The Bald Tattooist of Maskerville

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Four Centuries Prior, Third Day of Oh’fid, the Seventh Month

The High Prince of the Northern Elves, Prince Hanariel was riding south through the mountian pass of Hajjal, his destination - the southern village Siloria.

Strapped with his bow and arrow, he jumped from one gigantic tree to another, following the trail of the Dimetrodon. His long silver hair never moving out of place as he drifted through the canopy of the forest.

He traced the banks of the rivulet from the lower hillslopes leading to the wide stream of Elvazel where he found fresh footprints. It wasn’t exactly hard to track the beast considering their size which could range from five feet to almost fifteen feet long, hiding isn’t really much of an option.

He ran with preternatural speed down the long thick branch of the myrtaceous forest tree - its broad leaves glistening with the fresh dew drops of the morning. He jumped effortlessly to grab a dangling vine - his momentum carrying him across the rounded sail of the Dimetrodon who’s about to pounce at the Nothodon eating crown ferns. His presence was barely noticed by the two behemoths.

He released the vine and perched gracefully on a tree of the subcanopy waiting for the tragic spectacle to unfold. He knew he’ll have some company before the gruesome battle starts.

“Greetings, my lord, High Prince Hanariel,” Avrat said humbly bowing his head to the prince.

“Greetings, First Tuvari Chief, Avrat,” Hanariel replied without turning his head. “Come, sit.” The chief of the first tuvari, a military squad composed of ten elves, remained standing and politely declined the offer.

“Took you awhile, Chief,” Hanariel grinned while his eyes focused on the Dimetrodon eyeing his prey from the bushes. “I knew you would come.”

“I suppose I should’ve known you’d be here. I received word about you visiting Siloria,” Chief Avrat remarked. “The company had reached town and was extremely worried of your whereabouts,” he informed.

“Is that so?” he playfully asked. “I just happened to reach town a bit sooner than them, thought I’d take a little detour before I go back,” he replied.

“If I may be so impudent, Prince, you left your company’s camp on the mountains of Hajjal on darkened hours without notice. No note, no word of where you’ll be going - Elmator is worried.”

“Elmator is always worried. And besides, you found me, didn’t you?” he said looking at him for the first time.

Hanariel thought that he still looked the same; long silver hair just like his but with streaks of black half-braided, he still had thick eyebrows and still had that stern look plastered on his unwrinkled face over the years. He looked dashing in his deep red long-sleeved tunic and leather jerkins. His cape draped over his shoulders and fastened on his chest by a crescent shaped brooch, the symbol of Valhalla.

“Reaching maturity doesn’t mean going off on your own. You’re a centenarian now, act like one.”

“Impertinent of a servant to lecture a Prince,” Hanariel said seriously.

He leapt gracefully beside Avrat, unsheathed his loadstone blade and pointed it at the older elf’s scruff, in a blink of an eye Avrat vanished and like a puff of smoke Prince Hanariel too vanished, running after the Chief higher into the canopy. He caught up with him and threw a dagger at Avrat’s leg to slow him down. But Avrat dropped just in time to a lower branch and shot an arrow at Hanariel’s glorious face which he evaded easily.

He leapt to where Avrat is, his blade hoisted in the air reflecting the rising sun, hair framing his face like an angel delivering punishment. Avrat barely had the time to pull out his own blade when Prince Hanariel landed firmly in front of him, sword inches away from his face.

“Alas, the student had surpassed the teacher,” he said cheerfully.

“Oh, don’t be fresh with me Prince,” Chief Avrat said with a hint of a smile. He never does a full-blown smile anyway.

“It’s good to see you, Chief.” He put away his blade and did a brief one armed hug awkwardly. “Have you come to watch the show?”

“I have come to escort you back to town,” he finished.

“Let’s wait. Shall we? I bet that Dimetrodon would have a feast,” he eagerly replied.

Chief Avrat furrowed his eyebrows, obviously displeased by the Prince’s stubbornness. Nevertheless, he humored him.

“Oh, I believe so, Prince. But that Dimetrodon is just a few years old, and smaller than the older Nothodon. It’s barely half it’s size. It might just be leading itself to it’s death.”

“Let’s have a bet.”

As if on cue, the Dimetrodon charged at the Nothodon. The latter looking pissed as its breakfast was just interrupted. The ground shook as its four limbs, jutting out to the sides, scrambled to reach the feasting herbivore. It was a very fast runner and the poor Nothodon could only hope to outrun it. It was just not equipped to run fast. It was sluggish especially with its large body and relatively short limbs. Hanariel simply thought that it looked too fat.

It had a barrel-shaped body to accommodate a large digestive tract needed to digest all the ferns and plants it feeds on. They are actually quite inoffensive - enough for Chief Avrat to keep one as a pet. But Nothodons aren’t just kept as mere pets. They are more useful to elves for armor making - after all, its body is clad in an armor of plate to protect them from the fiercely carnivorous predators like the Dimetrodon.

“Can you see those teeth? Those canines aren’t just there for effect, you know,” Hanariel mentioned clearly in awe.

“Your fascination for the Dimetrodon amuses me,” Avrat replied. “Quite frankly, they don’t look all that special to me. And that giant spiny sail streaked with blue, or orange or whatever color on their backs looked too flashy for my taste,” he surmised.

“They’re brilliant,” he defended looking at him as if he was stupid for not realizing this. “Unlike your fat lizard with thick skin,” he huffed.

“That thick skin is what makes it impenetrable,” Avrat pointed out.

“Impenetrable, you say? I think you are mistaken dear Chief,” Hanariel said pointing at the Dimetrodon who had it’s teeth locked on the Nothodon’s torso. It bit hardly and pulled at the flesh as it ate, leaving the herbivore a bloody mess.

The Nothodon tried to break free, wriggled its body as it screamed sharply. But the more it tried to struggle, the Dimetrodon bit twice as hard. Its large facial muscles held unto the animal, tearing the flesh apart. It tried to hit the Dimetrodon with its tail but the predator crashed its body to its prey - sending it tumbling down the slope and colliding with the tall Rata tree Hanariel and Avrat were standing on.

It was a slugfest. The Nothodon fought back with as much vigor as the Dimetrodon but alas, the wounds are beyond repair and much blood had been lost.

Hanariel raised his eyebrows. “I told you so."

“I assume that having proven your point, you’d be willing to let me escort you back to town now,” the Chief said.

“Not quite, Chief,” he said mischievously.

He dropped to the ground with a quite thud, a few feet beside the happily occupied Dimetrodon. Chief Avrat could do nothing but just shake his head at him.

The Prince flung his loadstone blade at the neck of the creature. The beast turned its head and looked at him in slow motion. Its beady eyes first blinded by the sun’s rays enshrouding Hanariel’s figure. He strode confidently towards it. He lifted his left hand with his fingers spread wide open and turned it just a little bit to side as if opening the knob of a door. With lightning speed, the blade came flying to his left hand. The force of the pull was so strong, blood came rushing out of the Dimetrodon’s neck.

The beast howled in pain, turned his angry eyes at his perpetrator and ran maniacally towards him. The prince grinned and ran the opposite way, climbed into the mound of dirt and grabbed a protruding branch of the tree - then hoisted himself up.

He swung about mid air and shot three arrows at once aiming for the soft spot behind its eyes. It roared, sending a gust of foul breath in the air. It smelled of blood and flesh. Partly blinded, the Dimetrodon swayed from side to side crashing through trees as it trudged forward. The Prince didn’t waste anymore time and did the same to the other eye. The eyes of the Dimetrodon were positioned high and far back in the skull.

Three arrows flew at once from his bow.

He kept firing a barrage of arrows, always three times at once as he continued to climb up the trees. He did it in an unusual fashion. He would sprung from one branch to another twirling in the air so he could aim at the beast below once upside down. Then, just when he’s about to land, he’d use his right foot to push himself to the other side twirling yet again. His arrows never running out - just like all other elves. They just never ran out of it. How could they? When their quiver has magical runes designed to keep it loaded. That’s why they call it infinity quiver, very handy in battle.

The prince was enjoying himself immensely. He had only hoped of doing this for a long time. He remembered listening intently to the stories shared by Chief Avrat about capturing his pet, the Nothodon. Ever since he heard about the beasts that inhabit the forests north of the Norigath Volcano, he simply knew he had to come.

The prince was simply having to much fun that he didn’t even notice the white-ash rich pumice falling from the sky like snow.

The ash was carried by the wind and has reached not only the forest but also the town of Siloria way ahead to the north.

The elves in the village didn’t pay much attention to the dust. They were already used to it anyway. Sometimes, the color even varies from white to dark-ash. But Eltomar, the prince’s counsel, being not used to the whole thing kept on waving his hand in front of his face. He stationed himself at the tower, 250 feet high, near the bridge south of the town leading into the open forests waiting for the high prince’s arrival. He had been assured by Chief Avrat that he’d be bringing back the prince in no time.

He was already worried enough and now he’s starting to get more anxious. The assembly of the elf lords led by Lord Faerogil, head of the village, had agreed to meet this morning at the fountain of oblivion. He sighed. He was quite grateful that elves do not age the way mere mortals do, because if they did, he’d age ten years because of the stunt Hanariel just pulled.

In the distance, he could see several trees falling down. The densely packed forest seems to have parted and made way for something he didn’t know. He wondered if any large beast manage to get this far north. But clearly that rarely happen as the force field placed around the village makes it inaccessible to any of the live beasts. It was designed so as they wouldn’t accidentally wander to the village looking for food.

Besides, they flock at the foothills of Mount Norigath near the stream of Elvazel and the lake of Liefet. There were never any reports of sightings just south of the village. He thought.

Just as the last of the trees standing on the edge of the forest fell, he saw a silhouette. He could make out two figures, his keen eyesight detected the shape of a horse. And there was something behind them - something huge, something arched. It was dragging its limbs. No, it wasn’t dragging its limbs - it was being dragged.

When the horse riders left the shadows and stepped into the light, Elmator saw the prince and beside him Chief Avrat. Both of them holding a Lodil rope on one hand and the other on the reins of the horse.

At first, Elmator couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Behind them, a Dimetrodon was tied to the Lodil rope. They just passed through the force field and started crossing the bridge. The beast didn’t seem alive to him. It had a lot of arrows buried on its body except for its sail.

The guards assigned at the gate never said a word but they were looking amongst each other like having a silent conversation. They have the unique gift of telepathy, as all the elves do. They all bowed low acknowledging the High Prince and Chief Avrat as they passed the widely opened gate. Elmator glided down the tower.

“Greetings! High Prince Hanariel and First Tuvari Chief Avrat,” he begun, bowing as he said the words. He had a lot of other things in mind to say but an elf’s politeness is just something deeply ingrained in their nature. Both of the elves bowed and acknowledged Adviser Elmator.

He stared at the beast they towed. “What is the meaning of this, High Prince?”

He was at a loss for words, all thoughts about reprimanding him for leaving without notice vanished.

“I’m taking the beast back to Valhalla,” the Prince replied quite cheerfully.

Elves have now gathered at the southern gate and were gazing at the Dimetrodon. The male elves seemed impressed at the capture of the beast who’s almost 10 feet long.

The female elves, well, they didn’t flock to see the creature but to gaze upon the handsome prince. He looked impeccable riding his horse: strong and lean. All the elves had fair skin, but his just looks even fairer. He had cerulean eyes as blue as the clearest sky. Well, it was on most days. But every elf knows that the bloodline of Lorifarien changes eye color from time to time. And he wore this dazzling smile wherever he goes. No wonder every elf maiden swoons at the sight of him.

“I don’t understand,” Elmator replied.

“I know Tamer Elves at Valhalla who would gladly assist me with keeping this pet. It’s such a shame to leave it here. I’ve worked hard to acquire him. Do you know how long I’ve thrown my loadstone blade again and again just to clear the way for this beast?”

“The falling trees was your doing then,” he said.

“Oh, yes. Did that for too many kilometers to count. Remind me to thank Lord Forelia for his brilliant mind. Magnetic blade that one can control from a far. Brilliant. Not to mention, the infinity quiver and of course. This,” he said holding up the Lodil rope. “If it wasn’t for this, I don’t think Chief Avrat would’ve carried the Dimetrodon. Dragging it with the rope is like dragging a leaf. Lord Forelia. Brilliant mind,” he said once again.

“Speaking of Lord Forelia, he and the rest of the assembly should be gathered now at Rhinam,” Adviser Elmator reminded him.

Prince Hanariel nodded at Chief Avrat to take the beast away while he went and met with the elf lords.

He was accompanied by Elmator who announced his presence in the gathered nobility, seating around a large circular opaque crystal table. They all stood, bowed and greeted the high prince.

They were in Rhinam or the Fountain of Oblivion. It was in the middle of a meadow where a lone tree bearing white flowers grew. It served like an open sanctuary to the elves. There was a huge rock at the center of the circular crystal. On that rock was a crack where a continuous flow of spring water gushed out gently. Behind the round table was a very tall bell tower - taller than the rest of the towers in the whole village of Siloria. It was 2500 feet tall built by the High King Monis Lorifarien.

The high prince circled the crystal table acknowledging all the elves placing his left hand on the right shoulder of the lord, next the left shoulder and followed by a slight bow while saying the name of the elf. It was a traditional greeting.

He was just about to formally greet Lord Forelia - placing his left hand over his right shoulder - when a thin layer of white-ash on his clothes caught his attention. His eyes whitened, the cerulean pupils gone. He froze for a brief second. It happened all to fast that none of the lords saw the change.

Seeing that the high prince stopped, Lord Forelia said “Prince Hanariel, please accept my apologies if I don’t look presentable enough for your presence. I have been working at the eastern tower near lake Liefet. There has been more ash fall than usual and I wasn’t able to…”

“Oh, no. Don’t apologize Lord Forelia. You might not be aware of this but I am a big fan of your work. I do believe that you are one of the best if not the best tinkerer in the Elven Kingdom. Your inventions are of great use to me,” he praised.

Lord Forelia was surprised and humbled by the Prince's kind words. “It is my pleasure to aid you Prince."

“You mentioned about the ash fall. I had been too preoccupied by the Dimetrodon that I hadn’t noticed until now. You said it has been more than usual. Is that right?” he inquired.

“Yes, High Prince. But it’s all normal here in Siloria.”

The Prince looked at Elmator and sent a silent message through telepathy. Elmator quietly slipped from Rhinam to do the Prince’s bidding.

“I’m afraid. It isn’t normal anymore Lord Forelia,” he said looking at the elf then to the rest who have eagerly watched the exchanged. “There had been frequent ash falls here in Siloria some white - some dark. The little earthquakes too - seemed all normal to the rest of you - two days ago, last fortnight, last month.”

“But these are the little signs to what doom awaits all who live in Siloria.”

Then suddenly, the ground shook, way stronger than the footsteps of the Dimetrodon. The spring water producing ripples as it felt the vibration. All the lords clasped the crystal table firmly, as the screams carried by the wind grew louder and louder by the minute.

In the village, elf children were running as bits of stone fell. Some of the dwellings collapsed and elf families were buried underneath all the rubble. Parents wept at the sight of their mangled child. Elves ran to the open sanctuary, all of them fleeing to Rhinam. The center of the village is packed with buildings that one by one collapsed. An elf can easily evade the falling debris. But panic had settled in their hearts, with all the shock and terror that enveloped the land, none of them can think coherently.

As the earthquake settled, half of the infrastructure had collapsed. But Prince Hanariel knew that this was just the beginning.

In that brief moment where his eyes had changed color he saw a vision, Mount Norigath erupting and the whole land turning into a sea of fire.

He realized it all later than what he would’ve wanted. But with whatever time’s left. He gathered every Tuvari of Siloria to evacuate civilian elves. Elmator had already relayed the information seconds before the earthquake arrived. There was no time to mourn for the fallen, and even more disheartening that they had no time to rescue those who were trapped in the wreckage. The volcano was like a ticking time bomb and any minute from now it would explode and fire would rain down from the sky.

They rode on horses and they galloped fast running away from the eminent danger. As the company of survivors reached the Hajjal mountain pass, an ear splitting bang echoed in the distance. A cloud of smoke rose from the volcano. It was a very huge eruption column, lots of volcanic material was ejected high into the atmosphere which later collapsed hurtling hot pumice-rich material across the landscape. A fast-moving pyroclastic flow buried everything in its path: the stream of Elvazel, the lake of Liefet and to the horror of the elves, the village of Siloria.

A thousand hectares of land was filled with ignimbrite from the foot of Mount Norigath. It rose over 2000 feet to transcend the nearby hills, even the Wamaina Range. Only the Hajjal Range to the north of the volcano and Mount Awari in the east are high enough to divert the flow.

The explosion was heard thousand of kilometers away to the human civilization farther south of the Northern Elven Kingdom. In fact, it could be heard in the whole land, Vangora as humans call it. Men recorded the eruption as the strongest in history. They wrote of seeing the sky painted in red and sailors from the south told of tales about a mushroom cloud expanding in the sky. Humans remembered these stories.

But to the elves, they remembered the fire that flooded the land and their kin drowning in the sea of flames. Now, all that’s left are their charred bones buried beneath all the tephra, never to be seen again. And a forlorn tower amidst a lifeless landscape.

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