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March 1, 2016 

 

"Do you do non-humans?" The voice on the shop's phone was like none Rae had heard before - a booming croak that nonetheless was clearly speaking words. "For tattoos.

 

-

 

Outside, Aquaria was largely concealed beneath a gigantic hoodie and sweatpants, ducked low behind Jessie as she spoke into the latter's phone (a replacement they'd gotten upon their return to Terra), just a few doors down from the place that did inking - the tattoo parlor in English. They'd looked the place up on Jessie's computer, but if there was anything they'd learned from their trip to space, you couldn't be too careful! It was late in Riverside, the streets beginning to darken as late afternoon began to shed into evening, and the streets mostly empty in the wake of the hard rain that afternoon. Which made it perfect. 

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"Huh. Sure, come on in."

 

------

 

Ray wasn't sure what he was expecting but he was generally an open minded sort. Still, it was just the blonde man inside when Aquaria and Jessie arrived - not unusual as he didn't run that many chairs out of his shop. Eternal Ink was bright and clean, the large glass windows had bars on the inside but it was still easy to see even from the outside, the amount of artwork decorating the walls. It wasn't so much typical tattoo art as there were no large posters with sample designs to choose from. Rather it looked like - and actually was the case - that Ray had taken up decorating the walls when there was no available skin to work on. At this point, every scrap of wall and counter space was covered with various work and designs and it appeared that in some areas, art had crept up onto the ceiling.

 

The proprietor in question was leaning on the counter, blonde head bent over a piece of paper as he sketched - clearly engrossed in whatever he was doing and paying little attention to those passing by his shop windows on this rainy day. 

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Jessie came in first, eager to be out of the rain despite her yellow rain slicker and matching umbrella. She collapsed the umbrella and gave the whole interior of the shop a suspicious look before subsiding and standing aside to let Aquaria inside. Aquaria never minded a little extra rain, after all. The art quickly caught Jessie's attention, far more sophisticated than her own amateur efforts at drawing and painting, and without even bothering to say hello or take off her coat, she wandered away to study the walls. 

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Aquaria padded over to Rae, head ducked low under her hoodie. She could pass for human, especially with the heavy sunglasses she was wearing underneath, but since Rae knew what to look for he could see the arms and legs that were a little too long and gangly for a normal human's body, the rounded, muscular torso beneath the outfit, and of course the three-fingered hands. Sucking up her courage, Aquaria pulled back her hood, exposing green and white skin, big goggle eyes, and a hugely gaping mouth that she was careful not to open too wide as she spoke to the man for the first time. Aquaria studied Rae carefully, waiting for a reaction. If he was going to be working with her upper torso, he needed to get used to her quickly. "I called. I need a tattoo for my skin." She pulled off her gloves and exposed the skin underneath, green and white and slick to the touch, more suitable for the frog she resembled than a human. At her wrists, Rae could make out the beginnings of what had to be a previous artist's work, blue abstract patterns that disappeared up underneath her long sleeves. 

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"Hunh," said Ray as he took in the woman... frog... with an almost bemused look on his face as he pushed away his sketchbook. Still, it wasn't abject horror or screaming, so that was something. He examined Aquaria with an interest not dissimilar from the level that Jessie was currently taking in his walls. As for what Jessie saw, there was all sorts of designs and styles although done by the same hand. In some areas, the walls had clearly been repainted and then the work done over that. 

 

Standing up to his full height, Ray gestured towards one of the chairs as he went to lock the door and close the blinds. "Not what I was expecting. You have no idea how rare that is. So, what sort of tattoo did you need?" Ray asked as he'd not missed that particular word-choice.

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"I am Aquaria Innsmouth. And I need your help." Aquaria reached down and pulled off her hoodie in one smooth motion, revealing that it was all she was wearing - and revealing a truly impressive amount of tattooing underneath. The markings, which to Rae's practiced eye looked to be made by ash mixed with some sort of natural plant product, were blue beneath acres of green and white skin, tracing all over Aquaria's torso in intricate, abstract, obviously meaningful patterns that would have looked like something from another world to any other tattoo artist in the city. "Where I was born, we are marked to show passages." Aquaria pointed to herself, swirls along her arms "When I killed food for others for the first time." Spirals along her belly. "When I laid eggs. When they hatched," along her flank, when eyes seemed to have appeared among the spirals. 

 

"I have done everything but the last one - the mark that shows that I am an elder. Can you make an elder sign for me?" she asked of Rae. 

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"Can, yes. Sure. Should, that's a whole other question," Ray said as he took in the swirls and spirals with more interest than the amphibian body revealed beneath them. He circled Aquaria slowly, a faint frown on his face. "And, really, I'm not sure that you'd want me to be the one to do them - though I doubt that there's anyone else in the city limits that could do a proper job of it. I might know a guy in London... unless he's dead by now."

 

Ray gave a short shake of his head as he plopped down on his stool once more, one lanky leg tucked up against the bottom rung of the stool. "First thing's first, before I take a trip down wrestling with whether I really ought go inscribing elder sigils on an Innsmouth kiddo. Do you know who I am, though? Well, what, actually.  Do you know what I am? It's a different pantheon, which might actually matter to you since pretty sure those have religious connotations. I'm Abrahamic - even if I am sort of on a time-out, so to speak."

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"You have to do it." Jessie's wanderings had brought her close to where Ray and Aquaria were talking, and now she turned her attention to the conversation. "If Aquaria doesn't get her tattoos, she won't ever be a self-actualized person who sets her own direction in life." That last bit sounded a lot like a verbatim quote from somewhere, but the concern on Jessie's face seemed real. "Her tattoos are her stories, and without them she might forget who she is and what she's done. And that's terrible," she finished, her voice dropping off to a near-whisper. 

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"I don't know what Abrahamic is," admitted Aquaria, stumbling over what was obviously an unfamiliar word, "but it doesn't bother me if you worship one of the Surfacer gods. All religions have a path to wisdom," she told Ray with what was obviously an attempt at reassurance - and at least one carefully memorized phrase. The idea that there were gods of the Surface still seemed faintly bizarre to Aquaria's sensibilities, but this was no time for an argument about religion. "I promise you that I am not a cultist - and I do not love the ones who take the names of my gods in vain. If I was home, I would have born an Elder Sign for many years now.

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After looking from one earnest human face to the other equally earnest but certainly not human one, Ray sighed. Heavily. 

 

"Hell," he pronounced finally as if it were a much more grave curse word than most people used it. "More servant than worshiper but sure, we'll go with that. Go one, take a seat. What's your name, kid?" Ray wanted to know as he gestured towards one of the tattoo chairs and mentally ran through the list of books he had upstairs. He was reasonably certain that none of them covered this particular eventuality. "You know what plant's mixed in with that ash for the ink there? I can do it with conventional ink but its not gonna look the same." 

 

He said that as he dropped back down to his seat by the desk and pulled over a fresh piece of paper to sketch once more, drawing the sigil in question with sure, quick strokes before discarding it for another and another. When he had one that Ray thought might fit in the place in question, he crossed back to Aquaria to hold it up against her skin and eye the fit. "So who's the therapist you two kids are going to?" Because that self actualization thing, that had all the hallmarks of self-help. 

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"We're from Project Freedom," Jessie volunteered guilelessly as she finally pulled off her raincoat and set it aside. The blue jeans and simple green sweater she wore under it made her look like a college student, but the tracking anklet that blinked a green light just above her tennis shoe told a different story. "We work with Dr. Marquez, and Dr. Baker, and Dr. Stanley." She looked over Ray's shoulder at the design placement and cocked her head. "That looks nice," she decided. "Will it hurt?" 

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"Tattoos always hurt," said Aquaria with authority. "It's why they mean something. They show you are willing to sacrifice for yourself." She turned and sat down on a stool, folding her lanky body awkwardly around until she found a position that let her show Ray the broad expanse of green and white skin between her shoulder blades that would be the target of the needle. "I don't know what the plant was called. It was just...the blue plant, that grew in the ponds." She swiveled her upper torso back and forth, about as close as she could get to visibly shaking her head. "Dr. Stanley is nice. He helped me get a job taking care of the babies at the aquarium. But now they're growing up and being adopted by Surfacer parents, so I keep the ground outside houses instead.

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"The blue plant... that grew in the ponds." Ray repeated and then looked up towards the sky, waving his hands wide, "<You think you're so funny.>" The angel muttered in the liquid syllables of Enochian to someone clearly not in the room. With a resigned grunt, the tattoo artist turned to get a much battered laptop and drag it over to Aquaria as he fired up google, "What kind of pond?" Ray asked, patient for all of his muttering. "Do you know where the pond was?"

 

Because, for all of his other issues, the man was an artist and if he was going to inscribe an Elder symbol on the deep one then it was going to be perfect, dammit. A few clicks brought up google image search to start paging through the various plants in question. "And what sort of 'pond'? Like a wetland? Or a freshwater pond?"

 

Pushing the laptop towards Aquaria, he finally answered Jessie's question. "It'll hurt more than a typical tattoo - which doesn't feel pleasant - because I'll have to use a different sort of needle with this, uh, concoction."

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"It was a tidal pond on the island where I was born. Surfacers call that part of the Ocean the south Caribbean." She pointed on the map to a spot of land near the Lago del Maracaibo, her bulbous fingertip leaving a faint mark on the laptop screen. As she spoke, she rested her big hands on her folded knees, which with her long legs came up high level with her torso. "The wetlands on the coast were ours in ancient days, but when I was born we hardly went there anymore. The island was all we had - a volcano that we could hide beneath when Surfacers and Atlanteans came. No one lives there anymore, though." Ray could guess the rest. She gave a smile to Jessie, a slightly alarming sight given the sheer untapped depths of that gigantic mouth, "It won't hurt as much as a stick in my back and a stick in my mouth to bite on!

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"Huh," Ray agreed with a small frown. "It's a pretty area - though I haven't been down there since I had a human body. Shame. I bet the Caribbean is nicer when you can feel the sea and sand. With those bracelets, though, going to be a bit before you two can travel, I imagine." A few more clicks and he was browsing through the various plant life looking for the 'blue plant'. Eventually, he stuck one tattooed arm in front of Aquaria. The ink on his skin swirled, the flames and chains vanishing to be replaced by curls of blue waves and various stylized plants. "Anything look close to this blue plant of yours?" Ray asked before he turned to look at Jessie.

 

"You like art, huh? Wanna learn how to do a tattoo?" He offered as at least that much normalcy might be welcome. "I got an orange in the back."

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Jessie had stepped away for a moment to look at the art again as Ray and Aquaria spoke. She was especially drawn to the pictures of nature, flowers, birds and fish captured in vivid colors and vibrant almost-motion. She looked down at her own skin, pale and impervious, and wondered what it would look like with colors on it, but couldn't really make the image coalesce in her head. It was hard enough some days to remember what she actually looked like, much less extrapolate from there. She turned back to Ray when he spoke to her. "Oh, I'm not good. It's just... it's something I do." She frowned slightly. "What do you need an orange for when you make tattoos?" 

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Aquaria croaked in surprise at the moving images on Ray's skin, then leaned in to watch with giant-eyed fascination. "Amazing! What other pictures can you make?" She did eventually point out 'the blue plant', a beach-growing weed that flourished in the brackish waters of the south Caribbean and northern South America, its blueish berries famous for their hallucinogenic properties. "We never ate it," said Aquaria, drawing up one leg and hugging it against her torso as she spoke. "We are carnivores." She looked over at Ray and asked "There is a Surfacer god in this city - his name is Set. Do you know who that is? Is he Abrahamic?

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Ray snorted at the question the sound one of sharp amusement, "I know who that is and, no, he is certainly not Abrahamic. Islam, Judaism and Christianity are the largest of the Abrahamic faiths. The Egyptian pantheon is its own thing," Ray said with the bemused humor of one who'd been alive for the exodus. "They're also a pantheistic faith. Mine has one divine entity - or one in three if you follow that tenant. But Set's on instagram. He - or she - is a little difficult to miss."

 

He reached forward to touch the tattoo that Aquaria indicated and drew the plant from his skin pulling it from ink to reality with a shine of holy light. "And ash - probably volcanic..." That too Ray pulled from his own skin to set about on the counter where he normally kept his tools. "Anything non-sentient," Ray answered Aquaria's question first before he twisted on his stool to answer Jessie, "Oranges are usually the first thing you practice on to get a feel for the needle. Its a good way to learn how deep to push. There's an art to putting ink into skin. Too deep and the tattoo will blow out and scar. As to being good, no one starts 'good'. The only difference between an amateur and a master is putting in the time." Ray said and then waved one hand towards the walls as he slipped on black latex gloves. "If doing it makes you happy, that's all that matters."

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Jessie was too busy staring at Ray's magic trick to register his advice for a few moments; she had to visibly shake herself back into the conversation. "I, um... yeah, that makes sense." She looked down at her hands, thought about pushing sharp needles into skin, saw a flash of blank white nothingness and shuddered with unfocused revulsion. "I don't think tattooing is something I want to practice," she admitted. "But the art is beautiful. Did you do all of these things yourself?" She gestured to the artwork surrounding them. 

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"Oh, yes, I know about those gods. There was a chaplain at Project Freedom." Aquaria sighed, a remarkable sight given how it made her throat and jaw inflate like balloons for a moment. "Dagon and Hydra were gods of the Surface too, before they joined the One Below. That's the one whose name Surfacers don't speak." Her eyes flicked down to the ground, and she rolled her back, heavy oceanic muscles moving beneath the skin. "People are afraid of us, because of those horrible stories, and those horrible cultists. But we're not bad. Dagon and Hydra aren't bad. We're not like you...brekek, we're _different_ from you. I'm ready for the needle.

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"Thanks," Ray commented to Jessie at her compliment. He glanced up towards the walls from the semi-noxious paste he was making, "I've been painting for, oh, centuries now I guess - although obviously not with synthetics until the mid 1940's. But, yeah, that's all my work. I get bored sometimes and the wall's cheaper than canvas." 

 

His eyebrows did raise a bit at the effusive insistence that Dagon and Hydra were not 'bad' but Ray didn't comment. Generally, he tended to prefer avoiding theological debates where he could. He wasn't that sort of angel, after all. "Hmmm, well, we're not all bad either," Ray pointed out, misunderstanding the Deep One's slightly mangled English. "Though I certainly have to agree that people have done bad things in the name of the Almighty. But that's the advantage to you all being mortals. You can choose what to be, and that's a gift really. Good, bad, that's all up to the choices you make."

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Jessie began drifting back when Aquaria said she was ready, keeping a close watch over Ray's preparation that was at odds with the aimlessness of her movements. "It's not all the choices we make," she remarked, in a voice that would've been idly contrary if not for the look in her eyes. "Or not meaningful choice. Sometimes a stupid, random choice can be the difference between being good and being horrible." She hugged her own elbows and bounced once on her heels."Do you want to hold my hand?" she asked Aquaria suddenly.

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"Okay," said Aquaria, reaching out and wrapping her long fingers around Jessie's, with a casual air suggesting that she was doing it more for her friend's benefit than her own. "We love our children, and our brothers and sisters, we just love them differently than you do. We pray when we're afraid, we eat when we're hungry, we love our podmates..." She did squeeze Jessie's hand a little tighter when the needle dug in, and began to sing, a croaking boom that she'd translated for Jessie - and that Renegade could follow well enough. "Oh Father Dagon; Mother Hydra too - listen to me sing your song, oh so far from you...

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It took a lot to rattle Ray but one of the Deep Ones praying to Dagon as he inscribed fell sigils on their back was certainly up there. He had to pause, lifting the needle up to stare at Aquaria for a long moment - the first rise they'd really gotten out of the snarky angel since their arrival. His gaze flicked to Jessie, "She's going to sing the whole time." It was not a question and Ray took a steadying breath before he bent his head back down to his work with some muttering in his own language of choice under his breath. It was less cursing and more one-sided conversation. 

 

Once Ray was sure he could work through the distraction, he picked up the conversational thread again, "I didn't say you were all that different from humans though I wouldn't know from personal experience. My records were almost entirely of mortal humans that I was charged with keeping. As to choices being clear... I wasn't really meaning in so much as the events that influence your mortal life but more the ephemera of souls and that sort of thing. Unfortunately, you really can do everything right and still suffer through no fault of your own. It's neither fair, nor kind."

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Jessie winced just a little at the first booms of the song on her sensitive ears, but otherwise bore up stoically under the croaking. She watched Ray work with considerable interest, once she was sure that the pain wasn't going to be too much for Aquaria to tolerate. Ray's words were interesting too, but she didn't really understand them, especially the words like ephemera. Sometimes Jessie was pretty sure she didn't belong in college. "My sister is the one who mostly meets the immortal people and the gods," she finally said, just to say something. "She went to heaven one time and was a horseman of the apocalypse and got to see our parents and sister. She says they're happy, and that's good because I guess if you can't be happy in heaven you can't really do much to be happy. So I guess even if things were bad for them, it all came out in the wash." She gave Aquaria's hand an encouraging pat. 

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