No one recognized me as I entered the tattoo parlor. Weaver may have one helluva reputation, but Keri is just another human as far as this corner of the realms was concerned. So no one gave me a second look as I signed a pseudonym on the check-in register and took my seat between the human pirate reeking of last night’s bad decisions and the renegade alfar waiting to defile his skin with even more blasphemous marks.
“Sorry, Human, but he’s not taking walk-ins today!” The clerk at the cashier counter waited until I had made myself comfortable between the snooty and the leering. She had glamoured herself to give the appearance of a bubbly late adolescent human female that had undergone many sessions of plastic surgery. It was a different look from the last time I saw her, as a neko-girl. No matter what her appearance, though, she is always an obnoxious shit who relies on her master’s reputation to protect her.
“My business is not with you.” The alfar on my left tightened his lips slightly at my dismissal. For him, it was an extravagant display of approval. The pirate on my right openly guffawed.
“If you want to make an appointment, your business is mine to deny.”
“You have a long waiting list for your snatch? He’s given you some slack on that leash, eh. Good to know for I know some associates that would drink what you’re pouring. However, my business is not with you.”
She slid off the stool and gained only an inch in height. Placing her hands flat on the counter, she leaned over in an effort to intimidate me. “Get out.”
“When I have completed my business with him, I will.”
“If I have to come from around this counter…”
“«Good Sir», should the occasion arise, would you hold my satchel?” I bowed my head as I queried the alfar. The tall man’s white eyebrows shifted two millimeters as he was astounded by my request. His surprise was hidden at once.
“«Little One», should the occasion arise, I shall certainly hold your satchel in confidence.” He bowed as he spoke, though his action resembled little more than a mere adjustment of posture.
“Hey! What am I? Salted rum?” The pirate nudged me roughly as he protested being overlooked.
“Hey! Bitch! I’m talking to you!” She took two steps when the tattoo artist stormed out from the back room.
“What the hell is going on here!” The tall man was thin of build but solidly muscular. A long flowing white skirt was cinched tight at the waist. A dark brown vest rested lovingly against his skin. A black cloth headband kept his fiercely red and burning brown hair away from his angular face. Leonine eyes sweep across the waiting area, keeping us all in place.
Those eyes regarded me as prey but for a moment. The moment of recognition flashed the pupils wide in mirth before squeezing back into cool indifference.
“Cheya.” Now having all of our attention, there was no need for him to yell. “Do be so kind and explain to me why you are threatening my guests.” He did not wait for a response but stepped quickly across the room to take my hand.
“This human bitch here…” The artist pulled me to my feet and embraced me. We said our mutual greetings with greedy explorations of each others tongues, while our hands slipped under clothes to trace remembered scars and find new textures to experience. “… she… uh…”
“I didn’t even feel you come in. Only your smirk gave you away, and even then, it is because you wanted me to see that. Hello, [Weaver]. Welcome back to my humble establishment.” He patted down my clothes before kissing me on both hands. “So, Cheya, you were saying about this human bitch?”
“She… she doesn’t have an appointment.”
He looked back at his servant, now red faced in anger and embarrassment. “Aye, she doesn’t. Did that give you leave to threaten her and make an advance upon her person?”
“N… n… no. Master.”
“Cheya is just guarding her interests, that’s all. Keep your appointments, [my friend], I am here for business myself and will wait for an opportune moment to discuss it with you.”
I sat back down between the alfar and the pirate. The alfar was offended by my presence again and the pirate wouldn’t stop chuckling.
As the artist flipped the Open/Closed sign to Closed, he gave Cheya a silent reprimand. The augmented woman deflated under the intense glare. “I am almost prepared for these two gentleman, and then you shall have my full and undivided attention. I’m afraid the wait is necessary.”
“Of course! Keep your obligations. I’m patient.”
He tapped the pirate on the knee and told him to follow to the back room for his tattoo. After they pass through the divided cloth curtain, the alfar addressed me.
“And what, pray tell, would be the occasion that would require the safekeeping of your satchel?” I could tell from the tone in his voice that I had lost all approval in his eyes.
“«Good Sir», it would be on instructing Cheya why the «Thrice Carved Elm» is given a wider berth than trolls. Certainly not for anything as base as physical congress. It’s just I enjoy dispensing such instruction a little too much, and it would be best if the satchel was in good care during that time.”
He turned his head to look squarely at me. He spied the one thing I could not hide from determined alfar eyes and allowed himself the luxury of a full smile on recognizing it. “How unfortunate such occasion was forestalled. it would have been… delightful… to watch.”
Sharp and discordant screams raced from the back room. A pause punctuated the pirate’s discomfort then a series of low chuckles from the tattoo artist.
The alfar sighed impatiently and muttered something about the greedy always paying a higher price than what was bartered. Moments later, the pirate, now whimpering and struggling to breathe without sobbing, limped slowly from the back room and out the door.
The tattoo artist approached the alfar and bowed slightly. He spoke in a dialect I did not recognize. The alfar turned towards me and slightly nodded his farewell. They retreated to the back room, leaving me alone with Cheya.
In her anger, she stuck out her chest to make sure her breasts were more perfect than mine. She only made herself look more like an animate sex toy, and it was hard not to laugh openly at her. “So, who the hell are you? You never answered me.”
“It’s been over a year, I’m in a different form, and you fled last time we met anyway. So I’m not surprised you don’t remember me.”
Cheya sniffed. “Well, what form you take doesn’t matter as long as you keep in mind that his bed is where I sleep.”
“Don’t you mean, as long as I keep in mind that you sleep where he commands. You are getting uppity again, perra. No matter what you have for him, you are only his property and he can discard you at will. Though, I make the same statement I did last time. He puts up with you because the trouble you make is entertaining and can be used to his advantage. Bark all you want, perra, for his sake I will not touch you for it. But the moment you lay a hand on me, I will snatch it off and eat it.”
Cheya was not very talkative after that.
The tattoo artist finished this session of adding to the alfar’s blasphemy. When he entered the waiting area shirtless, I turned my gaze so I would not see.
“Why do you not look «Troll-Cracker»? If I did not want you to see, I would have covered up before exiting.”
“I do not want to belittle what you have done with my ignorance. I do not know what all the marks mean, only that to mark your skin is an unwelcome act among the bright alfar, so I turn away from the whole in what I hope is respect to you for your choices. If you wish that I look, then I will look. But I do not know on what I see and I do not want to gawk at you like a sideshow exhibit.”
I heard the soft flow of cloth. “Then I will honor your respect by covering myself.” His hand crossed my vision to tap on my chin. It was as long as my face but two-thirds thinner than my hand. At his touch, I looked forward again. The satin shimmered as he moved. “Good day to you, and may the price you pay be less than what you bartered.”
He exited before I could even begin to stand. When I looked back, the tattoo artist was standing above me. He did not hide his leering this time, though I knew it was not to intimidate me, but to get a rise out of Cheya. When he took a black-nailed finger and traced that part of my collarbone that was exposed, Cheya threw the register clipboard to the ground and ran out of the shop. Her tears could be heard receding into the distance.
“Now, who is the more cruel to her? Weaver, or me?” His low voice promised more than cruelty if I wanted it.
“Unlike you right now, I was not taunting. She is your property, but I will defend myself.”
“Defend yourself? From her or from me?”
He laughed in reckless delight. “One of these days, I would to experience your legendary temper first hand. I have heard rumor that you have an ifrit form. I wonder how complete it is. But you did not come here to break our relationship, I’m sure. I have no further appointments for the day, so now you have my attention as promised. What may I do for you?”
He remained standing close to me, so I rudely nudged him back to have room to maneuver. He feigned offense for a moment, then laughed hungrily when I did not take the bait. I pulled a sealed manila envelope from my satchel and handed it to him.
“I require a tattoo to be placed on my person. As Keri. You were my first choice as I believe this type of tattoo is very familiar with you. If you can apply it, name your price. If you can’t, I trust you to be honest and tell me such.”
He looked at the true-scale drawing hidden in the envelope and the accompanying notes for ink color and composition. All playfulness left his face. “Aye. I can do this. And aye, this is my specialty. But you can not pay the price this is worth and for me to demand it would be an unlawful burden on you.”
“Do you decline, then?”
He clutched the envelope to his revealed chest. “No! I will not allow some base scribbler to abuse the mark nor you! I shall do this work! I have not forgotten our previous business. It was performed to such great personal satisfaction, that I shall consider it payment for the work I am about to do. I will not lie, it will be painful. Even for you, because it is upon the human, not [Weaver]. I shall have to apply restraints before I so much as transfer the pattern to your skin.”
I removed my shirt and stood there in bra and pants with all my human imperfections. “Do as you need to do.”
“I shall.” He looked me up and down with an honest smile of approval. He then took me by the hand and led me to the back portion of the shop. A few careful taps on the chair, and it self-adjusted into a position of comfort for me. I noted the lack of straps, and the lack of good places to be strapped down to.
He positioned me in the chair so that my left arm was resting out on an adjacent table with the palm of the hand upright. Only on my wrist and forearm did he strap to the chair and table. I expressed concern about the inevitable movement that comes from experiences of great pain.
“You must trust me. You, and your items, will be kept safe while you are unaware.”
“I do trust you.”
“First, I want to show you the beginnings of the pain, so you will understand why I will restrain you.” He waited for me to formally acknowledge his words before taking the unpowered needle gun and gently touching the inside of my arm with it.
Only his restraints kept me from snatching my arm back as I screamed in surprise from the bone deep burning that the brief touch ignited.
He removed the probe and I surrendered to the hold of the chair, shuddering and catching my breath. “May I subdue you, now?”
I swallowed my pride and nodded my assent.
The djinn’s eyes glowed as he became himself. With a finger of smoke he touched me between the eyes and spoke a word in his native tongue.
I remember nothing else of the dream, but woke this morning with a strangely itching arm.