Comforted by the symbol’s constant touch, Marise leaned into the rain pelting the ledge. Shrouded in darkness, she watched as the passing lights of a tram cut across the landscape, illuminating the city around it. The sun would rise soon, dispelling the night’s sinister edge. Until then, Marise let the rain chill her.
Her gaze shifted down to her fresh tattoos. She could hardly believe she’d done it. She’d sat there for an extended session as he inscribed the new symbol into her skin. While nothing had changed for her, she felt like she had finally accomplished something, that this was the turning point for her, despite all the weirdness that had happened over the last few days. She reached out, rubbing the back of one hand, then drew in a sharp intake of breath at the pain.
“That’s an interesting picture you’ve got there,” a deep voice said behind her.
Marise started, turned to find a silhouette standing there in the gloom, though something about its form wasn’t quite substantial. “What do you want?”
The man reached into his pocket, pulling out a picture perfect package of cigarettes. He slid one out smoothly, offered her the pack. She shook her head. He shrugged. “Your loss.” He lit it in a precise motion, leaving no movement wasted. The pack disappeared into his pocket once more and he leaned against the brick wall. His eyes sparkled in the dimness.
Marise turned from her perch, all too aware how vulnerable she was. She stepped onto the rooftop, looking for more stable ground. Her brow furrowed as she tried to make out any details. Something was wrong, but until she could see him clearly, she couldn’t place her finger on it.
He blew out a puff of a smoke, tapped off the fresh ash. He indicated her hand. “So, where’d you find that?”
Thunder rumbled in the sky, lightning providing quick one, two sparks of sight in the tumult of the clouds. She caught a glimpse of his hawkish features. His auburn hair was pressed tight against his skull, except for an errant strand that fell across his face, resting across his sharp nose. He wore a three-piece white suit, with a blue pinstripe shirt.
Then he was shrouded in darkness once more. Although it was brief, she found exactly what was wrong — he was perfectly dry. The rain hadn’t touched him or his cigarette, even as it smoldered in the dark of the night.
Before she could process this, a pulse ripped through the air, sparking through her like an explosion. A mewl escaped her, picked up with the breeze. It gained strength, swirling around her, building into a squall. She collapsed under its weight. Before she could hit the ground though, she was brought up in the stranger’s arms. Panicked breaths filled her ears. Her drenched hair clung to her skin, blocking her vision.
The rain struck her, gleeful in its barrage.
She tried to shove the man away, but he helped hoist her to her feet. He brought her to the ledge, setting her against the stone wall, and retreating back to his place. Marise tried to reclaim her control, but the feeling, whatever that pulse was, still hung in her chest, clamping down like a vice. Forcing herself to breathe, she stared up at the dark clouds, reflecting the orange lights of the city. The wind died to a breeze, releasing her from its grasp.
“Looks like you felt that too,” the stranger said.
Marise eyed him. “What the fuck was that?”
“Let’s just say things are about to get shook up around here.”
“That’s not enough of an explanation.”
His eyes lit from behind. The rain faltered, then came down in a rush. Marise raised her arms to deflect the downpour, then realized that none of it had reached her. She looked up, then slowly stood, using the wall to help balance her. The rain was coming down hard, but it was striking some invisible barrier, creating sheets that curled around their alcove. She reached up, slowly, and tried to touch it. Her fingers slipped through, tendrils of water snaked down her arm. A sharp pain cut across her hand and she withdrew her arm rapidly, cradling against her chest.
The man laughed, somehow pleasing despite its demeaning nature. “Watch out. It bites.”
“Yeah, real fucking funny. I don’t know who you are, so you’ll forgive me if I tell you to go fuck yourself.”
“Fair enough,” the man said, his voice cool and collected. “Just know that we’ve been through what’s happening to you. If you need—”
“I doubt that.” She couldn’t quite tell, but from the way his features shifted, she thought he was baring his teeth at her.
“If you need someone to talk to, you put that symbol,” he indicated her hands again, “on any building and we’ll find you.”
“Thanks, but—” The barrier disappeared with a pop and the rain all came down on her in a torrential blanket. She shouted, then looked up. The stranger was just gone.
The rain calmed, slipping back to drizzle, as the thunder above murmured dissent.
Marise pulled her jacket tight against the cold. Determined to catch up to the stranger, she darted to a door and entered the stairwell. The door slammed with a loud bang; its echo raced down the shaft. She ran to the railing, tried to catch a glimpse of the stranger’s retreat, but, from what she could see, she was alone. She sat down atop Oki’s vein, and leaned her head back against the wall. The dull buzz of fluorescent bulbs filled the air, accompanied by the rushing water of the vein. Her right hand throbbed and she pulled it out from the safety of her jacket.
A thin line of blood ran across the front and back of her hand. All except for the tattoo, which remained unmarred. She turned her hand over and over again as the blood continued to seep from the paper cut sized wound. Too much blood. She cautiously touched the wound. A fount of blood quickly covered the tips of her fingers before she was able to pull back her hand. Shocked by this turn, she didn’t even scream, she just stared.
Put that symbol on any building and we’ll find you.
Her heart skipped a beat.
She pivoted, fighting back a shudder. She reached up a trembling hand, then she drew a finger down along the wall she’d been resting against. A single line of blood slid down across Oki’s vein. She worked quickly, only looking at her injured hand to make sure she’d completed the symbol correctly. She held up her hand, comparing the tattoo and her hasty recreation. Doubt swept through her mind at what she’d done.
Wisps of red filtered through the cerulean liquid of Oki’s vein. Her breath caught before the strings dissolved, before she could process this, thicker strands appeared in the water. Vermilion globs wrapped around one another until they took over the stream.
Marise recoiled from the vein, watched as the crimson snaked down the stairs, tingeing the walls its awful blood red. She stood cautiously, moving from her spot on the landing and following it down the steps, trepidation coursing through her. She fought to breathe, her chest constricted just like on the roof, and opened the door to the ground floor of the building.
The abandoned building, once bathed in the blue hues of Oki’s Veins, was now awash in the crimson of the newly tainted veins. All at once, Marise was repulsed by and attracted to the change. The thought that maybe she had something to do with this sickened her, but it was a stark change to the dynamic of the lights in the building. Her artistic instincts marveled at the possibilities, the chance to paint the town red with her blood, changing the way people perceived this forgotten relic of the old gods.
She approached the debris covered design at the center of the lobby. There were four or five separate veins that separated off like disparate waves, but there were layers of trash covering most of the design. She leaned down, froze at its warmth, almost a living thing, radiating from the floor. She drew in a breath and wiped away a layer of refuse and dirt from the center symbol.
With its red light pouring up, she pressed the tips of her fingers against it. Her eyes widened as the tattoo shifted from a flat black into burning crimson lines. Heat poured through the design. Another pulse struck her body.
Her eyes rolled back as her thoughts tore away. The impression spread through her, tearing her from her body and into the air above the city. Despite the storm roaring around her, she could clearly see the building she had just influenced, burning a brilliant red against the somber blues of the rest of the city. In that moment, she realized that she had claimed this building for her own. That it would be, now and forever more, against the rest of the city in its defiance.
And just as quickly as it had come, she was forced back into her body. The change was too much for her and her legs gave out under her. She struck the filthy ground, laid there for a few moments as she basked in the rapidly cooling heat, trying to go over what she’d just seen. Already, the ecstasy of the knowledge was bleeding from her.
Without thinking, she scrambled around to the design again, feeling like a shade of her former self. Even as her fingers grazed the glass, she knew it wouldn’t happen again. Panting, she raised up, staring at the back of her hands. Dull and lifeless, the tattoo felt flat against her pale flesh. She stared at the lines, the fear turning sweet. She’d sought this design and now she had it — the image she could never get rid of.
She laughed, though it felt strange as it erupted from her throat. The weight, the uncertainty, had been lifted. And, now she’d been given the ultimate gift as an artist, a way to make a permanent change on the city that had discarded her at every turn. She had to spread this image and blood would be her new medium.
Just as she started to gather herself up again, all the lights in the building began to dim, including the veins, sputtering until she was bathed in darkness.
She realized she wasn’t alone, the darkness feeling omnipresent, smothering and crowding her. She drew into herself, then heard a footstep as someone entered the room. The crimson light from the veins snapped to life. The stranger stood over her, his features turned sublime as he looked over the room.
“That was quick,” he said in a whispered breath. He turned his gaze on Marise. His words came out strong, uncompromising in their clarity. “We have such plans for you.”