Guilty or Innocent (Part II)
Shouts filled the air as Rebecca finally got one of her wishes come true. She hugged the winged-tiger. Her hands rubbed the warm and fuzzy fur of the klosus sending tingles down her spine. They continually rose from the ground, her friends flying along side her.
When they finally crested the peak of the Moon Castle, the setting sun blazed in the horizon. Cirrus clouds streaked the sky, and a flock of birds rained down their feathers on the Elf City of Eclair. Silver trees glowed bringing light to the white buildings.
Rebecca looked down at the pier; their horses were still tied on the same pole at the edge of the lake water. “Hey, what about our horses?”
“Didn’t you say you wanted to ride the klosus?” Prince Hanariel asked.
She nodded her head and bit her lip. But she also didn’t want to leave her horse behind. She had already gotten attached to it. Sensing her distress, Prince Hanariel promised that they will be properly taken care of until their return.
After winning the Behemoth Wars and receiving the Golden Cup, they returned to the Moon Castle where a celebration was prepared for the closing of the wars and for its victors. It was supposed to be a night of festivities and merry-making. However, the group politely declined the offer. They were already gone long enough from Maskerville that they very much desire to go back and deliver the good news. In truth, they just didn’t want to stay at the party. Though they were technically the winner of the race, they knew their presence would only unnerve most of the elves. They didn’t want to ruin anymore of their fun when they had already robbed them of their bets.
Yes, none of the elves had won since none of them had thought to bet on the newbies.
Besides, the group had reaped a lot of prizes and was excited to return home and share the victory. Plus, Claus wanted to fly over the Vertigo Forest, their grand prize for winning. So before the sun sets, the High King had sent them on their way with good wishes and a promise of reunion.
The pristine water of Lake Éclair reflected the sun’s fading glow, its luster in contrast with the almost black shadow of Mount Hajjal looming in the distance, taking up the entire skyline. It is the one perfect cone with its zenith parting the rays across the sky, bathing the surrounding mountain ranges in golden hues. It was wondrous to behold. Rebecca felt sentimental watching the view; it was definitely something never to be forgotten, one of the many takeaways from her journey.
From above, they could see the huts of gnomes peeking through the break of leaves in the canopy. Their red pointy hats occasionally darting to and fro the hanging bridge suspended between the towering trees. They passed over the westerly cliffs of the ravines and the bridge where a flock of Vareon birds joined them gliding in the air. They flew to their nests as the night beckoned, raining down feathers on the landscape below.
The smell of Vanilla flowers from the stone arches in the bridge permeated the wind, sending a gust of sweet scent high into the atmosphere. Rebecca welcomed the intoxicating scent, inhaling deeply.
Just before they make it to the other side of the canyon, Prince Hanariel steered their klosus east to a path they hadn’t passed on their way to the kingdom before. The area is enshrouded in fog. Gnarly trees with contorted trunks, blanched branches and devoid of leaves scattered the place. Crows perched on the twigs of monstrous trees with shrieking faces looking sinister in the darkening sky. It was the Vertigo Forest, and it was nothing like what Rebecca had imagined. It was the opposite of everything they had seen in Valhalla so far. It wasn’t bright and glowing. It was bereft of mysterious lively creatures that usually moved about the kingdom, and there was the gloomy atmosphere that engulfed the forest. As they flew over the scary side of nature, they can’t help but think that it might be more challenging to obtain the Vertigo Resin than what they originally thought.
“Worry not. We’ll save this adventure for next time. For now, enjoy your victory. Winning the Behemoth Wars was perhaps the most rewarding thing that had happened to the People of the Diseased,” Prince Hanariel said.
They continued south leaving behind the murky Vertigo Forest. Lilac hues now graced the sky. The full moon peeked behind the edge of the mountains. First, it was an arc of bright light. Then, as they drew nearer to the summit of Mount Hajjal, it came out from its hiding, spilling light all over the almost dark sky. Rebecca spread her arms, savoring the scene while carefully balancing herself on top her klosus.
When they reached to top of the Mountain, a lone tower was visible from afar. Rebecca and Ink looked at each other remembering how it all began. Maskerville was only a dot from where they were, but the bell tower stood proudly alone over all the buildings in their town.
The almost six week’s journey north took only four hours with the klosus. They arrived two hours before midnight in the middle of the seven administrative buildings in front of the Highest Sanctum. The klosus gently flapped their wings and folded it behind their sides as they all landed gracefully on the cobbled surface.
They unmounted the winged-tiger and waved goodbye as Prince Hanariel took off in the sky together with the ten klosus’.
“We’ll see each other soon enough,” he shouted as he disappeared in the night sky. He passed by the Divine Spectre’s balcony and bowed his head as he acknowledged his presence overlooking the nine Maskervillians he sent on his quest. The Spectre bowed back at Hanariel.
“I guess we did it, huh,” Demelov said.
Sebastian stretched his hands and yawned, “Indeed. How are we going to get home now?”
Claus walked over in front of the giant door of the Highest Sanctum. “It seems like the Divine Spectre knew we were arriving tonight. The guards are not around, and there’s even two carriages left here.”
“Is anybody ready to return to their beds?” Marty asked, placing his hands around his fiancée and burrowed his face in her neck. Catherine playfully slapped his hand.
Ink scratched his head. “What about the Divine Spectre? Aren’t we going to tell him?”
“I have a feeling he already knew we won the Vertigo Forest. Let’s go see him tomorrow. It’s almost midnight anyway and I’m sure the Council would call a convention then,” Rebecca replied.
Ink stared at the golden cup in his hand. “What about this? Who gets to keep it?”
The guys just tapped his shoulder as they passed by him, walking towards their carriage. Before they even went on their way home, they had already agreed that Ink should keep the trophy. After all, it was him who made them win. He looked at them questioningly then back at the cup. He couldn’t believe they are letting him have it. He turned around and removed the mask Casov had lent to him.
“Hey Demelov, catch.” He tossed the mask towards him. “I wont be needing that anymore.” He smiled. The light of the moon glowing over his tattooed face.
Demelov nodded his head. Claus, Frank and Sebastian waved at the three as they stepped inside the carriage. Eris was their chauffeur. They waited for Rebecca as she finished her talk with Marty and Catherine.
Ink walked leisurely towards them with his hands in the pockets of his trousers. She hugged the couple and walked backwards waving, unaware that Ink was behind her. She accidentally crashed into him sending her out of balance, but Ink caught her before she face planted on the cobblestone.
“You should be more careful, you know,” Ink said, wishing she’d remove her mask so that he could see her face.
Rebecca straightened herself and stood. “Thanks,” she said as she looked up at him.
Ink scratched his bald head. “What did you tell Marty and Catherine?” He curiously asked.
“Oh, I just told them that I wanted to give my share of the purse prize to the people at the quarry,” she said shrugging her shoulders.
Ink pursed his lips and nodded his head. “That is incredibly generous of you.”
She shook her head. “Not at all. I’m nowhere near as you generous as you. You had inspired me to reach out more to those people in need, and I’m grateful to you. I’ve finally found what I want out of life,” she said, hugging him suddenly for a few seconds.
She retracted her arms and ran towards the carriage where her friends were waiting. She held open the door and with one last look, waved goodbye at the three before Eris finally took off, bowing at his new friends.
Ink smiled. He stared after the carriage until it disappeared around the corner. Catherine shook her head as she approached her friend. “Didn’t I tell you not to get your hopes up?”
He scrunched his face as he looked at her orange pixie-mask. “You know what? Something Rebecca said got me thinking, Catty.”
She crossed her arms. “I’m listening.”
“She said she found what she wanted out of life. I know she was referring to her life’s calling, helping out the common people. But as she hugged me right here, I realized what I wanted out of life. And I’ve had enough of you telling me I can’t be together with her. I’ve tried to ignore my feelings. But I know they aren’t going anywhere. I know what I want and the next time around, I’m no longer holding back. This is just the start after all.”
Ink stretched his hands out, entwining them above his head. “Man, it feels good to finally get it out there.”
“Yes! I’m GUILTY. I LIKE REBECCA GRIS!” He shouted.
Catherine hit his arm. “Are you insane? What are the chances of your feelings getting reciprocated with four handsome men guarding her side?”
“They’re just friends. Or at least she thinks of them only as friends,” Ink shrugged.
“And you’re no better. You’re just some guy friend to her as well,” Catherine pointed out.
“Oh, I’ll have you know, Rebecca thinks quite highly of me,” Ink boasted a bit.
“Yeah, right. Like a role model,” she drawled.
“Hey, that’s a start. And you know I can be pretty irresistible when I want to,” he winked.
Catherine was surprised by the act and she stared dumbfounded at Ink, which only prompted him to laugh. The cold wind blew and he casually draped his arm over his friend’s shoulder leading her back to Marty who was busy loading their prizes on the coach.
The quaint town of Maskerville was lighted by the bright full moon. The silence of the night brought the peaceful singing of cicadas to life. Orange firefly lamps illuminated the road to the south. Ink, Catherine and Marty ventured into the night, ready to return to the place they’ve known all their lives as home.