Mark of the Undead
Plock Plock Plock Plock
Ink woke up to the sound of a bird pecking the stone wall of the bell tower repeatedly. Lately, he found himself frequenting the place. He would sleep at the spare room of the church but wake up in the early morning only to climb the stairs and sit at the exact spot that he was lying on now.
It was almost dawn and the sky is a mixture of darkness with flecks of orange in the eastern horizon. The sun was barely up but he knew that the workers from the south western encampment were already trudging the Mohayan road on their way to the forest plantation in the south - near the caldera of Mount Norigath. While some are going east to the pumice mines and stone quarries - north east of the mountain.
He thought bitterly that while peasants have no choice but to start their day before the first rays of the sun brightened the horizon, people in the northern district of the town are no doubt enjoying their sleep, indulging until the sun is high up in the sky. After all, the nobles have their servants to run their chores.
He got up shaking his head at the miserable thoughts that had clouded his mind so early in the morning. He planned to go to the public market and he too better start to march the long road ahead.
It was located at the center of the town and most directions are made relative to the position of the market. To the west of it, are the ruins of the bell tower and the church. Directly to the east, are the bungalows of the middle class. These folks are mostly the owners of small shops or stalls. There aren’t a lot of them anyway.
The Council Circle did build a fairly large marketplace, four columns of buildings equally divided into several rooms of the same size. There was a huge fountain in the middle of it, separating the two inner buildings - making it two parallel columns in the right side and another two parallel columns in the left side. It was useless though. Useless because the Council charged a ridiculous amount of money as rental fee. None of the middle class could afford it. So, instead of using the buildings, merchants built stalls for shops: a bench or table under a small canopy where articles of merchandise were exposed for sale. And they placed it around the fountain of the public market.
It amazed Ink how stupid the members of the Council were. They spend too much time in the north district that they don’t even know the state of affairs in the south.
They might as well build a wall around the north and permanently separate themselves. Act as if they are not a part of Maskerville and are not Maskervillians who suffer the same fate. Huh, maybe they are not Maskervillians… they should be called Masker---villains. Ink thought.
In truth, long before the punishment of the Ethereans, Maskerville used to be a part of the state of Vangora. But after the whole town was inflicted, the sovereign banished the people of Maskerville from its constituents - from human civilization at that. They were labeled as the people who harbored the devil’s cohort and was scorned.
The Mark of the Undead, the symbol of the skull, was given to their forefathers as punishment by the Ethereans for harboring a man who had consorted with the devil. All Maskervillians bore the mark on their foreheads. It is the sign of their transgression. A sin that will be carried unto their progeny. They will become the descendants of the diseased, bearers of the mark of the undead. Such is the fate that awaits every offspring of Maskervillians.
Their ancestors were removed from the town and were forced to fled into the north. They became nomads for years having nowhere else to go. They stayed clear of other creatures and as much as possible avoided being seen - for the very sight of them brought horrors that would haunt the creature for life. When an undiseased (other creatures without the mark) sees the mark of the undead, what they visualize is not a human but a ghoulish creature with hollow eyes. It’s body deformed and covered in rotting flesh. They became the subject of nightmares for those who have seen the abominable image. They were labeled as dangerous.
This doesn’t apply to the diseased though. When a Maskervillian sees a fellow diseased, all they witness is a normal human with the Mark of the Undead on their foreheads. But through the years, it has become abhorred to even expose the skull in broad daylight. Tradition had started that every man and woman of Maskerville must wear the mask even amongst their community.
But before the masks became established, their ancestors wandered for 40 years. It was a very difficult journey. Huge beasts roamed the forest of the north and finding safe dwelling seemed almost impossible. The future seemed bleak and hopeless.
Until one man appeared, masked and cloaked - only he wasn’t exactly a man. The crowd of Maskervillians were shell shocked as he removed his mask and cloak. All this time, they thought their freakish existence was the only one in Paladis. But they were wrong. He resembled a human being but he had a diaphanous body clad in transparent clothing emitting a bluish-like glow. His eyes were unnaturally veiled by a white membranous layer covering his purplish pupils. And moreover, he was unnaturally tall - towering over all of them like a luminous statue.
Nobody knew what he was for he was an ancient being long forgotten - more ancient than the elves even. He was a Divine Spectre.
He spoke to the crowd in foreign words - words they had never heard before in their life - but somehow he made sense to them, somehow they understood what the creature meant to say like magic. It spoke slowly and deliberately - dominating the crowd.
At first, they were terrified, some even trembling. But the more it spoke, the more they understood. They were just alike, forced to live in hiding because they were different from the rest of the world. It lived a very lonely life - solitary life, all throughout years of its existence too numerous to count. It watched the world change: creatures appearing, disappearing, adapting to the altering landscape: mountains rising and falling, rivers drying and valleys forming. It rejoiced as life was given and sorrowed at life taken. He gazed longingly at the things that happened always around him but never at him for he was nothing but invisible to the world.
He always wondered about the reason for his existence. Was he merely there as nothing but an observer? What was it that he needed to see?
And finally, he had seen - seen what his existence meant. As he looked upon the people whose lives lost meaning, he knew why he had to live for thousands and thousands of years.
He led the people to a new life - gave it new meaning. He salvaged the scraps and rebuild it anew. And rebuild - they did.
On the north of the caldera of Mount Norigath where an elf village used to stand, atop a thousand hectares of volcanic plateau spread over 500 km north to south and 200 km west to east of the mountain is where they reconstructed their civilization. It is bordered by the Hajjal range in the north and mount Awari in the east.
Forty years after the eruption of the Norigath volcano, signs of soil development and plant establishment are prominent. Distant trees that weren’t destroyed by the blast such as those from Mount Awari became a source of seed and other organic matter that would help the new soil formation.
Since more vegetation grew in the east near the vibrant forest of Mount Awari, this is where the Maskervillians first built their settlement. Land here is more arable since it is the furthest from the source of the eruption. It is only covered by a thin layer of pumice which plant roots can easily penetrate into the fertile soil buried underneath.
Still, farming was very hard given the soil condition of the land and only select crops grew. So the rest of the people who had no land to farm became hunters and gatherers, living off the wild animals and fruits produced by the ecosystem of the mountain forest. Such is the lifestyle they adapted for the following years. As their life became more stabled, they started building permanent houses foregoing the tents and canopies they had been living on through their nomadic years. They surface mined the stones and volcanic pumice that were a nuisance to cultivation and used it to build sturdy houses some more elaborate than others. For a time, their population grew and the demand for food became apparent. So the people attempted pastoral farming to meet their demands, not with the usual animals that were present in the southern human civilization but with the creatures that lived on Mount Awari. But the creatures became ill and died of a sickness no one could explain. Clearly, pastoral farming on the pumice soils of the volcanic plateau was a no go. Food became scarce.
And so the Divine Spectre sent fourteen people south in search of good land. They looked into the Mountain of Norigath where forests were abundant. But timber was of no use to them. And so they went east, where they saw the biggest pumice-rich field they had ever seen. But still it was not what they needed. And still further east, was nothing but a field of stones - all useless. These things are unnecessary to them. None of it was edible. None of it could fill their stomachs.
They returned defeated. But just like how it had been since the Divine Spectre’s arrival, he always had given them hope. Surely, if these things were not useful to them, other people would find a use for it - so useful that they might even pay a hefty sum of money and goods in exchange.
The idea sounded ridiculous to the ears of the fourteen at first. They were banished from the island country of Vangora. They highly doubted they’d entertain them, let alone trade with them. And even if they did, there was no way around the curse. They’d flee at the first sight of a ghoulish creature with hollow eyes walking in broad daylight. But the divine spectre had the answer, and he was holding it in his hands.
The fourteen shook their heads. “A mask was useless,” they echoed. They had tried to conceal the Mark of the Undead using that very object before. But it didn’t work. Somehow, the mark was still visible through the opaque material. The curse was too strong, and they were afraid that it can’t be concealed.
But this was the Mask of the Divine Spectre. It was no ordinary mask. He manage to become invisible all through the years because of it. It was made with the resin of the vertigo plant and enables the wearer to conceal it’s true identity. It was a rare plant that grew only in selected regions of the south and the north.
There was only one mask though, and so one man had to carry the fate of the entire Maskervillians upon his shoulders. The most eloquent and most diplomatic and most capable of persuading the sovereign to struck an agreement with their lot was sent, Sir Gili Mamoir. He journeyed the entire way - from the mountains of the north to the seas of the southern civilization. And returned triumphant. He succeeded in striking a bargain with the sovereign. A trade agreement was signed and stated that the accursed men of the undead will provide timber, pumice and stone for the island country of Vangora in exchange for the equal amount in weighted gold and food varieties and other items they wished to acquire - most importantly, the resin of the vertigo plant will be purchased and paid for the equal amount in weighted gold.
With the acquiring of the resin of the vertigo plant, so was the birth of the masks. And with the birth of the masks, more Maskervillians ventured south for trade. Food, fabrics, domesticated animals and other luxury items that can’t be attained in the North were made available. As the trading flourished, so did the town. It was the Rebirth of the Town of Maskerville.
It was like a golden age of construction. Commercial districts were built west of the first settlement on Awari mountain. The Chief region became established where the administrative and commercial districts are located. The fabric of their simple political system became more complex as the fourteen people who led the advance of the age where elected as the council circle whose powers would later on be passed unto their sons. More departments were born: the town defenders - who headed security of the town; the couriers - who traveled far and wide to procure and deliver goods; the traders - who led the major industries of timber, pumice and stone; the artisans - who were composed of artists, mainly those who create masks unique on its own; the medics - who treated common diseases and who hoped to find a cure for their curse; and lastly, scientia - the department assigned for the pursuit of discoveries and innovations.
Seven Major Administrative Departments under the Highest Order of the Divine Spectre.
As the town progressed, regress was happening on the fabric of their social structure. The town had gathered wealth, but wealth was concentrated mainly among the bigger people of the society. Social stratification had become more distinguished. The gap of the rich and the poor became wider as the nobles hoarded more money, levied higher prices for goods like food and fabrics and paid very little wage for the labor of the common people at major industries, continuing on three centuries later after occupying the 200 hectares of land northeast of the volcanic plateau.
Now, they have become a state of their own, making them the smallest self-governing body in the whole Paladis. Not that it was what they wanted or that it mattered to any of the neighboring nations. In fact, most states would be glad to be rid of them. Same can be said to other creatures in the land. They called them the diseased - to them they are the accursed men.
If these ill-wishers would want the Maskervillians wiped off the face of Paladis, no one would have stopped them. Whatever shred of humanity they have left, stopped them from committing genocide. But that doesn’t apply to all though.
“Three dead,” the old cobbler sounded aghast. “Their bodies were found strewn all over the main road halfway from the nearest city, Yj’horca.”
“Tis why I’ve been telling young lads not to sign up for the Courier,” grumbled another man who is just about as old.
“Well, you can’t blame them Magnus. The wage is high, enough to buy them sufficient food for the entire month. Occasionally, you even get ahold of some rare commodities.”
“Bleh, me rather eat cabbage soup for the rest of me life than risk getting killed by vagabonds along the road. Nasty way to die.”
Ink had heard these rumors flying around upon stepping into the market. Three couriers found dead on the road from Yj’horca. They were returning after a scheduled procurement of fabrics and Vertigo Resin from the city when a group of vagabonds attacked them. The other three town defenders together with them were not found.
“Well, I think the Department of Couriers ought not to take in unmasked people like us for the job. It is madness to send those lads out there in broad daylight for other creatures to see, or if they must employ peasants they should at least be obliged to provide the mask, free of charge at that,” the cobbler reasoned.
The old man having his leather shoe sewed laughed in jest, “Heh, you think the Artisans Department would freely give out stuff like that. Rumor has it Vertigo Resin had doubled it’s price since last month - the Artisans were outraged. But that wasn’t the only reason that got their knickers in a twist, you know that boy Ink?”
Ink stiffened as he heard his name mentioned. He turned his back abruptly and stood in front of a stall selling potatoes pretending to examine it in his hand.
“Oh yes, that young lad. Very good boy, he is. Always giving out free food to the kids, aye,” the cobbler supplied.
“Eh, Me surprised the kids aren’t scared of him,” he jeered. “Face like his filled with black tar and those ears filled with piercings.”
“His face was not completely covered with tar just the forehead and some of his cheeks. It was art,” defended the cobbler. “At least he had some way to cover his mark. And I happened to look upon it - closely I might add. And the design was very elaborate. Something an old fool like you wouldn’t know how to do. And I dare say, he look rather fine with it - cool even. His face should actually warrant him an ogre-mask,” he huffed.
Ink grinned childishly. He felt like his honor was just defended mightily by a cobbler wielding his needle. It seems like people who work with needles flock together.
“Oh sure sure,” brushed off his customer. “But that is not what’s important. I heard that a lot of the peasants are getting tattoos from him now. And people from the middle class started talking about abandoning masks and going for tattoos instead. Imagine the uproar at the Artisans Department at the thought of abandoning masks. I heard they are looking for this guy now, asked assistance from the sentry even,” he gossiped.
“This is ridiculous.They should know masks are a part of who we are now. It can’t just be replaced by Ink’s tattoos. It doesn’t have the ability to conceal our true identities.”
“The Artisans aren’t concerned about that. A lot of us dare not venture south of mount Norigath. If within our society, people could walk without exposing the mark in such as chic way as you said, then they be losing market in town. The only ones left would be the northern district and the town defenders and couriers who venture south. They’d be losing revenue,” the old man said.
“Well, surely something as trivial as tattoos should catch their attention while men sent south are dying and they do nothing. Clearly, they have their priorities mixed up. They should be more concerned about the men they send to get their Vertigo Resin unprotected. What little protection they can get is from the mask that they refuse to provide. They needed it, lest they not be seen as horrid ghouls,” the cobbler said forcefully.
“I’m afraid that even the mask might not be able to protect them. I mean, the three masked town defenders where not even spared. Their bodies are nowhere to be found. It’s no longer just our true forms that scare the undiseased. It’s our very existence Theos. We are the stigma that plagued the society for four centuries,” he concluded saddened by thought.
“Was it our fault that we are born this way, Magnus? Was it our fault that the Mark of the Undead is etched to our very skin - on our foreheads for the world to see,” he asked quite enraged. “We are also human beings no lesser than them. Must our lives be worth so little?”
Ink tuned out their conversation not wanting to be dragged in the same pit of despair. He already had enough bottled anger and distress and distrust to the whole world. Distrust of the aristocrats who only looked after their own self interests, of the undiseased slaughtering cursed people like them, of the Ethereans who gave them this fate. He kept it all inside, focused on what is more important - looking after his own, the peasants who suffered more from this punishment. He was their champion after all.
He looked at the children gathered around the fountain singing the Paladian Calendar. Kids clothed in undyed tunic, worn out through years of use. Mere kids who didn’t have a care in the world, ignorant of the troubles of the big folk. They smiled amongst each other and clapped their hands as they sung the song. How he wished he was still a kid. But time can not be undone. And now he just wished to protect their smiles.
He stepped closer to them. The song growing louder as he came closer. They were clapping a one-two beat.
“ Fah’lum, Enmin, Ramul, Irum, Qofir, Qah’lim, Oh’fid, Bapo, Sool, Ih’la, Errist, Hanul, Tam ------mul …. Tammul.
These are the thirteen months of Paladis.
Won’t you come and sing with u-----s …. together.
Every week has seven days,
--And Every month has twenty-eight days
Then, Every month has four weeks
-- And Then Each year has three hundred sixty fou----r.
Fah’lum, Enmin, Ramul, Irum, Qofir, Qah’lim, Oh’fid, Bapo, Sool, Ih’la, Errist, Hanul, Tam ------mul …. Tammul.
These are the thirteen months of Paladis.
Won’t you come and sing with u-----s …..”