No clan of the sun and light would ever ruin their bodies with the foulness of ink.
— Kosobyo Nikàfu
In the shadows of Wamifuko City, Mikáryo worked her way around the tents that had sprung up over the years. Situated along the south side of the city, the area consisted mostly of moon clans with only a scattered bright color to indicate a daring member from the sun.
Thankful that the tents in her current location were more permanent, she knew where to walk without offending anyone.
Her destination was a set of three tents: two small ones and one large. A small fire burned brightly in the center. There were three people around the fire, two women and a young man in his late twenties.
She stepped over the braided rope that marked the area around the tents.
The man looked up and then smiled brightly. He had a long beard and a bald head. Every inch of his body, from his eyelids to his ears to his toes, had dark tattoos covering him. They were fantastic scenes of monsters, magic, horse, and wars.
He beat his chest twice and then opened up his arms. “My favorite horse lady, the Great—” He winked at her glare. “Káryo.”
She hugged him tightly. “I missed you, Chìko.”
Kichìko broke the embrace with a look of horror. “Oh, no, Datobàpo? You lost him? Oh, poor—”
Mikáryo shook her head. “No, I still have my Bàpo. He’s going to ride with me until the end of my days. He’s a good old man now.”
“Then another?” Kichìko’s eyes shimmered. “You Pabinkúe have much tragedy in your lives. You should come closer, move near the Wamifūko instead of being so far south.”
“No, this is a happy memory. I never want to forget it. Right here.” She tapped the plain spot near her left wrist, the one that she had spent years reserving for her next horse.
He cocked his head, but said nothing for a moment. “Come on, let’s cover you in ink and blood.”
Mikáryo followed after him into the larger tent. Most of the space had been filled with a padded cushion ideal for lying on for hours at a time. There were other pillows for propping and adjusting position. Along one side, Kichìko had shelves of bottles filled with colors of all types. The largest were black, the primary base for inking.
“Come, sit, get comfortable. Take off anything you want.” He winked. “I always love to see you naked.”
Comfortable with Kichìko’s attention, Mikáryo stripped. She didn’t need to, but he had seen every inch of her body since he had been ten. She was his first tattoo, a horse that wasn’t quite perfect on her right shin. It ended up being ideal for the memory though, since the foal had died due to a twisted body in his mother’s womb.
“A work of art.”
She looked over her shoulder at him and smiled. “My body or your tattoos?”
“Both, as always. Come, get into position and tell me about this horse. Is it a big northern beast or a smaller southern one?” While he talked, Kichìko pulled out various needles and sticks.
A pair of sticks slipped from his fingers. “A human man?”
“Yes, Chìko. Is that a problem?” She had been thinking about the tattoo for a few months. It was different than anything else on her skin but one she needed.
“I wasn’t aware Káryo was capable of respecting a human as much as one of her horses. I’m just surprised. Here, I need clean sticks for this.” He glanced around and picked up fresh supplies before bringing them over to her.
“This human man, does he have a name?”
Kichìko’s eyes flickered up but then down again to his hands. He arranged his tools carefully. “Black?”
She realized she had tensed all of her muscles. She took a deep breath and leaned back, resting her back against a pile of pillows before setting her wrist on a block of wood.
Kichìko wiped the area and picked up his tattooing stick. She wasn’t sure how it worked but she knew it had countless tiny needles at the tip that would insert the ink underneath her skin.
He didn’t bother with an outline or sketch out the pattern. He always seemed to know what she wanted, it was part of his clan’s powers. He started quickly, tapping the stick into her skin with precise strokes.
Mikáryo winced at the discomfort but then sank into it. The pain helped remind her of the good memories she had of Rutejìmo. A few tears gathered when she recalled the feeling the night she learned he had survived to become a kojinōmi.
“Not many have the name Rutejìmo in these parts. It’s from the northwestern area of the desert, far from here.”
Mikáryo glanced at him.
“In fact, the only one with that name that I remember was from a big hunt about four years or so ago. He disappeared here in the city and no one could find him, though I heard that he was in a certain horse rider’s bed for two days.”
“And you are a gossiping whore, Chìko,” she said playfully.
He winked at her. “Of course.”
The smile faded. “Do you plan on seeing him again?”
“No,” she sighed. “Our ride together has long since passed. He went one way, I went another. We will never meet again.”
“Like the other memories on your skin, cherished and never forgotten. That’s for the best, that way his present will not mar your thoughts of his past.”
Kichìko worked quietly, moving his body along her body as with his effort to shape a man on her skin. She didn’t dare look in fear that she bump his hand. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine what his powers insisted he tattoo into her skin.
He worked for almost an hour before she realized he had said something important. “You’ve seen him lately?”
“Of course, more than once. A repeat customer, actually.”
Kichìko gave her a hard look. “Are you sure you want to know?”
“He is now one of my customers. I’ve marked him some months ago. The strangest thing, for a day clan, he wanted only black. That seems like a very moon thing to do, don’t you think?”
“Of what?” A small part of her hoped it would be a horse, a symbol that would represent her.
“A bird. A small running bird of their clan. Nothing more.”
“No, no, don’t move. I want to get your kojinōmi drawn just right.”
She started to relax but then her eyes snapped open. She opened her mouth to say something but he used his other hand to press a finger against her lip.
“I am a gossiping whore, right? I know who your Rutejìmo is. He and his wife are friends of everyone here.”
Mikáryo sniffed and used her free hand to wipe the tear. “Is he good?”
“Very much so. Everyone respects him, day and night. He still gets beaten up a lot but his presence has stopped more than a few fights just by showing up. No one wants to upset the man who speaks for the desert and treats the sun and moon as equals.”
He switched tattooing sticks. “Ever since, I’ve gotten more customers from both sides. More color though, not everyone with a sun up their ass is into pitch black.”
Kichìko leaned over to continue to work. “He is a good one to never forget. He will need it because no one speaks for the kojinōmi when they die.”