“I think my new tattoo is haunted.”
All right. Not the first thing Roya wanted to hear in the morning, but all right.
She tried not to stare across the table at her client. Tinĕe, as he’d introduced himself, was tall, bald and utterly slathered in tattoos. Off-color roses bloomed at his wrists, the thorns winding up his arm to wrap around his throat. Roya could see elegant cursive phrases, senseless images and scenes, and dimpled cherubs, all layered on thick enough to be a second skin.
Haunted tattoos. Roya tried to clear her head. What was she supposed to do with haunted tattoos?
Madam Varano’s third rule of conduct, with all of her employees was to make it a show; pick something and go with it.
“Which tattoo, sir?” Roya willed her voice to be silken- ethereal.
They were seated in a corner of The Smoky Lantern- Magical Solutions To Your Magical Problems! The table between them was small -Roya was just a beginner sibyl, after all- but enough to fit a cup of tea, oils, candles, tarot cards and various knick knacks that looked important.
Roya’s throat was dry enough to comfortably hold sand. She desperately wanted to sip the warm chamomile, but Madam Varano wouldn’t allow it; it was her second rule. She said it made the sibyls look more ethereal when they didn’t eat or drink.
Roya did look ethereal. She had smooth dark skin, long, curling hair and bright blue, crystalized eyes. She knew she was startling- her appearance was pretty much what got her this job. Madam Varano dealt with the odds and peculiars of the world.
Her client- Tinĕe – laid his forearm on the small table and gestured to a tattoo of a mountainous skyline. The red rash around it was still fading.
“It-it whispers to me,” Tinĕe told her, eyes scanning for a reaction. Roya curled a lock of hair around one finger, nodding for him to continue. “As I’m falling asleep. And-I keep seeing this- this shadowy figure. Following me everywhere! I can’t get rid of it! I’ve only had this tattoo for two weeks and everyone thinks I’m insane. Please- help me.”
Logically, Roya knew the man was paranoid- you’d have to live under a rock to miss all the recent haunting stories. And you’d have to be built by Bronze not to be a little bit afraid.
As a sibyl, Royal also knew something was going on in the Underwood and spirits were in an uproar. It was possible someone would attach themselves to something as small as a tattoo.
Most importantly, as an employee of Madam Varano, Roya knew the first rule; you mess you’re gone. Gone as in declared a worker of the devil and banished to the Underwood.
It was just one of the risks of show business.
“May I?” Roya held out a hand. Tinĕe nodded and she rubbed her hands in scented oil that literally served no purpose. It was these little details people loved.
Tinĕe held perfectly still as Roya traced the edges of the inked image with her fingertips.
The tattoo didn’t feel like a rip in reality, like most haunted things did- but it also didn’t have the flow of energy that should have come from the man’s human form.
What in Orvik’s name was she supposed to do with this?
Roya hmmed and thumbed through a thick book on spiritual revelations. Tinĕe leaned forward so he could see, though Roya was really just using it as an opportunity to rack her brain for ideas.
Roya glanced up to see Madam Varano shuffle into the shop front over Tinĕe’s shoulder. She was rather hard to miss in flowing robes, shades of violet, vibrant green and deep ocean blue whipping around her as she moved. Madam Varano was striking in the way that made people want to believe in the undead and roaming, benevolent goddesses.
They both held eye contact as she wound through the shop- she had been listening in, Roya knew. She thought about what it would be like to live in the Underwood.
Tinĕe watched Roya scan a ritual grocery list. She was just cobbling together ideas from rituals she remembered from Madam Varano’s lessons at this point.
This had better work, Roya prayed as she lit candles, drew the curtains shut and set out an open jar between them. She didn’t explain anything to Tinĕe, just dripped oil onto the tattoo and stood to recite the chant.
“Shor efĕ kauligen forc Ïn flaan.” Roya’s voice was low, steady. The words poured out of her, shaliin vowels rolling off her tongue. Roya knew rituals- chants -were dangerous, but she could see how someone could get drunk off this. This power. This rhythm. Tinĕe watched avidly.
“Kor een alf qmall!” Roya looked up from the book as she finished the chant. She blinked away the ritual-cobwebs from her vision and kept still. Please work, please work, please work.
Tinĕe gasped when the candles whooshed out in unison. Roya didn’t fight for control when she and Tinĕe started breathing in sync, deep, ragged breaths.
When their chests heaved one last time, Roya jumped forward, slamming the lid over the jar. It rattled under her hand as the spirit- or whatever it was -banged against the sides of the jar.
Madam Varano jumped into place. “Everything all right, sir?” She put on a kind smile for their client.
Tinĕe, pressing two fingers to his tattoo, sighed and beamed up at her. “Couldn’t be better, madam,” he said.
Roya screwed the lid on and set it down on her table to deal with later. Madam Varano was watching Tinĕe work out the financials with Lacie when Roya turned back to her.
They both stood there for a moment, saying nothing.
Madam Varano broke the silence with a curt, “Good work.”
Roya smiled as the madam disappeared to the backrooms.
That was about as good as it was going to get around here.