentum, Eris steered Il to an elevated rock before it crouched low and flung himself to the air. It leapt a hundred meters and landed right behind the Dimetrodon.

“Push him, Eris. We just have to outrun them!” Claus shouted.

Il ran twice as fast leaving dust in their wake. They were rapidly gaining speed on the Dimetrodon. The elves turned sideways to see the Wolf determined to outrun them. They were neck on neck.

Ink was waiting for the inevitable to happen. Yanmar made hand symbols.

Here it is.

“Guys, this can’t be good. We need to change course,” Rebecca prompted.

Claus shook his head. “No, we stay on track. Changing directions now would only be a waste of time. The elves still wouldn’t stop that spell wherever we go. Let’s just hope Il manages to evade it.”

This time when the dancing vines protruded from the ground, the Wolf jumped forward away from the stems. However, it chased after them, propelling Il to run even faster. They were actually taking the lead now with the Dimetrodon lagging behind which would’ve been an ideal case only if they weren’t being haunted by the vines.

Yanmar nodded to the other elves and they attacked the Wolf by throwing their loadstone blades repeatedly. Blood splattered as cut after cut appeared on it’s hind legs slowing Il down. The vines crept closer.

“What are we going to do?” Sebastian asked. If the vines reached and immobilized them once again, it’ll be over.

The next attack was aimed for the Wolf’s head. Three loadstone blades flew past its backside.

“Eris duck! Avoid the blades!” Rebecca yelled.

Eris did as instructed and ducked the Wolf’s head as the blades missed.

One…two… the third narrowly passed the gap between Eris and Ink who were both grabbing unto the Wolf’s head. When the blade reversed and went straight for the kill, Claus pulled out his knife and deflected the blade. Ink evaded to the side losing his grip on the fur. He fell down the beast. Thankfully, his fall was cushioned by the vines that chased them.

Rebecca whipped her head and shouted. “Ink!”

“Don’t stop! Keep going!” Ink yelled back. Some of the vines had managed to get hold of Il’s legs now and were trying to pull them back. Sebastian, Demelov and Frank whacked at the stems.

Ink clutched unto the vine that continued to elongate trying to reach the Wolf. He hiked his leg up and hugged the green stalk as he hitched for a free ride. He watched as the same thing happen once again. Il got his legs burried underneath a swarm of vines.

This has to stop. He turned around at the Dimetrodon who is fast approaching. They are only 300 meters away from the win. So close. We are winning this. I only have to distract the Dimetrodon long enough for Il to break free and sprint the short distance. I’ll make it happen.

He let go of the vine and dropped to the clay ground. He strode towards the Dimetrodon’s path and stood in the middle, staring down the charging beast.

“I am every creatures worst nightmare!” Then he removed his mask.

The Dimetrodon halted in its tracks and thrashed as it saw the deformed face of the ghoul standing in front of its path. It’s rotting flesh and hollow eyes displayed for the whole Valhalla to see.

It stirred violently inciting the elves to jump away from its head. The spell was successfully dispelled. But things are getting out of hand as the Dimetrodon turned wild. It bared it’s jagged teeth and it’s beady eye turned red as it stared at Ink’s ghoul. The elves tried to pacify it and outstretched their hands to calm the beast. But it whipped its head so fast and roared at them not recognizing the elves as its riders.

“Tamer Elves!” Gimofel shouted. “We need Tamer Elves.”

Ink watched horrified as the Dimetrodon tried to attack Yanmar and the elves. He turned around to see the Wolf frozen, staring at the same scene he was staring at just a few seconds ago. The vines hung limp on the clay ground, forgotten as the elves engaged the Dimetrodon. What are you doing? Run. The prize is ours to take.

As if the same thought just occurred to Rebecca, she immediately dragged herself to reality. “Now’s our chance. Make for the finish line!”

Eris moved Il to run rapidly. They held on tight to its fur, making that short dash towards the end. They saw the flying stadium descend from the sky and halfway through, elves riding klosus’ jumped from the edge of the cloud heading straight to where the Dimetrodon was. Rebecca noticed that Foril was among them. She turned her head at the chaos behind her and wondered if Ink was alright. They didn’t know what caused the Dimetrodon to run amok. From afar, they could only see Ink’s back.

Tamer elves surrounded the beast while it roared and thrashed fiercely. They were careful not to approach it. Ink was watching the whole scene when Foril tapped his shoulder. He turned around.

“You should put your mask back on. It’s setting the beast on edge,” Foril whispered. Ink was expecting him to flinch speaking so close to a ghoul, but he somehow didn’t show any sign of fear as he talked.

Ink checked to see if Rebecca and the others had already reached the foot of the golem.

“Don’t worry. They’re almost at the finish line. Nothing’s going to stop them from winning now,” Foril assured him.

He sighed and looked at the mask in his hand before finally putting it on. They did it. He smiled ruefully. How ironic. The true form we detested the most would also be the same reason for our win.

It took awhile before the Tamers had finally appeased the Dimetrodon back to its harmless state. Ink stood there through the entire show not knowing what else to do. He could very well walk towards the finish line which was only 300 or so meters away. But he figured it would be better if he just hitch a ride from Foril once he is done doing his hand dance. Plus, he gets to ride the klosus which is a bonus point.

Elves had now gathered at the bottom of the giant elf statue. The two empty stadiums were parked on either side of the monument. At the foot was a dais where the High King sat on a throne with Prince Hanariel on his side.

Rebecca and the others stood in front of the High King joined by Catherine who hugged her fiancee, Marty. The Wolf was nowhere in sight. It was escorted by other tamer elves to the fountain of life just behind the golem where a lush forest begun. The rest of the creatures who had been eliminated were there too, mending their wounds and being refreshed back into life.

Foril dropped Ink off at the edge of the crowd, taking the Dimetrodon away. The spectators elves were quiet as they watched him approached unblinkingly. He briefly wondered why all attention was now drawn to him. The mass parted as he walked towards where the rest of the diseased stood.

“Ah, there he is,” the High King spoke, rising from his throne. “The man who made the impossible possible. No men, let alone a diseased ever won the Behemoth Wars. Your group just made history and you made it possible. Ingenious, rattling the Dimetrodon with your true form.”

Rebecca ran towards Ink and gave him a hug, taking him by surprise. He wrapped his arms around her tentatively when she suddenly pulled herself back to look him in the eyes. “How did you know that the Dimetrodon could see our true forms? Did you by chance overheard my talk with the Prince?”

Ink shook his head laughing slightly. “No... I actually didn’t know if it would work”-he shrugged-“but I thought I had to do something to somehow stop the beast. I figured I should try removing my mask since our true forms are so scary people end up shunning us away or worse killing us,” he said sharply. “A dose of that would surely ruin its psyche, I guess I was right.”

Rebecca contemplated what he said. She is beyond happy that they won the Behemoth Wars but there’s also an undertone of melancholy in the air. True, they had made history. They became the first ever mortals to win the race. But it also proved one thing. It proved that they were indeed monsters that plagued other creatures nightmare. It proved how hideous and sickening they were, seeing that Dimetrodon run amok at their sight. She was glad she decided not to take off her mask in front of the klosus. It would tore at her heart to see the creature look at her like the face of death. Something they should run away from. Even the elves were looking at them apprehensively, wary eyes watching their every move. She wondered what they thought of them now. There was no congratulating or clapping or tapping their backs for a job well done. Only their group seemed to be happy about winning the race.

“But hey, in the off chance that they didn’t have the gift of true sight, I thought my tattooed face and scary piercings might be more than enough to scare it away,” Ink joked, making Rebecca smile.

“I’ve always thought your tattoo looks cool,” she replied.

The rest of the group gathered and greeted Ink as well. Catherine gave him a hug too without forgetting to leave a warning about not getting too close with Rebecca. She always kept him in check in that area. Gimofel appeared a second later on top of the dais holding in his hand a golden cup with a crescent moon in front and a gray wolf on top. The High King gestured for him to take on the floor. He had the elephant tusk in his right hand and the trophy on the left.

“Ladies and gentle elves! I know it has been a shock to us all how everything turned out. I was fairly certain our Dimetrodon had this in the bag until one act ruined it all. Who would’ve thought it’s true sight will be the cause of its defeat? But alas, we are not here to mourn. So everyone, I present to you the victors for the one hundred and eleventh Behemoth Wars, The Descendants of the Diseased, Bearers of the Mark of the Undead, The Maskervillians.”

The announcement was met with silence until Gimofel prompted the crowd to applaud. The group climb the few steps of the dais and stood in front of the High King whom Gimofel had given the trophy. His eye color Rebecca had noticed now turned into Cerulean. He outstretched his hand and handed the cup to Ink who held it in both hands.

“The Heavens deem you INNOCENT after all. I no longer hold you responsible for the tragedy that happened four centuries ago. And as promised, you will have the Vertigo Forest of our Kingdom,” The High King pronounced loud enough for the nine of them to hear.

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