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Freedom City, Riverside

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Noontime

 

Asli Saddik didn’t know how people who drove through the city knew anything. On the train or the bus all the buildings and storefronts were a blur; it’s only when she walked through the neighborhood that she could look into the windows and walk through the store, touch and smell things, talk to the shopkeepers and the other pedestrians. Someone else might choose a store based on the name or a Facebook review, but Asli knew she needed to get down there and peel back the mask.

 

She wasn’t just browsing, though. Today Asli was looking for a very specific gift and she wasn’t at all certain in her judgement regarding it. That’s why she had dragged her roommate along on this walk; Sam could walk her into the ground, after all, and two eyes looking for a tattoo  were better than one.

 

They had already passed a few tattoo parlors, but one had been shuttered and skeevy-looking, another one had been manned by stoners who seemed to mostly be working on each other, one had ran her out when she asked for samples… it wasn’t a promising experience. Still, Asli insisted that they press on, check out “a couple more places, Sam. There’s got to be a good one in the city, and damn if I’m going to miss it.”

 

The woman’s eyes were drawn towards a shop that claimed itself to be “IMMORTAL TATTOOS” in all capital letters. The building was clean and there weren’t any bars on the windows. The front was filled with large boards, showing photographs of happy, inked customers and drawn designs. All of the samples were clear and well-done, and the variety on display was staggering. There were so many on display, in fact, that she couldn’t see past them, and Asli found herself seriously tempted.


She turned to Sam, gesturing to the window display. “What do you think? Do the look any good?”

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Sam peered at the elaborate designs on display, impressed despite herself. "Looks like they know what they're doing, that's for sure. And it's actually clean. Some of those other places made me feel like even I would catch something off the needles." She leaned down to point out a photo of a particularly intricate tattoo. "Will you look at the kind of detail on some of these? Who the hell can do that with a needle and ink?" She found herself wishing she had come here when she got her other tattoo. Of course, she had just woken up with it one morning after getting s--tfaced drunk, so for all she knew she actually had.

 

Straightening up, she thrust her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket. "They look good, all right. A hell of a lot better than any of the other dumps we've checked out today. Whoever's in there must be the f---ing Michelangelo of inkers." She put a hand on the door. "Let's take a look, just to see what the catch is. Who knows, maybe it's like the last place and the owner's a jerk."

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The shop wasn't all that large but it was very clean. the walls were painted black but that seemed more to make sure that the artwork adorning every square inch of space stood out. There were only a few tattoo stations, but they were all empty but for the blonde man sitting at the counter sketching a design. He glanced up as the door opened, setting the pencil down and stood up. He was tall, heavily tattooed from wrist to the shoulder of his muscle shirt. The colors decorating his arms were bright enough that they seemed like they must be freshly done. 

 

"Hey, come on in," Ray said with the sort of casual ease that came with running a tattoo parlor. Formality wasn't exactly their stock in trade. "Looking to get some ink done?"

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"Yeah, maybe." A woman of few words, Sam wandered over to one of the walls to inspect the artwork displayed there, which was no less impressive than that displayed in the window. Half the tattoo parlors these days didn't seem to do anything more complicated than an anchor, or maybe a little heart that said "Mother" on it. But these...art appreciation was never exactly her strong suit, but even she could tell these were the real deal. The shop seemed far more sanitary than the others of its ilk, as well. She sniffed the air experimentally. And it doesn't even smell like urine. Five stars.

 

She turned her head to look sideways at the man, noticing the vibrancy of the ink that covered his arms. How does he do that? He must have to reapply them every damn morning to keep them looking so bright. "These are really something else," she said, indicating the displays. "You do them all yourself?"

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Asli found herself watching the big man with the tattoos intensely. Okay, maybe staring at him -- at least she wasn't drooling. She forced herself to look away from him, to examine the artwork hung around the store. The needlework really was impressive. It wasn't all Chinese letters or hearts, either -- Asli was drawn to an entire wall of repeating geometric shapes, interlocking triangles that formed squares that formed spirals that formed more complex shapes... It made her eyes hurt if she went too far, and she wondered who had enough bare skin to work a design like that. But it was certainly eye-catching.

 

"I'm looking to get a gift card," she said. "For a friend of mine. He's decided he's going to get a tattoo in the new year. Do you have costs based on size, or what?"

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"Pretty much. I have a few apprentices but they're responsible for their own clients. The stuff on the walls is mine, since its my shop. They've got books if you're interested in looking them over, especially if you're looking for the Japanese style or American classic tattoos. I don't do those, too many rules," he said as he came around the corner of the desk. He leaned one lean hip against it, folding his arms over his chest as he relaxed his stance. A small smile kicked up one corner of his mouth in genuine appreciation for the compliment, "Thanks. I like what I do. Not many people get to say that."

 

He gave a small lift of his chin in answer to Asli's question, "We can set something up. Do you know what size piece he's interested in getting and where he might want it? I don't do flash pieces, my work is custom so its per hour for design and then the work. My hourly is a hundred and thirty but I'm worth it." 

Edited by alderwitch

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Asli felt her heart sink. She resisted the instinct to reach into her pocket and finger the handful of bills she'd brought along. She had less than a hundred bucks, and this was gong to run to at least two hundred; she didn't much feel like getting laughed out of the shop, but she also didn't want to try to comb though the city for another reputable-looking tattoo shop. Even then it would probably be just as much as this one...

 

She was shaken out of her negative train of thought when the door opened and a new customer walked in. This one was dressed like something out of the Seventies, with a tattered leather vest and bell bottom jeans and white trainers. He even has the long, unkempt hair of a flower child. He stopped and stared at Asli and Ray and Sam, giggling to himself. "Hey there, lady things and dude thing." He started drifting around the store, looking at the art on display.

 

Asli took a deep breath, counted to ten, and let it out. "My friend has a history has a history with needles. The, uh, bad kind of history. Is that going to be a problem? The Internet says that tattoos hurt more on fat than they do on muscles, but I don't know what they do to collapsed veins."

Edited by Raveled

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Ray was well used to the expression of vague dismay at his prices, reasonable though they were. It was on the tip of his tongue to suggest saving up, and starting in on his spiel of 'cheap tattoos are never good tattoos' but the revelation that it was a recovering drug user stopped him before he could start. Ray sighed. 

 

"I'm sure we can work something out," he said instead. It could easily have sounded sleazy but there was no accompanying innuendo that made it sound anything more than what it was, a vague dismissal of his price. Hooking one foot under his stool, he drug it over to the side of the counter to perch on it once more. The new fellow gained only the briefest of glances before his attention turned back to the women. They certainly got their share of window shoppers. 

 

"Well, a good tattoo shouldn't do anything to veins unless some hack is digging for gold. Veins are deeper than they look. If its from multiple injections, the bigger concern is topical scars. You can tattoo a scar but it takes the ink differently so you want to design for that. Personally, I like to work damaged skin in multiple sessions to better let the tissue heal and not overwork the skin." Ray paused and then added, the words surprisingly gentle, "Is it from a medical condition or is he using? I'd suggest against tattooing skin that's going to be regularly punctured with any sort of needles."

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"He's done using," Asli said, a note of hard determination in her voice. "In February he'll have been clean for a solid year. That's what he wants a tattoo for." She paused and considered what she did know. "I can't say what he wants a tattoo of, though. Maybe the NA symbol or service badge -- but you'll have to talk to Larry about that. Listen, do you have a card or something? Maybe I should just get him one of those credit card-gift card things and some estimates, let him pick his own shop."

 

The flower child had circulated through the shop, ending up in front of the counter. "Hey, needle-angel," he said. "Can I, like, get some service?" He looked sideways and Asli and giggled. "Don't let her sell you on her smoke and mirrors." His laughter steadily intensified until he was holding his stomach and fighting to keep upright. "She's gonna, like, blow away like smoke, man!"

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Sam had ignored the hippie guy when he first came in, only glancing at him with mild annoyance at being called a "lady thing." Is he stoned or something? He certainly looked it. It was only when he wandered over and interrupted Asli's conversation with his laughing fit that she broke off her inspection of the tattoo designs and spoke up. "Hey, mind giving us a minute here? We were here first." She stepped up behind him, observing the way he was doubled over with mirth. Yeah, he's definitely on something. It wasn't on the evening's agenda, but she realized she couldn't let this guy be walking around the city like that. He could get hit by a bus, or worse. "Listen man, is there someone we can call for you? Because..." she stopped. What she had initially taken for a design of some sort on his jacket was actually a slowly spreading bloodstain. Red was leaking from between his fingers, and already tiny ruby droplets could be seen on the floor at his feet. "Oh, s--t! Asli, this guy's bleeding pretty bad!" Even as she spoke, her hand was diving into her pocket for her phone.

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The business card would have to wait. Ray's head had snapped up at the guy's particular turn of phrase, so his attention was on the man staggering towards his counter at Sam's outburst. "Aw, hell," with the way that Ray pronounced that word, it almost sounded like a more potent curse than it was generally used as. He moved to his feet smoothly, with none of the laziness that had marked his movements before.

 

"Let's get you down in a chair and take a look. You get stabbed, man?" Ray asked as he reached one hand out towards the giggling hippy currently bleeding on his floor. He was strong, although not inhumanly so, and as he reached out with his hands to catch the other man by the shoulders. Ray did glance away, towards Sam as she reached into her pocket. He nodded his head towards the handset phone on the desk, "You can use mine if you want. Then you don't have to try and figure out the address."

 

The perceptive - or the very stoned - might have noticed the bright tattoos on Ray's forearms start to shift over his skin. 

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The man didn't react much when Sam started talking to him, but Ray's touch caused him to start freaking out. He flailed and screamed and shouted, waving his arms and splattering blood in thin arcs. Asli took a step back and started considering what spells she could use surreptitiously, and then a wave of power crested over her. It left her feeling scared and tiny and weak and humbled. She shook her head and stumbled towards the phone, grabbing the receiver and punching 9-1-1. The operator connected and she started babbling, her other hand grabbing hard at the counter. Her knees were wobbling; her knuckles were white; she felt like she was going to throw up or start crying or just faint.

 

The hippie was backing away from Ray and Sam, protesting weakly. "You can't mess with my jacket. You'll mess up all the patterns! Can I just sit down and show you the patterns, dude?"

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Sam took a startled step back when the man started having his fit. Was he having a seizure or something? He only started when that guy touched him - does he really, really not like men, maybe? If he kept up like this he was liable to hurt himself, but she doubted that she would be strong enough to restrain him. The tall, heavily inked man who owned the place seemed like he was willing to help, but she wasn't sure how much he could do. She was just trying to figure out a way to suit up and whisk him over to the nearest hospital before he swallowed his tongue or decked somebody, while at the same time not exposing her identity to the owner of the parlor, when Asli staggered as though she'd been struck.

 

Sam was at her friend's side in an instant, grabbing her arm, Asli's sudden illness taking priority over the hippie's. Asli was on the phone now, speaking incoherently into the receiver, looking as though she might pass out at any given moment. "Asli! What the f---, are you okay? Do you know that guy?"

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Ray lifted his hands back, palms outward like he was showing he was unarmed. As the two women were out the counter, he stepped between them and the ever more frantic man. "Easy. Easy," Ray said, putting his broad back to the ladies and shifting one arm very slightly. Ray glanced down to the chain that had snaked its way down to his wrist, ready to call it forth if he needed it. "No one's messing up your jacket but you, my friend."

 

He glanced down, wishing not for the first time that he wasn't confined to mortal senses but breaking those particular seals would mean further ink. And probably on his face. "Sure, let me see these patterns. Sit wherever you want."

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Asli swallowed hard, leaning against the counter and trying to breath regularly. Her hand holding the receiver was still shaking, but she managed to take in what the dispatcher. She nodded at Sam's question and set the phone down as gently as she could. "I'll be fine," she said. "It just... It got really close in here all of a sudden, you know?" She shot a hard look at Ray, guessing that he was the source of whatever power she was feeling. "I'll be fine once I get my head straight."

 

For his part, the hippie was calming down now that no one was threatening to grab him. "Cool dude-thing, yeah. I just need some help." He tried to slip out of his jacket and ended up peeling it off, the blood trying to stick it to his back. The skin on his back had been thoroughly lacerated, many fine lines scoring his back. They faded and got more ragged past his shoulder blades. "I can't get the middle of my back. I gotta get it right, you know? Like in the book." He held up the coat, and now it was obvious there was something trying to weigh down one of the pockets.

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Sam sucked in her breath through her teeth as she looked over the man's mutilated back, her skin crawling with sympathetic pain. "Jesus Christ."  He wasn't stoned. Well, not just stoned, anyway. He was crazy. If he had actually done that to himself, then he needed some serious mental help in the worst way. Why would somebody even do that?

 

Asli seemed to have pulled herself together, at least, though Sam got the feeling there was more to it than she had told her. She made a mental note to ask her about it later, but right now they needed to deal with the problem immediately at hand - namely, the crazy guy with the shredded back. She moved up to stand beside Ray, one hand raised towards the hippie in a calming manner. "Okay, you want it like in the book. Got it. You mind if we take a look at the book?" Any insight it could give into his situation would probably be helpful.

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"Like... the book? Sure, sure. Like in the book. Got it." Ray said, his expression oddly dispassionate as he took in the man's mutilated back. Hell, it looked ritualistic. Ray didn't know what this man had in his pocket but anything that made a person cut on themselves to this degree couldn't be good. "You know I'm going to have to touch you to, ah, finish your work right?" 

 

He took one step closer ostensibly to look at the marks but his hand reached towards the man's jacket and the heavy weight inside. If he'd been alone, he'd have just taken the book but with the two women here, it made things more complicated. As Sam suggested looking at the book, he cut a glance to her and sighed, "Hell, whatever he has in his pocket made him think it was a fantastic plan to slice his back to hamburger. You don't want to look in that book, kid. It can't be good for anyone." Impatient now he looked back at the man, "You're going to give me this book and then sit down while we get you some medical help. You do not want to wrestle me. Trust me."

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"Dude, yeah, okay. I've just got to get the marks right, okay? So I can get the part." The hippie dropped his jacket and sat backwards on a chair, leaning his chest against the back so his lacerated skin was exposed. "If I don't get the part I'm just gonna... Go crazy, you know dude?" He held up one hand to his forehead and moved his fingers apart in an explosive fashion. "Just, like, total brain overload."

 

Asli edged around Ray and the mutilated man, keeping as far away as she could and still snag the jacket. She handled it with two fingers, laying the bloody garment on the counter and digging out the book. It was the size of a trade paperback, with a cover of brown wrapping paper that had been laminated in many layers of packing tape. The title was written on the front in looping, elegant calligraphy. "Camilla, the King, and I," she read aloud. "Or, my Summer Adventures in Lost Carcosa." She opened it at random and swept her eyes down the page quickly. "It's... a play?"

Edited by Raveled

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Ray glanced over his shoulder as the book was taken although the bulk of his attention remained on the guy bleeding on his floor. That still seemed like an awful lot of blood for a human to lose to say nothing of whatever had damaged his brain to make it seem like this was a good idea. The aggravated sound that Ray made in the back of his throat was annoyed. He wasn't the most protective of his so-called 'secret identity', but he wasn't the sort to go blasting his powers around willy-nilly. That was generally asking for trouble. 

 

"Well, I can't say that the whole affair between Camilla and Charles would make a sort of play that lends itself to self flagellation... Wait, did you say Carcosa?" Ray said, his attention finally diverted from the bleeding marks. He frowned, then he sighed. "Dammit. Dammit."

 

Turning back to the man, he reached out to touch his fingertips to the nape of his neck. This time, his tattoos were definitely moving, the red of the flames whirling away from a lambent gold that actually seemed to glow. In fact, it was glowing, as Ray tapped his true nature through the sigils tattooed up and down his body. Though, really, there was little finesse in the current magic he was using. Ray had never been a 'succor for the needy' type of angel. He was no healer, but he understood the mechanics of it even if in this case it was mostly raw holy power that told a mortal shell to be mended. The glow from Ray's hands was painfully bright, but brief. "'You are but a divided house.' Rest. Be at peace.

 

The light flared from his fingertips and then sank below the skin of the man he touched, spreading down his back and filling in the jagged lines marking his back and shoulders before Ray lifted his fingertips, shaking them as if they stung. That was not what his tattoos had been designed for. Something to add to his ever growing list, though. 

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Sam stared openly at Ray's display of hitherto-unknown power, then laughed under her breath and shook her head, chewing her toothpick. This frickin' city...can't swing a dead cat without hitting a cape. "Well, huh," she said, trying to think of how a perfectly ordinary civilian would sound upon seeing someone use powers. "Didn't know you could do that." The way his tattoos had moved had not gone unnoticed by her, and she now saw the artwork all over the store in a new light. So he had tattoo powers? And judging by the way he had healed the man's wounds, pretty useful ones. What had he said about a divided house? Was that a quote from Abe Lincoln?

 

He seemed to have the injured man under control for the moment, at least. She moved up to stand beside Asli, speaking quietly into her ear. "Asli, the tattoo guy has powers and the hippie guy is obviously completely section eight. Did he really carve up his back just to get a part in some play?" She looked down at the book curiously. "I've never even heard of that one. Carcosa? Is that in Puerto Rico?"

 

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Asli gasped as she felt Ray's power. It was the first warm day of spring, it was a cool shower after working up a good, honest sweat, it was the soft touch of her mother's hand and her father's downy beard. It made her want to cry and sing and scream in terror all at the same. She shook her head sharply, slamming up mental walls at the rush of emotions -- she was not going to get shut down by some tattooed magus, even if he was a hurricane of power bound up by ink.

 

Asli gripped the book tighter. "I don't know what Carcosa is," she said, "and I don't know Camilla or the king it's talking about. I do know one thing, though." She nodded at the hippie, who was leaning against the back of the chair, tongue lolling like a happy dog, back unmarked and unbloodied. "In about ten minutes some EMTs are going to be looking for a guy who was bleeding all over this shop."

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"Carcosa was a place, of sorts. A civilization more than a place - if you believe the myths," Ray provided, frowning down at his stinging fingertips and then, more deeply, at his blood spattered floor - more annoyed at the mess than apparently about some concerned EMTs. "Some powers are worse to worship than others. It predates me which says something."

 

He grunted and pulled off his blood flecked t-shirt before dropping it on the floor and using it as a rag to mop up the floor. It's not like he'd get the bloodstains out. "As to the EMT's, I'll just tell them that someone panicked about their new tattoo and called for medical attention. Wouldn't be the first time. You two alright?"

 

Ray scooped up the now saturated formerly white shirt, holding it distastefully out from his body as he turned his attention to the two ladies. "Carcosa is something of a fabled lost land, if you happen to be into dark occult things or, occasionally, seriously deranged."

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Sam sighed. Dark occult things. Nothing was ever simple, was it? She supposed she should have seen this coming. There was something about this city - once you put on the mask for the first time, suddenly all the weirdness in the world seemed to get drawn to you like moths to a flame. And now that she actually had a mage for a roommate, she officially no longer had any right to act surprised when weirdness emerged. "Okay. So he's not crazy. Well," she looked at the hippie. "Not just crazy, at least. There must be something going on with this book and Carcosa that made him do that to himself, right?" She just hoped that reading the damn thing wasn't enough to make people start cutting on themselves, or they might be in trouble.

 

She turned her attention to Ray, apparently unperturbed by his shirtlessness. "Is he still awake? Whatever you did there seems to have calmed him down some - maybe we can get some answers out of him now. I wouldn't mind knowing who he is, and where the hell he got this book."

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Asli slipped the book into her coat and approached the flower child, stepping lightly as she moved into his field of view. She watched his eyes closely; his eyes were moving aimlessly but they were tracking, and his pupils weren't either fixed or dilated. Whatever the tattoo guy had done, it wasn't a chemical. "Hey buddy," she said, keeping her voice soft. "I've got some questions, if you're got the time."

 

She waited, patiently, while the man's eyes completed their circuit of the room and settled on her again. He smiled sleepily and reached out towards her, and she steeled herself as his fingers to brushed against her cheek. "You're a really solid smoky lady," he said in a stage-whisper.

 

Asli forced herself to smile and hold steady. "Thank you," she said. "Can you tell me where you found your book?" She pulled the brown-wrapped script free and showed him the cover page.

 

He looked at it with the same dreamy, dopey smile. "It was at the theater. The one with the yellow curtains that looks out on the bay, hey, hey." Asli looked over the man's shoulder at Ray and Sam, raising an eyebrow at them

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"Healing and that all really isn't my thing," Ray replied with a sigh as he cast the hippy a brief, frowning look at his dreamy, slurred information as he answered Sam's unspoken question, "It should just mellow him out, hopefully chase out some of the lingering mania but I might have hit him harder than intended. Like I said, it's not really my strong suite. Never has been. His memories might be a little fuzzy though when he shakes it off but that's probably for the best. Last thing I need is him trundling back down here with questions."

 

Ray finished mopping up the floor and went to stuff his shirt in the biohazard bin. "I'll have to hit it with bleach later but that'll do for answering the EMT's questions."

 

He held his hand out for the script then, "Look, I appreciate you folks trying to help but anyone beating down the path looking for Carcosa is not going to be happy-fun times. You've more than done your duty as good samaritans but it might be dangerous."

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