Wings at the back of her feet. A snake coiled around her forearm. The coils of rope on the back of her right hand. The dragon riding on her shoulders. The list of words running up her left forearm. The railroad tracks on her right thigh. The arrow on her right calf. The gills on her neck. The spring coiled around her left ankle. The feathers falling from a kea taking flight up her abdomen. The shark gliding through water on her hip. The angel poised to strum its lyre on her back. The acoustic guitar on the inside of her left wrist and the electric guitar on the inside of her right. The speaker on her right bicep. The musical notes flowing from the speaker each with a face embedded. The spider halfway through making its web on the back of her left hand. The arching dolphin on her left thigh. The parachuting figure silhouetted against the moon on the back of her right shoulder. The plane on her right arm. The boat on her left arm. The train on her right leg. The bus on her left leg. All of them transiting away from her torso. The koalas wrapped around each of her big toes. The ring of fire surrounding her belly button. The ring around her ring finger shadowing what was once there. The elements strewn about where needed or where they could fit: the skulls, the scales, the feathers, the spikes, the lines that form into abstract designs sometimes meant to fill a bit of void skin, sometimes meant to complete a bit of spell that couldn’t be incorporated fully into the design of something else.
They all quiver. They tremble. Not her skin, but the ink contained inside. The shapes start shifting. Summoned to a circle on her back. The design of which was a collaboration between her and the woman currently tattooing her back.
“You know I hate doing this, right?” said Gabi.
Maya had the urge to shrug, but didn’t want to mess her up. “That’s what you said last time.”
“Well, the sentiment hasn’t changed I guess is what I’m letting you know.”
“It’s just so unnerving. Watching all these things move under you skin. Or not really under, but, you know.”
“Why do you have to do this anyway, are my tattoos not good enough?”
“Your tattoos were spectacular. They were perfect.” Maya paused. “Well, as perfect as they could be. I’ve gotten better at integrating spells, so most of them are in need of an update. Then there’s just the usual battle damage that disables a spell or worse changes its effects.”
“I guess if you keep saying my work is perfect, I’ll keep doing this for you. But I won’t like it.”
The phone on the table beside them lit up and started vibrating. “Don’t stop.”
“I won’t,” she continued to work the intricate designs of the circle as the phone continued to call for attention.
“I hate it.”
“Is it hurting?
“Oh, not that.” It felt like her whole body was being re-tattooed all at once, of course it hurt. “I meant the phone.”
“It was about time you joined us in the present, really.”
“See, with my old phone you could really hang up on someone. Not as satisfying as a real phone.” She took a deep breath. Mental note: get a tattoo of an old-school phone. “But man, could you get a real good hang up on that flip phone. Just slam is shut real good.”
Gabi laughed as she continued to work the needle across her skin. “What exactly happened to the flip one?”
“Ronny.” She sighed.
“Tell me about it.”
Maya smiled but didn’t laugh as she didn’t want to risk screwing up the tattoo.
“Not a figure of speech. Actually dish. Might keep your mind off the pain.”
“I said it wasn’t—”
“Your fists are clenched. So, try to relax and tell me what happened.”
Maya made an effort to unclench her fists and took a slow deep breath. She watched as the tattoo of the ring on her finger spiraled out from itself and slithered around on the back of her hand joining into the migration of ink.
“Two weeks ago I was minding my own business eating a burrito from that Mike’s Burrito truck.”
Maya thought back. She was sitting with her legs hanging from the back of her van as she took another bite. She took a deep breath and enjoyed the smells. It was good to breath again after having been underwater for an extended mission. She had missed the sounds and sights of land. The martians weren’t inhospitable or anything, but she was glad to be back. She listened to snippets of conversation as people decided what burritos to get from the truck and and what they were going to do with the rest of their sunny Saturdays.
Maya got ready to take another bite, but a high pitched squeal grabbed her and everyone else’s attention. The culprit: a man with wild hair dressed in a red karate gi standing atop Mike’s Burrito Truck.
“BATTLEMAIDEN!” He cried out and thrust his hand into the air. He formed the hand into a point and brought it down to point in her direction. “I challenge you to a formal duel for the possession of The Locket of lament.”
Everyone around followed the point of his finger to look at her for her response. The crowd whispered wonders of whether this woman was really Battlemaiden, where she had been lately, and what the locket of lament was.
“Ronny can it wait? I’m in the middle of this burrito.” She hoisted her burrito up for him to see.
The crowd looked back to Ronnie for a reply. Ronnie’s face, a face usually filled with rage, did not change shape, but did begin to turn closer to the shade of his gi and he began to tremble, presumably with the rage he was holding back.
“Besides. What is this locket your talking about? I don’t have a locket of whatever. I don’t know what you’re going on about.”
“Of course,” yelled Ronny. He reached into his gi and pulled out a locket and displayed it in the air. “I have the locket now and we will battle. The winner will take possession of THE LOCKET OF LAMENT.”
The crowd looked back at Battlemaiden. She shook her head and went to take another bite from the burrito. That’s when everything exploded.
“Exploded?” asked Gabi.
“Not like and explosion explosion. Though not much of a difference for poor Mike.”
“Yeah, no more Mike’s Burrito Truck.”
Maya remembered being taken off guard by the explosion. She had dealt with Ronny Rage before, and although he could cause some damage, it was never on this scale. The middle of the burrito truck burst outward toward the line waiting for their burritos. Lettuce and beans and metal and glass rushed out through a newly created hole. People dove out of the way and Battlemaide sprung to her feet. She drummed her fingers over a few of the words on her forearm and then traced the spine of the kea rushing up to her chest. She dashed into the pandemonium that was once a food truck. She scooped up a few of the people in the most danger and flew them to the sidelines. She looked into the debris to see if she could spot the titular Mike, she couldn’t but she did spot someone new. A large man tore through the wreckage and yelled out a name “RONNIE”
His hands round like wrecking balls smashed through the metal left standing while he screamed in a much deeper register than Ronnie had. Battlemaiden sighed, “Talk about toxic masculinity.” With the people she pulled away safely deposited on the ground, she dove back into action and tackled this new muscled mass destroying her perfect day off. She didn’t see ronnie, but someone able to output so much more destruction than a scrawny karate man was the obvious priority. She crashed into him and while he budged, it was much less than she anticipated. Before he could react and grab at her, she touched the toe of one boot to her other ankle and activated the spring for an extra push. It was just nearly enough to tip him over and they tumbled out and away from the burrito truck.
Next thing she knew she was flying away from him taking the force of one his balled hands to her face. She skidded across the grass and created a trail of dirt in her wake. What were his hands made of? This was ridiculous. She massaged her jaw as she pulled herself up. She looked across the park and saw that the crowds were mostly fleeing at this point. She activated some more tattoos and closed the distance to this unknown enemy. She stopped short. Ronny Rage was back. The wrecker man pulled himself up and the three of them created a triangle.
“Battlemaiden, you can stay out of this. This is my and Ronny’s beef.”
“I don’t know who you are, but once you start wrecking food trucks with no regard to human life, you make it my beef.”
He shrugged and turned away from her. “Ronny. You saw what happened to the truck. That will be your face. Now give me back the locket.”
Battlemaiden looked to Ronny. “You challenged me to a duel for a locket that wasn’t even yours? It’s hard to say if this is the most asinine thing you’ve ever done, but it has to be near the top at least.”
Maybe she shouldn’t have piled onto Ronny when he already had someone after him. Perhaps he felt cornered and that was why he used the locket. Perhaps he was always going to use it at the first sign of trouble. Either way he put the locket on and through some form activated it before the wrecker could get to him. The wrecker went to his knees and started sobbing. He curled his hands into balls in slammed them into the ground before him spraying up more dirt.
Battlemaiden turned to Ronny. She marched towards him as he cackled at his dominion over a man much stronger than him. Ronny paid her no attention, so she plucked the locket from his neck and brought it towards her. She felt a punch in her gut and looked down expecting Ronnie’s fist, instead seeing just the locket in her hands clutched close to her. Had the locket done that? She opened her hands to look at the locket, its circular shape and it being opened gave it the appearance of a pair of eyes staring up at her. Two deep eyes that she could fall into forever.Her mind hopped to tragedies she couldn’t remember and to tragedies she had wished to forget. Every small sadness of her life—the stolen bike, the scraped knee, the missing dog, the broken guitar, the dead fish, the ingrown hair—every small sadness surfaced and stood magnified beneath the lens of the locket. Then came the big ones. The death of her sister Maggie. The loss of her mentor Battle Matron. The destruction of Star Coast right before her eyes. The—
She blinked. Her face wet with tears she was now looking at a massive balled fist instead of the locket. The hand scraped hers and she felt the weight of the locket lifted. “Thanks for retrieving this.”
She tried to shake off the memories of what the locket had brought up, but her mind was still flooded for the moment. She couldn’t think of a reply for him.
“You want to take Ronny out of should I?”
Battlemaiden looked over to Ronny quivering with fear over what would happen now that his plan had imploded. Ronny darted away, but he was too late. The wrecker took her look as permission and went after him.
“Well that certainly could have ended worse,” said Gabi.
“It did. That wasn’t how it ended. How it ended was this wrecker guy punched Ronny straight through my van. Totaled. My phone was in there, so all of it got wrecked. So after Ronny ran off, I punched ball hands into the ocean.” Maya sighed. The tattoos crawling across her body were all swirling around the circle Gabi was continuing to tattoo on her back.
“You’re acting like a part of you isn’t relishing this opportunity to get a new design for your van.”
“You’re not wrong. I just wanted to wait until after I was all healed up from the new tats before even thinking about that.” Maya felt the tattoos settle into place next to Gabi’s needle and the sound of it stopped. “Is that it?”
Gabi set the device on the table next to them. “All done. Your skin is a now a mostly blank page. What was the schedule for getting some of them back on?”
Maya stretched. “we should go over the finalized designs one more time. Make sure they’re stuff you can do.”
“I know you’re the best, but these have to be exact.”
Gabi leafed through the thick stack of pages on the table next to them. “So how many of these designs are vital?”
“Oh, those are all necessary ones. We have two weeks to get those all on me.”