In the cool gray light of pre-dawn, the lush weeds and long grass around the barn is so green it almost glows, and even the colors of faded paint and the dirt road are deepened and made more meaningful. The barn door creaks open, and Dali steps from the close, dry cow-scented warmth into the mist and grandeur of the morning. She has hay in her wild hair and her face is still soft with sleep. As the door swings closed again, she stretches luxuriously and yawns. "Err-mmmmm-ng!"
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 doesn't 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.
(You can +view scars on Dali if you wish.)
Oh, such a lot to choose from. There's a faint line across her left cheek that's probably a scar, and old claw-marks along her right bicep. Both arms have more recent pink scar tissue circling the wrists, and small round scars at even intervals along each side, from wrist to shoulder. The glimpses of her torso afforded by her clothing show shiny scars in the front that look like they might be burns, and a mesh of fine lines across her back.
The nearest house on the left, a little stone-fronted cottage with a grassy roof and a porch improvised out of clay-set stones, two heavy poles, and a roughly-shingled roof. Solar panels wink cheerfully on the roof, and plants line the path and, in pots, the big front window. The front door is arched and made of several heavy boards planed smooth and carved with a flowering vine.
Miki is lying on his back on the porch roof of the Guest House, dangling his feet off the edge. His hands are occupied with something that at first glance looks like a few handfuls of large brass beads sewn onto some kind of cloth or soft jewelry; he appears to be polishing them with a bit of pale cloth. As he does so, however, they give off the faint but unmistakable sounds of bells, clear in the morning air. He turns them over and over as he works, occasionally resting one end of the peculiar instrument on his chest and looking up at the sky.
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 evening 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.
Dali leans first to one side, then to the other, twisting almost 180 degrees until she gets the popping noise she wants. Then, attention caught by the chiming sound, she wanders over to the guest house. "That sounds pretty," she observes.
Miki starts, nearly rolling off the sloped porch roof, then turns over onto one elbow to see who is addressing him. The bells slide off his chest and hit the shingles of the roof with a soft clashing noise. "Thank you," he says. "I am just polishing them. Outside, because they are noisy."
Dali grins. "Sorry for makin' you jump," she says.
Sitting up, Miki tucks the bells into his bag and slides around to the edge of the porch roof, where a banked wall and a very sturdy growth of grapevine make a more-than-adequate ladder. He picks his surefooted way down the vines and jumps down to the ground. "I was not listening," he says, and smiles timidly. "It is all right."
"Well, I'm hard to hear sometimes," Dali says, as if this is a flaw in herself. "So, you're stayin' with Ms. Sunshine, hunh?"
Miki nods. "Yes, she is kind enough to lend me her guest room." The phrase is said so perfectly formally that one might wonder what she has not been kind enough to do.
Dali looks entertained by the phrasing, but doesn't ask. Instead, she drops to the ground, cross-legged, seeming not in the least distressed by the dampness of the dewy grass. "So, I was gonna say sorry for makin' such a scene here, the other night."
"I am just happy that nothing, you know, bad happened," replies Miki. He looks around and chooses to sit instead on the relatively dry front steps of the porch. "I do not know what to do when people... get angry like that."
"Scary," Dali says, in what might be agreement. She nods. "Not what you're used to?"
Miklos shrugs. "I have seen it before," he says. "But it is not... easy to know what to do. I do not like to see people hurt." He looks down at his hands, which are dangling between his knees, and sighs.
"That was an interestin' trick you had, with the katydids," Dali says, a little tangentially. "You do a lot of that kind of thing?"
"Not with grasshoppers," says Miki promptly. "It is something like what we do to call ghosts out, you know. I do it with animals from time to time, to practice and learn." He smiles a little less tentatively this time. "But mostly no one asks for that sort of thing. It is not... useful."
"No plagues of locusts?" Dali asks innocently. Then she grins. "Can you do it with any kind'f animal?"
Miki considers, tilting his head a little to one side and running the fingers of one hand thoughtfully through his hair. "I think so," he says finally. "Eventually. If I am good enough. Some are more difficult than others, of course. I got a lot of practice with horses back in the old country; they can be very stubborn. But it has to do with skill, I think."
"What about cats?" Dali asks, fascinated.
Miki blinks. "I do not think I have ever tried to call a cat," he confesses.
Dali chuckles, leaning back on her hands. "That'll be fun for you. What about goats? They're ornery, too."
"I have called goats," replies Miki with a slight grimace. "That is something people *do* find useful."
Dali tips her head to the side. "What's it like, calling them? Is it about you, or about them?"
A distant voice lifted in song drifts down the road. Scattered words come through the air semi-coherently, Particularly the "Ay yay yay" bits.
Miki considers this question for a long time, and then shakes his head. "I do not think I understand that well enough to answer it. I just sing, you know, and ask. I have to ask right, or they will not come."
Dali frowns thoughtfully, and then rolls over so that she is lying on her belly, propped up on her elbows. "Okay," she says, completely absorbed in the topic. "But what's asking right about? I mean, do you have to know the animal - what animals like that are /like/, before you can ask right?"
Miki sighs. "I generally find out once I start singing," he says.
Dali nods thoughtfully, her fingers combing through the grass. "What're the goats like?"
The voice switches gears -- and songs -- as the accompanying figure emerges from the early morning twilight.
Miki gives a heartfelt groan. "Like... trying to lead ten puppies all on strings. And they get bored unless you change the song pretty often."
There are pale scars scattered like stars over this woman's tanned arms. Her hair, grizzled and tarnished, seems to have a mind of its own despite an attempt to tame it with brush and water and leather thongs. It falls like a chain of iron from the nape of her neck to her waist, but leaves a halo of frizz around her head. Hazel eyes, set a little too close together for beauty, peer out over a twisted hawk-beak of a nose. Crow's feet dance around her eyes, and lines carve deeply into the flesh around her mouth and on her brow. Her clothes are utilitarian and unlovely, like her countenance. Browns and faded blues predominate the shapeless, sturdy garments that drape her limbs.
Dali giggles. There's no other word for it. "Cats will be worse," she confides. And then, without any change in tone, "And people?"
Miki gives Dali a sideways glance, one corner of his mouth quirking back in an ironic half-smile. "You know, no one had ever asked me that before I came here. Here, no one asks me anything else, it seems. The magic is not meant for people, they are too complicated."
"Who else asked?" Dali wonders.
Miki looks away. "Simon asked," he says shortly, and adds, a little too quickly, "And Sunshine. And I think some others. But the magic is meant for ghosts, not for people."
"Michael, Michael, here is your answer true. You're half-crazy if you think that will dooo." A middle-aged woman, apparently distracted by the sound of her own voice and contemplation of the clouds overhead as they change from purple to pink to grey, trots cheerfully into full sight, crooning a very old song. "If you can't afford a carriage, there won't be any marriage, for I'll be damned before I'm banned on a..." She stops dead, regarding the duo. "Ghosts?" she says with interest. "Hullo, there." She nods to Dali and looks with interest at the white-haired boy.
"And goats," Dali murmurs. "Hello!" she adds, surprised. "You two know each other?"
Miklos gets to his feet politely. "No," he says, shaking his head. He seems uncertain about the etiquette of the situation, so he just stops there.
Eos shakes her head at Dali, and extends her hand to the boy. "I'm Eos," she offers simply, although her gaze sharpens upon him.
Dali watches benignly, as though presiding at the introduction of two lifelong friends.
The boy takes the older woman's hand and bows over it in the European fashion. "I am Majlath de Holtsapadtbolyh Miklos, but most just call me Miki," he says.
Eos looks a touch surprised by the European flavor of the boy's accent and mannerisms, but not displeased. She smiles. "You are very formal, and I was not. Eos Spins-Dreams-in-the-Morning-Light. Galliard Crone of the Spiral Dancers." With a glance, she includes Dali in that introduction.
Dali grins sideways at Eos from where she lies stretched out on the ground. "Dali Hunter," she says, as an afterthought.
Miklos drops Eos' hand in order to make a more formal bow, which he directs at both of the women. "I am honored," he says simply.
Eos offers Miklos a nod in return and cocks an eyebrow at Dali. "I believe we've met, Dali. No time for proper intros then, o'course."
Dali nods to Eos. "Nunda," she says. "Previously of Grassroots. Been hangin' out with Rowan and Kelsey, but I think you knew that."
Miki sits quietly back down on the step of the porch and listens.
"Interestin' crew to hang about with," Eos says with a smile. "Kelsey is a font of interestin' trivia. And songs. Damned old songs that're fun to sing." She turns her gaze back upon the hapless lad. "You were talkin' about ghosts. What of them?"
His eyes-- which generally dominate his face at the best of times-- grow fractionally wider. "We were discussing my magic. My brother and I, we work as ghost-chasers."
The focus... the focus. All of Eos's attention zooms in on the boy. "Ghost-chasers, eh? How do you chase them? And where do you chase them to?"
Dali props her chin on her fist and listens, absorbed.
Miki leans back, obviously a little surprised at the sudden attention. "We call them out of their hauntings. And they go on to, well..." he waves a hand at the sky, the motion recalling wings. "Whatever ghosts go on to, you know. What the dead are supposed to go to. I do not claim to know."
"So you remove them from whatever they're haunting?" Eos pursues. "Does it harm them?"
Miki looks considerably startled by this idea. "No," he says, adding, "I am not sure it is possible to harm a ghost. But the magic requires that they come willingly, and they would not come if we harmed them, I think."
Dali combs the grass with her free hand and listens idly.
Eos leans back slightly, left arm folded over her chest, right elbow braced on that arm and right hand cupping her chin thoughtfully. There is something... insistent and violent about her interest. Worried. Tense. "How many ghosts can you chase at once? Can you only do one at a time, or do you clear a location of them all? And how do you convince them to leave willingly if they aren't willing at all?"
Miklos blinks again, looking at Eos consideringly. "My brother and I, we have worked with many ghosts," he says slowly. "Many at once. And although they do not ever seem to want to leave, really we are good at convincing them. Because ghosts are unhappy, you know, and going on is happiness for them, eventually. I think."
Eos frowns. "How long have you and your brother been doing this? How did you get into it?"
Miki laces his fingers together and looks up at the brooding sky. "We come from a family of varaszlo, so you could say that it is in the blood. My brother has taught me since I was four, and our parents died. We have been on our own since then, you see. Of course, I did not work until I was old enough."
"Varaszlo?" Eos echoes, her pronunciation almost a perfect reflection of Miki's.
"Just ghosts?" Dali interjects, without urgency.
Miki sighs and shakes a few stray strands of his white hair out of his face. "It does not translate well. But I am not a Mage." He turns towards Dali and smiles a little. "Well, we were asked to clear the house built on the fairy-mound... although we could do nothing about that."
Ramrod straight, leaning on her staff only coincidentally, Julen comes practically stalking down the main road to the farm, heading straight toward the little group. When she fetches up close enough to greet them, though, she is politeness itself. "Good morning."
Eos cocks her head to the side. "Fairy-mound, eh? We've had a bit of trouble like that around here." She racks her head around at Julen's approach. "'Mornin', you." The greeting is affectionate, although the tension remains in her manner.
Miki wraps his arms around his knees and nods a polite greeting. He does not stand up; perhaps this has something to do with his obvious attempt to make himself smaller and less noticeable.
Dali looks over at Julen. "Hey, hi!" She wriggles around until she's sitting upright.
Julen smiles just slightly at Dali, and then regards Miki. "I'm not going to eat you, young man. Please, don't let me interrupt."
"Naw," Dali says. "If anyone were gonna eat him, it'd probably be me." There's no threat in the statement, rather an element of humor directed to Miki, though the timid boy may not share the joke.
Eos quirks the corner of her mouth at Julen and Dali's comments to and about Miki, then returns her attention to the third-degree. "So. You aren't a Mage. You and your brother chase ghosts on to whatever they do next. It doesn't seem to harm them, and you think you can do more than one ghost at once. Do you need to be at the location, or can you exorcise remotely?"
Miki looks very startled at the last question. "No. We need to be at the place that is haunted."
Julen says, with some wryness, "Ah." Then, "Do ghosts affect your perceptions?"
The white-haired boy runs both hands through that cobweb-fine hair in clear distress. "I, um, ah, I do not think I understand that. I can sense ghosts," he offers.
Eos glances aside at Julen, and asks, "Have you ever been, say, caught up in a ghost dance? Or can you see right on through that sort of thing?"
Dali glances at Eos and Julen, and then says, "Hey, relax, kitten. It's all right. We're all just curious folks, but we don't mean any harm. Maybe it's a bit much, before breakfast, hunh?
Julen says, "Indeed," and leans on her staff. For the first time, she looks something like entirely calm. It may or may not be an affectation; it's hard to tell.
Miki shakes his head. "No, it is all right. I can see through a ghost dance. I can also see it, though. I mean, I can see what other people see. I just know that it is ghosts-- I always know that. It's just a talent that some people have." He shrugs a little, dismissing that minor talent.
Eos nods, still holding her chin thoughtfully. She shoots a sideways glance at Julen, as if to see how the older woman is taking this information.
Julen casts a glance back at Eos. "What I meant was, if they're, say, projecting fear at you, trying to make you feel it-- do you feel it?"
Miklos considers. "I know what they want me to feel, but I do not feel it as... strongly as other people," he says. "It is as if it is all a little transparent."
"Thin?" Dali says. "Or like a child tryin' to trick you into gettin' them a cookie they're not supposed to have?"
Miki smiles a little at that image. "No, it is more as if... the feelings are there, but they are like something on a stage, you know? A performance. Not really for me. Because, you see, I know they are not mine, they are coming from the ghosts."
Julen says, "Mmm. Interesting." She leans on her staff a little more firmly. "Have you found work, by the way? You seemed worried about that, when last I met you."
Miki looks back down at his hands. "There is a haunted farmhouse. I went to talk with the people who live there and they would like the ghost, um, evicted." He sighs a little. "It's a small thing, I cannot ask for much," he adds, looking up though his hair. "I think I can even do it by myself, and not have to wait until my brother comes."
Eos raises her eyebrows. "Well, y'never know, of course, when a small job could lead to something bigger." She hums for a second, her eyes scanning the middle distance sightlessly. Then she refocuses. "So, where are you and your brother from? Do you know folks around here, or are you just circulating for work?"
Miklos rubs his hands thoughtfully up and down his forearms. "Oh, we, um, I am just looking for work for us here. We are from the old country back in Europe, you know, the Duchies. What was the Magyar Kingdom under the Dark."
Julen asks, "And when /is/ your brother coming?"
Miklos shrugs and gives a rueful and rather sad smile. "I do not know. When he is done with the... work he is doing now, he said he would find me." He glances aside, his face settling again into his usual, rather distant expression, and he sighs.
"When 'r you planning to... do your thing with this haunted farmhouse?" Eos inquires.
Miki glances back. "Oh, I am almost ready. So, when the people who live there say I can. I think in the next few days there will be a good time."
Julen glances at Eos. Then back at Miki. "Really. Care for any aid, or is this a solo endeavor?"
"It is kind of you to offer," says Miki in a very surprised voice, the slight accent that still flavors his speech from time to time appearing more strongly, "but I think I will not need any help. Rather, um, I would not know what to do with help." He smiles tentatively. "I have only ever worked with my brother, you know. And this is only a little ghost."
"So, your brother and you," Dali says. "You're partners? Or do you do more of the magic than him?"
Julen nods. "For some long time, I only worked with my partner. Would someone observing be amiss, then?"
Miki shakes his head vehemently, sending his hair flying from side to side. "Oh no! He is *much* more powerful than I am. Of course, he is older, he knows much more." He smiles a little to himself, then looks over at Julen. "No, no, of course you may watch. We always let people watch, so they know we are not, you know, just burning nasty herbs and then announcing that we are done. Ghosts are unpredictable; we could be in the next town before someone noticed that they were still there, people might think that, you know. So we always let people watch when we do a ghost-calling."
Eos nods, watching Miki's reaction. "Very wise, that."
Julen says, "Aha," and now her relaxed pose is, somehow, just that, relaxed, and not a pose. "Glad to hear it. I shall be there."
Miki smiles up at Julen. "I hope it does not disappoint. It will only be a small calling."
Julen says, not at all vaguely, "I doubt it could be, young man. I doubt it could be."
"I'll, sadly, probably not be there," Eos says. "Probably," she repeats with a certain amount of irony. "But I'll look forward to reports."
Dali grins at Miki's explanation. "So, what do people see that convinces them so much?"
Miklos turns his smile on Dali. "Come and see for yourself."
Dali blinks, mildly dazzled by that smile.
Julen slides a glance at Eos. "At this rate, you might well be there," she says, some of that tension bleeding back into her arms.
Eos grits her teeth in something resembling a smile. "Tell me about it."
"We should," Julen says, evenly, "Talk."
Miki looks from Eos to Julen with the worried look of a small child wondering if his parents are going to start throwing crockery again.
Dali looks from Eos to Julen, too, and then scratches her head and looks off in a random direction. Then she says brightly, "So, Miki. Breakfast?"
Eos notices Miki's distress and her teeth-gritting settles into a real, if somewhat tense, smile. "Don't worry, kiddo. Heck, we may be able to get you more work, once you've had a shot at the farmhouse. We know a lot of the area, y'know."
Julen says, dryly, "Most of it, in fact."
Miki essays a very cautious smile. "Work is a good thing for my brother and I. Yes," he adds, turning towards Dali, "I would very much like some breakfast."
Eos waves Miki and Dali on. "You kids go eat, then, and we'll probably see you soon. This old lady and I are gonna wander off this way and... talk." She turns to start walking back the way she came, muttering an aside to Julen. If you have truly good ears, you might hear, "Maybe *wandering*. Maybe that's the ticket. If we're not really *trying* to find it..."
"Sure!" Dali says, willing to be one of the kids if the occasion requires it. She scrambles to her feet. "You up for a walk? The Diner, in town, is fabulous. But if not, I'm sure we can scrounge somethin' 'round here."
Miki rises to his feet, dusting his pants off absently. "I have been walking to town every day," he says almost cheerfully. "That is fine with me."