Fireflies on the Lake

He moves with the ungulate grace which is too often compared to deer, but unlike a deer he usually does not make a sound, this slender young man with a waterfall of perfectly white hair-- not blond, but white and fine as Queen Anne's lace-- which has been rather carelessly confined in a burgundy ribbon at the nape of his neck. His eyes at first appear to be dark rather than the blue that is their color, as they are so saturated with color that they absorb rather than reflect, like the night sky. The planes of his perfectly symmetrical face reflect a beauty so delicate and finely drawn as to be almost inhuman, an impression furthered by the translucent pallor of his skin. Yet the lovely lines of his collarbones and his wrists showing delicately through that transparency paradoxically reinforce his humanity by suggesting his fragility.
His worn, although originally good black shoes are a little citified for the region, as are his well-tailored black pants. The matching, close-fitting black jacket with the mandarin collar and the long sleeves is currently worn open, showing the expensive white collarless shirt underneath. The heat, no doubt, has caused him to open the jacket and unbutton the top three buttons of the shirt.
At rest, he sits quite still, not even fidgeting with his long and capable hands. His face tends to assume a clear, icy expression which is a first cousin to sorrow.

You follow one of many faint paths off the road, down to the lakeside.

It is only a few paces from the edge of the wilderness to the lake; trees crowd close to the water in every direction. The water at your feet is pristine, shining blue. Gentle ripples ruffle the glossy surface of the water and whisper at the shore. The hump of Katahdin Peak, blue-grey with distance, looms over the trees as they ring the lake. The air smells clean, rich with pine and fish. In the distance you can make out a dock, and other signs of human habitation; but here, only the calls of birds, frogs, and insects disturb the peaceful quiet.
Obvious exits:
Treehouse Katahdin Road

In a tree about ten feet away from the lake is a freshly painted (in mottled greens and browns) treehouse. The house itself is nestled in a gap in the tree, where the old, sturdy trunk splits off into two smaller ones, built with care for the safety of the house, and with no damage to the tree. Going down the length of the trunk of the tree is a knotted rope, which leads to a hole in the floor of the house.

He is a youth verging upon manhood and his lean frame is just filling out with muscle. A shining ebony mane trails in a loose ponytail down the smooth line of his spine and a lock of it drops into one dark eye. His skin is as flawless as the bronze it resembles and shows not the least inclination toward hirsuteness. Leather leggings provide the base for ancient armor plates to protect his lower body: black plastic thigh and shinguards, and a black plastic and metal codpiece. His upper body is usually shirtless, except in the most extreme weather or temperatures, but when he does wear something, it is an ancient, battered black leather jacket.
His prized possession, worn either across his back or at his right hip: a shining sword with golden hilt clad in a tooled leather scabbard.

The sultry summer evening sky is streaked with reds and oranges and purples as the sun westers. The silence is broken only by the crickets (and late cicadas), and someone splashing around in the shallows of the lake near the treehouse. This person is revealed to be Rex, in the glorious bronzed altogether. He crouches, watching carefully some tiny movement at the edge of the water, and then gathers himself, resettling his feet in the slippery mud. With a roar of glee, he launches himself, feline-fashion, at his target. After a hurried several moments of scurrying through the mud, he rises victorious with a squirming watersnake captive in his big hands. After laughing over it and displaying it to an admiring imaginary audience, he magnanimously releases it back into the water. It slithers off indignantly, and he begins to pace around, searching for new prey.

Miklos, approaching from the road, is brought to a stop by this peculiar performance. He seats himself discreetly on a wind-weathered log and affects to be watching the sunset, while actually keeping his attention on these extremely odd antics out of the corner of his eye. The rays of the setting sun dye his hair an improbable garnet and stain the front of his shirt with red.

The mighty hunter apparently spots the flash that suggests a fish's presence and dives noisily after it, disappearing under the crimson of the lake's surface. He reappears a good fifteen feet from his point of entry and is struggling vainly to keep hold of a tiny silver creature that eventually, and probably scornfully, slips free and back into the water. Rex is laughing at himself, shaking out his great, dripping, black mane, and finally turning toward the shore. He takes a few steps, looks up from the lake, and freezes mid-step as he spots the unfamiliar figure on the log. There is a long moment, sound broken only by dripping water and the fiddling of the crickets. Then he recollects himself and strides out of the lake with as much dignity as he can muster. He opts to rake his hair out of his face, in lieu of licking his shoulder.

The boy sitting on the log, seeing that he's been noticed, ducks his head shyly. A few locks of his white-- currently sunset-dyed-- hair fall over his shoulder and across his shirt and jacket, clearly delineated against the black fabric and vanishing against the white. He seems to notice that it's falling into his face, and reaches up to untie the ribbon that keeps it back, preparatory, it seems, to tying it up again.

Rex emerges from the water onto the grass and, while continuing to face the stranger, bends down to take up his towel, which he uses to rub down his legs and hips in as casual a manner as he can muster. After he has made his best attempt there, he pulls on his trousers. This is a more difficult operation, as they are leather and his skin is still damp, but it seems that he has had practice with this. He eschews his boots, but buckles on his swordbelt, rakes his fingers quickly through his hair again, and walks across the little meadow toward his visitor with a slightly self-conscious grace. He pauses a little way from the other boy, poised on the balls of his feet and somewhat tense, with his shoulders back, chest out, chin up... and somehow, having the sunset limning the best side of his profile. He offers a dazzling smile and says, "Hiya."

Who knew that tying one's hair back was such a time and attention-consuming operation? It at least offered sufficient distraction for the boy sitting on the log not to have appeared to have noticed Rex's toweling and dressing operations. Finally, the boy pauses, his hands still occupied with tying the knot in the deep red ribbon, and glances up and sidelong at Rex's greeting, one quick flash of blue eyes. Then he stands up, shaking his hair back in a quick graceful gesture, and offers Rex a shy smile. "Hello... Could you possibly do me the favor, um, of telling me where this is?" There are traces of both hesitation and a faint but not unpleasant accent in his light voice.

While not the brightest bulb in the drawer, Rex can at least manage this level of information-dealing. "Well, this here is Millinockett Lake. There's a town just down the road; folks are callin' it Haven these days. And that," he says, pointing north to the massif of Katahdin, its peak still in daylight, just barely, "is Mount Katahdin. Top o' the Appalachian Trail." His thick Southern accent lazily drawls its way through this catalog. "Can I show you to somewhere? There's strange things around these parts, and folks oughtn't to wander where they don't know their way."

"So this road leads up to the mountain, not to another town?" asks the boy, gesturing towards the Katahdin Road. "And why the warning? Are these woods so much more dangerous than any others?" He smiles to himself at his latter question, a private, amused smile; he seems quite unaware of its sudden and rather startling, alluring nature.

"Well, it don't so much lead to the mountain as it peters out in the woods up north about eight mile or so," Rex says, gesturing carelessly that direction while keeping his eyes firmly on the other boy. "About the other thing..." He frowns, pursing his lips briefly, and then twisting his mouth into a somewhat sheepish half-grin. "Well, when you've got servants of the Corruptor prowling, it's always more dangerous. But lately, there's been some fella huntin' these woods who don't seem to care whether he hunts men or beasts." He cocks his head to one side thoughtfully, then says, "M'name's Rex. What do folks call you?"

The boy turns his gaze fully towards Rex for the first time, his pupils seeming to dilate like a cat's to catch the twilight. "My name is Miklos. Majlath Miklos. But most people call me Miki. We make our living by hunting, too, my elder brother and I. I came here to see if there was work for us." He smiles a fragile, rueful smile, and turns a little away, seemingly to watch the fireflies rising along the lake, little points of green and gold winking in and out of existence. He takes a few steps away, holding out his hands, and whispers something-- unknown syllables with a rhythmic accent. He laughs softly, and spins back towards Rex, a light dancing movement, as the fireflies start to gather around him, clustering in knots of brightness on his outstretched hands.

The spin startles Rex, who is suddenly three feet further back than he was before. There may, or may not, have been a tiny "hffft" noise as this happened. But he paces forward curiously again, craning his neck to see the captive lightning in Miki's hands. His eyes are wide and dark and a little wild with... something. "You're a Mage?" he asks in a hushed voice, "or do you just... call them?"

Miklos laughs again. "I'm not anything so rareified as a Mage," he says. "But we work with the unseen, my brother and I. It's not that difficult to learn how to ask the little stars to... visit." He seems to have substituted one verb for another in that sentence. He holds one hand out towards Rex and opens his curled palm carefully. It is filled with fireflies, all crawling over one another and flashing desperately. Every now and then, one crawls up one of Miki's long slender fingers and launches itself into the air, spiralling away; but then it, or another one, swoops down to join the others roaming restlessly over his hand.

Rex leans close to examine Miki's hand, and ends up jerking back as one of the fireflies nearly launches itself up his nose. He looks up at Miklos, then straightens up, as if just remembering his dignity. "That's, ah, that's really amazin'. Honest. I can't say as I know anyone who can do... do that." And then he seems to be caught once more by the play of the flashing lights over the delicate face and hair and hands.

Miklos sighs, watching the "little stars" circle around him, and finally raises his hands above his head in a graceful and classic gesture. The fireflies rise up from his hands in a fountain of green and gold light, rising to meet the others which have already reached the treetops by now. Miki tilts his head back to watch them go, his pale hair marking his movements even in the dim light.

There is a rustling in the trees at the edge of the lake, and then - perhaps alarmingly, but not too close to the two young men - a figure drops lightly from the rustling tree to land on her feet. Indistinct in the dusk, the figure is mainly a rather short collection of shadows, highlighted by splotches of white which are, at a guess, face, arms, and bare feet. "Hallo," the figure says cheerfully.

Rex watches the fireflies go, mouth slightly agape. He towers unconsciously over Miklos, his dark hair and tanned skin an interesting counterpoint to the other's pallid fragility. It's a long moment before he remembers himself enough to say, "Ah, uh, so." At the motion and unexpected greeting, he springs to the side just enough to land in a fighting stance, one hand on the hilt of his sword. His body is arched in a manner that ever so slightly indicates protective inclinations toward Miklos, and also hints at sniffing the air suspiciously. "Who's there?" he inquires in a voice rather lower in register than he's been using.

The other young man also looks startled, although his response is somewhat different. He turns lightly to face the figure full-on, taking a step back from it, his hands raised and open to show that they are empty. A stray firefly crawls out from his cuff and wanders up the back of his hand and along an outstretched finger, finally launching itself into the air from a fingertip. Another firefly emerges from his hair and settles on his eyebrow.

By far the most striking thing about this woman's appearance is her hair, which stands away from her face and falls in a wriggling, comb eating torrent around her shoulders, with every lock a different color - here dark brown, here black, here ash-blond, here ginger, here auburn. A lock of silver gray grows beside a lock of bronze, and the locks on the other side of each may be hazel-brown or white. It doesnt seem to be dyed; at least, each color stretches unbroken from tip to root.
One eye is green and the other is brown. One eyebrow is just a little darker than the other. Even her - roughly caucasian - complexion shows, in good lighting, uneven coloring, as though some patches have tanned while others have not. Quite short, square-built but light-boned, this woman seems to bounce a little when she walks, and to transition seamlessly between full-energy and full lethargy, with an animalistic, hedonistic presence in the moment. Fine lines in the corners of her eyes place her age somewhere in her thirties, but perhaps not far in.
Barefoot, she wears baggy blue denim overalls over a cropped black tank-top, the combination revealing muscular arms, well-defined collar bones, tantalizing glimpses of torso, and a truly alarming collection of scars.

"Whoah," says the woman mildly. She slows down. "Um, I come in peace? My names Dali Hunter, I been around for a while, but I don't think I've met you guys...I'm friends with a buncha folks 'round here...Rowan and Kelsey?" She tries for recognition. "Derrick and Louisa and, oh waste it, I forgot her human name. Anyhow, if this is a bad time, I c'n go away again. Din't mean to interupt anythin'."

Miklos says, with an odd tone to his light voice, "Another hunter." There is a short pause before he continues, the faint accent of his words emerging and then fading again. "But I have not been here more than an hour or two."

Rex resumes a more casual stance, then cocks his head, sniffs the air a little more obviously, and ducks his head. "Sorry, ma'am," he says, with the air of a schoolboy. "Don't think I've met you before, no. I'm Rex." He peers through the gathering dusk at her, then nods, as if to himself. "I'm Oroszlan Kin." He peers around and says, to Miklos, in rather more polite tones than he has used before, "It's getting a bit dense out here. P'rhaps I could guide you into town? Or, I know, Mr. Maker prob'ly would know where you could stay the night!" He glances back at Dali, a little guiltily. "If that's all right with you, ma'am."

Miklos bends down and scoops up a little pack that was lying in the shadow of the log he was sitting on. "I would be most grateful for a place to stay," he says frankly. "I dislike sleeping on the ground." His gaze shifts from Rex to the newcomer, though, possibly following Rex's deference to her.

Close enough now to be fully visible, Dali looks quite entertained by this shift in manner. "Nunda," she says. "Pleased to met you. And I got no problem with the forge. Never been there, actually. Like seein' new places." Her eyes run over Rex's exemplary form, still amused, and then turn to spend a much longer time considering Miklos. "New in town," she says. "You fixin' to stay a while?"
Dali pages the room: I am Adult, Female, Fully Shifter, and Battle
Scarred. You will cower before me!
Rex pages the room: Yes, ma'am!
Dali pages the room: ...even if I am about an eighth the size of the folks you're used to cowering before.

Rex bows to Dali respectfully, and holds up one finger to beg for a moment's indulgence. He runs down to the lake's edge and scoops up his towel and boots, then trots back to the duo.

Miklos reaches up and gently captures the firefly which is still wandering in and out of his hair. "Perhaps a day or so?" he says hesitantly. "I am looking for work for my brother and myself, and if there is none," he smiles and makes a graceful, opening gesture, lightly freeing the firefly, "then we will look elsewhere."

"Oh, there's alus work," Dali says easily. "We should be so lucky, right? Don't think I caught your name," she adds, motioning Rex to lead the way, "or were you not mentioning it on purpose?"

"Ah, I apologize. Majlath Miklos. But most people call me Miki." He smiles hesitantly at Dali, then looks over at Rex, expecting him to show the way to... wheverever they're going.

Bowing to his two charges, Rex trots up the meadow and out onto the road.

(Leave the Lake, down Katahdin Road, onto Main Street, out the Farm Road, and thence to...)
You pass between the two gateposts and follow the gently curving track up to the crest of a hill, and you can see New Moon Farm below you. A rough semicircle of houses surrounds an enormous oak tree, with the flashing glint of a river in the distance behind them, and trees and plants everywhere. The houses look like small stone cottages married with low rounded hills for the most part, but large windows and solar panels gleam in the sun. Fenced fields can be seen beyond the houses, where goats, alpacas, and cows graze peacefully. The shining mirror of a pond (well populated with ducks) is off to one side, and fields (planted in spirals, curves, and waves, seemingly disdaining square corners and straight furrows) surround the arc of little houses.
You continue along the track, slowly descending the hill, until you finally enter...
New Moon Farm, Front Circle

You are standing underneath the spreading branches of an oak tree which is probably at least two hundred years old. Around the tree are several half-earthed houses, with stone and glass fronts and roofs of green turf. Beside front doors, roses, morning-glories, wisteria, and grapevines are all planted, and more plants can be seen through the wide front windows of each cottage. Dogs sleep peacefully in the shade or bounce up to inspect any arrivals, and cats stalk gracefully by on their own business. Off in the distance, you can see the edges of planted fields, a duckpond, and fenced grazing land. (there are views here)
Obvious exits:
Guest House Nearest Barn Track to Farm Road

On a purely physical level, Louisa defines the good-natured essence of 'average'. Beyond that, her remote, watchful demeanor still can hold a genuine sense of some mutual understanding. She wears her flyaway auburn hair relatively short, though it still manages to look mussed more often than not and is notable for the thick, gray strand that frequently falls in front of her eyes and just as frequently is pushed back behind her ear in a unconscious motion. However, once one settles into really looking at Lou, it's those eyes, calm gold-brown eyes, that hold the attention. She listens. She sees.
Her attire is inconspicuous, a background, a comfortable pair of light-blue jeans, a worn brown plaid shirt rolled up at the sleeves and tied in a knot at her waist over a white undershirt, and a green bandanna tied around her neck. Upon her feet are a well-traveled pair of waterproof walking boots.

After hopping over the gate, Louisa catches sight of Sunshing on the porch steps and heads her way with a cheerful expression. "Hiya, Sunshine."

Through the twilight, up the road from the town, Rex strides along in the purposeful way he has when he's doing something he perceives as important. Periodically, he pauses to look to one of the two figures with him, apparently making sure that this person is still beside him.

Sunny is probably not what most people think of when they think of sunshine. For one thing, she's dark. Her hair is a dark, mahogany brown and straight, cut to just above her shoulders and usually tied back loosely. Her skin is a paler brown, speaking of Amerindian, Indian, or Roma heritage, rather than African. She's dressed in the usual patchwork of whatever could be found, usually something skirt-like or tunic-like. She wears several pouches or bags of different sizes, and seems to have pockets sewn nearly everywhere. Her head is usually shaded by a wide-brimmed, somewhat floppy, straw hat, secured by a wide band of what looks like very soft fabric.

Sunshine smiles at Louisa. "Hello, Louisa. Enjoying your evening?" She reaches for the glass of water beside her on the step and takes a sip. Her skirts fan to the ground around her feet, layers of muted color in the fading summer dusk.

The pale boy is following closely behind Rex, a small pack thrown over one shoulder. He glances warily beyond his guide at the people visible in the gathering twilight.

Louisa mms with a half nod. "I didn't get a chance to thank you for the tea the other night. You left so quick--ly." About halfway through 'quickly' Lou glances back toward the gate and catches sight of the approaching trio. "Looks like company," she murmurs to Sunshine.

At the back of Rex's little troupe pads a short figure Louisa knows well and Sunshine somewhat less so. Bare feet now thoroughly dirt-covered from the trip down the road, thumbs tucked through the unbelted loops oon her overalls, Dali takes in the evening view out over the fields and meadows with pleasure.

Sunshine smiles. "It was my pleasure," she assures the younger woman. She takes another sip of her water before addressing the leader of the approaching trio. "Evening, Rex. Have you been swimming?"

The Oroszlan Kin rakes his fingers through his still-damp black hair and blushes, ever so slightly. "Yes, ma'am. It seemed like a good night for it." He ducks his head and glances behind him at the other boy. "This here is Miklos, an' he's new in town. Thought maybe Mr. Maker could find him a place to stay the night."

Miklos bows slightly to the two women and says, the faint and unplaceable accent present again, "I am pleased to be introduced to you. I am Majlath de Holtsapadtbolyh Miklos, but most people prefer to call me Miki."

As the trio nears, Louisa turns partway toward them so she has her back neither to Sunshine or the others. Dali receives a twinkling smile, Rex a friendly nod and Miklos an interested once-over. "Hi, Miki. I'm Louisa. But most folks call me Lou or Little Mother." The Gaian shifts a bit self-consciously from one foot to the other as she briefly admires the stranger's nice clothes.

Sunshine's smile approves gently. "A kind thought, Rex. A pleasure to meet you, Miki." She doesn't offer her own name, however. Dali gets a thoughtful look, followed by recognition and a smile.

Dali grins cheerfully at the two women, and her position behind the two young men shifts subtly from one of following to one of displaying trophies. "Rex here was ready to take me on indefense of home an' country, till I mentioned your name, Lou. Then things got a little better. How you been?"

Louisa ohs, looking from Dali to Rex. "This is the first you've met?" Her warm brown eyes sharpen a bit. "I've been meeting the most interesting new people," she replies, looking back to Dali. "You?"

Rex ducks his head to all the women, casts a somewhat desperate and frenetic smile to Miklos, and cranes his neck to peer toward the forge hintingly, shuffling in that direction.

Sunshine sets her glass of water down again. "I think Lucas is still at the Forge, Rex. Did you want to take Miki there, or?" She hides her amusement at the Orozlan Kin's fidgeting by putting her hat on, hiding her face in shadows.

With imperfectly controlled laughter, Dali says, "Yep. Rex was gonna show us the forge. I never saw it, though I been within smellin' distance a couple times."

Miklos takes a small step back, half removing himself from the circle of people. His eyes move from face to face, though, in a seeking, shy, hesitant way.

Louisa flickers a glance to Sunshine and then follows the woman's statement over toward the forge, mild curiosity painting over her features as well. Then her attention wanders circuitously back to Miklos.

Rex looks a little pained, as it sinks in, a touch slowly, that he's at least at the edge of the center of the joke. "I was thinkin', ma'am," he drawls carefully, "to bring Miki to Mr. Maker, yes." He edges through the circle and looks back to his charge. "This way..."

Miki turns his gaze towards Rex and nods, following him.

Sunshine catches Louisa's curious glance and nods to her. "I'll be along in a moment," she says, standing and taking her glass into the Guest House.

The smithy is easy to find, even in the black of a clear summer night. The sound of the hammer, a faint and distant music from the farm's circling arms, grows more powerful as the track winds along. Closer still, the smithyard is lit by ruddy light blazing from unshuttered windows and the open top of the building's double dutch doors. Shadows flicker eerily from the interior, dancing in time to the hammer and giving nearby trees a queer illusion of mobility.

Rex trots directly up to the dutch doors and peers in through the open tops. "Hulloo? Mister Maker Sir?"

Miklos hesitates at the doorway, flinching and blinking in time with the metallic noise.

Inside the smithy, the yellow light of oil lamps is completely overpowered by the red glow of the forge, limning everything inside in with a warm edge of fire. It is a surprisingly large space for a working forge, with a double-height ceiling and broad, clear floor for yards around the coal pit and anvil. The need for the extra space is immediately obvious: the smith himself is working in half-horse form, his broad homid torso blending smoothly into the withers of his massive equine body. He settles his weight back over his hips as he works, counter to the weight of the enormous hammer he uses with ruthless efficiency on the piece of sheet steel he shapes over an iron dishing ball.

Lucas seems completely absorbed in his work; the soft footfalls and low greeting are lost in the rain of the hammerfalls and the almost fey absorption that has taken hold of him. In the warm of the evening and the heat of the coals, the smith wears only his leather apron and a pair of safety goggles. Sweat sheens both his halves, catching the red light and smearing it along his back and flanks.

There are not many Perunka able to take the form of the centaur, and so it is an impressive sight, even in this age of wonders. The smith's broad torso blends smoothly into the withers of his massive equine body, the two disparate forms so perfectly proportioned that the eye is fooled into believing that this is the natural form, the others somehow incomplete.

Sunshine pages the room: Sunshine passes out napkins for them as
Rex pages the room: Rex thanks Sunshine kindly.

Also lost, perhaps, in the many sounds of the forge, is the soft admiring whistle Dali gives when she gets a good sight of the smithy's interior and occupants. "Well, kitten," she murmurs to Rex - possibly, if there is mercy in the world, out of his hearing - "you certainly give value for money."

Miklos catches his breath as he looks over the door into the decidedly otherworldly sight on the other side. "*That's* your smith?" he says, his eyes widening as he takes an involuntary step backwards. "I've never seen..."

Sunshine comes up the path behind the group, carrying a stack of cups and a sweating pitcher . She seems amused by the crowding at the door. "Is there some problem?" she asks the group in general.

Lucas may be unaware of his visitors, but Arslag, snoozing dutifully on the threshhold, is not. The mutt stands on his hind legs, forefeet propped against the inside of the door, so that his head suddenly appears over the lip of the door. He barks, once, tongue lolling.

Rex peers in, eyes shining with admiration for the massive smith, and a worshipful smile passes over his face involuntarily. "Yeah," he says in response to Miklos. "Isn't he *cool*?" He watches the smith work for a few moments, until he sees him take a pause, then draws breath, even as he scritches the dog behind the ears. Then he bellows, "HalLOOO! MIS-ter MAKE-r!"

Sunshine smiles warmly at the dog. "Hello, Arslag." She hands the cups to Miklos. "Carry these for me, would you?" With the pitcher now held in two hands, she waits to see if Lucas will respond to Rex's bellowing.

Miki obediently holds onto the cups, still shifting his gaze alternately from Rex to the mythic creature in the forge.

Dali laughs at the Oroszlan kin's shift in demeanor, watching the whole tableau with delight.

The combination of Arslag's yip and Rex's determined halloo startles the smith out of his reverie, although his surprise shows only in a ripple of the skin along his flank and a swish of his tightly-braided tail. He looks up from his work to the croowd in his doorway and lifts the hammer in greeting. "Ah! Heya! Be right there!" he calls. He shoves the curved metal sheet into the edge of the coal pit, drops the hammer to the packed-earth floor -- where it lands with a heavy thunk and stands perfectly on its head -- and makes his way to unbar the door. "Back up, Muttbreath," he admonished Arslag. "We got guests, eh?"

"Guests with refreshments, Lucas," says Sunshine, holding up the pitcher. "You look like you could use a drink."

Rex grins up at Lucas goofily. "Hi!" he says, apparently at a loss for anything better to say.

Miklos says nothing, apparently deciding that silence is the better part of valor.

Lucas swings the door wide and the goggles leave pale ghosts of themselves around his eyes as he pushes them up into his hair. "Ooh! That's mighty neighborly of you. To what do I owe the..." he peers around the gathered faces, "...honor?" Before anyone can answer, he shakes his head, grinning. "Come in, come in," he gestures wide with a broad, sooty hand. "Though it's a might warm in here...." He eyes the room critically. "On second thought, mind if Ah come out? Ah could use the air."

Miklos steps back from the door with alacrity. His eyes are still a bit wide (if he were equine kin, they'd be showing too much white around the edges).

Rex obligingly shuffles aside from the doors, making as much room as he can for the smith.

Sunshine holds out one hand towards Miki, cradling the pitcher in her other arm. "Water, Lucas?" The older woman seems entirely unfazed by the Smith, or perhaps she's simply very familiar with him.

Dali follows the general movement of the group, back from the door, as they form a sort of impromptu receiving line for the Centaur to parade past.

Miklos remembers that he's holding the cups and shyly offers the smith one.

Lucas pauses to shift down, his homid form clad in his usual hemp trousers and boots, in addition to the apron. He's perhaps a little less imposing, though not all that much shorter. He takes the proffered cup, drains it, and holds it out again, hopeful of a refill. "Thank you kindly, er...?" He peers at Miki. "Ah'm sorry, Ah don't think we've met?"

Sunshine refills Lucas's cup, then pours for anyone else who wants. Her eyes rest briefly on Rex, encouraging him to make the introductions.

The pale boy attempts a smile but it's a little too tremulous to be really convincing. "I am Majlath de Holtsapadtbolyh Miklos, at your service, sir. Um, most people call me Miki."

Rex steps up next to Miki. "I thought, sir, you could perhaps find someplace for him for the night, sir? He's new in town. He 'n his brother are lookin' for work, he says." The Kin swings a mass of hair back from his shoulders and looks upwards into Lucas' face.

Sunshine pours a final cup for herself, and sips at it. Quiet, thoughtful, and at least mildly amused, she watches the two boys and the man.

Dali accepts a glass of water with a silent nod of thanks to Sunshine, watching the three males - the palest one most of all.

The smith observes the pale boy closely for a moment. "Reckon that could happen," he says evenly, "If they don't mind hay and horses." The look on his face as he takes in Miki's clothing suggests he's not convinced that's the case. "What kinda work you boys lookin' for?" he asks, peering into the gloom behind the little crowd, clearly wondering where the 'brother' is to be found.

Arslag collects scritches from everyone he knows, and sniffs cautiously at those he doesn't.

Dali sniffs back at Arslag, and then behaves properly, holding out her hand and letting the dog make up his own mind how best to receive a guest who smells irresistably of cat.

Miki's gaze follows Lucas' and correctly interprets it. "My brother is not with me right now." He looks down for a moment, his face suddenly too crowded with conflicting emotions to be accurately read. He shakes his head, freeing a few strands of his white hair and causing a peculiar green light to flash behind his left ear. "I am looking through the little towns to see if there is any work for us. We are... hunters, of a sort. We deal with troublesome ghosts."

Sunshine crouches down to Arslag's level, offering the dog some of her water. Miki's words cause her to look up, immediately wary.

The smith abruptly looms forward, the better to get a look at the origin of that green light.

Few things can arrest Rex's attention when he's in the presence of the smith, but something about Miki does. He pauses, peers at the light behind the boy's ear, and reaches out to gently remove the firefly trapped in the fine, pale hair. He stares at the insect for the few moments it takes it to recover, climb resolutely up his finger, open its wings, and fly upward.

Arslag seems to have no problem with cat-smell, and bumps his broad head against Dali's hand, his desires plain.

Miklos flinches back from the smith, one arm automatically coming up to shield his face. He stumbles against Rex.

Dali, on one knee to better give Arslag the attention that is his due, looks up sharply at the sudden movements. "Hey, now," she says calmingly, standing up and moving forward, not yet sure what exactly has happened.

Rex, abruptly torn from his consideration of the tiny light, staggers a step to the side and automatically catches the other boy around the shoulders to steady him.

Sunshine sets the pitcher down, revealing herself irrefutably as a noncombatant.

Louisa returns alone from her Gerard-hunting, approaching the small group without much ado. She stops beside Dali.

The smith is out of Miki's space as abruptly as he'd entered it. "Whups, didn't mean t'startle you, there," he rumbles, his baritone cool, but not unfriendly. "Ghost-hunters, you say? You had a lot of work before now?"

Miki's shoulders twitch, as he seems to be trying to make himself as small-- and as ungraspable-- as possible. He slips though Rex's grasp and steps to the side, away from both Rex and the smith. His eyes are wide and wary.

Rex, abashed, steps back himself, holding his hands behind his back like a schoolboy.

"Shuu shuu," Dali murmurs softly, though her eyes are quite sharp. "You're safe here kitten - at least until you give us any reason to think otherwise." She doesn't try to touch the skittish boy, nor does she do anything so alarming as smile.

Sunshine glances at Dali, retrieving her pitcher and standing, slowly. She mouths 'kitten?' at Dali, but doesn't say anything aloud.

It takes Miki a moment or two to realize that the question was addressed to him. "We have had some work," he replies cautiously. "We are experienced. But you understand, it is not something that there is much repeat, um, custom for. So we must travel, you see, from place to place, to seek out those who need such services." He doesn't seem to hear Dali, as his attention is concentrated on the much more obviously threatening smith.

From her vantage point beside Dali, Lou watches the scene unfold without the distractions of the previous conversation. After pushing a strand of hair out of her eyes and behind one ear, she rests her hands easily on her hips.

At 'repeat custom', the smith's face creases into a grin that's starting to show a bit of warmth. "No, Ah imagine there's not," he allows. "Not if you do it right, anyway." He leans back a bit, his elbow on the closed half of the double door. "There may be some work around here, but the folks you'd need to talk to are the early-to-bed-early-to-rise folks. Unless your place is haunted, Sunny?" he asks. "Ah confess Ah was sleepin' pretty hard the week Ah stayed there -- Ah don't reckon even the dead coulda woke me."

Dali kneels down again, reeling in Arslag to deal out more petting as she listens. For a cat person, she seems remarkably knowledgeable about all the best places to scritch.

Sunshine shakes her head, her expression largely hidden by the broad brim of her hat. Her voice sounds at least mildly amused, though. "I don't believe there are any ghosts here who are unwelcome," she says mildly.

Arslag accepts the attention happily and does his best to make this poor stinky but friendly person smell more properly of dog.

Louisa casts a lingering look out toward the dark road.

Miklos nods cautiously. "Well, I can ask people in town tomorrow, and" he lifts his shoulders in a graceful shrug, "if there is no work here, perhaps in the next town. The Long Dark, you know, left too many restless spirits. There is much work for my brother and myself." He grasps his elbows in opposite hands and looks down. "Soon," he adds, seemingly in spite of himself, "I can go back."

Rex watches Miki carefully, his brow wrinkling with a touch of worry, but seems to have become overwhelmed by the sheer Presence of his elders and remains silent.

"Well, mah own 'guest house' has a couple a horses in it, and no beds to speak of," Lucas says, his face carrying some of the warmth it held for Sunshine back to Miki. "But no ghosts, either. You're welcome to it, if you reckon it'll do for a night." He scrubs a hand through his drying curls. "Back t'where?"

"Back where, hon?" Dali asks.

Sunshine watches the youth warily, speaking slowly and carefully. "Goddess grant you Peace, child." She holds out her hand for the cup Miki still holds.

Miklos hands the cup back to Sunshine automatically. "Back to Anderja. My brother. I don't like traveling without him," he says simply. "It gets lonely, you know?"

Turning back, Louisa nods.

Lucas says "So how come you don't travel together?" the smith asks the obvious question."

Sunshine gathers the remaining cups, stacking them carefully. She glances towards Lucas, once, and then takes her leave. "Lady light your paths, all of you." The blessing is quiet, offered as the human woman takes an opportunity to head for safer ground.

Miklos glances back at Lucas but lets his gaze fall almost immediately. "We usually do," he replies. "But... well..." he sighs. "He's doing some work and he thought I should go and check out if there were any possible..." He lets the explanation trail off and then says bitterly, "He's doing something he doesn't want me involved in, so he sends me away. To keep me safe, he says. But we're supposed to work together, we *always* work together and..." He shakes his head suddenly, sharply, as if to quiet himself.

"'Night, Sunshine," Lucas calls after her, softly. "Lady guide you."

Louisa's gaze follows after Sunshine. "Good night."

Miklos's gaze follows Sunshine, but if he says anything, it is too quiet to hear.

The Oroszlan Kin's brow creases further with Miki's short burst of bitterness.

Dali seems entirely absorbed in Arslag.

Louisa is finally spurred to motion. "If you'll all excuse me, I'm going to ..." She waves and turns, some of what she says trails over her shoulder. ".... go find ... somewhere .."

Lucas smiles at Miki, finally warming to this shy creature. "It's gettin' late, son," he rumbles. "You reckon you'll take that bit of straw to sleep in? Ah got some clean blankets to put over it at least, so it won't poke so much."

Miklos looks up again. "Yes, thank you," he says, and smiles. "I am very grateful. I don't enjoy sleeping on the ground very much."

Arslag plays with Dali until his curiosity finally urges him to go check out Miki.

Abandoned, Dali sits back on her heels, studying Miki. "He older'n you?"
Dali adds, clarifying, "Your brother."

Down the road comes Julen, limping slightly less than usual. She heads over to the forge as if that's an automatic destination, slowing to a stop near the little group.

Rex sighs, not quite audibly (for humans), and he allows his shoulders to sag. His eyes drop to the ground, and he looks, strangely enough, exhausted.

Miki offers to scratch behind Arslag's ears (he seems familiar with dogs). At Dali's question, he turns his head suddenly to look at her over his shoulder. "Yes," he says cautiously. "But that does not matter. If it is not safe for me, it is not safe for him, and I should be there to watch his back."

Dali nods. "What kinda work?" she asks curiously.

Miki shrugs, and bends his head back down to Arslag, finding the best spots to scratch. "The usual work."

Arslag leans in appreciatively, shifting position so the scratching hand goes where he wants it to.

"Sir," Rex begins quietly, sidling up to Lucas, trying not to interrupt other conversation, "should I go clean up a spot for him? Or anythin'?"

Julen calls, as she nears, "Hullo."

Lucas looks at Rex. "Sure, Rex, thanks. There's some loose straw in the back corner -- take four or five of the bales and spread 'em out on top of that. Ah'll get some blankets out of the trunk in mah room and take 'em out. "Speaking of 'safe'," he interjects, turning to Miki, "Arslag there don't bite, but the horses you'll be bunking with do, so keep clear of 'em. Leave 'em alone and they'll leave you alone."
"Evenin', Miz Julen," Lucas greets her politely.

Rex nods briskly and scurries into the barn to do the smith's bidding.

Miklos nods at the smith, seemingly rather cowed.

Julen murmurs, "Evening," as she comes to a halt, leaning on her staff. "Evening," she says, and then, "And welcome," in a half questioning tone, to Miki.

"The usual work," Dali repeats mildly. "Meanin' ghosts, I take it?" She turns her head to look over her shoudler - still on one knee from petting Arslag, and brightens into a grin as good as a wave. "Hallo! Long time no see, ma'am."

Miki, who has been crouched on his heels to pet the dog, stands up to greet the new arrival. He bows his head politely and says, "I am Majlath de Holtsapadtbolyh Miklos, but most just call me Miki." He sounds a little overwhelmed.

Julen looks over at Dali, eyebrow just faintly raised. "Been up the Mountain. What's this about ghosts?" Then she straightens off her staff. "Constance Juliana Brown, but most call me Julen. Also The Fire in the Dusk, but that's less common in many circles. Pleased to meet you, though perhaps several fewer of us would be better on your nerves."

Arslag trots over to greet Julen.

One can catch glimpses of a busybusy Rex moving to and fro in the barn, toting bales and whatnot.

Miki manages a smile with a wry quirk on one side. "I think I'm all right, although it's kind of you to inquire. Ghosts... Ms. Dali here was just referring to my line of work."

Lucas crouches to wrestle a moment with Arslag, but he watches carefully for Julen's reaction to this strange boy.

The Sentinel gives Miki a long look, then shakes her head, just faintly. She crouches down to greet Arslag in return, though she's still looking at the boy. "Really? What do you focus on?"

Dali sits back on her heels once again, letting everyone else do her asking for her.

The white-haired boy looks from Lucas to Dali and back to Julen before replying. "My brother and I, we are, ah, varazslo, there is no real translation for that. We specialize in dealing with unpleasant ghosts, in getting them to leave wherever they are haunting and go on to whatever ghosts go on to. It is difficult work but we are good at it."

"He and his brother -- well, Miki here, anyway, were wondering if we had any ghosts we wanted rid of," Lucas informs Julen. "Ah told him there'd be folks to ask in the morning," the smith adds carefully.

"Yes," Julen murmurs to Lucas, while still scruffling Arslag. She looks up at Miki. "So what brought you here?" She sounds quietly curious, perhaps even concerned. He looks so distressed, after all.

Miki shrugs. "The road," he replies, with a smile to take the edge off of his literalism. "I am merely looking at the little towns, because sometimes they experienced... difficulties during the Long Darkness. But half the rumors of hauntings are not true, you know. Still, we must look for work, because work will not come looking for us." He heaves a sigh.

"If it does, well you got other problems," Lucas deadpans.

Julen says, evenly, "Yes, rather," to Lucas. Then, "But yes. Hauntings often turn out to be different sorts of spirits entirely."

The boy flashes a startlingly bright smile at Lucas. "That is too true," Miki says.
Miki nods solemnly at Julen. "Those are often more difficult to deal with."

"Do you take those?" Dali asks. "Or just say, 'Oops, not ghosts, not our problem'?"

Julen levers herself up to standing again, and looks curious.

Miklos smiles again at that description. "That depends. Most often, we can deal with it, once we know what it is we are dealing with! But you know, when it turns out that a man has built his house on a tunderorszag, ah, faerie gate, and the people on the other side are upset, there is little anyone could do about it, you see? Except, you know, move."

Dali looks bemused. "That happened?"

Julen says, with a faint smile, "I imagine most of them do not wish to believe you, yes?"

Lucas snorts. "If we're not gonna let our guest here bunk down for the evenin', do y'all want to head inside?" Lucas offers. "It's gettin' cool out here." He looks down at himself and mutters, "'Course, that could be on account of Ah'm half naked... Now where did Rex get off to? Arslag, go make sure Harebell hasn't eaten Rex, eh? Go find Rex!" Arslag obediently trots off around behind the smithy.

Miki nods. "That was back in the old country. He was a stupid man, though; all the country knew better than to build on that place. But he thought he knew better than them. No, he did not want to believe us. That was a long time ago, too, and it was not good for us to look bad." He sighs.

"What happened?" Dali asks, fascinated.

From inside, moments later, Rex can be heard to squawk loudly. "Arslag, how many times do I hafta tell you, no cold nose in my belly!"

Julen enquires, as she starts to move inside, "And what is the old country?"

Miki shrugs in an elaborate and mannered show of unconcern. "Oh, we left. It did not look good, that we could do nothing. I did hear later that the house fell down though," he adds, a mischievous gleam in his eye belying his pose of unconcern. He looks over at Julen. "That is over the sea," he says, waving his hand. "The Little Lands, the Duchies. East of what most people call Europe."

Inside, Lucas chucks the apron onto a workbench and shrugs into a long-sleeved hemp workshirt. A banged-up old kettle finds its way onto the coals. "How long ago was that?" the smith asks as he casts about for thinks which may safely be drunk out of.

Rex finishes applying hay in a heap in the back corner and emerges, a few haystraws stuck in his hair.

"Six years ago," says Miki. "I was only a boy, then. Just learning."

Julen asks, leaning on her staff again, "Is this inborn, the talent? Or learned?"

Dali follows as far as the doorway, where she stands listening as Miklos explains. "I think I'm gonna head on out," she says, maybe more to Julen than anyone else, but she stays long enough to hear the answer to Lucas's question. "Miki, it was real nice meetin' ya. Hope I see you around again. Take care. Good luck with the ghosts."

Miki looks up and nods to Dali. "Thank you," he says, "for your kind wishes." He shifts his gaze back to Julen and chews absently on his lower lip. "Both. It must be learned, but you have to have the talent born in you, to begin with. Like music, a little, and like the changers, a little. It's in the blood. My brother is stronger than I am."

Lucas finds an assortment of drinking vessels and sets them out on one of the workbenches. A handful of loose green tea is dropped unceremoniously into an old eastern-looking coffee pot, and hot water from the kettle is poured over this. After a minute or two, the brew is poured into the various cups, mugs and tankards. "Soup's on!"

"See you up the mountain, Dali," returns Julen. Gaze slewing calmly back to Miki, she nods. "I am familiar with what you mean. Knowledge does nothing but help, in those cases. Does instinct come into play at all? Inborn skill, that is?"

"Nice meetin' you," Dali says to Lucas. "G'night, all." And she slips back out the door and off into the evening.

Rex wanders back over to the conversation after pausing to check on Campion in a friendly manner -- and making a wide berth around Harebell.

Miki's gaze lingers longingly on the tea-things, but he dutifully returns his attention to Julen and answers the question carefully. "Yes, I think. There is a certain... sense. Those, you know, who can see ghosts do better in this sort of work... but even this must be cultivated. And you have to learn to trust the instinct, I think."

Lucas observes, "Reckon that's the case in a lot of professions," as he distributes tea. "Thanks, Rex."

Julen says, "Oh, I'm sorry, your tea. I should finish what I was here for -- Lucas, Majlath, Rex, good evening." She limps off.

Lucas pages the room: They drank tea, devloved into small talk, and Lucas sent them off to bed.
Lucas pages the room: The End.
Rex pages the room: And Rex stared worshipfully after Lucas.
Miklos pages the room: Miklos hopes that he will get a chance to
roleplay with you again sometime.