Skin Deep

Skin Deep is rated R for violence and implied gore.

The World of Darkness setting is owned by White Wolf Publishing. No copyright infringement intended.
San Francisco
April 5, 1988

He didn't tell Carl or Clinton where he was heading. Clinton was called into a meeting with the Prince and Carl would be absorbed in the line edits to his latest manuscript. Neither would be seen until just before dawn. Which gave him plenty of time to do what needed to be done.

He hadn't realized what was going on until he went hunting the night before. He and Carl had split off at the club, each seeking their own prey. Carl quickly became involved with a conversation with a effeminate man at the bar while Christopher chose to prowl the dance floor. It didn't take long for him to find his prey, a healthy young man. And even less time to convince him to leave for some place more private. Namely the apartment that was kept nearby for just this reason. They had barely cleared the doorway before their shirts were shed. And that was the first glimpse he got of it in the mirror.

The tattoo spreading across the tanned skin was gorgeous, a line drawing of two men entwined in an impassioned embrace. And although he hadn't seen this man before, he was intimately familiar with the art. After all, the original sketch, after having been on exhibition at a local gallery, was now hanging in his sire's haven. Turning the man, he leaned in closer, examining it carefully. "Where did you have this done?"

His prey shivered as fingers delicately traced along the lines. "Guy named Thorn did it. Works at Infinite Ink down on Second street." His dinner (he couldn't remember if he even asked his name) flexed his back, making the figures writhe in lewd ecstasy. "Like it?"

Christopher slipped closer, pulling his prey's back against his chest, blocking from sight from offending his eyes. "It's faithful to the original," he whispered in his prey's ear and then bit down on his neck. And that was the problem. The creative spark that had resided in the ink drawing had been stripped out of its flesh counterpart. That was an affront to his creation as well as to him. That would not do.

Much as he expected, this wasn't a flashy tattoo parlor like the ones that were on the tourist strips. No this one was in a run down neighborhood that only locals would frequent. He wasn't certain that it would pass any of the quaint building or health codes that humans were always imposing. Christopher paused to examine the art displayed under glass. Most of the tattoos were the standard offerings - armbands made of celtic curlicues, pointed stars meant to encircle navels, a menagerie of tigers threatening to sink their claws or fangs into the viewer's flesh - not a single original or outstanding piece among them. He could hear a high pitched hum that started and stopped and an occasional gasp of pleasure/pain. He took a step towards the sound, making sure his footfall could be heard.

The buzzing sound stopped. "Gimmie a minute," a male voice called out. "Stay put, Sadie," continued the same voice in a quieter tone. "I'll be right back." Christopher heard footsteps and then the owner of the voice stepped out from the back room. "What do you want?"

Christopher wasn't certain what he expected, but this man wasn't it. "You're Thorn?" he asked as he looked him over. The stranger was pale. Not Kindred pale, but possessed the white skin of a man who worked too many late nights and slept through too many days. The dark eyeliner rimming bright green eyes did nothing to make him look less pallid. Nor did his hair combed up into a bright blue mohawk.

The man nodded. The scattering of piercings across his ears, nose, and chin sparkled and caught the light. "I'm Thorn," he said, tapping the rose tattoo on his arm like it was a form of identification. "You looking for some ink done?"

"Yes," Christopher said. "But I'm looking for something special. Something unique. Not something endlessly copied," he said, brushing his hand against the display case.

"Yeah, those are crap," Thorn agreed. Not worth the paper they're printed on. But they pay the bills." He grinned and gestured for Christopher to step around the counter. "You want to see something unique? Come back here."

Christopher followed, debating on just ending things here and now. This 'Thorn' had his back to him, a perfectly vulnerable position. He could strike and be done before this mockery of an artist knew what hit him. But he did not and willed his fangs to remain carefully hidden. Curiosity at what this faux artist could supposedly create that would be considered unique kept him in check for the moment.

The tattooist led him back into the work area. Draped over a leather padded bench was a young woman without a shirt and a white terry towel politely covering her lower half. She raised up when they neared, using her arm to maintain some modesty. "Whose this guy, Thorn?"

"Customer, Sadie." Thorn made a little circle with his hand. "Why don't you turn around and show him what I can do."

The brunette smiled seductively at Thorn and Christopher. Lazily she sat up and let her legs dangle off the bench. She twisted away, the towel slipping provocatively low on her hips. Sadie reached behind, stretching and making her breasts rise as she gathered her long hair up, revealing the tattoo between her shoulders.

On first glance, the tattoo looked like the same hood decoration painted on muscle cars. But a closer inspection revealed that this was much more detailed. The reds, oranges, and yellows delicately blended, detailing the flames and feathers of the phoenix's outstretched wings. The beak was wide in a soundless cry of triumph as it rose to claim the sky. Even the red and irritated flesh around the freshly inked mark added to the perfection of the drawing, the dull red glow of cooling iron that had been scorched by the purity of the flames. It was a masterpiece on human flesh.

And all Christopher could do was stare at it wonder and amazement. "This is incredible," he said. He stepped closer to the woman and reached out to stroke along her back. "I can almost feel the flame… What artwork did you copy this from?"

"None this time," Thorn said as he stepped up behind him. There was a smug pride in his voice. "I didn't trace this out of a book or copy it from a picture. This one's completely custom."

"Is it?" The cold fury he had felt earlier learning that his artwork had been copied, not as a forgery for mere filthy lucre, but cheapened into body art, seeped into his voice. "You are capable of such glorious work, but instead of honing your art, you choose to cheapen others?"

Before either Thorn or Sadie could react, Christopher grabbed the tattoo table and hefted it. He threw it across the room, Sadie screaming as she clung into it. The table hit the wall and slid down it, the woman pinned beneath and whimpering weakly.

Thorn turned and bolted towards the front of the shop. But Christopher was faster. With a burst of supernatural speed, he reached the door first, grabbing the tattoo artist by his shirt collar. "There is a price to be paid for stealing other's art," he hissed, ignoring the stench of urine bellowing into the air. Instead he focused on the scent and taste of blood that filled his mouth as he bit down on this hapless human's throat. Unlike before when he had shown discretion, he drank and drank, indulging the Beast and his wounded pride. One less hack cluttering the world with tasteless drawings.

Except that this boy wasn't a hack. Beneath the pretense of the punk trappings, there was a true artist's sensitivity. This Thorn had true talent, and it could be nurtured into a bloom that would add to the reputation of the Clan of the Rose.

That was why Christopher stopped while Thorn's pulse was thready and his breath shallow. He bit down on his wrist and held it to the dying kine's mouth. Weakly, Thorn turned his head away, but Christopher followed. "Drink," he commanded, using every ounce of Presence he owned.

Now Thorn opened his mouth. His tongue swiped tentatively at the vitae dripping from the wound. Thorn's green eyes went wide and then closed in bliss at the taste and his mouth latched around the punctures, his dull teeth pinching in the parody of a Kindred's bite.

Christopher let out a pleased hiss as his progeny drank. But he didn't let it go on for very long, just enough to insure Thorn's Embrace. "Enough, Thorn."

Thorn's eyelids parted enough to shoot a glare at Christopher. He gave a brief shake of his head as he continued to suck at Christopher's wrist

"I said enough!" He pushed the now fledgling away. Thorn reeled drunkenly to support himself on the display case. He ran his tongue over his lips, clearly still hungry. "Do you want more?" Christopher asked.

Thorn, eyes glazed over, nodded.

Christopher looked to the back where the wreckage of the table was. "Then take her."

Thorn disappeared into the back room. As Christopher walked to the front door and locked it, he heard the voice of the woman. "Thorn, what happened? I think my arm's broken. Thorn? Thorn!" He flipped the sign from open to closed and then went to watch his childe feed from the screaming woman, an arrogant and prideful smile on his face. While not the exact ending to the evening he had plotted, it was pleasing none the less. He had broken the Traditions, but Christopher was not truly worried. After all, Clinton always managed to pull Carl's ass out of whatever situation the writer blundered into. Surely he would do as much, if not more, for his childe.