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Always With Me (FIN)


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Skyhaven took in a deep breath as she gazed out her apartment window. She had moved into Canterlot just the day before and her heart ached for home. The open plains of her home in Unyasi. The zebra tribes ponies that were her closest family and friends. The two medicine mares that had raised her as their own. She could still smell the herbs from the medicine hut, their pungent odor permeated her belongings and brought her a sense of peace amidst in her new life.

"I miss you..." She muttered the words softly to herself. No tears brimmed in her eyes. The mare from Unyasi was strong. She had been raised to weather the storm and rise above it. "I'll visit you soon." Images of her home and family flashed in her mind, fresh and vivid.

She looked about her new home. A couple of moving trunks against the wall and a few of her most special items placed where she could see them. A Unyasian healer's mask, one that matched her cutie mark. She had used it during ceremonies many times back home. Though she doubted she would be using it for medicine in Canterlot she couldn't bear to leave it behind. It had once hung above the door to her hut in the village, now it was near the door to her apartment. She would hang it eventually.

A framed picture of Kaari and Jamii the two mares that had adopted and raised her sat on the window sill next to her. She picked up the picture and traced her hoof gently across the image. Her heart hurt but then surged with pride and excitement as she looked at the mares. They were so proud of their daughter. She would continue to make them proud!

She set down the picture and took one of her two spears from where they lay on the floor nearby. They were long spears made from native Unyasian timber. They had the tribe's dark purple colored fabric tied in strips that fluttered about the hoof forged spear head. The spears were a little longer that she was from chest to rump. The mare stood and flexed her powerful wings. She would have taken to flight if not for the ceiling above her. She flipped the weapon expertly in her hoof horizontally and then placed it on the floor next to its partner.

"I will make you proud." Her eyes narrowed in determination as she slung her saddle bag over her back and headed out onto the streets. She would hop the train to Manehatten.

She had heard of Inkbrand on her first night in Canterlot. She had stopped in for a cider and spoken to a pony with some excellent tattoo work. They had directed her to Inkbrand...supposedly he was the best in Manehatten, Canterlot, and possibly in Equestria.

The train ride was uneventful, affording her plenty of time to rest and think. After getting some directions she made her way through the streets to Inkbrand's parlor. The spear mare stepped inside the parlor, eyeing several examples of the stallion's work that were posted artfully on the walls. He was good.

"You have time for a job?" The words were quiet but confident.

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Boredboredbored. Bored.

Oh. And bored.

Inkbrand sighed as he tossed the hoofball above his head, over and over, from his position lounged across the couch in his parlor. He had to take a few detours to pick up the ball whenever he threw it too high and it bounced offer the ceiling, but for the most part, he had maintained that position.

For the past.



Business had been booming the past few weeks or so, with ponies pouring into his parlor until it was fit to burst, causing some of them to grumble and go home without any ink only to return the very next day. In fact, that same influx of business and clients had prompted Inkbrand to cancel his recent venture out "into the world", a planned trip to Appleloosa in order to surprise a certain blue molly, just for rots and giggles. But business came first, which is why the grey stallion had called it off in order to keep his shop open for the remainder of the week.

What a bucking great use of time it was turning out to be.

Seriously, Inkbrand loved Manehatten, but he honestly couldn't understand it flow at times. When just yesterday his place had been filled to the brim with ponies, today it was isolated, silent, almost ghostly. The grey stallion could only conclude that, with the recent batch of tattoos he'd finished the day before, he had gotten through the backlog of clients, only there had been no new ones to fill the void thanks to the long wait list. Sort of like a bottlenecked situation, excepting the ponies waiting to be let into the bottleneck had all dispersed.

Whelp. Looked like he might be taking that trip after all. The chiming of his front door was all the motivation he needed to just -

Wait. What?

"Huh?" the tattoo-clad stallion said intelligently, head lifting up from where it'd been draped over the back of the couch to take in the visitor - the client! "I mean yeah, I've - argh!" the grey stallion let out a totally stallion yelp as the hoofball that had been in motion towards the ceiling, and completely forgotten about thanks to the surprise visit, came back down, the edge bouncing painfully off the top of his skull. "Bucking, hsst," Inkbrand groaned, rubbing a hoof hard against his head. He supposed he could be thankful it hadn't taken one of his eyes out.

Would make tattooing this mare, just a little more difficult.

And holy buck yes. She was a Pegasus as pure as new snow - well okay, not quite. Her coat had a bit of a yellowish tinge, more like a pearl or cream white - but it was still white! Immediately, visions of spiraling designs to match the mare's hair color filled Inkbrand's mind as he ran a slightly lecherous gaze over the Pegasus' shapely flanks and legs.

Hmm...hmm, no. Maybe something to accent the purple highlights in her hair instead, bold and stark to contrast her pearly white coat.

Belatedly, Inkbrand realized he'd let the silence spiral on just a tad too long, causing him to jolt up from his lounging position. "I can slot you in, sure," the grey Earth Pony said as casually as he could muster, cocky grin forming on his face as he strolled over towards the mare, "take a seat." He jabbed his snout towards the tattooing table while he took up his own position on his chair, resting an elbow against the table so he could lean his head on a hoof and take in the mare and all of her glorious white coat.


"So," he said unnecessarily, flirtatious grin titling upwards into something more, "looking to get a little ink branded into your skin?"





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"From what I hear, you're something of a tattoo legend." 


She moved towards the indicated table, leaning gently against it as she eyed the stallion. So, this was Inkbrand. He was actually something she had expected him to be. Cocky grin, nonchalant attitude. She glanced his way through hooded eyes before meeting his gaze with a confident smile.


"So yes, I'm looking for something to go along with this."


She tossed her plaited mane to the side, revealing her chest. The interlocking circles of her tribe were permanently emblazoned into her pearly white coat. She remembered well when she had received the mark. All zebra in the tribe were given the tribal markings on the day after the appearance of their cutie mark. Her mark had appeared during a late evening sparring session in the spear ring. She had jumped up after a hard fall to complete a match only to discover her mark had appeared. The next day had been full of anticipation of her ceremony that evening. Of course receiving the tribal circles had been a painful experience, but there was nothing she had ever wanted more. 


The spear stallion that had trained her, along with the two medicine mares that had raised her worked on her marks far into the night. They had danced around the fire for hours before, drinking the juice from native pants, spinning fire torches, and generally having a wonderful time. Then she had laid down and the three begun to work on her mark. Tattooing in the tribe consisted of a sharpened wooden dowel, plant dye, and warm water. It had taken many painful hours to gain the mark, but she was so proud of it.


"It's the mark of my tribe."


She didn't go into an explanation. She had only come to Equestria a few days before and all of Unyasi was still fresh on her mind.


 "I want the marks of my family to go with it."


 She took in a short breath while flicking her mane back over her front. She ran a hoof over her front legs, noting that portion of her body.


"Have you done zebra markings before?"

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Ooh, right in the ego. Inkbrand didn't even try to keep his chest from puffing outwards, flirty grin stretching into full-blown rot-eating.

"Heard of me, hm?" the tattoo-clad stallion said, also unnecessarily, as it was entirely clear the white Pegasus had come specifically to him for her new tats. Inkbrand knew he was starting to garner a reputation in Manehatten and out towards Canterlot and Ponyville, places he frequented the most, but this was the first time a client had outright stated they were seeking him out because of said reputation. "Well you've heard right, I'm the best bucking tattoo artist in Equestria."

Probably the whole world, even.

The Pegasus began removing her plate armor - REA, most likely, and whoa she moved fasted and obviously knew what she was getting inked onto her skin. Nice. Inkbrand was a bit surprised, however, when the mare revealed a tattoo already in place on her chest. It was fairly simple in nature, what looked like a tribal circle with some sort of symbol in the center of it, but it was there. Was she going to ask him to paint over it? Touch-up on it? Include it in a new design? The possibilities were endless, but none of them boded well for any tattoo artist.

She didn't seem to want to explain it too much however, briefly mentioning that the symbol was the mark of her - her tribe.


"Zebra markings?" Inkbrand questioned, one eyebrow raising as the Pegasus ran a hoof over her forelegs. "'Ya mean...like, stripes? Can't say I have," he answered honestly, not bothering to lie about it. Did that mean she wanted tattoos to...mimic zebra stripes on her body? Huh, she'd mentioned tribes...was she actually a zebra that had simply been born without stripes, and she was trying to make up for it now? But no, wait, she had wings, she couldn't be a zebra.

...Maybe she was a Pegasus that really wished she was a zebra?

Which made Inkbrand abruptly realize what key information was missing from this conversation. "Hey, you got a name?" he asked, forelegs now crossed in front of his chest in speculation. There was no point in introducing himself, she already knew him. But Inkbrand had no idea who she was, aside from the obvious REA armor. Was her name going to be one of those weird, Unyasan names that he'd never be able to pronounce?

Cripes, he hoped not, otherwise he'd have to come up with a nickname for her on the spot.





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She couldn't help but stifle the grin at the stallion's response to her accolade. It was a flagrant display of flirtatious charm to throw out a title like "tattoo legend" right away. But hey, by what she had seen of his work he deserved the praise. She nodded to his question.


"Yeah, I've seen your work... on a pony in Canterlot. It was eye catching to say the least." She spoke with a half smile on her muzzle.


He hadn't worked with stripes before. That wasn't necessarily a problem. She was glad he hadn't asked too many questions right away. Not like her life was a big secret. It was just a lot to listen to unless somepony was really interested in hearing about it.


She removed the last pieces of her armor and piled them neatly to the side of the parlor. She wouldn't need it here.


"My name's Skyhaven," She moved forward and offered her hoof. "Glad to meet you, mister world famous tattoo artist," She winked at him. "Inkbrand."


After a moment she continued. "So, I've been thinking about this design for a while. Could you tattoo zebra stripes on my legs and chest. I don't need anything done to what's already on my chest, just maybe some stripes added around it. What do you think?"

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Inkbrand indulged in a lazy smile as the Pegasus introduced herself as Skyhaven, giving him a firm hoofshake and a wink in greeting. Buck, she had a pair of wings on her. It almost made him glad to be dating Zelda at the moment - there was a limit as to how much a stallion could keep professional when he was running his hooves all over a mare, after all!

On top of her obviously confident demeanor, the pearly white Pegasus knew exactly what she wanted, stating her desires simply and effectively. Oh hay yes, Inkbrand could work with that. With a shark's smile the tattoo-clad stallion pat the tattooing table again, turning away while the mare got herself settled to grab his sketch notebook. Stripes were simple enough...but he'd have to work around the symbol on her chest, circular in nature and a contradiction to straight-legged stripes. He'd need to design around the symbol while still maintaining the integrity of zebra stripes.

Pfft. Foal's play for The Best Bucking Tattoo Artist in Equestria.

"Something like this, then," the tattoo-clad stallion said, holding up his quick sketch of the mare's tribal symbol with zebra stripes curved under and below it, "with the stripes on your legs, eh?"

Confident in his design, Inkbrand grabbed his massage oils as he let the mare look over his design, pushing his chair towards the end of the table to start on her hind legs. The grey stallion briefly touched one of her hooves and threw a quick wink at her - Equestria knew how many times he'd gotten an instinctual hind kick from a startled mare - before starting the massage, working downwards from the top of her legs. Wasted less oil that way.

"What about colors?" the blue-maned stallion questioned, one eyebrow raised inquisitively as he nudged the mare to roll onto her back so he could access her other leg. "Wanna go full tribal? Could maybe do a dark aqua, match your eyes."





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Skyhaven looked over the sketch as she settled into position on the table. She raised her eyebrow for a moment, studying it carefully. 


"Hmmmm," She glanced at Inkbrand. A thin smile spread over her muzzle. "You work quick," She winked. "And effectively. It's great! Yes, stripes down my legs."


She felt his touch on her hoof and controlled her reflexes. It was true that a mare might kick out when touched without warning. More than one pony had suffered a hoof mark from her hind end over the years. Once she knew he was starting with a massage the mare sighed.


"Wow, I've been needing this for a while." She felt him begin to rub the oil into her legs. It was soothing and she tried to hold onto the feeling as she knew receiving the tattoo wouldn't feel quite so nice.


"Wanna go full tribal? Could maybe do a dark aqua, match your eyes."


"I imagined color yeah..." She thought about it for a little bit. "Dark aqua sounds sweet," She lifted her head and glanced his way. "You know, I think I'll let you decide on the color. You seem to know what you're doing." She smiled again as he continued to massage her legs. "Is that cool with you?"

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What the hay, that was a bold move.

And he liked it!

"Well then," Inkbrand drawled, and made of show of cracking his hooves out before settling them back onto her flank, "you just sit back and relax, leave everything to me, eh?"

Skyhaven already seemed well on her way to doing just that, but Inkbrand didn't mind saying it for emphasis as he continued on with the massage, carefully and meticulously working the oil into her hind legs before shifting up towards her front ones - he'd need to apply it to the chest, too. And while other tattoo artists may have found it awkward to need to directly face their client as they worked on their front, the tattoo-clad stallion had no qualms doing so, cocky grin firmly in place as his hooves worked their magic.

Er...oil. As the massage oil worked their magic. Whatever.

Still, it wasn't everyday he had a client that appreciated his talents as a tattoo artist, the same way some ponies couldn't appreciate a doctor's medical advice - well, okay, that was a poor analogy, considering that artistic differences were widely varied while a pony's anatomy and physiology was shared by every single pony - but the point remained! It was a fair few clients who trusted him to live up to his bucking job, one he was good at too, and Inkbrand wasn't about to complain about the pearly white Pegasus being one of them.

"So," he stated conversationally, finishing off the massage and moving back a bit to wipe off his hooves, "why the stripes? Wishful thinking, or...?" As he spoke, Inkbrand grabbed his trusted paint brush and inks, running a critical gaze over the colors as he started selecting a range of blue and aqua hues.

Mm...yup. Definitely an aqua of some sort.





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Skyhaven raised her brows again as the stallion worked his massage magic on her front legs and chest. He seemed to have no trouble massaging away with that cocky grin on his muzzle. She had to hoof it to him, he was confident. Or at least he seemed to be. She smiled right back at him before closing her eyes to better enjoy the feeling of the treatment. 


"The stripes are kind of a long story actually..." She wasn't going to bore him with all the details. "Let's just say I have a close relation with some zebras. Haven't actually been in Equestria all that long. The stripes remind me that Unyasi will always be a part of me."


She watched him mixing the dye. It seemed to be a good color combo so far. "This is gonna be a lot different than last time I was tattooed." She glanced down at her chest. It was still shiny from the oil. "This one was done in the traditional Unyasi style. Design and method of application." She smiled in his direction. "Thankfully I don't see any needles made from pointed sticks around here."


She remembered the day she had been given her tribal tattoo very clearly. It was the day after she had received her cutie mark. It was a huge celebration with the whole tribe. Zebras danced and sang and ate, all in celebration of the one who had recently been given their mark. The mark of the tribe was given only after a zebra had discovered who they were. That way they would be true to themselves and the tribe. The mark had taken hours to receive. It was a painful process of implanting plant dye under the skin with sharpened sticks. The medicine mares who had raised her along with the spear stallion  had done the work.

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Oh hey, he'd been right after all. At least partially right.

Tch, he was bucking smart as.

The comment about the lack of needles and otherwise pointed objects in his parlor derailed Inkbrand's train of thought however, causing another swelling of his chest and another moment to extrapolate on why he was the best bucking tattoo artist in Equestria. "You better believe you don't see any," the tattoo-clad stallion gloated, mixing the teal of his ink into a brighter aqua color. "Paints and brushes only, no needles here. I'm the only bucking tattoo artist who uses 'em."

At least that he knew of, so it wasn't a total lie, right?


Finally pleased with the result of his ink colors, the grey stallion turned back towards the pearl-white Pegasus, cocky grin once again. "Just lay back and relax, babe," he ordered, tossing a flirty wink down to her as he picked up his paintbrush, "and I'll try not to make you squirm too much."

It was meticulous work, less because of the complexity of the design and more because of it's scope. Each stripe had to be aesthetically linked to the ones next to it, making sure that none were bunched too close together or too far apart, yet not systematically placed either. Because that was stale and boring. No, there was an art to randomness and a seemingly chaotic pattern - otherwise it just turned into ugly chaos.

Luckily for Skyhaven, organized chaos just happened to be one of his many specialities.

Inkbrand was quick to lose track of time as he worked on his project, only idly responding to conversation as he focused and concentrated on his work. Working on the mare's chest was the hardest as he took his sweet time, meticulously and painstakingly smoothing the edges of the tattoo around the mark already in place, and Inkbrand casually wondered whether Skyhaven might return for a touch or cover-up of that symbol. The bright and gradient blue from her new tattoos didn't mesh all that well with the stark black of her clan symbol, but hay, Inkbrand wasn't here to judge, just to do his job.

Okay, maybe he was here to judge a little. But mostly he was here to do his job.

Speaking of which -

"Criiiipes," the grey Earth Pony groaned out as he slowly slid his chair away from the tattooing table and mare, stretching his forelegs above his head and feeling his back give way in an undecidedly unnatural way. "So gunna need a masseuse after this. Totally worth it, though," Inkbrand abruptly switched thoughts, leer forming on his face as he was able to take in the finished product in all of her tattooed glory. "Don't 'ya think?"






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Skyhaven lay back and let the stallion get to his work. As he applied ink the mare's thoughts drifted. The open plains of Unyasi shimmered the dying sun. Shadowed birds ranged over the barren lands, looking for anything that could be considered edible. Ants scurried across the ground as she sat under a broom tree. She felt a few crawling up one of her hind legs. The mare almost shook them off but then remembered she was being tattooed.


Her mind traveled over the waters to Equestria. Her heart was filled with a deep longing for home but at the same time filled with excitement for the new possibilities in front of her. Equestria was as wonderful as she thought it might be. Her first week in training for the REA. Her muscles still ached at the thought of basic training. They had worked her to the bone! Her wings ached, her neck ached, her legs. She reminded herself to stay still as Inkbrand worked. From what she could see so far it was looking awesome! 


Now here she was in a tattoo parlor. She was getting the stripes to remind her daily of where she had come from. The lands of Unyasi and the zebras that had raised her. She didn't want the stripes to try to be a zebra, she wanted them to remind her of what was in her heart. Everything her tribe had instilled in her since they had rescued her all those years ago. Everything would always be with her, the stripes would be a symbol of that...always.


"So gunna need a masseuse after this. Totally worth it, though,""Don't 'ya think?"


She sat up and stretched. Holding still for that long could be tough but probably not as bad as doing the work the stallion had been at. Skyhaven blinked a couple times as she looked over her legs and chest. They were just as she wanted. She waited for a moment, for the look to sink in. The mare shook her head just slightly, clearing her mind and keeping a level head. She smiled and winked at the artist.


"Totally," She slid off the table and glanced at herself as she walked around. After she had placed bits for the work on the table she winked at Inkbrand. He wasn't exactly a friend but she found it hard not to hold a little affection for somepony who had just spent that much time on her. "If you're ever in Canterlot, look me up..." She smiled at him one last time before heading for the door. "K?"



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